Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 November 2006
Issue No. 818
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

All eyes on Nubia

The dynamic international gathering held last month in the new conference facilities of Warsaw University was attended by more than 200 researchers from around the world, reports Jill Kamil

Click to view caption
Nubian archaeological sites in Sudan

Polish activities upstream

Of more than 150 papers that researchers presented at the 11th International Conference of Nubian Studies, the largest group concerned recent studies with special emphasis on current rescue operations in the area of the Fourth Nile Cataract.

Organisers made an effort to bring together papers that would present an overview of the most important archaeological sites under excavation in recent years, those where significant discoveries have recently been made. The conference provided an excellent opportunity to review the achievements made in Nubian studies over the 34 years since the 2nd conference took place in Warsaw in 1972, and conference committee director W Godlewski made particular mention of Nabta Playa, Kerma-Doukki Gel, Naga, Banganarti and Dongola.

The programme was divided into plenary sessions held in the mornings and four parallel topical sessions presented in the afternoons. Panel discussions were held on selected topics including official and vernacular languages in the Nubian kingdoms, representations of rulers or religious ceremonies conducted inside sacral buildings and, as Godlewski was quick to point out, "an evaluation of the international activities in the Fourth Cataract region constituted one of the hottest topics discussed at the conference."

The Nubian Rescue Campaign, which operated from 1960 to 1967 under the auspices of UNESCO, was an international effort to rescue monuments of Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia between the First Cataract at Aswan and the so-called Dal Cataract, south of the Second Cataract. Once excavations were completed the National Museum in Warsaw, which had received a set of Nubian wall paintings from Faras, prepared an exhibition of the murals which had in the meantime undergone comprehensive conservation in Warsaw ( see below ).

Das Wunder von Faras was shown first in East Berlin, then at the Villa Hugel in Essen. That second exhibition, which lasted from 14 May to 14 September 1969, also gave impetus to the first Nubiological conference organised by Carl Hundhausen and Erich Dinkler. The meeting was attended by 20 scholars from Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the United States of America, Switzerland, Sweden and Italy, who summed up in discussion the results of Nubian studies carried out between 1960 and 1967. The key issues included the art and archaeology of Nubia, chiefly in the Meroitic and Christian periods, from the third century BC to the 14th century AD. The participants decided then to continue regular meetings in an effort to establish Nubiology as a new field of studies as distinct from Egyptology.

In 1972 the National Museum in Warsaw opened a new permanent gallery presenting the wall paintings and architectural elements of decoration from Faras. At that time it was the only permanent exhibition of Nubian art anywhere in the world. The same year the new National Museum in Khartoum opened, and the official opening of the Faras Gallery in Warsaw was planned as an accompanying event to the 2nd Nubiological Conference which took place in June 1972. It was on this occasion that The Society for Nubian Studies was established and members agreed to organise regular international conferences. These were to take place every three years at first, and later every four years. The following gatherings were held successively at Chantilly in France in 1975, Cambridge in 1978, Heidelberg in 1982, Uppsala in 1986, Geneva in 1990, Lille in 1994, Boston in 1998 and Rome in 2002.

Already in Chantilly the programme of the conference was broadened to include all periods of Nubian history from prehistoric times until the Funj period -- that is, from the sixth millennium BC up to the 18th century of our era. This became a standard for all successive symposia. On the initiative of F Hintze of the Humboldt University in Berlin, Meroitic conferences devoted to this particular period in Nubian history (ninth century BC-fourth century AD) began to be held simultaneously.

With intensified archaeological research in the Sudan, it was only natural that subsequent conferences would gather more and more participants. New permanent exhibitions of Nubian art were mounted in various renowned museums, and Nubian studies became a regular part of the academic curriculum at many universities. New archaeological expeditions embarked on various projects in Sudan.

In Egypt technical works continued, symbolised by the transfer of the Abu Simbel temples to a new location which created a tourist attraction that has not waned in appeal over the years and the moving of the temples of Philae to a new island. The Nubian Museum opened in Aswan and archaeological 'reserves' have been created along the road from Aswan to Abu Simbel, where temples were transferred from their original locations to safe territory above Lake Nasser at its optimum level. The only Nubian site still accessible to archaeologists in Egypt is Qasr Ibrim. Nonetheless, Egyptologists attached increasingly more importance to the presence of Nubians in Egypt during various eras, not to mention the period of Egypt's domination of Nubia.

Each of these efforts has had a substantial impact on stimulating the development of Nubian studies worldwide.

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