Nubia Lost Kingdoms of the Nile
  • No tags were found...

Nubia: Lost Kingdoms of the Nile - Clay Center


Lost Kingdoms of the Nile

• In 1906, George A. Reisner, at the request of the Egyptian government, began

an extensive survey of northern Nubia backed by Harvard University and the

Museum Fine Arts, Boston. Plans to expand the original Aswan Dam made the

survey necessary.

• From 1913 – 1932, Reisner and his team continued to move further south

surveying the area between the first and sixth cataract (large rapid). See map

• When the surveying concluded, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston received half

of what was found and the Cairo Museum received the other half.

Where is ancient Nubia?

The term “Nubia” came about in the Middle Ages (approx. A.D. 500 – 1600). It

possibly comes from the tribal group “Nuba” or “Noba” that occupied the area in

the 4 th century A.D. and absorbed the declining Kingdom of Kush. Some writers

have also speculated that the name comes from the Egyptian word “nub” which

means “gold”, but this is probably incorrect.

The area of Nubia has had several different names throughout its history.

- Ta-Seti in approximately 3200 B.C. It means “Land of the Bow” because

Nubians were skilled archers and feared soldiers.

- Kush (Cush in the Old Testament) was the name ancient Egyptians used for the

region of upper Nubia. The Kingdom of Kush actually began in Kerma and

encompasses the Napatan Period and the Meroitic Period.

- Aithiopia was the Greek name for Nubia. It means “Burnt-Faced Ones” and

refers to the very dark skin of the Nubians.

- Nubia was the Middle Ages name for the land of Kush or Aithiopia.

- Sudan is the modern name that is Arabic for “Land of the Blacks”.

How do we know about Nubia?

• In 1906, George Reisner surveyed Upper Nubia between the 1 st and 2 nd

cataract (rapid) before the area was flooded by the Aswan Low Dam.

• George Reisner and his chief excavator, Dows Dunham, moved south to survey the

area between the 2 nd and 6 th cataract.

• This study included burial sites at Kerma,

el Kurru and Nuri, the Great Temple at Jebel Barkal

and the pyramid field of Meroe.

• In 1986, a new team led by Timothy Kendall renewed excavations of Nubia and have

revealed new discoveries at Jebel Barkal.

Information about ancient Nubia is somewhat limited for several reasons…

Nubians had no written language until the later Meroitic Period and scholars still have yet

to completely translate this text.

• Much of what is known is based on Egyptian texts, artifacts and Nubian structures.

• Sand erosion has been a major cause for concern. The sand and wind basically act as

an eraser, eroding exposed relief work and outer surfaces of the pyramids. Sand has

also almost completely covered some of the tombs and monuments.

Pyramids at Nuri

• In 1834, Italian explorer, Giuseppe Ferlini, smashed the tops off 40 pyramids in

Meroe searching for treasure.

• He only found one gold cache and had a difficult time selling the gold to Europeans

who didn’t believe black Africans could make such fine jewelry.

Pyramid field at Meroe

• In 1954, construction began on the Aswan High Dam. This threatened the Temple of

Abu Simbel, constructed by Ramesses II. Archaeologists and teams of workers were

able to move this site before it was covered with water, but many other archaeological

treasures were lost.

Nubian History

3100 B.C. to 350 A.D.

A – group (3100 – 2800 B.C.)

• A-group marks the beginning of Egyptian writing, so there now becomes record of

independent kingdoms living in both Egypt and Nubia.

• They most likely lived in small mobile camps because they were hunters, fishermen

and herdsmen and had to move where there was food and good pasture.

• Their tents were probably made of cowhide, grass and reeds built on stone


• Clothing items such as leather and linen loincloths, belts, sandals and leather caps

with feathers have been found in graves.

• Known for their unique thin-walled pottery called “eggshell” pottery. It is usually

painted with shades of red and orange iron oxide in patterns that imitate basketry.

A-group Burial Practices

• A-group graves were usually shallow oval or rectangular pits. Some graves had a

circular stone structure built on top with an adjoining stone chapel area for

receiving offerings.

• The body was usually dressed in elaborate clothing and placed on it side, curled up

in sleeping position.

• Royal graves contained gold jewelry, pottery and stone vessels.

• Other grave goods included small human and animal figurines made with mud or

clay and containers for storing and eating food and drink. This might indicate that

they had a belief in a spiritual life after death.

C-group (2000 – 1500 B.C.)

• Archaeological findings indicate they lived in open villages with more permanent


• They farmed small, fertile areas along the riverbank and raised cattle. They also

traded with Egyptians and produced artistic pottery.

• They dressed much like the A-group people.

C-group Burial Practices

• Continued with the circular grave pit.

• Added animal sacrifices to their burial practices. Skeletons of sheep, goats, cattle,

gazelles and dogs have been found in graves.

• Cattle represented wealth, so several graves were found with multiple cattle skulls

and depictions of cattle on grave stelae (tombstones) and on pottery.

Pan Grave (2200 – 1700 B.C.)

• Pan Grave people had much in common with the A and C-group, but were

well-known for being skilled bowmen and warriors.

• Egyptian kings took notice of their archery skills and actually hired them as

soldiers in exchange for land in Egypt on which to live with their families.

• They were often buried with weapons and cow skulls painted with battle


• Pan Grave people had a unique grave style. Early archaeologists named this

group “Pan Grave” because their shallow, round graves resembled frying pans.

Kerma (2000-1550 B.C.)

• Known as Kerma culture because remains of its capital are found in the modern day

town of Kerma in Sudan.

• One of the largest ancient cities to be found.

• Archaeologists found what they think is a large temple complex. Modern day Nubians

call it Deffufa, meaning “mud-brick ruin.”

• At one point, the Kerma Kingdom controlled much of southern and northern Egypt

while Egyptian kings ruled only a small district at Thebes.

Kerma Burial Practices

•Kerma graves changed over time and the royal tombs were most interesting.

• Early Kerma graves

- small and rather modest

- The body was placed on a tanned ox hide, with another hide covering it.

- Sacrificed sheep are often found in early Kerma graves.

• Later Kerma graves

- Kings dressed in leather garments, sandals and fine jewelry were buried under

huge dirt/sand mounds sometimes as large as football fields.

- The body was placed place in sleeping position on a gold-covered bed.

- Grave goods included gold, ivory, jewelry and weaponry.

- Entire herds of cattle

- In addition to the animal sacrifices, the bodies of men, women and children lined

the corridors leading to the burial chambers. One of the largest graves contained

almost 400 people!

Illustration of Kerma burial mound

The Kingdom of Kush: Napatan Period (750 – 270 B.C.)

• During the Napatan Period, Egypt became weak again.

• In about 724 B.C., kushite king Piye (Piankhy) conquered Egypt and declared

himself pharaoh over all of Egypt and Nubia.

• Kushites governed for about 60 years.

• During their reign, the Kushite pharaohs created harmony and stability in Egypt

and encouraged a resurgence in traditional art, architecture and religion.

• They used the Egyptian language, and wore Egyptian royal dress, but the Kushite

pharaohs retained links with their Nubian ancestry.

• They promoted fellow Kushites to powerful positions as a way of keeping

control and chose to be buried in cemeteries surrounding Napata.

Napatan Period Burial Practices

• During the Napatan Period, Nubians adopted several Egyptian customs including

some funerary traditions.

Nubians began to build small pyramids. The first Nubian pyramids were built in

el-Kurru and included king Piye’s tomb.

• They began mummifying their dead.

• The Egyptian tradition of including servant statuettes or shawabtis took the place

of human sacrifices.

• The main Nubian burial practice that stayed intact was the use of funeral beds

instead of coffins (wood) or sarcophagi (stone).

• Later in the Napatan Period, pyramids were built in Nuri as well.

• The oldest and largest pyramid at Nuri belongs to king Taharqa, Piye’s son.

Pyramids at Nuri

Pyramids at el-Kurru

The Kingdom of Kush: Meroitic Period (270 B.C. – A.D. 350)

• During the Napatan Period, in about 660 B.C., the Assyrians invaded Egypt and sent

the Nubians back to their homeland.

• Eventually, in 270 B.C., the Nubians moved their kingdom south to Meroe.

• Meroitic people introduced their own form of writing.

- Meroitic writing is loosely based on Egyptian hieroglyphs and demonic script.

(popular script written right to left in horizontal lines)

- It appears during the reign of kandake (queen) Shanahdekheto, but it may have

been spoken years earlier.

- It is written two different ways – hieroglyphs in temples and cursive in business

and practical matters.

- It is a genuine African language, but does not appear to closely related to any

other known language which makes it difficult for scholars to decipher.

- Royal names are sometimes written in both Egyptian hieroglyphs and in Meroitic

which allowed the alphabetic values of the script to be determined, but how it is

read is still a mystery.

Egyptian hieroglyphs


Meroitic Period Burial Practices

• By the Meroitic Period, burial traditions were a solid mixture of Egyptian

and Nubian.

• As in Egypt, the body was mummified and placed in a wooden coffin, but

true to earlier Nubian cultures, shawabtis were replaced once again with

human sacrifices.

• Meroitic graves were filled with imported objects such as pottery, bronze

work, glass and silver from the Mediterranean world.

• Meroitic people created large statues of humans with bird wings. This

was most likely an adaptation of the Egyptian ba bird, which represented

a spiritual form of the deceased.

Nubians in a nutshell

• For food they hunted hippos, gazelles, ostriches, geese and duck, fished the Nile

and gathered.

• They grew wheat and barley which were made into bread and beer.

• Dates, figs and nuts were grown

• They traded with Egypt for a variety of other types of food.

• They raised cattle, sheep and goats for food and used their hides for clothing

and shelter.

•Clothing consisted of leather caps, net head coverings, loincloths, skirts, girdles

and sandals.

•They sometimes decorated their clothing with beads, stained them red or pierced

patterns into them.

•Their furniture mainly consisted of shelves, tables, chairs and benches made of mud

or clay.

•The wealthy could afford furniture made of ebony wood decorated with ivory

and gold.

•Furniture was also made out of basketry; woven mats, trays, decorated wooden

boxes, chests and beds are among the pieces that have been found.

• Each group of Nubians created their own style of pottery. This has been quite

helpful to archaeologists because it has helped them learn about and date the

various cultures.

• Pottery was used as dishes, storage containers, cooking pots, offering vases and


A group



C group


Nubians used cosmetics. Oils and fats were used in both cooking and in making


•Both men and women used black eye paints, like the Egyptians.

•Palettes and stones for grinding the eye cosmetics, as well as mirrors, razors and

tweezers have been found in Nubian graves.

Join us for

Lost Kingdoms of the Nile

September 11, 2009 – April 12, 2010


Haynes, Joyce L. Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,


Ayo, Yvonne. Eyewitness Books Africa. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1995

Hart, George. Eyewitness Books Egypt. New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2008

Web Photo Resources

Objects -

Meroe pyramids -

Nuri Pyramids -

El Kurru Pyramids -

Duffufa -

Abu Simbel -

Aswan High Dam -

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines