Nubia (Soudan) before Napta
Sudan is a country with deep rooted civilizations which goes back to many centuries back but unfortunately it is not focused on and even almost totally ignored in our schools history syllabus while teaching our children the history of other nations, The articles that will be published in this page is based on the great work done by the UNESCO (The General History of Africa) which devoted 5 chapters for the old Sudanese civilizations in Volume 2.
The A-Group period
Around the end of the fourth millennium before our era there flourished in Nubia a remarkable culture known to archaeologists as the A-Group.
The copper tools (the earliest metal tools so far discovered in the Sudan) and the pottery of Egyptian origin unearthed from A-Group graves show the flowering of the A-Group culture to have been contemporary with the first dynasty in Egypt (—3100). This culture is denoted, as are also some other Nubian cultures, by a letter of the alphabet because it was nonliterate, no specific references to it exist on the part of literate peoples, nor can it be associated with any particular place of discovery or important centre. Yet it was a period of prosperity marked by a considerable increase in population.
Definite A-Group archaeological remains have so far been discovered in Nubia between the First Cataract in the north and Batn-el-Hagar (Belly of Stones) in the south. But pottery similar to that of the A-Group has been found on the surface in various sites farther south in the northern Sudan.
A grave near Omdurman Bridge yielded a pot indistinguishable from another pot found at Faras in an A-Group grave. Ethnically the A-Group was very similar in physical characteristics to the predynastic Egyptians. They were semi-nomadic people, probably herding sheep, goats and some cattle. They usually lived in small camps, moving whenever pasturage became exhausted.
The A-Group belongs to the Chalcolithic culture. This means that essentially they were Neolithic, but with a limited usage of copper tools, all of which were imported from Egypt. One of the important characteristics of the A-Group culture is the pottery found in the graves of the people associated with it. Several types can be recognized but the 'constant feature of the A-Group pottery is the skilful craftsmanship and the artistic decoration and design, which set this ceramic art high above that of most of the contemporary cultures'. Typical of the A-Group culture is a fine thin pottery with a black-burnished inside while its outside has red-painted decoration in imitation of basketwork. With this type of pottery are also found large bulbous jars with a pointed base and pots with 'wavy ledge' handles and deep pink ware conical jars of Egyptian origin.
As for the burial customs of the A-Group people, two types of grave are known to us. The first type was a simple oval pit about o-8 metres deep while the other was an oval pit 1-3 metres deep with a sunk chamber on one side. The body, which was enclosed in a leather shroud, was placed in a contracted position on the right with the head normally to the west.
Besides pottery, articles deposited in the grave included stone palettes in the form of oval or rhomboid plates, ostrich-feather fans, alabaster grinding-stones, copper axes and borers, wooden boomerangs, bone bracelets, female idols made of clay and beads of shell, carnelian and blue-glazed steatite.
The A-Group, which is thought to have continued in Nubia to the end of the second dynasty in Egypt (— 2780), was followed by a period of marked cultural decline and poverty. This period lasted from the beginning of the Egyptian third dynasty (—2780) to the sixth dynasty (—2258).
That is to say, it was contemporary with what is known in Egypt as the Old Kingdom period. The culture found in Nubia during this era was termed the B-Group by the early archaeologists, who worked in the area.
They claimed that Lower Nubia during the Egyptian Old Kingdom was inhabited by a distinct native group different from the preceding A-Group. Though some scholars1 ° still consider it valid, ' ' this hypothesis has been rejected by others. However, the existence of the B-Group as such is now generally held to be doubtful.
The continuity of A-Group features in the graves of the so-called
B-Group culture makes it probable that they were simply graves of impoverished A - Group people when their culture was on the decline. These new features, recognizable in the B-Group and which differentiate it in some aspects from its predecessor, were perhaps the outcome of the general decline and poverty. T he cause of this decline may be found in the repeated hostile activities against Nubia of Egypt since its unification, and the formation of a strong centralized state under one sovereign.
Egypt in Nubia
From very early times the ancient Egyptians were dazzled by Nubia because of its riches in gold, incense, ivory, ebony, oils, semi-precious stones and other luxury goods, and they continuously endeavoured to bring the trade and economic resources of that land under their own control. Thus we see that the history of Nubia is almost inseparable from that of Egypt.
An ebony tablet from the time of Hor-aha, the first king of the Egyptian first dynasty, seems to celebrate a victory over Nubia,15 but the exact nature of the king's activity against the Nubians is as yet unknown. It might have been only a military movement planned to safeguard his southern frontier at the First Cataract.! The Egyptian artefacts discovered at Faras in the A-Group graves which belong to the reign of Djer and Ouadji, the third and fourth rulers of the first dynasty, also indicate contact between the two countries even in that remote time.
However, the earliest record of Egyptian conquest in Nubia is the very important document now exhibited in the Antiquities Garden of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum. This was a scene originally engraved on a sandstone slab on the top of a small knoll, known as Jebel Sheikh Suliman, about seven miles south of Wadi Haifa town on the west bank of the Nile. It belongs to the reign of King Djer, the third king of the first dynasty already mentioned. The scene records a battle in the Nile waged by King Djer against the Nubians.
At the extreme right of the scene there is a first-dynasty-style boat, with its vertical stern and high prow. Many corpses float below the boat, while a figure (a Nubian chieftain perhaps) hangs from its prow. To the left of this are two wheel-like designs, which are the hieroglyphic signs portraying a village with crossroads which signify a town. To the left of the town signs we see the ripple sign of water (probably denoting that the cataract region was the field of battle). Then a figure of a man is seen with his arms tied behind his back and holding a bow which in
Egyptian is called Zeti, and which personifies Ta-Zeti, the land of the bow, meaning Nubia. Behind this figure is the name of King Djer on what is probably a palace façade.
Another record of Egyptian hostile actions in Nubia is a fragment of an inscribed stone from Hierakonpolis (El-Kom-el-Ahmar on the left bank of the Nile north of Idfu) which shows King Kasekhem of the second dynasty kneeling on a prisoner representing Nubia. But the actual subjugation of Nubia seems to have come in the reign of Snefru, the founder of the fourth dynasty. The Palermo Stone20 tells us that King Snefru destroyed Ta- Nehasyu, the Land of the Nubians,21 and captured 7000 prisoners and 200, 000 cattle and sheep.
After the military operations of Khasekhem and Snefru the Nubians seem to have accepted Egyptian supremacy, for it is evident that the Egyptians found no difficulty in exploiting the vast mineral resources of Nubia. The diorite deposits west of Toshka were quarried for stone for royal statues, and inscriptions of Cheops, the owner of the great pyramid at Giza, Dedefre, and Sahure of the fifth dynasty (—2563 to —2423) were engraved on the rocks there by successive expeditions. To exploit effectively the mineral resources of the land they conquered, the Egyptians colonized Nubia. Recent archaeological discoveries at Buhen, just below the Second Cataract, have shown the existence of a purely Egyptian colony at Buhen in the fourth and fifth dynasties. One of the industries of this Egyptian settlement was working copper, as is shown by the furnaces and remains of copper ore found in it. This indicates the existence of copper deposits somewhere in the region. The names of several kings of the fourth and fifth dynasties were found there on papyrus and jar sealings.
Moreover, it is very probable that the Egyptians extended their authority even over the land south of the Second Cataract at least as far as Dakka some 133 kilometers south of Buhen. A n Old Kingdom inscription discovered by the author at Dakka shows that the Egyptians were searching for minerals in that part of Nubia.
Two records of King Merenre discovered at the First Cataract may be taken as an indication that Egypt's southern border was at Aswan during the sixth dynasty (—2434 to —2242); yet it seems that the Egyptians even at that period exerted some sort of political influence over the Nubian tribes, for these records show that King Merenre came to the district of the First Cataract to receive the homage of the chiefs of Medju, Irtet and Wawat, which were presumably tribal regions south of the First Cataract.
Peace reigned in Nubia during the sixth dynasty and the Egyptians recognized the great importance of the commercial potentialities of that land and its significance for the economic well-being of their own country.
Trade was well organized and conducted by the able monarch of Aswan, the importance of which increased enormously both as a trading centre between the north and the south and also as a frontier control post. The records of these monarchs inscribed in their tombs on the west bank of theNile at Aswan furnish researchers with much interesting information on the conditions existing in Nubia at that time. This evidence shows that Nubia seems to have been divided into a number of regions with independent rulers.
The most revealing of the inscriptions of these Aswan nobles relates to the life of Harkhuf, the famous caravan leader who served in the reigns of
Merenre and Pepi II. H e led four missions to the land of Yam , a region not yet identified but certainly beyond the Second Cataract to the south.
Three of these expeditions were made during the reign of King Merenre and the fourth under King Pepi II. On the first journey Harkhuf and his father were commissioned to 'explore a road to Yam, a mission that took them seven months to accomplish. The second journey, which Harkhuf made alone, lasted for eight months. In this journey he took the Elephantine road (the desert road starting on the west bank at Aswan) and returned through Irtet, Mekher and Tererés. Here Harkhuf makes it clear that the lands of Irtet and Setu were under the jurisdiction of a single ruler. His third journey was undertaken along the oasis route. During this journey he learned that the chief of Yam had gone to Libya to conquer it.
He followed him into that country and managed to appease him. He returned from this journey 'with 300 donkeys loaded with incense, ebony, oil, panther skins, elephant tusks, tree trunks and many other beautiful objects'. When he passed north through the territories of Irtet, Setu and Wawat, which were now united under one chief, Harkhuf was conducted by a military escort from Y a m . On the fourth and last expedition Harkhuf brought back from the land of Y a m a dancing dwarf for the young King Pepi II, who was extremely delighted with it.
But from the tombs of Pepinakht, another monarch of Elephantine who held office under King Pepi II, we learn that in spite of the general good relations between the Egyptians and the Nubians (which certainly was profitable to both) during the sixth dynasty peace was at times seriously disturbed in Nubia. It seems that there were periods of trouble when
Egypt was compelled to resort to force of arms. Pepinakht was sent once to 'hack up Wawat and Irtet'. He may be regarded as successful in his errand for he killed large numbers of Nubians as well as capturing prisoners. H e made a second expedition to the south with the aim of 'pacifying these countries'. This time he was able to bring two Nubian chiefs to the Egyptian court.
The C-Group period
Towards the end of the Egyptian Old Empire or sometime during the period of Egyptian history called by Egyptologists the First Intermediate Period (—2240 to — 2150) there appeared in Lower Nubia a new independent culture (with different characteristic objects and different burial traditions) known to archaeologists as the C-Group. Similar to its forerunner, the A-Group, this culture was also a Chalcolithic culture. It lasted in this part of the Nile valley up to the time when Nubia was completely egyptianized in the sixteenth century before our era. The northern limit of the C-Group culture was at the village of Kubanieh North in Egypt but the southern border has not yet been demarcated for certain, though some remains of the culture have been found as far south as Akasha at the southern end of the Second Cataract region. This makes it probable that the southern boundary of the C-Group was situated somewhere in the Batn-el-Hagar area.
Of the origin of the C-Group culture or the ethnic group to which it belonged, nothing definite is yet known. Owing to the lack of any substantial evidence on this problem, archaeologists have been led to put forward various hypothetical theories. One of these theories suggests that this culture might be a continuation of its predecessor the A-Group, for they were related to each other. Another theory claimed that the culture grew out of influences introduced into Nubia by the arrival of a new people. The supporters of this theory differed among themselves on the question of the original home of these new people and on the direction from which they came. Cultural and anatomical data have been cited to support the various arguments. Some claim that the new people immigrated into Lower Nubia from the eastern desert or the region of the river Atbara. Others believe that they came from the west, specifically from Libya. A recent theory rejects the migration hypothesis and sees the C-Group culture as the outcome of a cultural evolution. However, a great deal is yet to be discovered about the archaeology of the areas concerned and until extensive scientific research is carried out there, these theories will remain hypotheses only.
It seems clear that the C-Group were essentially cattle-herding people who lived in small camps or occasionally settled in villages. The houses discovered in the region of Wadi Haifa were of two types: one had round rooms, the walls of which were built of stones plastered with mud , and the other type had square rooms built of mud-brick. Their basic characteristics are inferred from the large number of rock pictures of cattle and the prominence of cattle in their burial rites.
The earliest burials of the C-Group culture are characterized by small stone superstructures over round or oval pits. The semi-contracted body was laid on its right side with the head oriented east and often placed on a straw pillow. The body was frequently wrapped in a leather garment. This type of grave gave way to another of large stone superstructures over rectangular pits, often with rounded corners and sometimes lined with stone slabs. A third type, which is later in date, is also found among the C-Group. Now we find brick chapels often built against the north or east of the stone superstructures. Burials were commonly oriented north to south. Animals were buried in the graves. Sometimes skulls of oxen or goats painted with patterns in red and black were placed all around the superstructures. The grave-goods consisted of different forms of pottery, stone, bone and ivory bracelets, shell ear-rings, bone and faience beads, leather sandals, mother-of-pearl discs for armlets and Egyptian scarabs.
Sometimes bronze mirrors as well as weapons (daggers, short swords and battle-axes) are found in the C-Group graves.
Despite increasing contact with Egypt, the C-Group culture continued to develop along its own lines, adopting neither Egyptian technology, nor religious beliefs, nor literacy. One of the most important characteristics of this culture is its pottery. It is handmade and is normally in the form of bowls, frequently decorated by impressed or incised geometric patterns, which were often filled with a white pigment. A typical C-Group stone tool is the polished colt of green stone (nephrite).