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El-Kurru, Sudan

Director: Geoff Emberling

In 2013, the Kelsey Museum began a new field project at El-Kurru in northern Sudan. The site had been known since excavations of George Reisner in 1918–1919 recovered the royal pyramid burials of kings and queens of ancient Kush who conquered and ruled over Egypt as its 25th Dynasty (ca. 750–664 BC). Reisner’s excavation notebooks also suggested there could be a royal city adjacent to the cemetery, with features including a 200-meter-long stretch of town wall and gateway, temples, and a large rock-cut well that he interpreted as belonging to a royal palace. He did not investigate these remains in any detail, nor did he document their location.

The Kelsey project, directed by Associate Research Scientist Geoff Emberling, relocated, excavated, and documented these structures, along with the largest pyramid at the site, which Reisner had not fully excavated. The pyramid and the two temples, which were also rock-cut, turned out to date to the 4th century BC, centuries after the peak of the dynasty’s power, and the town wall and gateway, along with associated houses and burials, proved to date to the medieval (Christian) period. There was no trace of a royal city of ancient Kush.

There have been many finds of unexpected interest, including later marking of some of these structures by ancient and medieval graffiti. The graffiti were the subject of an exhibit (with associated catalogue) at the Kelsey in 2019–2020. Final publication of the excavation results is underway.

The project is now aiming to complete our work at the site by constructing a community heritage center, designed in collaboration with the local community in El-Kurru village. Thanks to a grant from the University of Michigan Humanities Collaboratory to a project titled "Narrating Nubia: The Social Lives of Heritage," we are actively working to develop materials for local teachers and students, exhibits on archaeology and contemporary culture in the village, and a film that will portray the village and the place of archaeology in it.