Stones confirm golden past of ancient African kingdom
12:00 19 June 2007
NewScientist.com news service
A scarab depicting a Kushite man grasping a lion (Image: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
A black-topped beaker. Both pieces were found at the burial site and date back to the Classic Kerma period (1750-1550 BC) (Image: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)The discovery of a gold "factory" and burial sites along the Nile in Sudan reveals that the ancient African kingdom of Kush was more vast and powerful than realised, and traded heavily in gold.
But archaeologists fear that a planned dam will flood the area and destroy yet-uncovered evidence of this first sub-Saharan kingdom.
Much of what is currently known about the kingdom of Kush, which covered parts of what is now northern Sudan, comes from Ancient Egyptian texts. The Kushites fought battles and traded materials, such as gold, with their Egyptian neighbours.
For many years, researchers had thought that the kingdom of Kush extended some 600 kilometres from the last stretch of the Nile in Egypt to the point at which the river starts to turn in northern Sudan. But a team of archaeologists led by Geoff Emberling at the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago, Illinois, US, has uncovered new evidence to support the idea that sometime between 2000 BC and 1500 BC, the Kushite territory reached at least 300 kilometres further down the Nile, to the town of Hosh-el-Geruf.
At a point along the Nile near Hosh-el-Geruf, the archaeologists unearthed 55 grinding stones made of the granite-like rock gneiss. "This large number of grinding stones and other tools used to crush and grind [gold] ore shows that the site was a centre for organised gold production," says Emberling.
"This is the first concrete evidence of gold extraction from the Kingdom of Kush," he adds.
Bruce Williams, another member of the team, explains that the scale of gold production they found must have required the direct oversight by the Kush kingdom in order to function. "[The Kushites] weren't just projecting power to this part of what is now Sudan, they were projecting organisation."
Without proper oversight and security, the area would have been vulnerable to attack and conflicts between gold scavengers. "The opportunities for mischief are really huge," says Williams.
The team also uncovered a burial site nearby where they found individuals laid to rest in typical Kushite fashion alongside burial items such as black-topped drinking beakers.
The researchers fear, however, that a planned flooding of this and nearby areas due to the construction of a dam at Merowe will destroy as yet undiscovered artefacts belonging to the Kush kingdom.