Potsherd

Paolo's picture
The ancient town of Meroë, in Sudan, had already been excavated for about thirty-five years when the University of California African Expedition was leaving Egypt and moving south through Sudan. In his 1949 chronicles, the anthropologist Henry Field wrote:
during a brief stop at Meroë, we took some photographs and collected a series of sherds.
This fragment of a large decorated vessel is one of the sixty fragments that were collected from the surface that day. In the footnotes, Field specified that this town was:
not to be confused with Merowe (Napata) on the bend of the Nile. [John] Garstang, who excavated here from 1909 to 1914, found the Temple of Amun, the baths and Temple of Aspert (circa 590 B.C.) and the Temple of the Sun mentioned by Herodotus. Reisner (1920-1925) excavated a cemetery of brick pyramids used about 355-300 B.C.
The origin of both towns is with the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt whose pharaohs were Nubians and briefly ruled in the 8th century B.C. They left a trail of inscriptions where they portray themselves as the custodians of an "Egyptian" identity that they felt was being diluted by Asian influence. Their military enterprises against the Assyrians, however, failed to gain them a decisive victory and they were eventually defeated and driven back to their homeland. In the following centuries the capital - Napata - lost most of its appeal. Without the labor and skills of Egyptian artisans, the city infrastructures and bureaucracy started to crumble and the common people went quietly back to the previous way of life. The final demise of Napata as a power center is still matter of research.
Reisner's opinion was that the Meroitic culture was merely a continuation of the Napatan, originating after the transfer of the capital to Meroë and still unable to stop the decline of its past fortune. He dated the rise of the Meroitic kingdom to 308 B.C. but he also believed that  Nubian kings would return to be buried at Napata, which remained their sacred cradle for many decades afterward.
His interpretation and chronology had been variously challenged by other historians. One line of criticism came from the reading of Herodotus whose Histories have no mention of Napata while he wrote about "the great city of Meroë which is said to be the capital of the other Ethiopians (II, 29)". Since Herodotus was writing around 450 B.C. it made more sense to them to favor the establishment of Meroë as the royal palace and burial ground at 538 B.C.
 
One potsherd can tell a very long story.
Hearst Museum # 5-1004 Potsherd
PAHMA 5-1004
Potsherd
Africa; Sudan; Meroë
Collected by University of California African Expedition 1947-1948
 
John Garstang's field notes and collections are curated at the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool
 
Paolo Pellegatti
Research Archaeologist
Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
 

 

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