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Explore Sudan’s Pyramids of Meroë
Uncover a city with over 200 pyramids. This is Meroë, the ancient capital of the Kushite Kingdom, in Sudan’s Nile Valley.
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The Kushite Kingdom
The Kushites extended their influence over Nubia (an ancient region mostly covering Sudan and Southern Egypt) for more than 3,000 years.
The Kushite Kingdom once covered over 932 miles (1,500 km) of the Nile Valley, including the time when it ruled over Egypt from around 760 to 656 BCE. Kushite rulers of that era are commonly called the 'Black Pharaohs'.
Meroë became this civilisation’s third and final capital around 590 BCE. This began what’s described as a golden age for the Kushites.
The Nubian pyramids
Today, the remains of more than 200 uniquely Nubian pyramids can be found in the Sudanese desert, as a lasting monument to a prosperous people.
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The unique design
The unique design
The pyramids of Meroë range in height from 6 to 30 metres, rising from fairly narrow footprints that create the distinctive steep slopes to these structures.
This belonged to King Arkamani the First, one of the more intact pyramids.
Steep by design
These slopes are steep because they were built by using a shaduf – a simple people-powered wooden crane. It was anchored in the middle of the plot, as the pyramid was built up around it.
Who built them?
As with ancient Egyptians, the occupants would design and build their own pyramids in life so that there would be no delay in their journey to the afterlife. Construction could take over a year for the larger pyramids.
Unlike the Giza pyramids in Egypt, Nubian pyramids have no burial chambers inside. The outer layers of sandstone blocks encase an internal filling of rubble and dirt (and in one recorded case, the remains of a shaduf).
The offering chapel
Here, early explorers found offerings of bows, horse harnesses, wooden boxes, pottery and imported goods from Meroë’s far-reaching trade with Egypt, Rome, Greece, India and China.
The offering chapel of the 12th pyramid in the north cemetery, dedicated to an unknown king.
The occupant in life
The south wall depicts the occupant’s life as a king. The smaller scenes before them probably depict parts of the funeral process, as offerings of cattle were a common practice.
And their afterlife
The north wall depicts the same king being embraced by the goddess Isis, as she was thought to help the dead when they entered the afterlife. But this is not the room where they were laid to rest…
The underground tomb
A buried staircase descends beneath the pyramid, leading to the front of the entrance to a tomb. Beyond were typically one or two intricately decorated chambers, whose purpose was to help preserve the occupant’s spirit in the afterlife.
This is an illustrative example, based on real archaeological data from Meroë.
In the first room, or antechamber, you’d find columns of hieroglyphics and brightly coloured paintings of gods, such as Isis and Osiris. The Kushites and Egyptians had intermingled for thousands of years at this point and shared many gods.
The burial chamber
The second chamber would have similar decorations. Niches in the walls may have held sculptures. This is where the king or queen would be laid to rest on a wooden bed. However, modern archaeological digs have never found any remains.
No royal remains have ever been found (likely to have been stolen by ancient grave robbers), so we can’t know for sure if they were mummified. But associated items have been found – surgical tools, , precious incense and oils.
Here, kings and queens were entombed in death, but what about their stories in life?
Kings with the same name, and opposite views on Kushite culture. Queens that led armies and ruled their kingdoms alone. These are only a few of Meroë’s many rulers.
King Arkamani I
Built the first pyramid of Meroë
Reigned 270 to 260 BCE
King Arkamani II
Sought to restore more Egyptian culture
Reigned 221 to 204 BCE
A warrior who led armies with bow in hand
Reigned 10 BCE to 1 CE
Renewed Meroë to usher in a prosperous age
Reigned 1 to 25 CE
A lot of our knowledge on Meroë is based on the writings of ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks (which is biased and could be untrue). This is because we don’t fully understand the Meroitic language. There were two forms – cursive and hieroglyphic. Today, work continues to fully decipher the Meroitic language. One day this ancient civilisation may finally be able to tell its own story, in its own words.
Retrace the steps of the ancient Kushites by exploring its royal cemeteries on Street View.
In partnership withThis project was made possible thanks support from UNESCO Sudan and our expert historical advisors and fact-checkers – Dr Shadia Taha and Dr Khaled Elgawady.
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