Region & Site

Approaching the Dongola Reach

Traveling to Dongola requires flying to Khartoum, renting a truck or Land Rover, and driving about 300 miles north. From Khartoum, the route to Dongola ("Dunqulah" on the map) crosses the desert. The paved road ends at a truck stop in a place called Tamtam, and from there it is only an unpaved track through the sand; occasionally the truck's wheels will get stuck in the sand and have to be dug out. After crossing the desert, you arrive at the Nile River and at a town called Debba, and then the route continues along the Nile (and eventually across it) to Dongola and Tombos.


Dongola Reach

The Third Cataract's rugged terrain and treacherous rapids formed a natural northern gateway to the fertile Dongola Reach, and thus an important strategic point of control for Nubians and Egyptians. It was also close to the urban center of Kerma, whose rulers successfully challenged Egypt's Pharaohs for control of Nubia in 1650 BC. The presence of Kerman, Egyptian and Napatan sites in close proximity at Tombos and Hannek makes this area an excellent place to assess the degree of Egyptian influence on Nubian civilization and the later emergence of the Napatan Pharaohs.



Here you see an overview of Tombos before we began excavating. Right now it doesn't look like much, but 3000 years ago ten pyramids of Egyptian Nobles rose towards Re, the son god, promising immortality for their inhabitants. A short distance away we discovered a cemetery of shaft tombs and underground chambers where the middle class occupants of Tombos were buried.
In the middle class area, we found several shaft tombs and one tomb with a series of underground chambers. The burials on top had been badly disturbed by ancient looters, presenting us with a ghoulish topsy-turvey mass of bones. But down at the bottom, the looters got tired, and left us around a dozen intact burials rich in finds that give us important clues to the religious beliefs, health and wealth of the colonists.

As soon as Pharaohs stopped being buried in Pyramids, around 1550 BC, wealthy nobles began to include mud brick pyramids as a part of their tombs. In the upper class part of the cemetery at Tombos, we found the remains of two pyramids, one of which we have partially excavated. Inscribed funerary cones tell us that this pyramid was the tomb of the noble couple Siamun and Weran. Although modest compared to the huge royal pyramids of the Old and Middle Kingdom, Siamun and Weran's pyramid is large by Noble's standards. The pyramid itself was 23 feet to a side, and stood over 30 feet tall. Its chapel would have been elaborately painted, unfortunately only fragments were found. The large courtyard contained smashed dishes and hearths - remnants of funerary feasts. We dug four meters down the shaft without finding the burial chamber, whose secrets will have to be revealed another time.

Siamun and Weran's tomb was as large as the largest private pyramids in Nubia, so our tomb owners were important players in colonial society.


Map courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin