The Kingdom of Kush and the Royal City of Meroe
7 February 2017
UCL Qatar’s Sudan archaeology team, headed by Dr Jane
Humphris, has just completed field work for the 2016 – 2017 academic year
following 12 weeks working at the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Kush, the Royal
City of Meroe. This season was the most ambitious to date and saw many
exciting archaeological results and activities, including community meetings
and the opening ceremony of the UCL Qatar Iron and Kush information point.
Qatari and Sudanese officials
Jane and her team targeted three areas for major excavations
this year, continuing the theme of investigating the ancient iron production
associated with the rise and power of the Kingdom of Kush, and examining the
ways in which the industrial landscape was incorporated into the urban setting
of the ancient city.
The staircase found at the Apedemak Temple
The first area to be excavated was a large mound of
metallurgical production debris known as MIS 4. Standing at a height of 5m and
around 100m long, MIS 4 is one of the largest remains of ancient iron production
waste in Africa. The team had already excavated here in 2013 but had to stop at
a depth of 2m. Subsequent analysis of the samples taken from the 2013 trenches
demonstrated the remains were very old, representing iron production dating to
the early period of the Kingdom of Kush. The goal of the 2016 – 2017 season was to reach the bottom of the mound to
document and collect the earliest samples for dating and analysis. Not only did the team reach their goal,
sampling what could be some of the earliest remains for iron production in
Africa, but they also revealed an astonishing level of diversity in the
material culture found within the mound. During the excavations they also found
the remains of what could be one of the earliest buildings ever discovered at
the site. This 8m long collapsed building already existed before the
metallurgical waste was dumped around it, and the material from which is it
constructed is almost unique for the period to which it must date. The team
will re-excavate MIS 4 next season to reveal the function of this building – is
this the earliest furnace workshop at Meroe, or did this building have a
function unrelated to the production of iron (in which case, why was iron production
taking place next to it)?
The earliest layers within MIS 4 and the newly discovered ancient building
The team also excavated at an area called MIS 3, important because here, the people living at the site in ancient times chose to construct their temple to Apedemak, the Meroitic god of war and fertility, directly on top of a large mound of metallurgical production waste. Following extensive excavations in 2014, this season the team continued to explore the architectural adaptations of the mound by those constructing the temple. As well as revealing a number of retaining walls and corridors, where the architects had used the metallurgical production waste to create floors, the team also found a staircase leading to the top of the slag mound that would have provided access for worshippers to reach the entrance of the temple.
Excavations continuing at MIS 4 and at the Apedemak Temple. The UCL Qatar information point can be seen on the left of the photograph
The final excavation area of the season was at MIS 8, a large slag mound to the north of the Royal City Enclosure, partly excavated in 1992. Here the team cleaned and extended the remains of the old excavations, producing a large section from which extensive samples were collected for dating and laboratory analysis.
During the 2016 – 2017 archaeological season the UCL Qatar team were assisted by 50 local workmen. Additionally, a number of team members were based at the team dig house processing and documenting the hundreds of archaeological finds brought in each day from the various excavations. The hundreds of samples systematically collected during the excavations have now been shipped back to Doha to undergo an extensive programme of analysis in UCL Qatar’s archaeological science laboratories.
Collecting samples from MIS 4
A conservation team joined the project for the first time and performed an assessment of the area of MIS 3 and the Apedemak Temple in preparation for a long-term conservation and presentation project for the site. It is hoped that over the coming years this team can perform conservation, consolidation and reconstruction of parts of the two temple structures around MIS 3 to allow visitors to the site to appreciate how the temples may have appeared in ancient times. Continuing the theme of conservation, 90m of a new protection fence was erected by UCL Qatar to ensure vehicles cannot access the area around MIS 4, thus providing for the first time a safeguard for this, one of Africa’s most significant monuments to ancient technology.
The protective fence was designed to incorporate and
demarcate the now completed UCL Qatar Iron and Kush information point. In
January 2017 this information point, with a new roof and renewed and updated
bilingual information panels, was officially opened and handed over to the
National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums in Sudan (NCAM). At a ceremony
attended by many from Sudan’s media, heritage organisations, museum and embassy
staff, and many of the local community, Dr Abdelrahman Ali, Director General of
NCAM, gratefully accepted the work of UCL Qatar in creating a freely accessible
location for visitors to learn about the technological history of Meroe.
Finally, the extensive programme of community engagement meetings conducted by Jane and her team was continued, with nine evening meetings held across 6 villages surrounding the archaeological site. Each meeting lasted around 2 hours and was formulated to meet the needs and desires of the local communities, based on the results of interviews Jane’s team have conducted in the area over the last few years. Following a presentation explaining the most recent results of UCL Qatar’s research in Sudan, a large focus of these meetings was the open discussion whereby people had the opportunity to ask questions not only about the archaeological research, but also more general questions such as the role of museums in Sudan, and how local people can become more involved in their heritage.
Jane is now back in Doha working with team members to analyse the results of the archaeological excavations and analyse samples in UCL Qatar’s laboratories. She plans a number of key publications this year, and is looking forward to excavating at Meroe again in autumn 2017.