Umm Dam Sudan

Keywords: archaeology, rescue, excavation, survey, sudan, nile, merowe dam, sudan archaeological research society, sudan archaeological research society, kerma, kushite, fourth cataract, kush, granite pyramid, burial, cow, post-meriotic, kerma,
Description: Details of a British Museum research project entitled Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project: Amri to Kirbekan Survey (AKS)

The construction of a new dam at the Fourth Nile Cataract has resulted in a major international rescue campaign. The British Museum, in conjunction with the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, is 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 has 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.

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 is currently being studied leading to full publication of the results.

The burial of a cow at site 3-O-380 was accompanied by a string of quartzite beads, a fine glass beaker, a copper-alloy bowl and an extremely well made ivory kohl pot. Dating to the post-Meroitic period it is a highly unusual discovery.

The region of the Fourth Cataract, prior to the threat posed by the construction of the new dam, had been very little studied and was one of the least known reaches of the Nile valley from an archaeological perspective. In this arid zone human settlement at most periods in the past has been focussed on the river and hence the construction of the dam and the resulting 170km-long reservoir will cause immense damage to the archaeological heritage of the region.

The project set out to recover as much information on ancient settlement in the region as time allowed through the study of all remains up to the immediately pre-modern period as well as documenting some aspects of the life of the present-day inhabitants. Among the material recovered is a large collection of human skeletal material allowing a detailed study of the people who lived in the region in the past as well as the study of their settlements and artefacts.

The project also relocated some of the abundant rock art for eventual display in the new museums to be built which will be devoted to the ancient and modern cultures of the region as well as the 390 blocks of the granite pyramid.

Artefacts from this campaign donated to the Sudan Archaeological Research Society and passed on for curation to the British Museum in recognition of its work can be seen in Room 65, Sudan, Egypt and Nubia

Draft reports are made available on the SARS website prior to final publication in the SARS monograph series:

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