First Published: 2013-03-30

 

Newly found pyramids reveal aspects of social equality in ancient Sudan

 

Three years of digging by French team at Sedeinga unearth 35 pyramids that emphasise contrast between ancient cultures of Sudan, Egypt.

 

Middle East Online

By Ian Timberlake – KHARTOUM

Little has been found inside because of plundering

People power may have come to modern-day Egypt and not Sudan, but the unearthing of ancient pyramids in Egypt's southern neighbour shows that greater social equality existed there 2,000 years ago, a French archeologist says.

Three years of digging by a French team at Sedeinga, about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Egyptian border, has unearthed 35 pyramids that emphasise the contrast between the two ancient cultures, said Claude Rilly, director of the mission.

"Pyramids were so fashionable that everybody that could afford to build one, did," said Rilly, referring to the latter part of the Meroe kingdom, around 100-200 AD.

"So we have really a kind of inflation, what I call a democratisation of the pyramid which is without equivalent anywhere, especially in Egypt."

Sudan's remote and relatively undiscovered pyramids contrast with their grander and better-known cousins to the north.

Egyptian pyramids, built far earlier than those in Sudan, held the tombs of kings, the royal family and nobles -- but never the middle class, Rilly said.

Sudanese royalty also got their pyramids, but later so did many other lesser souls, said the 53-year-old archeologist, who began studying hieroglyphics when he was only seven.

"It reached layers of the population which have never been concerned by building of pyramids in Egypt," Rilly said. "This is really something new, which we didn't expect."

That is why there is such a large number. Sometimes they were built so close together, typically in a circular pattern, that there isn't enough room to squeeze between them.

The pyramids are in a necropolis of about 40 hectares (99 acres) that is thought to hold more than 1,000 tombs. One quarter have been found and opened so far, he said.

The structures come in various sizes, with some no more than a metre (yard) high.

All of them were made from mud brick, which wasn't expensive but still required a designer and workmen to construct.

That meant that the poorest people could not afford pyramids but were buried in surrounding pits, he said in his office at Sudan's National Museum.

Archaeologists began work on the site in the 1960s, focusing on a section reserved for princes. But during the past three years they discovered that more common folk had also been buried there.

Little remains, however, of Sedeinga's grandest structure. That was a temple which Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III built for his wife Queen Tiye, grandmother of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen.

It appears to have been heavily damaged during flooding perhaps around 400 or 500 BC, said Rilly, whose team is funded by the French government and the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

Despite the large number of pyramids recently unearthed, little has been found inside because of plundering by tomb raiders, both ancient and modern.

But the robbers missed one tomb that has yielded "a rich site" for archaeologists -- the skeleton of a child buried with four decorative collars and anklets of bronze.

The youngster was four or five years old "and we wondered why they took so much precaution to bury a young child like that," said Rilly.

Egypt occupied northern Sudan for about 500 years until roughly 1,000 BC but its cultural influence faded during the 700-year reign of the Meroe kingdom from about 350 BC.

Inscriptions found in the Sedeinga tombs are in Meroitic, a phonetic writing simplified from the Egyptian.

Rilly, a world expert in the language, said Meroitic is still little understood.

But he has been able to decipher details about the social structure of families, concluding that this part of the necropolis holds "a lot of women."

Many were priestesses of the goddess Isis, of whom Queen Tiye was considered an incarnation.

In one of those female tombs late last year Rilly himself made a rare discovery as he dug amid extreme heat after water entered the structure. He found a sandstone slab bearing an image of the main Egyptian god Amun.

It had originally been part of a wall in Queen Tiye's temple, and is the only entirely preserved divine figure to have been recovered.

Finds like this are rapidly advancing knowledge about the ancestors of today's Sudanese, said Rilly, who is hopeful of more revelations.

The first archeological digs in Sudan took place only about 100 years ago, much later than in Egypt or Greece.

"The field to research is still very open and this is a science... changing all the time. That is very stimulating," he said.

 

Saudi king vows to punish those behind bombing at Shiite mosque

Weakened by war, Syria regime appears ready for ‘de facto partition’

‘Islamic State’ takes full control of Iraq-Syria border crossing

Tripoli leaders use migrant issue as they yearn for recognition

Al-Azhar pleads for protection of Syria ancient city

Iran army ‘needs bigger budget to counter IS’

Saudi Shiites refuse to be provoked by deadly mosque bombing

Iran denies agreement on inspection of military sites

Emirati aid shipment arrives in Yemen port city of Aden

GCC denies air campaign against IS terrorists has failed

Sudan's Islamists protest against el-Sisi

Saudi mosque attack intended to fan sectarian tension

Islamic State claims Saudi mosque bombing

Israel solicits Platini to sway FIFA

Islamic State reinforces ‘caliphate’ with control of borders

Israeli deputy FM: 'All of it is ours'

Iraqi forces to launch Ramadi offensive

Tunis asks Rome to extradite terror suspect

Suicide bomb attack on Saudi Shiite mosque

Saudi-led coalition warplanes pound Sanaa outskirts

Shebab gunmen raid Kenya village

Kuwait businessman Khorafi dies at 75

IS fighters attack Iraq forces east of Ramadi

Obama offers Tunisia closer security ties

Yemen air strikes continue as Iran calls for talks

Israeli court orders release of Khalida Jarrar

Netanyahu meets with Arab leader Ayman Odeh

U.S. sanctions two companies linked to Iran's plane purchases

Iran supports Yemen talks, denounces foreign interference

IS militants call for attacks on Egypt's judges

11 killed in fresh Libya violence

Assad regime losses in Syria

Obama looks to bolster Tunisia's democratic gains

Turkey opposition unveils plan to build new 'mega-city' in Anatolia

Iraqi prime minister seeks Russian support against Islamic State

Iraq's Sunni tribes feel distrust towards Baghdad after Ramadi fall

Morocco illegal migrant arrest fuels Italy row

Qatar ‘failing to deliver’ on promised labour reforms

US to sell bombs, missiles to Israel, helicopters to Saudis

IS jihadists in full control of Syria's Palmyra

Yemen government wants rebel pullback before joining Geneva talks

Morocco King names four new ministers in second reshuffle

Gaza reconstruction going ‘far more slowly than expected’

France kills two jihadist chiefs in Sahel region

Clashes with ‘Islamic State’ rage on near Libya city of Sirte