Prof. Manu Ampim




Kushite ruler from Meroe                       Pyramid field at Bagraweya (near Meroe)




In August 2007, I visited the Sudan for two weeks to conduct field research near the Merowe Dam area in the country’s northern region. My mission was a mini-research survey to record and document the  archaeological sites and villages that will be flooded when the dam is completed in the upcoming months.  The Merowe Dam is being constructed near the Fourth Cataract and, once completed in 2008, will inundate one of the most significant archaeological regions in the world. This area was an extension of one of the important political centers of the powerful ancient African civilization of Kush, and it was part of an extensive trading network and centralized kingship 4,500 years ago.  My other goal of this Sudanese tour was to visit the major temple and pyramid sites, from the capital area of Khartoum down to the northern region of Merowe.[1]  I was joined by my Sudanese colleague, Sarwat, who came from Germany to give me invaluable assistance with negotiating domestic transportation, obtaining the required entry permits, and meeting with government officials.  Sarwat’s in-depth knowledge of Sudanese culture and his government contacts were keys to my productive tour.



Archaeological map                   Author and Sudanese colleague Sarwat




The Merowe Dam (also called the Hamdab Dam) is a $1.7 billion project and it is the largest dam project ever constructed in the Sudan.  The official goal of this project is to create 1250 megawatts of hydroelectricity for the country and thereby almost double the nation’s energy output.  The project is near completion and will create a 170 kilometer (108 mile) long lake, and displace an estimated 70,000 people.  Also, recent research surveys suggest that there are literally thousands of new archaeological sites that have not been investigated, and unfortunately the vast majority of them will be submerged under the new lake before there will be any major excavations or recording of the artifacts.



Merowe Dam signs are in three languages: Arabic, English, and Chinese



Merowe Dam construction work



Two rows of energy transmission lines


The dam project is a major international effort with engineering, management, and construction support from China, Germany, and France. Also Arab financial institutions, including the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Saudi Fund for Development, Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, and the Kuwaiti Fund for Economical Development, are providing $871 million dollars in project financing.  The Export-Import Bank of China and the Chinese government are providing an additional $520 million.  Further, Chinese construction companies including China International Water and Electric Corporation are involved in the Merowe project.[2]  Indeed, in our visit to the site and walk through the main construction area we were able to see many thousands of workers and even a change in work shifts, and it appears that about 10% of the construction workers were Chinese foreigners. 


The Merowe Dam project could benefit many of the Sudanese people, but it has also raised major concerns among the local Sudanese and the international community, because of the environmental, archaeological, and social impact that it will have. 




The engineering work on the Merowe Dam began in June 2003, but before this time the Sudanese government had already made an international appeal to all experts and institutions specialized in archaeology, history, ethnology, preservation and related fields to contribute to the rescue of sites endangered by the construction of the dam.  The appeal was made by Hassan Idriss, Director General of the National Corporation for Antiquities & Museums (NCAM).  Idriss indicated in his appeal that under a 1999 antiquities ordinance that the incentive for the participating institutions would be the right to own a representative portion of the artifacts discovered.[3]  In cooperation with NCAM’s effort of saving the Merowe area sites and artifacts is the Sudanese government Merowe Dam Project / Dams Implementation Unit.[4]

This government appeal “for the rescuing of a piece of man’s cultural heritage” was responded to by archaeological teams from Poland, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and the United States.  Among the principle archaeological missions are the British Museum Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS), University of Chicago Oriental Institute, Humboldt University Nubian Expedition (Germany), French Archaeological Section, and the Gdansk Archaeological Museum Expedition (Poland).


In the past few years important discoveries have been made above the 4th Cataract, such as the Oriental Institute team’s early 2007 discovery of a gold-producing center at a remote site called Hosh el-Geruf.  The team reported finding more than 55 grinding stones made of gneiss that were used to crush and grind ore to recover the precious metal.  The ground ore was likely washed with water to separate the gold flakes. This organized gold production is estimated to have flourished sometime between 2000 and 1500 BCE, during a classical period of the kingdom of Kush.[5]  This new gold discovery has now compelled researchers to alter their conclusions regarding the extent of Kushite influence, which was thought to stretch only from Kerma (which was the seat of the Kushite kingdom at the 3rd Cataract) north to the 1st Cataract. The Hosh el-Geruf discovery has now made it clear that the influence of Kush during the Kerma era extended hundreds of miles farther up the Nile beyond the 4th Cataract.


Hassan Ahmed Ali pans for gold in al-Widay village         Large broken grindstones were found at Hosh el-Geruf


One of the 90 graves of a cemetery found at Al-Widay.  Many of the tomb objects are thought to be produced of materials from the Kerma region to the north.  (Excavation work of the Oriental Institute).


Near Hosh el-Geruf is the site of Al-Widay, where a cemetery with 90 burials of local people were found, and among the artifacts were pottery vessels, beads, and other items that appear to be made in the center of the kingdom, in Kerma, some 225 miles downstream to the north.  Dr. Bruce Williams, co-leader of the Oriental Institute’s expedition indicated, “Finds of Kerma materials at the Fourth Cataract was one of the major surprises of the salvage effort, and they suggest the leaders of Kush were able to expand their influence much further than was previously known.”[6]  Gil Stein, Director of the Institute, added: “This work is extremely exciting because it can give us our first look at the economic organization of this very important, but little known ancient African state.”  He continued, “Until now, virtually all that we have known about Kush came from the historical records of their Egyptian neighbors, and from limited explorations of monumental architecture at the Kushite capital city Kerma.  The Oriental Institute excavations at Hosh el-Guruf [sic] will allow scholars to understand the rural sources of the riches of Kush.”[7] 

Unfortunately, although these finds are critical to the total reassessment of the influence and extent of the kingdom of Kush, the vast majority of the sites in this region will never be excavated or seriously examined before the area is permanently flooded with the completion of the dam. 


There is a race by the various archaeological missions to excavate and save the artifacts at these sites, but the quantity of newly discovered sites are too numerous to even scratch the surface.  For example, one of the most comprehensive salvage operations has been conducted by groups under the Gdansk Archaeological Museum in Poland, which identified and surveyed an amazing 711 new ancient sites in 2003 alone.  In September 2006, the Telegraph newspaper (London) reported more evidence of these newly found archaeological sites.  “Previously we thought the fourth cataract was something of a backwater – it is wrong to say so,” said Julie Anderson of the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan. “But in the last year alone 700 brand new sites have been discovered – an indication of the untapped riches that exist. …Although Sudan is the largest country in Africa it has often been in the shadow of Egypt.  The fourth cataract is changing that perception. It is exciting, as everything we find is brand new.”[8]  Actually, there have been archeological teams in the Fourth Cataract region since the mid-1990s, and the surveys indicate that there may be as many as 2,500 archaeological sites that have to be investigated in the area, but it is clear that only a tiny percentage of these sites will ever be excavated.  Indeed National Geographic, which is supporting the Oriental Institute, stated earlier this year that, “Archaeologists will only be able to excavate a fraction of the estimated 2,500 sites in the area before the flooding begins.”[9]  The evidence from these sites could very well paint a picture of 10,000 years of continuous occupation in this region, with settlement ruins, ceramics, cemeteries, rock art, and stone structures.  One amazing find occurred in 2003, when a joint British Museum SARS and University College London team unearthed a Kushite pyramid (c. 8th-5th century BCE) at et-Tereif.[10]



Kushite pyramid recently excavated at et-Tereif


The region between the 4th and 5th cataracts is a rich archaeological area, but little is known about this region.  In fact, if one checks standard archaeological site maps between these cataracts there is usually no indication of sites within the area, because this zone has never been excavated or studied until recently.  When the Merowe Dam is completed and the area is flooded the lost to humanity will be incalculable.  Further, it should not be assumed that the current archaeological work is in any way “comprehensive,” but rather it is merely salvage work that only skims the surface.  It takes decades to excavate large sites and thus the current work is surface archaeology, rather than “comprehensive archaeology.”  For instance, in my conversation with Sudanese archaeologist Dr. Khidir Ahmed during my August visit, he made the following point clear, that the island site of Kasr Ibrim in southern Egypt is the only in-situ archaeological site near the Aswan Dam at the First Cataract to have survived the flood waters from the dam’s completion in 1970, and yet the excavation work at Kasr Ibrim (which began in 1963) is still being carried out today, more than 40 years later.[11] 




In visiting the several archaeological sites behind the dam that will be flooded, I learned how difficult is to get to this remote region.  There are no roads outside of small towns in the area such as Karima, and thus travel to this flood zone behind the dam must be by truck through the desert, and this takes at least 90 minutes even with the most experienced drivers.  Sarwat and I had two days of major challenges in our effort to visit the sites and villages behind the Merowe Dam. 


On the first day (August 6), we left the town of Karima with our driver and two local men from a nearby village (five of us in all), and we were headed to sites such as Hosh el-Geruf and ed-Doma, among others.  The two local men were with us to help give directions to the villages and to introduce us to the Manasir people, because we were told that it would not be safe for us to visit them without calling ahead and having security provided.  These men told us that the Manasir were “very aggressive,” as they had already kicked out archaeological teams and prevented the Oriental Institute archaeologists from working in their area, because the local Manasir people oppose the dam and they feel that the archaeologists are part of reason for the dam being constructed.  We were also told that some Manasir men were caught with explosives in a failed attempt to blow up the dam. 


When we initially left Karima to travel behind the dam to these remote archaeological sites and villages, I had no idea that we were faced with three challenges: (1) We would have to drive through 100% desert for almost two hours before we would reach any of the modern villages; (2) neither our driver nor the two other men had ever driven through the desert before; and (3) our vehicle already had a bad clutch before we started on our journey.  After the first 10 minutes of our journey, I recognized that there was nothing but desert in front of us for miles, and that the driver and the two local men were inexperienced navigating through the sand trying to avoid getting stuck in a sand pile.  Of course, there were no roads in the desert and thus we could only follow the confusing various sets of tire tracks that were leading in the general direction of our destination.  It was obvious that there were many other vehicles which had traveled this “road” before us, but the tracks were literally in various directions, so that it was clear that no inexperienced desert driver could possibly figure out this maze.  It was not surprising that within 20-25 minutes our vehicle got stuck in a pile of sand.  The five of us couldn’t get the tires free from the sand pile, and thus it eventually took two trucks with 17 men passing in the opposite direction to help us to get the tires free.  This was an amazing experience because it took 22 men about 20 minutes to push and remove sand from the tires to get our vehicle free. 



The group of men returning to their trucks after helping to get our vehicle free from the sand pile.


We were finally on our way again but we were still faced with the problem of an inexperienced driver trying to navigate through the desert sands.  Nevertheless, I was glad to be on the “road” again because it was getting hot in a hurry in the middle of the desert.  However, our good fortune didn’t very last long because about 10-15 minutes later our truck broke down.  The clutch went out!  We were driving through the desert and the driver never told us that his truck recently had clutch problems until after it broke down.  The news was too late because we were now stuck in the full desert without food, water, or a working cell phone.  Thus, we had to be creative in figuring out how we were going to find help, because none of us could get cell phone reception to call back to the mechanic shop in Karima, and we had driven so far away from the main “road” (i.e. the main desert tire tracks) that although we could see at a distance two or three vehicles transporting local people to Karima for supplies, etc.  they could not see us.  It was mid-morning and getting hotter each half hour, and there was no easy solution.  It was probably about 100 degrees, and we did not have any more water.  Actually, the only water we had was the small bottle that I kept with me in case of an emergency.  The lack of planning on this day was obvious.  After about 90 minutes of deciding what to do and trying to repair the truck, one of the local guys from the village got an idea to walk about 1.5 – 2.0 miles to climb the nearby mountain in order to get cell phone reception and call for assistance.  When he took off his shoes and started walking to the mountain in the scorching hot sand, I decided that I would give him the water because he would need it more than anyone else after he returned. 


The clutch broke and our vehicle is stuck in the middle of the desert with no obvious solution.



Here is the mountain about 1.5 miles away, and I zoomed in to get a view of him when we reached the top.


He stayed on top of the mountain until he could reach the repair shop, and then made his way down and back through the hot sand, with periodic rest stops.  By this time the sun was almost at its peak and there was little shade anywhere around the truck.  When he returned, I gave him the little remaining water that I had because of his heroic effort.  But to my surprise, he took only the smallest sip and gave the rest of the water (of all people) to the driver.  I was losing energy at a steady rate but I could only imagine the energy he had to exert to walk miles back and forth to the mountain, and then climb up to the top, so I never thought twice about giving him our last water.


The driver drinking our last bottle of water.  To the left is Sarwat, and to the right is the mountain climber.

However, I could hardly believe what I was seeing, that he barely drank the water and gave the rest to the irresponsible driver.  But it was too hard to focus on this matter, because I was simply trying to conserve energy and keep from getting too hot.  After another couple hours, there was still no sign of help coming our way.  This time the other local guy walked about 2-3 miles each way to an old defunct train station to get water for everyone.  Meanwhile Sarwat, the mountain climber, and the driver decided to walk over and climb the mountain again to make another phone call.  I decided to stay and sit next to the truck and shelter under the little shaded area that was left.  After a while the guy with the water came back with a couple gallons, and the mountain phone calls were successful in that they reached someone in town to describe our situation and general location.  When everyone returned, we still waited a while and again no sign of help coming.  By the time I found a mirror to signal other vehicles passing by, the last vehicle of the day had already made its early morning run.  As we continued to wait for help everyone in our group drank water, except me.  It was now past noon, amazingly hot, and there was no breeze, but the water was a strange and dirty color so I decided not to drink any of it.  I felt that I was better off just trying to conserve energy until we could get help, rather than risk getting sick by drinking the water.  I figured that although my energy was low, I would not be in any serious risk of heat stroke or dehydration until probably the next day. 


Finally, after about six hours from when we got stranded the repair truck and the mechanics came from Karima with the new clutch.  They told us that they had been driving around in the desert for 2.5 hours because we were so far off the main “road” that they couldn’t find us.  The mechanic crew wasted no time getting to the clutch repair.  It was amazing because they made the repair without a jack or flashlight.  The repair took at least two hours and in the meantime, I sat in the hot repair truck just hoping for all of this to end.  The truck had no air conditioning, there was no clean water that I could drink, and there was no set time for our dilemma to finally end.  Sarwat came over to try and get me to drink some of the water, but I refused.  He said, “Brother, you don’t look well.”  I replied, “I know but I will be all right.”  He then insisted that I drink some of water, until I said, “I am not drinking that dirty water.  I would rather be de-energized and weak, but healthy; rather than drink the water and know that I’m going to get sick.”  Finally, at about 4 pm the mechanics finished the clutch repair.  I had been in the desert heat for 8 hours without food or water, but I simply toughed it out until we could ride back into Karima.  After this 30 minute drive back into town, I had never been happier to see the dirt and gravel streets of Karima.  Once we arrived, my first order of business was to drink as much as I could to re-energize. 


It turned out that as soon as we returned to Karima, Sarwat and I had to part with our driver because we could not come to terms on the clutch repair, agenda, and price.  We had already paid several days in advance and contracted with him for four more days but things did not look too well, because this was only our second day using his services and there were going to be other problems and expenses along the way.  Sarwat told me that after talking with the driver this situation was not going to be worked out.  He insisted that we leave him and move forward with our agenda.  Sarwat was right because it was almost 6 pm and it was going to get dark soon.  We wanted to salvage the day and still be productive, so we took our bags and walked down the street.  Fortunately, we found a taxi driver, Abdul Haziz, who knew the way to the Merowe Dam and agreed to take us before it got too dark to see the construction project.  We drove down a rocky, bumpy, gravel road for some time before we reached the construction site.  We could see from a distance that this was a massive project, but once there we had to first go through a series of check points and show our entry permit.  The dam area seemed like a high security military base. 


On our way through these check points, we saw the local construction workers playing football (American soccer) at the first check point, and as we passed through the area we reached a paved road and saw many thousands of young men in the area who were apparently off work.  It was interesting to see that we were in the 4th Cataract and Merowe region for the second day and the only roads or modern development was associated with the Merowe Dam project.  We finally made it to the hard-hat area of the construction site and I was struck by the large number of workers (particularly the Chinese), and the massive size of the project itself.


The day actually turned out to be productive because we got a chance to visit the Merowe Dam and tour the work site.  We stayed in the hard-hat area for about 90 minutes before it got dark, and then stopped by the local dam site grocery store to pick up a few items, before we headed back to Karima for the night.  Our walk through the dam construction site and the surrounding area was very informative, because it is such a massive project and it is obvious that the only real development in the 4th Cataract and Merowe region is all associated with the dam.  For example the roads, bridges, airport, and buildings with modern conveniences such as air conditioning units, were all for the housing, movement and transport of equipment, men, and supplies. 





Merowe Dam Residential Town, with 70 houses for engineers, consultants, and contractors; the town also has a two-story

VIP rest house and administration building.



                                                                Merowe Dam


Our next day (August 7) was also a challenging one because we needed another set of permits to pass through a series of check points on the other side of the Nile to travel in the dam construction site.  I was amazed at how the taxi driver, Abdul Haziz, could drive his small car over rocks, boulders, hills, sand, and ditches as we were going up the Nile to the village areas.  We drove the better part of the day but we did not have any success finding the villages where people were still living, and where they were refusing to leave their homeland.  The only highlight of this day was that we got an opportunity to see the Merowe Dam from the other side of the Nile and examine more of the massive ongoing construction work.  We also saw the Hamdab Village, for which the dam project was originally named for, before it was changed to the name “Merowe.”  The Hamdab Village is now abandoned and the local people have been relocated to one of the resettlement areas.  This was our second day of not really having success of finding the villages and sites behind the dam.  Thus, it became clear to us that there was no way to get to these areas unless we found a local person who drives from the villages to Karima everyday, because these would be the only people who knew the way there through the desert terrain.  That night we finalized our plans and talked with Abdul Haziz about what we needed to do to get to this 100-mile stretch of land that will soon be flooded. 


On August 8th, as we were waking up to move forward with the third day of trying to get to the elusive and remote area between the 4th-5th cataracts, Sarwat informed me that he was very sick and felt terrible.  We soon found out that he had dysentery (an intestinal virus) and could not join me on this day.  This was the most important day, because on the two previous days we found out how not to get to the sites and villages behind the dam.  Also, arrangements had already been made for us to talk with local people about our schedule and plan to visit the flood zone area.  Our travel plans seemed like a go, because all we needed to do was finalize the details.  However, although this was the day of our greatest opportunity to make the entire trip worthwhile and visit the soon-to-be-flooded sites, it was at the same time the biggest challenge because my colleague was unable to join me.  The fact is that the Sudan trip came together because Sarwat made it all happen through his contacts and negotiating skills, and yet he would be unable to join me on the most crucial day.  Nevertheless, I moved forward. 


Abdul Haziz took me around the corner from our hotel to talk with a local guy in the market who was back home in Sudan for a short while, before he returned to Saudi Arabia.  After we talked for a short while, he made a phone call and the necessary arrangements for me to travel with a local driver to the area behind the 4th Cataract.  When I arrived back to the hotel, Sarwat made sure that the arrangements were solid, and he confirmed that a local driver from the Amri people would pick me up from the hotel later that afternoon at 1:00 pm, and that I would spend the night in one of the villages.  My destination was to the area of the Amri and Manasir people, this same latter group that we had been told are “very aggressive” and that it may not be safe to visit their area without security and prior notification of our arrival.  However, I did not concern myself with these matters because this was the third day of trying to get to the area, and I was only focused on getting to the sites and villages.


As planned an experienced driver, Abdul Hawid, picked me up in his truck at 1:00 pm on his way back from Karima to the small isolated Amri and Manasir villages to drop off passengers.  It was a rough and bumpy ride through the desert again, but this time with an experienced driver.  Our journey was 1.5 hours through the desert and another 30 minutes over sandy hills, rocks, mini-sand dunes, gravel, and ditches to reach the first village.  I was truly surprised that we didn’t get stuck at least once, because the terrain is so fierce.  It would be impossible for any inexperienced driver to make it through this difficult terrain and do so without getting lost.  The first community where we dropped off, and picked up, passengers was el-Bada village.  After the two-hour voyage to the first village and a brief stop, the second small Amri village, called Umm Gebeir, was just a short ride over the rocks and sandy hills, and I was pleasantly surprised to meet Ahmed Babakir.  Babakir spoke very good English and he informed me of the archaeological work in the area that he has been participating in.  He has worked with the Polish Gdansk Archaeological Museum and Oriental Institute teams over the years, and he also gave me some interesting insight on when the completed dam would flood the area.  He mentioned that he and others had conducted studies and concluded that it will take longer than stated for the area to flood, and it was his belief that the government is not telling the people exactly when the project will be completed, because the government wants the people to leave the villages immediately.  Babakir also mentioned that he has continued to stay in el-Baba because many of the people have chosen to stay and he is there with them to volunteer his time and talent as a teacher.  He also said that one of his colleagues in the village also decided to stay and volunteer his services to assist the people.


After making stops at a few other small villages, with no more than 300 people in each location, we finally arrived at Hosh el-Geruf, which is the last Amri village in the Northern State.  I wanted to see this area were the gold deposits were because this was a significant discovery, the source of Kushite gold.  I was dropped off at the site and a young teenager took me around to see and photograph the artifacts. 



   A buried structure found by the author at Hosh el-Geruf.  Scattered potsherds at Hosh el-Geruf   


After Hosh el-Geruf, Abdul Hawid took me to the first Manasir village, el-Jebel.  He briefly introduced me to a group of men and dropped me off at the village on his way to a neighboring village to stop by his house.  It was a very pleasant visit with these so-called “very aggressive” people.  I sat and talked with about 7-8 Manasir men who didn’t know me from any other stranger in the world.  Yet, they were very hospitable as we talked, ate dates, and drank hot tea.  They informed me that about 700 Manasir people had left the area and have gone to the Mukabrab resettlement area, and only 355 remained in the village.  I told them about my mission of meeting the people, seeing the villages, and recording and documenting all the artifacts possible before the completion of the dam.  They in turn told me that there was no incentive for them to move because they are farmers with plenty of date-palm trees that they showed me, and that the government did not want to compensate them with the real value of their fruit trees, and thus they refuse to leave.  For example, they stated that the government wants to give them 500 Sudanese pounds for a productive date-palm tree, when the real value is ten times this amount, at 5,000 Sudanese pounds each.[12] The most amusing part of our conversation was when I told them that I was warned about visiting their area because they were supposedly hostile and aggressive towards outsiders.  We all had a big laugh and continued to talk for a few more minutes before my driver returned to take me to the next site.


Before I left, I asked this group of Manasir men to take their picture and document my visit with them.  They said yes but they were eager to ensure that I took pictures of them in the field next to their crops, and that I also took photos of their many date trees.  So they all got up from our sitting area and a few of them gathered some of the children to also join the picture.

Manasir people from el-Jebel village are classified as “Arab” in the U.S. media.   

Their date-palm trees can be seen in the background. 


After leaving el-Jebel and stopping at several other small villages, I was ferried up the Nile in a motorboat and had a chance to visit the site of ed-Doma, where there are burials and rock art from different historical periods.  This was the farthest site that I traveled to (about 30 miles or so) behind the Merowe Dam.  I briefly toured part of the ed-Doma archaeological site to get an idea of the layout of the site and excavation area.  In December 2006, teams working under SARS (the British Museum organization) were forced by the Monasir Higher Committee to abruptly leave five excavation sites in the ed-Doma area because they were no longer welcome.



Boatside view of a local village on Dirbi Island     Manasir boatman from es-Suweigat Village



Christian era grave site at ed-Doma                   Close-up of grave


After leaving ed-Doma, I went to the Manasir village of es-Suweigat to spend the night there with   Abdul Hawit and the local men.  We talked, watched local TV, and ate dinner before sleeping a pleasant night under the stars.  It was an informative experience up the Nile behind the Merowe Dam.  The experience was memorable because I got a chance to see the numerous small villages, interacted with the local Amri and Manasir people, and visited several of the archaeological sites.  If we are able to visit the 100-mile flood zone again before the completion of the dam, we will begin the fieldwork near the Umm Gebeir area and work toward the end of the projected flood area at Mograt Island.


Samaa, a college student from the Merowe area. 

The next day, on my return to the town of Karima, I went to our hotel and checked in with my colleague Sarwat, and we decided that the basic work behind the dam was done in terms of scouting and recording one-third of the region in the flood zone.  We decided that our general work in the Merowe area was successful and that we would continue and complete the work in our next visit to the area in 2008.  The many people that I met and the significant monuments that we visited made this a very special experience, but we had more work to do in the Khartoum area.  However, the one issue that struck me about the Merowe area is that the vast majority of the people are thoroughly Africoid in physical appearance.  With the U.S. and British media hype about the “Arabs” in the north versus the “Africans” in the west and south of Sudan, I had expected to see in this northern region a large number of light-skinned Arabs that are similar in appearance to those in neighboring Egypt.  However, of the many thousands of people that we saw in the northern area only a tiny percentage would be classified as “Arab” in the U.S.  In discussing racial identity, many people often confuse phenotype (physical appearance) with cultural traits such as language or religion.  Thus, many Sudanese are called “Arab” in the Western press largely because they speak Arabic, practice Islam, and may even identify with an Arab ancestry, yet their phenotype is thoroughly African.  Likewise, in the U.S. we often hear silly discussions about the “Jews” as if they are an ethic group, when the fact is that a “Jew” can be from any racial group.  A “Jew” is simply a practitioner of the Judaism religion, regardless of their ethnicity.[13]




When we arrived back in Khartoum, we met with important people who were associated with the Merowe Dam project.  Perhaps the most significant meeting was with Mohamed Abdalla, the Sudanese Minister of Culture.  We had a private meeting in his office for about 20 minutes and I was able to share the purpose and focus of my Sudanese visit.  It was a very positive meeting as we dialogued about the importance of the ancient Sudanese civilizations and artifacts.  I stated my concern that the antiquity of the Kushite and Nubian civilizations is often minimized, and these civilizations are discussed only as younger satellite cultures derived from ancient Egypt.  I added that the Merowe Dam will undoubtedly flood any additional evidence that the Kushite and Nubian civilizations came before, and influenced, ancient Egyptian civilization.


Minister Abdalla acknowledged these concerns and then informed me that there was current research being conducting by European teams regarding the greater antiquity of the Sudanese civilizations, and that the American and British scholars are relying on outdated research and ideas in their assertion that ancient Egypt is older than Sudanese civilizations. Abdalla made it clear that he welcomes new research from U.S. scholars.  Our meeting ended very positive and he was pleased with my project, and thus pledged to offer any necessary support to my future work regarding ancient Sudanese civilizations.


Manu Ampim with Minister of Culture, Mohamed Abdalla in his Khartoum office


(Left to right) Security Guard Adel, Manu Ampim, Mohamed Abdalla, and Khalid Nour


Another important meeting that we had in Khartoum was with archaeologist Khidir Ahmed, who has been working in the same areas as myself.  For years, Dr. Ahmed has been raising concerns in several areas: the Merowe Dam flooding ancient Kushite sites before they are excavated; Eurocentric Egyptologists and historians explaining Sudanese civilizations only in reference to the Egyptian influence on it; and the current salvage archaeology being carried out that is falsely promoted as “comprehensive” archaeology. Indeed, the fieldwork conducted in recent years by the various research teams can hardly be considered thorough and comprehensive when there is an estimated 2,500 brand new sites that have been recently identified, and yet the area is scheduled to be flooded in 2008.


Back: Adel (security guard who set up meeting) and Khalid Nour.


Front: Dr. Ahmed, Manu Ampim, and Safaa (English teacher) in Khartoum







As I indicated in the Introduction, one of my goals for the tour was to visit ancient pyramid and temple sites outside of the 4th Cataract flood area.  We visited several of the major Kushite sites, such as Bagriweya, Meroe, Nuri, el-Kurru, and Gebel Barkal.  Unfortunately, these sites are of no real concern to most of the local people or to the Sudanese government.  For example, in the Shendi area (northeast of Khartoum) at the Bagriweya pyramid site, Sarwat and I were the only visitors there other than a few Chinese workers from the Merowe Dam project who had a few days off and decided to tour the ruins. 


Pyramids of Bagriweya (near Meroe)


Also, at the nearby royal city of Meroe there is no gate, no site security or personnel, and of course no tickets or permits needed.  This famous Meroe site was completely unoccupied by anyone other than Sarwat and I.  The only evidence that Meroe was an important capital city of ancient Kush is an old weathered sign.  We spent the rest of the afternoon at the royal city examining the site.  We walked through the area and found countless potsherds, animal bones, remains of various mud brick structures, the enclosure wall for the city, temples, and possibly palaces. The highlight was the avenue of columns and ram-headed sphinxes leading to the sanctuary of the Amen Temple.  Iron smelting was also an important activity at Meroe. This ancient capital city and nearby cemeteries covered an extensive area that supported a very large urban population, which has been estimated by the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) curator and archaeologist Prof. Krysztof Grzymski to have reached 20,000-25,000 residents. 


Royal City of Meroe and the main axis of the Amen Temple


Likewise, we saw the complete lack of appreciation for ancient Sudanese civilizations when my colleague and I were the only visitors during our 2.5 hour stay at the National Antiquities Museum in Khartoum. Unfortunately, there were few artifacts on display which could give any indication of the powerful Kushite and Nubian civilizations of the past.  The museum even closed early because of the relatively modest rain that afternoon.


National Antiquities Museum (Khartoum)



Kushite ruler (National Antiquities Museum)


Further, our experience was similar at the el-Kurru and Gebel Barkal sites in the Karima area, as there was no one present at these sites.  These important pyramid sites had no other visitors, site personnel, or security.  Thus, there is absolutely no supervision or protection of these sites.  It does not take long to learn that the ancient sites in Sudan are not tourist locations, and it is therefore easy for the public to ignore them.  There is an estimated 223 pyramids in the Sudan (compared to only 110 in Egypt) and many of these structures are still visible today. 



Gebel Barkal pyramids and Amen Temple



Archaeological site of Nuri


Although there are many more pyramids in the Sudan than in Egypt, there could not be a more obvious contrast between the two neighboring countries.  While tourism in Egypt is the number one revenue-producing industry which drew 9.1 million visitors in 2006 and provides 40% of the nation’s jobs, the tourism in Sudan is almost nonexistent, despite the government’s current effort to develop Sudanese tourism.  As a result, the ancient Sudanese monuments have virtually no impact on the economy or daily life in the country.  However, after visiting the major sites, one cannot avoid being impressed with the Kushite legacy of pyramid and temple building over a large area of the Sudan.  Promoting and protecting this legacy grows more important as the Merowe Dam’s completion and subsequent flooding behind the 4th Cataract draws near.


Overall, my recent Sudan tour was productive and very informative and I look forward to a 2008 tour before the floodwaters caused by the Merowe Dam sweep through the 4th Cataract region.  I owe much to my Sudanese brothers, Sarwat and Khalid, both of whom made the tour possible.  Also, Sarwat’s family members Nasserdeen and Ibrahim helped with logistical details to make sure that our travel plans were carried out. 


Lastly, the most important step that the Western public can take at this time is to do everything possible to save the ancient Sudanese artifacts and sites from being flooded, and offer support to the local Sudanese who are being displaced from their homelands.  The Merowe Dam is the largest hydroelectric project in the Sudan, but there are currently two other controversial dam projects in the Nubian territory of northern Sudan that are drawing protests from the local Nubian people: the Kajbar and Dal dams.



                    Sarwat, Khalid, and Ibrahim                                         Nasserdeen



*See PART II: “Racial Identity in the Sudan: Dispelling Popular Myths”




[1] The Nile River flows from south to north because its three major tributaries (White Nile, Blue Nile, and Atbara River) all  

   run downstream from the elevated regions in the south/southeast to the north.


[2] Merowe Dam Project / Dams Implementation Unit,  Also, for local opposition

   to the dam, see: Emad Mekay, “Sudan Hamadab Dam draws fresh fears of social unrest,” Sudan (May 4,



[3] NCAM is a division of the Republic of Sudan’s Ministry of Tourism & National Heritage.  See: NCAM’s Merowe Dam

   Archaeological Salvage Project appeal,


[4] Merowe Dam Project / Dams Implementation Unit.


[5] John Wilford, “Scholars Race to Recover a Lost Kingdom on the Nile,” (6/7/07).


[6] William Harms, “Discoveries in Sudan reveal economic organization of an ancient African state—the kingdom of Kush.”

   University of Chicago Chronicle (July 12, 2007), vol. 26, no. 19.


[7] University of Chicago, Press Release, “Archaeologists discover gold processing center: Shows more extensive control by

   early sub-Saharan kingdom.” (June 19, 2007).


[8]  Pieter Tesch & Colin Freeman, “Race to save first kingdoms in Africa from dam waters,” (9/1/06).


[9]Ancient Gold Center Discovered on the Nile,” National Geographic (June 19, 2007) 2.html


[10]  For SARS excavation of the pyramid see:

     Also,, and Derek Welsby, “Excavations in the vicinity of ed-Doma (AKSE)

     and et-Tereif (AKSCW), 2006-2007” Sudan & Nubia 11, pp. 19.


[11]  I met with Dr. Khidir Ahmed (Department of Archaeology, El Neilain University) in Khartoum on August 12, 2007.  

    Also see the Egypt Exploration Society fieldwork at Kasr Ibrim,


[12] The amount of compensation that this Manasir group states is true.  On its website, the Sudanese government states the

     same compensation for date-palm trees as 50,000 dinar (500 pounds).   In January 2007, the Sudanese dinar was    

     replaced with the Sudanese pound.  50 dinar = 1 pound.    Also, 2 Sudanese pounds = $1 U.S.


     For the compensation of the people in the affected area, see the Dams Implementation Unit website: