Al Monitor queried in an article titledWill Qatar’s investment in ancient pyramids bring tourists to Sudan?” a situation that is developing with relative success.

BEJRAWIYA, Sudan — The remains of the heartland of the ancient Meroitic kingdom (circa eighth century B.C. to the fourth century) are scattered across a string of villages collectively known as Bejrawiya, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. While pyramids are synonymous with Egypt, this sandy part of Sudan is also a lesser known home to many of these remarkable structures.

Author Rebecca Bradshaw on 7 December 2015

The Meroitic civilization got its name from the seat of its ruler, Meroe Royal City, to the east of which lie the royal burial grounds. Three sets of pyramids dominate the landscape here: the northern and southern pyramids, constructed for royal internments, and the western pyramids for nobles and elites. These structures have long drawn attention from scholars and travelers, and several of them today bear the marks of destructive European treasure-seeking. But they have been largely abandoned for the past century. The last archaeologists to carry out excavations at the site were American George Reisner and his Sudanese colleague Saeed Ahmed in the early 1900s.

Enter Qatar Museums. Since late 2013, it has sponsored the ambitious Nubian Archaeological Development Organization (NADO), with 39 archaeological projects overseen by the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project (QSAP). Each of these projects has received a share of $135 million — an unprecedented amount of funding — to conduct research over a five-year period. This year, QSAP launched its 40th project, the Qatari Mission for the Pyramids of Sudan (QMPS). Now, a multinational team is working at the pyramids of Bejrawiya, a United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and the most famous archaeological monuments in Sudan.

Under the co-direction of Mahmoud Suliman Bashir and Alexandra Riedel, QMPS has so far conducted nonpenetrative work, such as geophysics, gradiometry, magnetometry and surveying, and is on the cusp of conducting test excavations to discover new features in this ancient landscape. Of particular importance is the work the archaeologists are carrying out in Pyramid 9, which belonged to first-century B.C. King Aqrakamani. While all the pyramids’ antiquities were looted, it seems that the European antiquarians who visited the pyramids in the 1800s were unaware of the existence of the subterranean grave shafts, which extend from the pyramid some meters to the east. Unlike the famous Giza Pyramids in Egypt, it is these shafts that lead to the burial chamber; the pyramid superstructures themselves were simply filled with rubble. By the early 1900s, however, when Reisner conducted his seminal fieldwork, he knew of and even used the burial shafts to dump surplus excavated material. As truncated material, this spoil can no longer be used to create a chronology via analysis of stratified layers. However, any organic material found here can be used to give an accurate date for the grave in question.

Pawel Wolf, a consulting archaeological expert from the German Archaeological Institute, told Al-Monitor that the work of QMPS will for the first time reveal an absolute date for Meroitic burials, “allowing key chronological questions to be answered.” Furthermore, considering the likely date for King Aqrakamani’s reign, the material may also shed light on the wars between the Meroites and the Roman rulers of Egypt, who repeatedly sought to push south but never succeeded in gaining control of the harsh terrain that now makes up Sudan.

The idea to fund archaeological teams in Sudan, thus jump-starting work of this scale and importance, was first brought up by Sheikh Hassan Al Thani, the vice president of Qatar Museums. But why would the Gulf Arab sheikdom initiate such an enterprise, especially as there had been no excavations at the site for almost a century?

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