Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sudanese photographer Vit Hassan: Meroe is one of archaeology’s greatest mysteries

Photo by Vit Hassan:  Taken in Meroe/Bajrawia, Northern Sudan

Photo: 'Dunes versus pyramids' by Sudanese photographer Vit Hassan. Taken in Meroe/Bajrawia, Northern Sudan. Uploaded to flickr by Vit on 22 June 2009.

'Sleeping Shadows' by Vit Hassan - taken in Meroe/Bajrawia, Northern Sudan

Photo: 'Sleeping Shadows' on dunes around pyramids in Meroe/Bajrawia, Northern Sudan. Uploaded to flickr by Vit on 21 July 2006. This photo was taken 10 minutes earlier than the one above.
For an ancient city and civilization that flourished for nearly a thousand years, Meroe is one of archaeology’s greatest mysteries. It is unknown where the people of Meroe originated. An even greater mystery is where these Meroitic people are today and why these unconquerable ‘Masters of Africa’ left their ancient city, and seemingly vanished.

From the sixth century B.C. until the fourth century A.D., the city of Meroe lay on the banks of the Nile River, between present day southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The first outsider to mention Meroe specifically was Herodotus, a Greek, in approximately 430 B.C. Herodotus visited Africa, and although he never made it as far south as Meroe, he was told by the natives about the existence of a magnificent city to the south. Herodotus later wrote about his travels on the Nile River. The Persians, led by their ruler Cambyses, had once attempted to conquer Meroe.
Although few Europeans had ever even seen the city, the possibility of finding great riches there prompted Cambyses to send an army to take it over. His army turned back far before ever reaching Meroe due to the harshness of the African terrain and hostile locals. For the next 400 years, Meroe was only spoken of sparsely, mainly in stories. During this time, Meroe was thought by most to be an island on the Nile. This misperception may be justified by the fact that the city was surrounded on three sides by water.
After these few, faint accounts of Meroe, no additional information of the city was recorded and it was virtually forgotten about until recent times when European travelers and archaeologists explored this region. This is mainly due to its geographical remoteness. Now, all that remains of the once great city are hundreds of mounds of brick and stone, and many temple ruins and pyramids. A small town now stands next to the ancient site. While there are only speculative reasons for the fall of the city, one of the main theories is that a group of Axumites to the north, overran the city sometime around the second half of the 3rd century.

It is unknown how the Meroitic rulers were able to maintain control over, what at the time, was a massive population. We can only be certain that there was a working monarchy in order. Such a monarchy was able to establish 72 generations of rulers, composed of a mixture of kings and queens. The exact social organization of Meroe is also still unknown, but there was definite social stratification between nobles and commoners. Kings and royalty lived in palaces while ordinary people lived in straw and brick huts. Everything from the activities of these people’s daily lives, to historical events within the city are also mysteries.
The reason there is still so much uncertainty surrounding the Meroians, is mostly due to the fact that their language and writing are indecipherable. No one knows for sure what their language sounded like or what their Egyptian resembling hieroglyphic writing stands for. The pictures closely resemble those of ancient Egypt, but we have thus far been unable to decode the Meroitic scripts. A lot may be understood about the Meroans in the future when their language can be decoded..
Text courtesy of Vit Hassan. Click here to view Vit's photostream at flickr.
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Pyramids & temples - Nuri, Northern Sudan

Nuri, Northern Sudan

Photo: 'Monuments' by Vit Hassan. Taken in Nuri, Northern Sudan. Uploaded to flickr by Vit on 18 June 2009 with the following text:
The pyramid field of Nuri contained 21 kings together with 52 queens and princesess.
The first to build his tomb at Nuri was king Taharqa. His pyramid had 51.75 m square and 40 or 50 m high. Taharqa subterranean chambers are the most elaborate of any Kushite tomb. The entrance was by an eastern stairway trench , north of the pyramid's central axis, reflecting the alignment of the original smaller pyramid.
Three steps led to a doorway, with a moulded frame, that opened to a tunnel, widened and heightened into an antechamber with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Six massive pillars carved from the natural rock divide the burial chamber into two side aisles and a central nave, each with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The entire chamber was surrounded by a moat-like corridor entered steps leading down from in front of the antechamber doorway.
After Taharqa 21 kings and 53 queens and princesess were buried at Nuri under pyramids of good masonry, using blocks of local red sandstone. The Nuri pyramids were generally much larger than those at el-Kurru, reaching heights of 20 to 30 m. The last king to be buried at Nuri died in about 308 BC.
See Vit Hassan's photo set: Pyramids & temples

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