Nubia and Sudan
Ancient near East
A projection on the wall illustrates the changing dynamics between the cultures of Egypt and Sudan, the range of their territories, and their main settlements and cities, from 10,000 BC until today. Additionally, the screen provides information on the history, architecture, and art of Ancient Sudan.
The last room offers the last instance of a “Preview”, one of the architectural leitmotifs of the museum. Next to the wall with the lion from the Gates of Ishtar, a set of steps peek out, ready to take visitors back up to the light of day. Once up the steps, they stand on a gallery where they can look down on the very first rooms of the museum and gaze once more upon statues and reliefs that illustrate the subject of Art, giving visitors the opportunity of revisiting their impressions from the very beginning of their circuit.
The reliefs have a lot of painted details, mostly in their many accessories and attributes – fringes on the clothing, feathers on the wings, weapons, jewellery, crowns. They were brought to light when the reliefs were cleaned and restored by the workshops of the Archäologischen Staatssammlung (State Archaeological Collection) before being installed here in their new home.
The reliefs come from the 9th-century northwestern palace of Assurnasirpal II in Nimrud, the capital of the Assyrian Empire along the Tigris (now in Irak). They depict winged genii, powerful spirits that were thought to protect the king and his household. These relief slabs once lined the mudbrick wall. They come from different rooms and corridors within the palace.
This plastic model of a small sanctuary at 1:30 scale embodies the museum’s excavations in the Sudan. With a sustainable restoration programme and the use of innovative technology such as a 3-D structured light scanner and photography drones, the Naga Project sets the bar for modern archaeological excavations. When restoring the Chapel of Hathor, severely-damaged blocks were replaced by replicas milled using the data from 3-D scans.
The museum has been excavating in Naga, the southernmost city of the Kingdom of Meroë, since 2013. Situated in the middle of the steppe, two hours by car heading northeast from Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum, Naga has remained untouched since its heyday from 200 BC to 250 AD. The site covers about one square kilometres filled with temples, administrative and government buildings as well as domestic housing, not to mention the as-yet-untouched necropolis. In 2011, Naga was accorded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Meroitic pottery provides a good example for the land’s diverse culture, spanning the divide between Europe and Africa. There are Hellenistic pot shapes and decorative techniques (such as “barbotine” ware), painted decoration in Egyptian motifs such as hieroglyphs and typically African pottery types such as the large, big-bellied jars with a small opening, used to store water and keep it cool.
Since the area south of the First Cataract is, more so even than Egypt, strongly defined by the desert, sand was chosen as the main design element for this room. Pottery vessels placed upright or laid down on the sand (coloured to imitate the local hues) imbue this room with a very special atmosphere. This also makes it possible to avoid the use of modern stands and plinths usually necessary for the pots and their mostly rounded bottoms.
In 1837, King Ludwig I acquired part of the treasure of Amanishakheto for the royal Bavarian art collections. This made Munich the first city in Europe ever to have art from Meroë on display. The jewellery had been part of the Queen’s funerary goods, found in 1834 by the Italian doctor and adventurer Giuseppe Ferlini in her pyramid’s burial chamber and then brought to Europe.
The treasure of the Meroitic Queen Amanishakheto, who lived around the beginning of the Christian Era, encompasses very distinct pieces of jewellery. They combine Egyptian, African and Hellenistic elements into a new whole, mirroring the Meroitic Culture (300 BC – 300 AD) itself, a culture on the edges of, first, the Hellenistic world, and later the Roman Empire, combining various different influences in its role as the Gateway to Africa.
Studying the ancient Sudan allows us to expand and modify the traditional view of the history of the Nile valley, which, in the scientific discourse, very much centred on Ancient Egypt. Nubia, the area between the 1st Cataract to the north and Khartoum to the south – the southern part of Egypt and the northern part of the Sudan – often stood in the shadow of the Pharaonic kingdom, which occupied the territory for much of its history, drawn there by the gold deposits in the Nubian desert.