Merowe Dam Archaeological Project

Kushite Pyramid tombs, Meroe, Sudan

Investigation of Nile Valley cataract zones

The decision to construct a new dam at the Fourth Nile Cataract resulted in a major international rescue campaign. The British Museum, in conjunction with the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, was a significant contributor to this project.

Beginning in 1999 several seasons of survey and excavation have been undertaken on the left bank of the river, and on the islands, over a stretch of 40km. A vast number of archaeological sites have been recorded, resulting, along with data collected by other missions, in a total rewriting of the history of occupation of this hitherto little known region over the last 150,000 years.

Gebel Barkal temples, Meroe, Sudan

Among the most significant results is the recognition of the control of this region by the first Kingdom of Kush, sub-Saharan Africa’s earliest urban civilisation, in the third and second millennia BC. Dating from the early first millennium BC the discovery of a granite pyramid, clearly the tomb monument of an important and wealthy individual, highlights the importance of the area and is forcing a reappraisal of the role of cataract zones in the Nile valley.

The fieldwork is now complete but the considerable amount of material and data will be studied in the near future leading to full publication of the results.

Related outputs

Selected publications
  • D. A. Welsby, 'The Amri to Kirbekan Survey 1999', SUDAN & NUBIA 3 (1999), pp. 51-57.
  • D. A. Welsby, 'The Amri to Kirbekan Survey: the 2002-2003 Season', SUDAN & NUBIA 7 (2003), pp. 26-32
  • D. A. Welsby (main author), 'Survey above the Fourth Nile Cataract', SARS publication no. 10, (London, 2003)
  • D. A. Welsby, 'The SARS Amri to Kirbekan Survey. Excavations at the pyramid, Site 4-F-71', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 2-3
  • D. Q Fuller, 'The Central Amri to Kirbekan Survey: A Preliminary Report on Excavations and Survey 2003-04', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 4-10
  • C. Kleinitz, 'The Central Amri to Kirbekan Survey: Rock art and ‘rock gongs’ in the Fourth Nile Cataract region: the Ishashi island rock art survey', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 11-16
  • D. A. Welsby, 'The Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project Survey in the Vicinity of ed-Doma (AKSE), 2004-2005', SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 2-8
  • C. Kleinitz and C. Olsson,'Christian Period Rock Art Landscapes in the Fourth Cataract Region: The Dar el-Arab and et-Tereif Rock Art Surveys',  SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 32-39
  • D.A. Welsby, 'Excavations in the vicinity of ed-Doma (AKSE), 2005-2006', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 8-12
  • C. Kleinitz and R. Koenitz, 'Fourth Nile Cataract petroglyphs in context: the ed-Doma and Dirbi rock-art survey', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 34-42
  • The project also featured in the Timewatch film 'The Black Pharaohs' (2004), and in the BBC television series 'The Museum - behind the scenes at the British Museum' (2007).


The salvage project received funding from:

  • The British Museum
  • SARS
  • Egypt Exploration Society
  • British Academy
  • British Institute in Eastern Africa
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology
  • Packhard Humanities Institute
  • Institute for Bioarchaeology
  • Emery Museum
  • Atlanta
  • Townley Group
  • Patrons of SARS

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