Who Can Protect Sudan’s Historical Sites From These Ignorant Hands?

Who Can Protect Sudan’s Historical Sites From These Ignorant Hands?

Stele of Amanishakheto (centre) from the temple of Amun in Naqa

By: Rogia al-Shafee


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Not many days have elapsed after the Soba East historical site, the only remaining heritage of Alawa, Christian Kingdom in Sudan, was destroyed by an agro-investor, than we heard about the destruction of the Al-Meragh historical site in the North of the country, using heavy earth moving machinery.

The Alawa Kingdom was the last of the three Nubian kingdoms that embraced Christianity after Nopatia and Muqurra.

Historical records say the Alawa Kingdom had controlled most of the lands of Central Sudan and extended along the banks of the White and the Blue Niles down to the district of Upper Nile in the now Republic of South Sudan.

Alawa was a strong, multicultural Kingdom and was run by a powerful King, aided by provincial rulers he appointed.

Alawa Kingdom’s capital was today’s Soba locality across the Nile east of Khartoum.

Soba was known as the township ‘of spacious homes, orchards and gold- filled churches.’

It had flourished as a trade center, receiving merchandise from the Kingdom of Muqurra and from outside Sudan, including from the Middle East, West Africa, India and China.

Reading and writing had flourished in Alawa Kingdom, using both Nubian and Hellenic languages.

The Meragh historical site of extreme Northern Sudan is made up of four architectural units, three of them built from Nubian stone, while the fourth was built from unburned clay. This site belongs to the times of the Napata Kingdom. The buildings were characterized with ornamented pillars, an art unknown except in important buildings like temples, palaces and fortresses. It is believed that the place was a fortress used as a military outpost to fight back hostile tribes living in the surrounding desert.

Roman Kiosk in Naqa Site, Meroitic Period

The location was reportedly tampered with by five persons who shoveled and destroyed it.

With the poor capabilities available for protecting this rare historical national wealth (thousands of years old), nobody can  rule out the continuation of these subversive actions on these sites from greedy and ignorant hands.

Archaeology expert, Professor at the King Saud University in Saudi Arabia Azhari Mustafa Sadig has, in a telephone discussion with Sudanow, accounted for the importance of the Sudanese antiquities and the pillaging and destruction they suffered across ages and what should be done to protect and utilize them:


Rare Samples of Antiquities:-

Sudan treasures a lot of antiquities sites covering long periods of human history, starting from the Paleolithic (or the Old Stone Age) down to the stages of modern history. All these historical sites can fall within the Sudanese antiquities protection law. These sites include caves, natural reserves and settlements, up to major temples and rare pyramids, tombs, graves and others.

For instance, in the Abu Anja neighborhood of Omdurman (across the Nile from Khartoum) and in Shaheinab (North of Khartoum) and in Khartoum proper we can find antiquities from the stone ages.

In the extreme North of the country we find the antiquities from the ancient Nubian Groups, located in the Halfa district bordering Egypt, and its neighboring areas of Argin and Kerma that belong to the Kushite civilization.

South from these down to the Fourth Cataract we find the antiquities of the Napata Kingdom located in the Jebel (mountain) Barkal and its neighboring village of Alkuru.

Jebel Barkal

South from these we find the antiquities of the Meroe Kingdom civilization whose influence expanded covering areas of the ancient Napata Kingdom. The Capital of the Meroe Kingdom was the Royal City of Meroe, North of today’s Kaboushiyya.

Beside Naqa’a we find traces of this Meroe civilization in the area of Musawwarat.

In the North the Christian is well known in the sites of Faras and Bohin. Both these civilizations belong to the Medieval age.

Then South of Khartoum we find the distinct Islamic civilization sites.

Islamic civilization cites also extend Northwards to the areas of Dar Mali, Alkhandaq and Dongola and can also be traced elsewhere in the country.

Some of these antiquities have been registered within the international human heritage, including those in the Barkal Mountain and other sites representing the Napata and Meroe civilizations.

In sum, Sudan embodies thousands of historical and heritage locations.


The Role of Mining for Gold in the Destruction of Antiquities Sites in Sudan:-

Egypt’s Rulers

Sudan’s historical locations have suffered a lot of meddling from persons greedy for illegal wealth and from organized destruction during the period of the Condominium Rule of Britain and Egypt of the country and also during the building of cities and the construction of agricultural schemes. Natural factors had also contributed to this destruction and waste.

A lot of Sudanese artifacts are now kept in the World museums after being moved in an irregular way during the Turkish, British and Egyptian occupations of Sudan or through thefts like what happened in the Bajrawiyya pyramids during the mid-19th Century.

Adds Professor Azhari: A few years back, I cautioned, in a short article entitled: ‘Sudan, the Country of Gold’, against the traditional mining of gold in the historical sites, in particular in the country’s eastern desert between the River Nile and the Red Sea Hills, the area called the Nubian Desert.

Meroe pyramids 

Gold mining has developed in this rich, wide area over time, beginning from the pre-historic ages, across several historical epochs down to this age. The major beneficiary from this (according to the raw and manufactured gold found) was ancient Egypt. This process had continued over several stages of the old rule of the Pharos. This gold mining had also exploited the Northern extensions of the desert inside the present borderline. Perhaps gold mining was rather limited where digging did not go deep in the ground.

These simple practices have extended over long periods, in particular during the Old Egyptian kingdoms (2700-2160 B.C) and the Middle Kingdom (2119-1794 B.C).

These activities then expanded and developed during what came to be known as the New Kingdom (1550-1070), when Egyptian gold exploitation escalated in the area in the South and Middle of the Nubian desert up to the Red Sea Hills, in particular in the Wadi Alallagi, Wadi Gaiga and other areas.

Gold mining was not a monopoly of Egyptian rulers of Egypt. It continued so during the periods when Egypt was ruled by the Batalmas, the Romans and the Byzantines when the biggest possible area of the desert was exploited, though mining was concentrated on the Southern part of Egypt, in particular in the Wadi Alallagi district.


The Kushite Era

One of Amanishakheto's jewels 

It is difficult to determine the amounts and uses of extracted gold by the Kushites of the different eras of ancient Sudan. But discovered golden artifacts were found in the Bajrawiyya pyramids. Reference here is in particular made to the jewels found in the pyramid of Queen Amanishakheto who ruled the Meroe Kingdom around the year 10 B.C. Researchers consider these findings an indication that the Kushites had benefited from their gold resources far more than their predecessors of the previous ages. Gold mining continued, though to a lesser degree, during the eras of Arab presence in Sudan, in particular in areas adjacent to the River Nile, more along the Allagi Valley. This activity had peaked during the 10th and the 11th centuries under the supervision of Ibn Tolon and his successors (the year 900 B.C and after) in the northeastern part of the Sudan.


Modern Ages

In addition to this, historical sites had suffered negligence in different ages, in particular during wars and domestic conflicts. The cemeteries antiquities sites had suffered random campaigns of digging, looting and trading where even the Islamic cemeteries were sometimes destroyed.

Al-Meragh historical site

Ignorance about the value of these locations had added to these problems when celebrations were held close to these sites, like in the case of the repeated Barkal annual festival held during the defunct regime near the historical Barkal site. Housing and urban building and the launch of agricultural schemes, in Khartoum in particular, had added to the problem by wasting hundreds of historical locations, especially those belonging to the prehistoric ages. A number of locations were destroyed like what happened in Kobi, 65 KM west of Alfashir city of North Darfur State. Kobi was a major city in Darfur and a caravan terminal on the Darb Alarba’een trade Route. The same had occurred to several locations of the Meroe civilization. Some sections of the Naqa’a and Musawwarat were destroyed by unguided excavations or the imprudence of previous officials of the defunct regime like what happened in Musawwarat site and like what we see today in what we can call ‘the gold fever’ that spread in many areas of Sudan.

It is a long history of gold mining in Sudan. But history tells that the major concentration of gold mining was in the area extending from the River Nile up to the Red Sea that houses thousands of historical sites that need protection from this new human invasion, in areas man had never trodden into for thousands of years.


Antiquities Locations Protection Laws:-

Sudan was among the first African and Arab states that enacted antiquities locations protection laws ever since the early 20th century.

This law saw several amendments, the latest in 1999. The law criminalizes meddling with cultural properties in keeping with the international laws and treaties.

Church of the Granite Columns in Old Dongola

At the international level, Sudan has signed and joined several international treaties of concern with the protection of cultural heritage, the most important of which the Hague treaty of 1954, related to the protection of the cultural heritage of buildings, movables, documents and books of historical, artistic or religious value.

At the same time, all of Sudan’s historical sites are protected by the Sudanese antiquities protection law of 1999.

This law punishes anyone who spoils or destroys antiquities, takes any of their stones or ornaments or changes their features by not less than three years in prison, a fine or both punishments.


Procedures Needed To Stop Assaults On Antiquities:-

Professor Azhari says despite the fact that the antiquities law carries harsh punishments that can protect antiquities, this could not stop meddling with and the destruction of this valuable wealth.

For that, the government has a big responsibility towards these historical locations and their protection. There is need to view antiquities as a basic economic source by energizing tourism as did some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.

In addition to these historical locations, Sudan’s tourist rich potential also includes tourist attractions like the Dinder Game Reserve that enjoys interesting wildlife on an area of 10000 square kilometers, the Sanganeb National Park on the Red Sea with its rich marine life and scenery, Mount Mara in Darfur, the Radoam game reserve and the country’s other natural tourist destinations.

Cities like Omdurman whose main market puts to display spectacular handiworks also constitute a high tourist potential. The country’s wildlife, the River Nile, the desert, the Red Sea in addition to traditional dresses, ornaments and folk art can make good economic resources for the country and for the development of local communities through the creation of job opportunities for the local population and for energizing multiplier economic sectors.

This requires more conservation of historical and natural sites through more attention and accountability for those who interfere with them.

This includes for the country’s administrative institutions to become aware about the value of antiquities and the need to conserve them and to consider spending on them as a future investment with promising returns that can help the economy and cement the country’s social fabric through the encouragement of domestic tourism.

The government should take brave steps to adopt tourism as a strategic economic activity. It can begin by the protection of historical sites and the conduction of a detailed survey of available resources. The government, in collaboration with the private sector, the local communities and the world organizations, should lay down a plan for the development of resources and the conversion of these historical sites into tourist attractions according to a timetable that guarantees a reasonable limit of basic infrastructures and tourist requirements. Our Motto should be that “this is a hen that lays golden eggs, so let us take care of it.”

Also, the Sudanese media did not do enough to cast light on our cultural heritage, often concentrating on specific locations that became well known to the public. This is not enough.







  1. Magdi Gimish

    Thank you, Prof Azhari, for this wonderful date

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