‚Digging‘ in the Sudan National Museum storeroom

This MUAFS/DiverseNile season is divided in two fronts: there will be simultaneous work on site and in Khartoum. I’m working in the storeroom at the Sudan National Museum together with Shadia Abdu and the assistance of various colleagues from NCAM with the aim to document objects previously excavated by Vila in the region from Attab to Ferka. This is a crucial step for us to better understand the sites located in the project’s concession area and to design future excavation and research strategies, especially concerning the cemeteries I’m investigating for DiverseNile’s work package 2.

The storeroom of the Sudan National Museum is an endless source of invaluable information about all things Sudan and Nubia. It’s a great privilege and amazing experience to be able to go through drawers and shelves containing not only all sorts of objects, but also glimpses of the history of archaeology in Sudan, including the drawer cabinets themselves, which were designed by Arkell to contain ancient objects (fig. 1). Arkell later brought the same design to the Petrie Museum in London

Fig. 1: drawer cabinet designed by Arkell at the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum (photo by R. Lemos, courtesy of the SNM)

The objects kept at the SNM hold an enormous research potential not only for us to re-contextualise archaeological sites, but also to carry out new analyses and answer questions that archaeology back then didn’t really think about asking. For example, reassessing the pottery from various tombs is important for us to understand the (re)use history of archaeological contexts inside and around cemeteries (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: a selection of the vessels I’m re-documenting, mostly from tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West (photo by R. Lemos, courtesy of the SNM)

Tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West is one of the most important burial contexts that I’m currently looking at. After some preliminary observations based on material published in the 1970’s, I was able to put forward some questions and hypotheses that help us move research forward. Now I have the chance to carry out a first hand study of some of the objects from inside tomb 3-P-50—including my favourites, the pretty shabtis of lady of the house Isis (fig. 3). This is important as it allows me to ask more in depth questions to move forward.

Fig. 3: one of the green faience shabtis of lady of the house Isis from tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West + SNM object card (photo by R. Lemos, courtesy of the SNM)

It’s a great opportunity to be able to work in the Sudan National Museum storeroom. As a material culture person, I feel privileged and humbled to be able to handle with my own hands the results of years and years of archaeology in Sudan, carefully kept by our wonderful colleagues at NCAM. Working inside the SNM is certainly a great way of closing this dreadful year. May the next year be better for all of us! Cheers from Khartoum!

Getting ready to fly to Sudan

The Christmas weekend is just about to end, and I am currently packing my last suitcase – despite of omicron & the pandemic, but of course with much caution and aware of the most recent political developments in Sudan, we are getting ready to fly to Khartoum tomorrow.

It will be a very brief season with a tiny team – just Rennan, Cajetan and I will travel. One focus of our planned work is on the study & documentation of object’s stored in the Sudan National Museum, coming from Vila’s survey in the 1970s in the present MUAFS concession. Rennan will focus in particular on ceramics and small finds from some of the New Kingdom tombs. Especially Ramesside material is highly interesting and raises many questions concerning the continuity of sites in the pre-Napatan era.

Up in the north, at our excavation house in Ginis East, I will focus on some logistics, preparing the upcoming excavation season planned for spring 2022. I also plan some survey work with our inspector and Cajetan will concentrate on setting survey points and taking measurements.

Of course, we will keep you updated – maybe not during the season, depending on the quality of the internet and connection.

Hoping that most of our plans will work out, but also very much prepared for surprises and the need to improvise, I am just really very happy to be soon back in Sudan, after almost 2 years!

Back in 2020: a short visit to the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum

A year ago today, the last official steps of our 2020 season of the MUAFS project were carried out, I submitted all paperwork to the Sudanese authorities and we were getting ready to leave Khartoum – of course not knowing that a) a sandstorm will delay our flight out, b) because of the extra night in Khartoum we will just catch the last flight to Munich from Istanbul before flights were closed in Turkey because of the pandemic and c) it will take us more than a year to return to Sudan.

One of my personal rituals I have developed in the last 10 years is that on the occasion of my last day in Khartoum, I always try to visit the Sudan National Museum, at least the garden with its wonderful monuments, but preferably the galleries with its treasures as well.

The entrance of the museum with rams of Kawa showing king Taharqa. Photo: J. Budka.

My first visit to the museum was exactly 20 years ago – but the building and its treasures impress and inspire me deeply every time anew. The Sudan National Museum in Khartoum clearly belongs to my favourite museums, together with the splendid Aswan Nubian Museum and the Luxor Museum in Egypt.

A glimpse into the ground floor gallery housing Egyptian, Napatan and Meroitic statues and much more. Photo: J. Budka.

It is always a great pleasure to give newcomers of the team a special tour though the museum – last year this was Jessica and we had the luck that our dear friend and colleague Huda Magzoub joined us. This photo shows us in the entrance alley to the museum together with one of the marvelous Meroitic lion sandstone statues of Basa, representations of the lion-god Apedemak.

The last selfie I took back in Khartoum in 2020: Huda, Jessica and me in front of one of the Basa lions.

I can just recommend to everyone: do not miss this marvelous museum and please calculate several hours for your visit – the ground floor gallery is full of important objects from all areas of Sudan, from Palaeolithic to Post-Meroitic times. And the upper floor gallery focusing on the Christian Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia is equally a must, featuring the world-famous wall paintings from the cathedral in Faras (a very useful guide through the collection is available online for free).

One of the impressive ceramic vessels in the museum: a painted Meroitic fine ware bowl. Photo: J. Budka.
Another stunning object from Meroitic times: a glass chalice of highest quality from a tomb in Sedeigna. Photo: J. Budka.

Like at Aswan, I think the most charming aspect of the museum is its garden. Here, one can visit complete temples (the splendid New Kingdom temples of Buhen, Semna-West and Kumma) and one rock-cut tomb (of Djehuti-Hotep) but also a large number of statues, including monumental royal statues, reliefs and rock art respectively rock inscriptions are exhibited.

The entrance alley of the Museum flanked with Meroitic lion statues. Photo: J. Budka.

I very much hope that my yearly ritual of a stroll through this wonderful collection and enjoying the view of the monuments in the garden will be possible again soon, hopefully somewhen later this year.