Ancient Gold Center Discovered on the Nile

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The new discovery is part of an international effort to salvage artifacts before the Merowe Dam creates a 108-mile-long (174-kilometer-long) reservoir south of an area of rapids known as the Fourth Cataract.

The inundation is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2008. It may be delayed, though, because members of a river tribe, the Manasir, have refused to be moved to an agricultural site off the river.

Some Manasir leaders charge that the archaeological effort provides political cover for the construction of the dam, and they have banned salvage efforts in their territory.

When Emberling's group arrived in Sudan in January, Manasir representatives told them to find a new dig—the site they'd planned to work at was off-limits.

"They were very firm in their stand. We had to go to Plan B," said Emberling, whose research was funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

The project was saved when Henryk Paner—director of a team from Gdansk, Poland's Archaeological Museum—invited Emberling's team to work on one of the Polish sites, just outside Manasir territory.

(Related: "Four Killed Over Nile Dam Project That Threatens Nubian Towns" [June 15, 2007].)

More Finds Nearby

One of the biggest surprises of the expedition was the discovery, in a cemetery at a nearby site called Al-Widay, of jars and tulip-shaped beakers from the Kushite capital of Kerma.

The Kerma artifacts suggest that Kushite leaders were able to project their control more than a hundred miles (160 kilometers) farther up the Nile than previously thought, Ahmed said.

Archaeologists will only be able to excavate a fraction of the estimated 2,500 sites in the area before the flooding begins.

Ahmed, of Sudan's antiquities agency, said that past archaeological efforts had illuminated the lives and funerary practices of Kushite elites. But recent digs have also shed light on rural life in those civilizations.

"It's very important to see the other face of the coin," he said.

Archaeologist Emberling added, "Studying Kush helps scholars have a better idea of what statehood meant in an ancient context outside such established power centers of Egypt and Mesopotamia."

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