The Italian Archaeological Expedition in the Sudan 2007 (by Torino University)

Since 1970 the Italian archaeological activities in the Sudan have been sponsored by Rome University "La Sapienza", since this institution was at the time the only university in Italy to have a chair of Egyptology and to be interested in fieldwork in the Sudan. A few years ago, however, the Faculty which hosted the chair of Egyptology, along with other remarkable subjects engaged in Africa and the Near East, diversified its objectives. Eventually the chair of Egyptology was suspended, after the Director of its expedition in the Sudan, Prof. Alessandro Roccati, was appointed to a newly created chair of Egyptology at the University of Torino, thus allowing him to resume and maintain the fieldwork in the Sudan on behalf of the Centro ricerche archeologiche e scavi di Torino (CRAST) and to continue the research in the archaeological area of Jebel Barkal and to ensure the continuation of the team's activities. Otherwise a long period of experience and training would have been lost. This ensures that the present mission is the legitimate offspring of the preceding one and rooted in the same place – as it was already announced at the recent Warsaw Conference. On the one hand it was at Rome that the Tenth International Conference of the Society of Nubian Studies was held in 2002, and on the other hand it was at Torino that the International Exhibition of Nubian archaeology was displayed in 1999: both of them for the first time in Italy, and both of them under the responsibility of Prof. Alessandro Roccati. Furthermore we need not underline the importance borne for the study of ancient Egypt by the research on the Nile civilisations farther South.



Funds for the mission were granted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centro Scavi of Torino. The team was composed of some already familiar participants: Prof. Alessandro Roccati (Torino University, head of the mission), Dr. Roberto Gozzoli (Torino University, historian), Dr. Grazyna Bakowska (Rzeszow University, Poland, archaeologist): and three newcomers to the Sudan, all of them trainees from the School of specialisation in Oriental Archaeology of Rome University "La Sapienza": Dr. Claudia Micari, Dr. Massimiliano Nuzzolo and Dr. Roberta Petrilli. They ensured the necessary backing for survey and documentation. The official appointed by the NCAM was Mr. Murtada Bushara Mohammed.



It must be stressed that the objective of our university mission is not only the acquisition of new results but also the training of young people. Teaching is as much as part of fieldwork as the exploration of an ancient site.



Actually the present campaign is the sequel of the fieldwork carried out between 26th November and 23rd December 2006 on account of our Mission, by a team of geologists led by Prof. Giorgio Martinotti of Torino University, who executed a surveying in the archaeological area of the Mission's excavations at Jebel Barkal. They were assisted by Dr. Grazyna Bakowska (Rzeszow University, Poland) and Dr. Maria Novella Sordi (trainee in the School of specialisation in Oriental Archaeology of Rome University "La Sapienza"), who also tried out the study of ceramics.



Our stay lasted from 12th February till 2nd March 2007, and our activity concentrated in the building labelled B2400 lying near the (ancient) road, while further exploration of the palace B1500 was reserved as a spare activity. In fact, although the main road has meanwhile been moved across the desert and it is no longer a threat to the archaeological area, we wanted to achieve the knowledge of a rather interesting structure we came across during a protective operation of the monuments. Owing to a thin layer of rubble covering the floor, and the reduced surface of B2400, we aimed at getting a general layout of its structures within the limited time span at our disposal.



This building arose on a square platform, but it had become completely invisible on the ground, so to be traversed twice in recent years by the enclosure wall around the antiquities area built by the NCAM (which one day should be removed). Its special interest was awakened by some remains of a Greek architecture standing on it (more pieces were found this year), which may provide a terminus post quem for its dating. However, it was already overlaid in the antiquity by a well paved road in North-South direction, which points to a rather early destruction. Its lack of particular decorations (the walls were not plastered nor painted), its coarse entrance (the only one hitherto clearly detected is from the West) plead for an earlier date with reference to B1500 (the so called "Natakamani's palace"). However some typical potsherds and vessels show that the area was in use during the Meroitic period. A small fragment of pottery carved with some Meroitic signs found this year provides even inscriptional evidence.



One main achievement of this year's digging has been the discovery of a rather well preserved access from the North, in line with what was interpreted as a central court followed by a peristyle court. The much decayed condition of what was expected to be an eastern entrance has now been related to the creation of the paved road, which would have rendered such a passage devoid of use. This observation raises the question of a possible contemporariness of this paved road with the building of a Greek architecture – behind which, to the South, no passageway existed according to a careful search made in a previous campaign.



If these conclusions could be maintained, in view of the basic destruction of everything over the platform, we should consider the possibility that the platform was conceived for an earlier building. That building was later completely dismantled, so as to leave barely the platform in order to host some peculiar architecture, such as a Greek edifice. Nevertheless this older building can only belong to the (early) Meroitic period, due to its construction features, with outer walls lined with red bricks. A new mapping of the area by means of a satellite photograph points out also a parallel location with B100, another building likewise from the (early?) Meroitic period, which was excavated by Reisner in 1916. We owe the copies of Reisner's journal to the kindness of Prof. Timothy Kendall, who has already cooperated with our Mission on more than one occasion.



The new access, which was cleared to the North of B2400 is smaller than the one found on the western side, and it shows a (smaller) terrace abutting the middle of that side, ending in a short ramp perpendicular to the palace's wall, at the end of which a stone threshold lay. These features imply that this entrance was also roofed.



Although some of these features – three entrances of different size in the middle of every side of the platform - are shared by the more recent B1500 (Natakamani's palace), currently dated to the middle of the first century A.D., the latter stands out for its central and imposing position in the front of the sacred mountain. This building was much more elaborated and had equal access staircases instead of ramps. The staircase on its western side, however, was not visible from the plain and was not perpendicular to the palace's wall: it descended next to the wall in direction of B500 (Amun temple).


In B2400 the apparent parallelism between its access from the North and the close by paved road is to be stressed. At any rate, the main access - already of the former building - seems to have been the one to the West, namely the one looking towards the Palace of Natakamani. We expect to reach some better understanding of the entire layout through the tracing of (foundation) walls, which were duly recorded. Some soundings showed that the original floor next to the palace's outer wall looked like a pebbly ground.



The excavations were accompanied by the careful choice and documentation of ceramics uncovered in the different sites where the Italian Mission has been operating at Jebel Barkal. The material has been collected for several years, and at present we are organising a team for its encoding by means of informatisation. Sound results will require a longer time of study and comparison. However a provisional evaluation of forms and painted patterns refers to a period from the second century B.C. to the first century A.D. and possibly later, at least with reference to corresponding evidence from Meroe. Two reversed jars, still with their original contents of bones and some burnt material, were buried in the ground beside the eastern red brick wall closing the middle court and a mud brick wall bordering the paved road. Their location was next to each extremity, i.e. respectively South and North, of the wall.

When we arrived, we found that some heavy storms of last year had broadly damaged many restorations carried out in the excavated buildings, and these needed a number of repairs. These were operated as a by-work of the Mission also thanks to the kind collaboration of the appointed Official, Mr. Murtada. Some workmen of ours gave also a hand to cut the bushes invading the archaeological area in front of the Museum.

Finally we must assess that the friendly mood affecting the relations with the Sudanese Authorities as well as with the local people, either workmen or neighbours, has much contributed to ensure a good result of a difficult enterprise in a rather short time. May they all receive the heartily felt thanks of our entire team.

LA MISSIONE ARCHEOLOGICA IN SUDAN

Appendix: report on pottery examined

The pottery examined was found during the 2004-2007 seasons, during which two structures were being uncovered – named as B2400 and B2200.

B2200
Within the B2200 building there were mostly wheel-made ceramic pieces, some fragments of handmade ceramics were also found. About 6-7% of all finds were decorated sherds, mostly painted; less frequently they were some incised and stamped. The majority of the sherds were dated between 2nd century BC and 1st century AD.

Forms:
Fragments of cups, bowls, plates, saucers, stoppers, lids, beer jars, globular jars, pots, vases, bottles, amphorae, oil lamp, bread moulds and burners.

Motifs:
Offering-table, Hathor's emblem, rosette, ankh-sing, lotus-flower, upright leaves, connected circles, palm-branch, vine wreath, trefoil, twisted cord guilloche, stars, triangular geometric motifs, striped style.

B2400
Pottery sherds found enclosed in the building walls and floors, and other fragments spread throughout the surroundings of the building itself could be dated to the Meroitic Period (some ceramics can be dated between 2nd and 1st century BC, while other pottery in this case out of context could be dated between 1st and 3rd century AD). Moreover, some forms seem to go back to the Napatan Period.

There were wheel made and handmade ceramics pieces. In comparison with the B2200 structure there were very few painted ceramics, while incised and impressed pottery was predominant.

Forms:
Fragments of cups, bowls, dishes/plate, saucers, stoppers, lids, storage jars, globular jars, pots, basins, vases, amphorae, bread mould, klepsydrai.

Motifs:
Human figure, Lion (Apedemak), bird, ankh-sign, vine wreath, rosette, criss-cross.

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