Posts Tagged ‘Sur Island’

The title of today’s entry describes quite accurately the purpose of my visit to Berlin during this week. I would be having meetings with Claudia Näser, the supervisor of my thesis at the Institute for the study of the Archaeology and Cultural History of Northeast Africa (AKNOA). The institute has left its old premises at Hausvogteiplatz and has just moved into the western wing of the central building of Humboldt University. While the employees are still unpacking their stuff and getting settled in the new offices, some replicas of ancient monuments have found their place on the walls and are welcoming impressively the visitor.

new aknoa old meroë

I also visited the old premises of AKNOA, though, since Claudia is running from there her projects in the frame of the Qatar Sudan Archaeological Project at Musawwarat es Sufra and Mograt Island. She is also active with the study and preparation for publication of the results from the Humboldt University Nubian Expedition in the frame of the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project, during which a team from Berlin discovered the magnificent cachet of 140 manuscript fragments on parchment and leather in a room behind the apse of the church on the island of Sur in the Fourth Cataract region. The excavations took place in 2007 under the direction of Daniella Billig who is working on her thesis at Humboldt University and who unearthed this important collection of manuscripts adding substantially to our knowledge of literacy in Christian Nubia. For my thesis I studied the Greek manuscripts on parchment, but since then I was also given the honorable responsibility of studying and publishing the manuscripts on leather that were written in Old Nubian. A first combined presentation of the results of my thesis and the first tackling of the Old Nubian manuscripts was my contribution to the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies that took place in the beginning of the month in Neuchâtel. Now, the time had come to travel to Berlin and discuss with Claudia the future actions to be taken for this study to be accelerated and arrive in due time to the printers’ house.

My main task therefore was to inspect from closer the manuscripts on leather kept at the Conservation department for Papyrus and Parchment of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. The head conservator there, Myriam Krutzsch, has been a key person for my understanding of the materiality of these manuscripts and it was at her lab that I spent most of my time. The object that attracted a lot of our attention this time was the leather manuscript coded SR022.A/388, which for codicological reasons may give evidence for the latest phases of Nubian literacy. The object has been conserved by Sophie Geiseler in 2010, but now it was Myriam who set it free from its box so as to be studied closer.

myriam in action

The next step involved its photographing, because it proves constantly that well-taken photographs manipulated professionally with photoshop, offer optimal potential for reading, transcribing, and understanding of a given text. This task was undertaken by Andreas Paasch (working mainly with the photographic documentation of finds from Elephantine) who kindly spent some hours working on all the leather manuscripts from Sur that were worth his efforts.

andreas in action

The outcome of Andreas’ excellent work left me staring at the letters that almost magically appeared on the screen after the raw format image file had been transformed into a black and white tiff file without the noise of the colours that shadowed the surface and did not allow me before to read but a couple of letters.

My reading will be presented in due time together with the rest of the new finds.

But at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, one does not only go to study new finds.

The collection hides unexpected treasures, and one of them was discovered by Myriam Krutzsch. Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper, Curator for Egyptian and Oriental Papyri at the museum, was kind enough to receive me and accept my request to study from closer some unknown manuscripts from Nubia. Although Myriam and I still try to find out more about the provenance of the most intriguing object – since we only know that it was purchased in the early 20th century from Egyptian Nubia – we decided it’s worth having it photographed by Andreas so as to be ready to decipher it when some pieces of the puzzle of the Berlin collection have fallen in place…

an unknown manuscript from nubia

I think this picture is a fine way to conclude this entry leaving open the door for a return to Berlin and the excellent atmosphere of collaboration I found there.

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The last couple of entries presented various topics related to Nubian textual resources and their online presentations.

Many aspects from these entries remain open, like for example the smoothness of transcriptions of Old Nubian in the existing fonts, the integration of such texts in a web environment like the present one, the completeness of the existing lists of online textual resources, the content analysis of these etc.

Today, however, we will conclude this sequence with examining what can be found on the Net relating to Nubian manuscripts. One should note that as Nubian manuscripts can be understood texts written (mainly) in Old Nubian, Coptic, and Greek (but also in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish) with various inks (but mainly coloured between brown and black), and on materials such as papyrus, parchment, leather, and paper. These manuscripts may have been discovered in any site dating to the medieval era of northern Sudan and southern Egypt, when this stretch of the Nile Valley that we call Nubia was ruled by the Christian kingdoms of Nobadia, Makuria, and Alwa. The following map indicates the sites where Medieval manuscripts have been found in Nubia:

No manuscripts of the medieval era have been unearthed from sites in the kingdom of Alwa. Moreover, no manuscripts on papyri have been published to date (cfr. results in DBMNT), although many small fragments were retrieved from the monastic site of Qasr el Wizz (in preparation by A. Tsakos).

Qasr el Wizz is also the only site of Medieval Nubia from where a complete codex has been discovered. It concerns an apocryphal text in Coptic, published in Hungarian and German by the Hungarian scholar Peter Hubai. A similar text in Old Nubian has been found at Serra East, from where come also another Old Nubian text on the cross identified with the homonymous pseudo-Chrysostomian homily, as well as a text on the cross by pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem, also in Coptic. All these manuscripts are written on parchment and have been more or less published adequately. However, I am not aware of any image of a single leaf thereof that can be found on the Net…

In fact, the only images of Nubian manuscripts available online are from fragmentary works. These are the following:

1. A page of an Old Nubian manuscript from Qasr Ibrim, containing a translation in Old Nubian of the Liber Institutionis Michaelis. The photo can be seen in the wikipedia entry on “Old Nubian” and HERE. Qasr Ibrim has produced the largest number of manuscripts from Christian Nubia.

2. Two Old Nubian manuscripts discovered by the German mission at the island of Sunnarti working in the 1960s in the campaign for the salvage of Nubian heritage due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Their webpage is quite informative in general, and their manuscript finds constitute the only collection from Nubia fully published.

3. Last but not least, the Humboldt University Nubian Expedition (H.U.N.E.) found in 2007 on the island of Sur in the Fourth Cataract region a cachet in an important for the area church monument containing 140 manuscripts in Greek and Old Nubian written on parchment and leather. The largest parchment fragment in Greek, another sermon by John Chrysostom (this time an original one: CPG 4333.2), has been included in the official webpage of H.U.N.E.:

Soon all the parchment fragments will be published in the doctoral thesis of Alexandros under preparation.

A very recent publication of material known from old is the book by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei and El-Shafie El-Guzuuli with an English and a Dongolese Nubian translation of the Old Nubian version of the St. Mina miracle, one of the first Old Nubian manuscripts found and presented to the public (Griffith 1913: 6-15).

In sum, Nubian studies remain – despite the efforts of Giovanni and Grzegorz – far from having achieved yet the necessary open-access data bases that help promote more general studies, like for example the very useful paleographic comparisons that other text-oriented disciplines have achieved. For example, one can naturally only admire the richness of the material presented in a favorite blog on Coptic studies, namely the one directed by Alin Suciu.

Another important web based data source is the Gateway to Greek Manuscripts, administered from Italy where there is a long standing tradition on paleographical studies, exemplified in the Greek language and script by the works of Guglielmo Cavallo.

Of course manuscripts are not only related to medieval times, despite the shift of focus in the writing and archiving process after the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. So, we read recently on the Net about the donation of 60,000 Greek manuscripts from Romania to the Academy of Athens! Their importance lies with the safeguarding of the memories of an important part of the Greek diaspora in various phases of its history in the region. Although the donation to Greece of this collection may create in Athens a center for the study of this part of the Greek history, nonetheless, it is a sign of the retreat of the Hellenic Diaspora from the places where it created its unique character. Manuscripts of interest for modern Greece are also to be found in Sudan: Greek communities’ foundation records, official correspondence, certificates, sales, publications etc. It is one of the reasons for which we have times and again asked for the creation of a center of Hellenic Studies in Khartoum…

And what about Sai?

Despite the richness of the epigraphic material from the island, no manuscripts are known until today from Sai. The Medieval Sai Project, however, is in possession of a document in Old Nubian characters, written by a local of Sai, on the island in … AD … 2010!!!

Perhaps in the future, we will also discover medieval manuscripts. But this is the least of the things that preoccupy us in an effort to continue fieldwork and involvement in the land of the Sikkut…

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