Due to the Sensitive Nature…

Statue of Senkamanisken

Photo: Statue of King Senkamanisken in situ, Temple of Amun, Dangeil, Sudan. Reproduced by permission of the Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project (click image for more information). All rights reserved.

After spending two weeks in Germany visiting fabulous Egyptian museums and collections, I headed south for the excavations at Dangeil. Those who have been following the blog will recall that last year there was nothing mentioned in the entries regarding any discovery we might have made. In truth, due to the sensitive nature of our research, I could not share with you our exciting 2008 discoveries.

But that is a thing of the past! Our exciting finds were published* recently in Sudan & Nubia, the journal of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society and I can now share them with you online.

In an archaeologist’s life, major and significant discoveries are rare. Normally, we find things interesting only to other specialists in the field. Occasionally, you find something absolutely mind-boggling, something that you can’t explain but know that somehow it’s very important… and it’s even better if that special something is actually beautiful and rare. That’s what happened last year at Dangeil.

We found magnificent granite statues of Napatan kings.

We found royal statues, can you imagine? Immediately, we knew we had something special because granite is not found in the area of Dangeil. The nearest granite quarry is at the Third Cataract, much further north, across the Bayuda Desert. Additionally, the artistic style and craftsmanship indicated that we were dealing with sculpture of the Napatan period (8th-4th century b.c.e.), rather than the Meroitic period (3rd century b.c.e to mid-3rd century c.e.). And that completely baffled us. What were these Napatan statues doing in Dangeil, a Meroitic site that has yet to reveal Napatan occupation?

Statues like the ones at Dangeil have been found at only two other sites in the Sudan: Napata, the first capital of Kush located near the Fourth Cataract (after which the Napatan period is named), and Dukki Gel, near Kerma, an ancient city near the Third Cataract, where the Napatans were very active (and later the Meroites, too). The statue cache at Napata was found by George A. Reisner (Harvard-Boston Expedition) in 1916 and that at Dukki Gel by Charles Bonnet and the Swiss Mission to Kerma in 2003.

Considering that the region of Meroe (the second capital of Kush, which gave its name to the Meroitic period) has so far revealed little evidence of royal Napatan occupation our discovery was surprising to say the least. In fact, some archaeologists who heard rumours of our find could not even believe we had found Napatan statues at our Meroitic site! Yet, there we were with three granite sculptures of powerful Napatan kings. Let me introduce them to you.

King Taharqo (690-664 b.c.e.), probably the most famous Kushite king who ruled Egypt during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (715-656 b.c.e.). His statue is the largest of all, weighing well over one ton (!).  While we have his body from shoulders to knees, and the statue base that includes his feet, we are still missing the lower legs and the head. (If you go back to my entry about my Tilley hat, you will see Taharqo from the back and me tracing the hieroglyphic inscription of the pillar onto a clear plastic sheet.)

King Senkamanisken (643-623 b.c.e.), whose statue is smaller but better preserved (as you can see from the picture above, he’s got a great body!). Once again, we’re missing his lower legs and head.

King Aspelta (593-568 b.c.e.), at least we think it’s Aspelta. Unlike the other two kings, we have his head and the base with the feet, but not his body! The name of the king is mentioned on the back pillar of the statue, generally between the shoulders and the knees… but we don’t have that part of the statue.  The facial features are very similar to statues of Aspelta from Napata and Dukki Gel, so it might actually be Aspelta.

We also have a small statue of a Meroitic queen, possibly the Kandake Amanitore.  We know the statue is Meroitic because of the iconography and artistic style. It was also carved out of locally available, poor quality sandstone.  There isn’t an inscription on the back of this statue, but because we have found over the years inscriptions mentioning or reliefs representing Amanitore, it might be her.  We know she build the temple we are currently digging, so why not?

As you might have guessed, we hoped to find the heads of Taharqo,  Senkamanisken and Amanitore during the 2009 season… but that was not to be. Instead we found interesting stratigraphy, post holes (lots of them), and earlier construction phases. However, with or without heads, we would like to find out how these statues ended up in Dangeil and why.  It might take a while, but we’re working on it.

* Julie R. Anderson and Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed. What are these doing above the Fifth Cataract?!! Napatan royal statues at Dangeil. Sudan & Nubia 13 (2009):78-86.

The Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project is a joint project of the British Museum, London, and the Sudan National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), Khartoum. The excavations are directed by Drs Julie R. Anderson (BM) and Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed (NCAM).

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