Archaeological works to the north of the Great Amun temple at Jebel Barkal (Sudan): preliminary results and new perspectives

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Senior Research Fellow
Affiliation: Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Address: Moscow, Russian Federation
Journal nameVostok. Afro-Aziatskie obshchestva: istoriia i sovremennost
EditionIssue 4
AbstractThe paper presents preliminary results and discusses future perspectives on archaeological research in the area to the north of the Great Amun temple at Jebel Barkal (Napata) in connection to the most recent excavations of elite Meroitic structure B 1700. The field season of 2020 at B 1700 continued to bring to light a new monumental foundation platform of the cellular type constructed for a building which function and meaning remain a subject for debate. The now available data suggest that B 1700 followed the classic Meroitic square plan with rooms arranged around a central columned space, utility chambers on the ground floor, and official areas on the upper floor(s). Paper discusses general features of the exposed plan of B 1700, the process of its construction, recorded archaeological matrix, and finds. Special mention is made of the brick masonry, earlier occupation phase, later activities at the site, and the great pottery dump which was extensively used in the fill of the foundation platform. The author argues that elite building B 1700 was probably constructed at the time of king Natakamani (1 century AD) – one of the most known Kushite rulers of the Classic Meroitic period – and did not continue functioning for more than, probably, one century. The study of B 1700 and its surrounding area has a considerable significance for reconstructing the history of the development of the temple and royal zone to the north of the temenos of the Great Amun temple at Jebel Barkal as well as provide new data on the actual nature of Napata as an economic and political center of Meroitic Kush.  

KeywordsJebel Barkal, mud-brick architecture, archaeology, Meroitic period, Kush, Nile Valley, Amun, Natakamani, temple
Publication date24.08.2021
Number of characters30987
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1 Jebel Barkal (Gebel Barkal/el-Barkal/Berkel/Birkel) is a modern Arabic name of an isolated sandstone mountain about 104 m high situated downstream of the fourth Nile cataract to the west of modern-day town Karima, Sudan (approx. 320 km north-west of Khartoum) (fig. 1). In antiquity, the mountain was considered a sacred place. Its characteristic feature – a high pinnacle of an unusual shape that resembles a human figure, a rearing cobra, or the white crown of the Upper Egypt – has been traditionally giving rise to intense theological speculation. Near Jebel Barkal, ancient settlement called Napata developed for about two thousand years. In the mid-15th century BC, the fourth Nile cataract and Napata in its vicinity downstream became the border territory of the Egyptian New Kingdom Empire.
2 From the 15th century BC until the Meroitic period (300 BC–300 AD), the area beneath Jebel Barkal cliff, the “Pure Mountain,” witnessed the development of one of the most important religious centers in the ancient Nile Valley. As in many other Nubian sites integrated into the Egyptian New Kingdom empire, the main god worshiped at Jebel Barkal was Amun. Other deities that had established cults were Mut, Khonsu, Isis, Osiris, Osiris-Dedwen, and, probably, Aten (during the reign of Akhenaten) and Apedemak. The cult of Amun of Napata was of an exceptional importance for both the Egyptians and the Kushites who gained control over Napata and its temple area at the foot of the sacred mountain in the aftermath of the collapse of Egyptian control around 1100 BC.
3 Jebel Barkal was first visited by European travelers and scholars in the first half of the 19th century [Porter, Moss, 1995, p. 203]. First excavations on the territory of the temple area were started in 1916 by the American mission directed by G.A. Reisner [Reisner, 1917; Reisner, 1918; Reisner, 1920; Dunham, 1970]. Systematic archaeological works at Jebel Barkal have been continuing since the 1970s [Roccati, 2008]. Regular exploration of the urban area of Napata started only few years ago [Tucker, Emberling, 2016, p. 52–53].
4 In 2006, the mission of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) directed by Timothy Kendall and El-Hassan Ahmed Mohamed conducted a magnetic survey of the area to the south-east, east, and north of the Great Amun temple (B 500) and revealed several interesting features below the modern-day surface (fig. 2). Among them, there were clear walls of the building previously labeled and referred to as B 1700 (the ruins of this structure first appeared on the map surveyed by Lepsius and his team [Lepsius, 1849, Taf. 125]) (fig. 3–4).
5 First excavations on the territory of B 1700 were conducted by the NCAM mission in 2015.1 After these initial excavations, however, archaeological investigation of the area was postponed. In 2020, excavations were resumed by a joint team of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences directed by the present author.2 1. Excavation of B 1700 in 2015 was supervised by Simone Nannucci and Maksim Lebedev.

2. I would like to thank for their most appreciated cooperation co-directors of the NCAM mission (part A) Timothy Kendall (independent scholar) and El-Hassan Ahmed Mohamed (NCAM) and all the members of the Russian team: Sergey Vetokhov (Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS), Viktoria Yarmolovich (Centre for Egyptological Studies, RAS and Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS), Sergey Malykh (Metropolitan Archaeological Bureau), and Alla Troshina (Institute of Archaeology, RAS).
6 By 2015, B 1700 represented as a small kom (tell) covered with numerous pottery shards, some fragments of sandstone blocks, and fired bricks in the N and NE parts of the mound. Several pits visible on the surface gave evidence for later activities on the site. The main objectives of the works on B 1700 were the study of the general plan of the building, its stratigraphy, and, finally, its meaning. The first season brought to light a monumental mud-brick foundation platform of casemate type from an elite (presumably residential) building, remains of an earlier mud-brick structure utilized in the platform, and clear evidence of later activities at the site after the abandonment of the main structure.
7 The area investigated during the season 2015 covered a surface of approximately 420 sq. m. The area investigated in 2020 was 145 sq. m. The depth reached during excavations varied from square to square from 0.40–0.50 m required to expose preserved walls to over 3.5 m in deep sondages. By the end of the season 2020, 163 different archaeological contexts were recorded: 89 deposits (layers), 41 pits, and 33 walls.



Plan of the platform (fig. 5)

B 1700 was oriented in accordance with the “Nile north.” The excavated central part of the mud-brick foundation platform is almost square in plan and consists of an inner enclosure (10.80 x 10.40 m) and a second enclosure (16.40 x 15.60 m) divided by “corridors” of up to 2 m wide. The inner enclosure is subdivided into three casemates (“rooms”) of which two encompass remaining walls of an older building that break the regular subdivision of this part of the construction. The inner enclosure is formed by walls of up to 1.50 m thick whereas the second enclosure has walls ranging from 0.90 to 1.10 m thick.
10 The double enclosure forms the central part of the foundation platform which extends in all directions. For now, the minimum dimensions of the building are 32.4 by 22.4 m, but its actual size is still unknown. On the NE side of the exposed part of the structure, we detected what may be an outer wall of the platform. It is 1.40 m thick and has a mud plaster coating.

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Fig. 1. Map of Sudan with archaeological sites mentioned in the text (Maksim Lebedev). ( [Download]

Fig. 2. Magnetic image of the area to the north of the Great Amun temple from the survey held in 2006 (after Kendall, El-Hassan, 2016, p. 127, fig. 1) and digital elevation model generated from aerial ( [Download]

Fig. 3. Great Amun temple and position of B 1700 (aerial photo by Sami El-Amin). ( [Download]

Fig. 4. General plan of monuments excavated at the foot of Jebel Barkal (surveyed by Rob Rosa). ( [Download]

Fig. 5. Plan of the excavated part of B 1700 (Maksim Lebedev and Simone Nannucci). lan of the excavated part of B 1700 (Maksim Lebedev and Simone Nannucci). ( [Download]

Fig. 6. Stratigraphy of the fill of Room II (drawing by Maksim Lebedev). ( [Download]

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