Un établissement urbain méroïtique à proximité de la capitale impériale
Excavations started in 2000
Friday 23 September 2011, by
Directed by Vincent Rondot.
Team: Patrice Lenoble, René-Pierre Dissaux, Giorgio Nogara, Serge Feneuille, Vincent Francigny, Jean-François Carlotti, Jacques Beilin, Laurent Delgado, Claude Rilly, Louis Chaix, Christine Heuraux, Mohamed Farouk Abdel Rahman, Yassine Mohamed Saïd, Ahmed el-Amin Ahmed, Ali el-Merghani, Habab Idriss, Rihab Khider, Ina’am Abdel Rahman, Abdel Moneim Ahmed Abdallah, Nada Babiker Mohamed.
In 2000, an excavation program started on the urban Meroitic site of El-Hassa (Butana, Sudan), located on the right bank of the Nile, 20 km south of the Meroe pyramids. This excavation was initiated by the SFDAS, in partnership with the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums. It was made possible by a funding from the Human Sciences and Archaeology Department of the French Ministry of Foreign affairs as well as the financial, logistical and workforce support of the NCAM, the University Charles-de-Gaulle-Lille 3 and the UMR (mixed unit of research) 8027 of the CNRS. The university of Shendi also participated by sending professors on the excavation site.
An initial mapping campaign of the site was completed in the fall of 2000 and the results were published in CRIPEL 23. Between 2002 and 2004, three excavation campaigns were completed which led to the discovery of the Amun temple built in the centre of this imperial Meroitic settlement.
Before starting the first excavations, our knowledge of the site came from the descriptions made by Burckhardt (1814), Linant de Bellefonds and Cailliaud (1822), as well as from the fortuitous discovery in 1975 of the monumental statue of a ram bearing the name of a still unknown qore :
Amanakhareqerem. Thanks to its publications by Shinnie and Bradley, it entered the Repertory of Meroitic Epigraphy under the reference REM 1151.
In 2002, the first testing pits revealed the entrance of the Amun temple. It was marked by a red brick pylon, 25 meters long. Each part was decorated with a tall flag-pole on a sandstone base. The main door led to a hall with an open axial passage with lateral porticos supported by red brick pillars and sandstone columns. Several signs indicate that the temple had been neglected for an important period of time, this first room being used for some time as a domestic settlement, before being rebuilt at a later period (4th century AD). During the 2005 campaign (October 15 – December 15), the sanctuary of the temple was reached. Thanks to the collapse of the vaulted ceiling of the room, which sealed up the archaeological levels, a set of religious objects still in place was found. Neolithic ceremonial weapons and Egyptian artefacts were mixed with typical Meroitic productions (bronze and faience objects).
The qore Amanakhareqerem
Qore is the title Meroites gave to their king. Until recently, we knew very little about the qore Amanakhareqerem. He was only attested in four documents, among which the inscriptions engraved on the bases of two ram statues. In 2002, the discovery in situ in El- Hassa of a third ram statue bearing his name, confirmed that Amanakhereqerem was indeed the builder of the temple of Amun at El-Hassa. As it often happens with archaeology in Sudan, a recent discovery can tell a lot. Thus, the inscription discovered in 1998 by the mission of the Berlin museum in Naqa provided the first written form of this monarch name in cursive Meroitic. Since cursive writings have a much faster and more noticeable evolution than hieroglyphs, this text enabled Claude Rilly to suggest a dating of the reign of the qore Amanakhareqerem: he would have reigned in the years 80-90 AD. Since then, our colleagues from the Berlin museum have also unearthed a temple built and decorated by this monarch. Therefore we now have two temples in the name of Amanakhareqerem as well as new proposals for his place in the chronology of Meroitic sovereigns.
Bronzes of El-Hassa
In 2005, archaeologists from the French Section of Sudanese Antiquities and the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums discovered three bronze objects in the ruins of the sanctuary. Amongst them a woman’s bust caught their attention.
In cooperation with the restoration services of the museum of Khartoum, a sponsorship program was set up with the Research and Development Laboratories Valectra of the Electricité de France (EDF) company to analyse and restore these three bronzes.
The three bronzes arrived at Valectra laboratories in January 2007. The first operation consisted in stabilizing the active corrosion of the metal by electrolysis. The following analyses confirmed that it was indeed bronze, ie. a combination of copper and iron. Then, the original surface was regained by a mechanical clearing under binocular magnifying glasses of the corrosion products that entrapped the original form and details given by the craftsman.
The woman’s bust turned out to be that of a Meroitic queen, maybe the Candace mentioned in the texts. She has short hair and a headband keeps a cobra upright on her forehead. Her ears are pierced in order to receive earrings. Everything indicates that this bust was part of a sceptre or a ceremonial stick and it seems to be an original master piece of Meroitc bronze-founders. After ten months in France, the three restored bronzes are now back in Sudan where they can be exhibited in the renovated rooms of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum.
P. Lenoble, V. Rondot, “À la redécouverte d’el-Hassa. Temple à Amon, palais royal et ville de l’empire méroïtique”, CRIPEL 23, 2003, p. 101-115.
V. Rondot, P. Lenoble, “El-Hassa, au cœur de l’empire méroïtique”, Archéologies. 20 ans de recherches françaises dans le monde, Maisonneuve et Larose - ADPF, 2005, p. 399-401.