Temple discovery in Sudan

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The Egyptian Amun Temple remains at Jebel Barkal. Inset: Heather Wilson.

3 April 2012

University of Auckland PhD researcher Heather Wilson is part of an international archaeology team to have discovered the remains of a previously unknown temple in the Northern Sudan.

Heather says the find was “totally unexpected”. The temple was underneath five layers of modification made over hundreds of years to the Great Amun temple near the 4th cataract of the Nile.

“Underneath an old portion of the temple, we discovered a mud-brick foundation of an earlier temple – making the complex much older than originally thought”.

“At the moment there is not enough available evidence to conclusively date the old temple, but it can be asserted that it is no earlier than the beginning of the Egyptian eighteenth dynasty which began 1550 B.C.”

Previously it was thought the Great Amun temple was built the reign of the heretic king Akhenaten, 1352-1358 B.C.
“This discovery pushes the dates back to an earlier pharaoh’s reign, and signifies that the site was a place of worship for a much longer period of time,” Heather says.

Each summer Heather, who is studying in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, travels to the northern Sudan (for the African winter) to excavate temple remains in Jebel Barkal, under the leadership of Dr Timothy Kendall from the United States. So far she has completed four seasons.

Until now the project depended on attracting enough sponsorship and funding for the team to travel to the region each year, but a recent grant from Qatar has ensured funding for a further five seasons of research.

“Development in the Sudan is progressing at a rapid rate making the urgent recording of past civilisations somewhat imperative. By recording the influence that the ancient Egyptians had upon their architectural structures within their culture, we ensure another aspect of their history is preserved for future scholarship,” Heather says.

Heather’s research focuses on the architecture and construction methods of the buildings along with the quarries from which the building materials originated. She is recording anomalies and comparisons with similar temples in Egypt and noting how the different terrains, geological features and the labour and resources available at the time make the structures unique.

“Architects of today would undoubtedly be impressed by the longevity of these buildings,” she says. “The planners of today’s buildings factor in a certain life-span and build accordingly, however these ancient peoples were building for the glory of their gods and their pharaohs entities that would ‘live forever’.

“Granted, many subsequent edifices have decayed and disintegrated over time, but these buildings were built with such skill and passion that it ensured their permanence in the landscape. This sense of pride, beauty and permanence to be appreciated by future generations is I believe a lesson that could be integrated into the modern day planners’ and builders’ agenda.”

Heather, who is completing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Anthony Spalinger, will return to Sudan in November 2012.