It’s interesting to consider how people living in a village that surrounds pyramids think about the ancient past. The answers surprised us this season.
First, there’s a persistent sense that ancient remains are all around them, not just among the ancient burials. Farmers working in the palm groves are continually finding ancient “red brick” (baked brick), and every single one has a story about a place in his or her field where water drains down into apparent voids in the earth. It’s as if there is an entire subterranean world under their feet.
Second, everyone in the village thinks that there are piles of gold to be had from digging, whether in graves or in other areas. It is difficult—no, impossible—to convince them that we are not looking for gold!
There is also a feeling, a little harder to pin down, that some of the remains might be dangerous, inhabited or protected by spirits (djinn). We found a carving in the temple of “demons”—cattle with red-painted human faces—and it didn’t take much suggestion to convince some of the workmen that we had to be careful digging because of these spirits.
We might well think that they would feel pride in what their ancestors had done. But in fact that’s not the case in El Kurru. The group in this part of Sudan that does assert (and feel) a link to the ancient monuments are Nubian speakers. People in Kurru spoke Nubian maybe 300 years ago (Kurru itself is a Nubian word), but they don’t now and no longer identify themselves as Nubians.
What they do feel is a real sense of pride that their village contains historically important remains, even if they are mostly not very knowledgeable about the details. They are hopeful it might lead to some economic benefit for them, and it might very well, at least in the immediate future when archaeological projects plan to continue work around the site.