Early Meroitic art and architecture
at Musawwarat es-Sufra
The Musawwarat Project is a long-term archaeological project at Musawwarat es-Sufra, located about 180 km north of Khartoum run by the Department of Northeast African Archaeology and Cultural Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Since 1960 Humboldt University teams have been excavating at this major centre of the Kingdom of Kush, which boasts the earliest known temple dedicated to the lion-headed god Apedemak, the unique labyrinthine building complex of the Great Enclosure and the largest known artificial water reservoir of ancient Sudan, the Great Hafir.
Since 2013 this project is funded as one of 42 missions under the umbrella of the Qatar- Sudan Archaeological Project.
Water reservoirs were a prerequisite for the construction and maintenance of Musawwarat and other sites that are located far from the Nile in areas without permanent water sources. Sometimes, these reservoirs were equipped with sculptures. In the case of Musawwarat, one of these sculptures – a seated lion of c. 1,6m height – was found in the 1960s in the Great Hafir. It was re-excavated in the 2017/18 field season for an evaluation of its state of preservation. The lion sculpture is still situated in its original position just inside the water reservoir, facing exactly to the North (FIG 1).
Apart from excavations, conservation-restoration measures have long been a focus of the university’s site management activities at Musawwarat es-Sufra. With QSAP funding, conservation-restoration continues to be a priority, as the local soft sandstone deteriorates at an alarming speed. Site management efforts are also currently focused on the presentation of the site to the Sudanese and international public. The latter includes the development and installation of a visitor guidance system, which aims at protecting the site while significantly enhancing the visitor experience. Conservation-restoration work, including the rehabilitation of the northern side of the Central Terrace of the Great Enclosure, forms an integral part of the realization of the guidance system (FIG 2).
Visitors are now able to appreciate architectural decoration and sculpture from the site that had been hidden in protective brick enclosures for the past quarter of a century. Some of the unique Early Meroitic decorated columns situated in front of the Central Temple of the Great Enclosure , for example, are currently in the process of being consolidated and – where appropriate – restored. Some of the most precious pieces were transported to the site museum during the 2017/18 field season and are now on display there. This includes two column drums with the depiction of a line of dancing men and a column base and drum with depictions of male and female gods, some in frontal view (FIG 3). While the originals will have to remain in the site museum, replicas of these column drums and bases are planned to be installed during the next QSAP season in front of the Central Temple.
During the 2017/18 season, the replication method was already tested on smaller sculpted objects and a first set of replicas was created. This concerns two sculptures of seated lions in front of Temple 300 in the east of the Great Enclosure, which were re-assembled and copied using silicone moulds in which artificial stone was cast. The two lions complete the set of architectural sculptures adorning the access route into the temple, guarding once again the ramp leading into the porticus of the temple (FIGS 4 and 5).