A Quick Trip to Kush

This evening I attended a meeting of the Egypt Society of Bristol for a lecture by Dr Julie Anderson of the British Museum. As well as working at the BM, Julie is employed as a field archaeologist by the Sudanese government. She’s involved with a project to excavate and preserve the ancient sites of the Kingdom of Kush.

As some of you may know, Egypt was conquered by the Kushite, King Piye, in the 8th Century BCE. He founded the 25th dynasty which ruled Egypt for around 100 years when an Egyptian called Psamtik took back the country with the aid of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal. Egypt remained a puppet state of Assyria until the Neo-Assyrian empire fell into civil war after Ashurbanipal’s death.

The Kushites were not wholly vanquished. They just went home to Kush (northern Sudan) and carried on ruling their own kingdom for another 1000 years. Julie’s dig is at the city of Dangeil which is somewhat to the north of the capital, Meroë.

One thing I learned this evening is that the Kushites took Egyptian culture back home with them. Both Dangeil and Meroë have large temples of Amun. Julie was reporting on the excavation of the one in Dangeil. It is a large building, and must have been very impressive as it was brightly painted in red, yellow and blue. Sadly I can’t find any of the colored images of the temple online.

However, that wasn’t what prompted me to write. What really caught my attention were some graves, six in all, and all found inside the temple. The dating is uncertain as the environment on the site has degraded all of the organic material in the bones, so C14 won’t work. However, the burials are pre-Christian in style. They are all of women — very rich women. No equivalent male burials have been found.

When I say “rich” I mean these women were loaded down with jewelry. They had masses of glass beads, all of which would have been imported from the Mediterranean. They had a profusion of copper bangles — so many that Julie told me she wondered how one of the women could have raised her arm. I asked, and Julie said the bioarchaeology people had been all over the skeletons confirming that they were indeed female.

Here’s one of the beaded belts found in the graves:

Where are the equivalent high-status men? We don’t know. In Meroë there are pyramids for kings, but I’m not sure how the dates line up and in any case I’m sure Julie would have noticed if Dangeil had them too. If these women are queens, why are they not buried with their husbands? It is all very mysterious. It sounds like Kush had a story to tell. I hope some African fantasy writers have a go at it.