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The Great Nubian Civilization

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 5:31 pm    Post subject: The Great Nubian Civilization Reply with quote

Canadian archaeologists in Sudan, using magnetometers, have found a 2,000-year--old palace in the heart of the ancient black civilization.

April 22, 2002

Margaret Munro

If his partner had not fallen into an ancient tomb and broken both legs, Professor Krzysztof Grzymski would have discovered the ancient Nubian royal palace even sooner.

Still, Grzymski, a professor at the University of Toronto and a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, is a happy archaeologist these days. He and his colleague, who is walking again, have found what they believe are the remains of a palace and a colonnade built more than 2,000 years ago by the greatest black civilization ever.

"It's quite remarkable, we can see them clearly beneath the sand," says Grzymski.

The discovery is in the ancient, and for the most part buried, city of Meroë, which was the royal capital of ancient Nubia. It is located about 200 kilometres northeast of present day Khartoum.

Meroë, considered one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in Africa, was at the heart of a powerful black civilization that flourished along the upper Nile River from about 750 BC to 350 AD.

Grzymski and his colleagues plan to start excavating the palace and colonnade next winter. But for now Grzymski is content to pour over the grainy images generated by a device that allowed the archaeolgists to "see" the ruins buried beneath the sand without digging them out.

Explorers -- and tomb robbers -- have long been aware of Meroë and its riches. But archaeologists were so pre-occupied with Egypt's pyramids and kingdoms to the north -- and deterred by the political conflict in Sudan -- they largely ignored the ancient Nubian culture. Many assumed it was merely an offshoot of a more advanced Egyptian culture.

"Here you've got this wonderful civilization that was literate, which extended over 1,000 miles, maybe more, up the Nile, and which built pyramids and palaces and temples and at the same time was a major centre of iron production, and yet it is generally unknown to scholars and the general public," says Grzymski.

He has been intrigued with the ruins since the 1970s, when he studied under Professor Peter Shinnie at the University of Calgary. Shinnie worked for years with Sudanese scholars on the ancient iron smelters

of Meroë.

Grzymski helped keep the Canadian-Sudanese collaboration alive through his ROM work. And in 1999, he and archaeologists at the University of Khartoum were given a licence by Sudan's antiquities officials to explore the 50-hectare site of Meroë. About 10 hectares of the ancient city had been excavated in the early 1900s by British archaeologists. But most remains entombed under sand and shrubs.

The archaeologists had a hunch about where the best ruins lay. But they wanted to be sure.

"You can spend weeks and weeks digging nothing," he says.

To find the most promising areas, Grzymski recruited Tomasz Herbich, a Polish archaeologist and geophysicist who specializes in using magnetometers to find buried ruins. Magnetometers are sophisticated versions of the hand-held devices people use to find coins on beaches and parks. They can differentiate between the magnetic properties of materials -- such as sand, pottery, bricks -- and feed the readings into a computer. The readings then generate maps. Just before the archaeologists were to start scanning the Meroë site in the 2000-2001 season, Herbich, who works on ruins throughout northern Africa, fell into an abandoned ancient tomb in Egypt, breaking both his legs and injuring his spine.

"It was a terrible accident," says Grzymski. And it set the Meroë scan back by one year.

In February, Hebrich and his magnetometer went to the Sudan site. Within days, Herbich homed in on the palace and colonnade.

The palace, about 400 square metres in area, is about a half a metre beneath the surface of the sand. "There are traces of staircases, so it suggests there must have been upper floors," Grzymski says. The street in front of the building also came into view.

To their surprise, they found what appears to be a colonnade near one of the gates to the ancient city.

"We were absolutely delighted," says Grzymski. "It's really fascinating when you can see the urban design without excavating."

In October, Grzymski will return to Meroë to start digging with his Sudanese partners.

It remains to be seen what treasure lies beneath the sand, but the materials uncovered in the region over the years have made it clear the Nubian civilization was a powerful, inventive society.

The most incredible find was made almost 200 years ago in a pyramid near Meroë. An Italian physician and tomb robber known as Ferlini accompanied an Ottoman invasion of Sudan in 1821 and discovered exquisite gold amulets, signet rings and necklaces by blasting open the pyramid of Queen Amanishakheto, one of Nubia's most powerful rulers.

Ferlini tried to sell the treasure when he returned to Europe. But collectors would not believe such treasure could come from black Africa. They thought he was trying to pass off fakes, says Grzymski. "They were jewels of great quality and beauty and often influenced by Greek art, which was really a surprise," he says. "People didn't expect deep in the heart of Africa depictions resembling those of Egyptian or classical Greek art."

The ancient Nubians exchanged plenty of ideas and goods with cultures around them. Nubian pyramids, monuments and jewels were clearly influenced by Egyptian, Mediterranean and Arabian cultures.

"They worshiped many of the same gods as the Egyptians and the royalty was buried in pyramids," says Grzymski.

Some of their pottery and burial talismans predate similar discoveries in Egypt, indicating Nubia may have influenced the Egyptians rather than the other way around.

At the height of their culture, Nubian kings are said to have ruled Egypt from 750 to 650 BC. They were driven south by the Syrians, says Grzymski.

Ancient trash heaps have revealed many details of daily life for the Nubians. Olive pits suggest the Nubians either imported olives from the Mediterranean or grew them on the banks of the Nile. And the animal bones they left behind reveal much about the climate and environment they lived in. Along with sheep and goats, the Nubians consumed gazelle, antelope, warthogs and other wild animals now seldom seen in Sudan. The bones, and ancient water reservoirs, suggest rainfall patterns have changed in the past 2000 years, shifting 300 to 400 kilometres to the south. "There has been quite a change in environment," says Grzymski.

But it is the Nubians' written language that he finds most intriguing. Borrowing 24 signs from Egyptian hieroglyphics and using them as an alphabet, they developed their own writing system, Grzymski says.

"It's the second-oldest writing system in Africa, but it has still not been deciphered."

So far, 1,500 inscriptions written in the ancient Nubian language have been found, but no one knows what they mean. Grzymski and his colleagues are sure to find more as they continue excavating.

While finding more palaces would make Grzymiski happy, what he would most like to find is some manner of bilingual inscription to enable scholars to unlock the messages left by the Nubian people. He says the archaeologists need something like a Rosetta Stone, the famed slab of black basalt inscribed in Greek text and Egyptian hieroglyphs that enabled scholars in the early 1800s to decipher the Egyptian writings.
Royal Nubia Lies Under Sand
Hunting for the Elusive Nubian A-Group People
Site modified 2002-2004


Nubia (Kingdom of Cush)

People of northern Sudan and southern Egypt. With a history and traditions which can be traced to the dawn of civilisation the Nubians settled along the banks of the Nile from Aswan in the south of Egypt to the 6th cataract just south of Khartoum (capital of Sudan). Along this great river they developed one of the oldest and greatest civilisations in Africa. Until they lost their last kingdom (Christian Nubia) only 5 centuries back the Nubians remained as the main rivals to the other great African civilisation of Egypt. A great civilisation and great people who deserved equal or even more fame than their rival Egyptian civilisation instead were overlooked and its findings and monuments were attributed to their rivals. Belatedly recognised the Nubian culture and history is one of the main concern of archaeologists, scholars, museums and universities world wide nowadays .....

The Kingdom of Cush

Ancient kingdom of Nubia in today's northern Sudan whose rulers conquered southern Egypt in the 8th century BC and established a capital at Napata. From around 730 to 671 BC they ruled over entire Egypt after King Piankhi conquered the rest of Egypt. He had been Cushite ruler since around 751 BC. His son and the second king of the 25th dynasty, Taharka, lost against the Assyrians in 671 but continued to rule until 664 BC. In the 6th century BC the Cushites were forced to move their capital to Meroe where the kingdom flourished until around 350 AD when it was defeated and overrun by the Ethiopians ......

NUBIA KINGDOMS WENT ON EVEN AFTER THIS. http://ancientneareast.tripod.com/Nubia.html

. . . October 1995


By John Woodford

"Africa has no history." Hegel’s disdainful remark has come down to us from the 18th century, echoed not only by contemporary scholars but even, according to The Haldeman Diaries, by a US president. Africa has long lain under the charge that no noteworthy ancient civilizations arose among the myriad Black societies that lived below its Mediterranean regions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s current three-month exhibition, "Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa," will go far toward correcting that misimpression.

The exhibition, which opened Sept. 29 and runs through Dec. 15, contains more than 230 objects that span the millennia from 3500 BC to 100 AD from a Black African civilization that arose immediately south of Egypt more than 5,000 years ago. The curator of the exhibition is David O’Connor, who headed the Egyptian section of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and is now at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

Nubia’s northern region began at the site of the present-day Aswan Dam, and curled 868 miles down the Nile Valley. By 1700 BC, Nubians lived in sizable cities for those times, forming a class society comprising workers, farmers, priests, soldiers, bureaucrats and an aristocracy, and developing technological and cultural skills on a level with the other advanced civilizations of their day.

Nubia was known as the Kingdom of Kush in the Bible, and the Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Nubia was renowned for its fair rulers and "pious and just" citizens. Nubia traded, conducted diplomacy and occasionally battled with Egyptians, Romans, Judeans and Assyrians. Nubia was colonized by Egypt from around 1500 to 1000 BC, but in 750 BC, the era of the Greek poet Homer, the Nubian King Piye turned the tables, conquering a weakened and disunited Egypt and becoming the first of several Nubian pharaohs who ruled a unified Egyptian and Nubian state for the next century.

Nubians produced and traded gold, ivory, incense, ebony, animal skins, grains, cattle, cotton and smelted iron. They controlled trade between Mediterranean lands and the African societies to the south and were middle men in the slave trade. Nubia, itself, however, O’Connor says, seems never to have served as any more significant source of slaves to Egypt than did nearby Semitic and West Asian lands.

Nubia’s fortunes rose and fell over the millennia, as all civilizations have done. Its last high point in ancient times was the state of Meroe (MAYR-o-way), a great cultural center whose scribes developed an alphabet around 180 BC to better express the Nubian language, which until then had been written with Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Meroitic alphabet is still largely undeciphered, and until linguists crack its code, the sizable number of remaining written records are inaccessible. O’Connor says once the linguistic puzzle has been solved, we’ll know more about the last days of ancient Nubia, which faded around 400 AD. In 500, Nubians turned from their own Egyptian-influenced religion to Christianity, and the region converted heavily to Islam a thousand years later.

Scholars began excavating northern Nubia (which in confusing scholarly parlance is called Lower Nubia because it lies on lower lands along the north-flowing Nile) in the first decade of this century. Yet this exhibition-which began in Philadelphia and visited Newark, Rochester and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC before coming to the Kelsey, and is bound next for Baltimore and Minneapolis-is the first major public presentation of Nubian history, culture and artifacts.

Why did Nubian history lie in general obscurity despite the consistent interest in it shown by generations of African American scholars? Ethnocentric bias played a big role in the underappreciation of Nubia, O’Connor says. In his catalog for the exhibit, he notes that many Western scholars have conveyed the idea that Nubia was either backward in comparison with Egypt and other societies of the time, or that Nubians borrowed all of their advanced technologies and ideologies from Egyptians. He cites as an example of "scholarly biases" the practice of translating the Egyptian words heka and wer as "ruler" or "king" when they are applied to heads of Near Eastern kingdoms or states, "but as ‘chief’ for the Nubian [leaders], although nothing in the text warrants the differentiation."

Peter Lacovera, an Egyptologist at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, told the Washington Post, "What we realize now is that the Nubians weren’t copying the Egyptians; they were innovators in their own right. In fact, they were often more innovative than the Egyptians in their use of different materials and in their artistic styles. Nubian ceramics were well beyond Egypt in technology and decoration." Nubians also built more pyramids than the Egyptians, although the Nubian version is smaller and has a flat rather than pointed top.
U-M Assoc. Prof. Thelma K. Thomas, an art historian and the Kelsey Museum’s associate curator, points out that George Reisner, who pioneered in Nubian archaeology with his excavations in the early 1900s of a 5,000-year-old Nubian royal cemetery, seems to have been unsettled by his discovery.
Reisner argued that the pottery he had unearthed represented a culture that must have been essentially Egyptian-that is, non-Black, according to the widespread view of that time of a hierarchy of races. He theorized that this original culture soon declined as a result of the "increasing change in the racial character of the people. The negroid element became dominant."

Reisner had to twist his argument through "a good deal of mental gymnastics," Thomas continues, when he attempted to account for facets of Nubian culture that were distinct from Egypt’s. She cites the following passage from his report:

"Thus a race was revealed which had only a political and geographical connection with Egypt. It was racially and culturally descended from the people living in the same place in the Old Kingdom. The Nubian race was negroid, but not negro; it was perhaps a mixture of the proto-Egyptian and a negro or negroid race, possibly related to the Libyan race. It lay outside the cultural influence of Egypt and, seeming to lack power or opportunity of self-culture, developed through several phases of the same quasi-Neolithic state in which we first find it."

Thomas, who is "fascinated by such historiography and by the still-growing accumulation of various versions of ancient Nubian history," says that today statements like Reisner "ought to leap out from the page as offensive as well as misguided." Versions of Nubia’s past are concocted not only by those who would belittle Nubia but also by those who seek to glorify it as a Golden Age state that gave birth to Egyptian civilization. Some members of the African American community seize upon utopian depictions of ancient African societies as a corrective, however exaggerated or even erroneous, to the belittling versions of African cultures that arose as ideological justifications of the slave trade.

Thomas offers as an example of Afrocentric "popular re-imaginings" a comic book about an ancient Nubian super-hero, Heru, Son of Ausar, whose creator Roger Barnes includes a bibliography of African and African American historical interpretations of Nubia.

All over the globe versions of ancient history remain hotly contested by those who excuse or vindicate present policies on the basis of rights they claim through their interpretation of the past. American scholars have reported that some of their Egyptian colleagues think it is ludicrous to devote attention to ancient Nubia, which they have been taught to view as merely a poor country cousin of pharaonic Egypt.

It’s more surprising to hear that the Sudanese establishment, too, shows minimal interest in ancient Nubia. Sudanese archaeologists say that some leaders of the current Islamic state see little value in valorizing the achievements of "pagan" originators of their culture.

Nonetheless, Thomas emphasizes, African archaeologists and historians, including Egyptians and Sudanese, are now playing major roles in reconstructing and reinterpreting Nubian and other early African civilizations that now present the largest remaining uncharted territory for researchers into ancient life.

Attention Expanding
The Kelsey Museum is seizing upon this awakening interest by using the Nubian exhibition "to expand our own attention to Africa beyond Egypt and Tunis, two areas that are well represented in our collections and related research," says Becky Loomis, Kelsey’s education and development officer, who has arranged numerous events to acquaint U-M students, regional school systems and the local community with the exhibition. Meanwhile, Kelsey Assistant Curator Janet Richards is investigating additions of Nubian materials for Kelsey’s permanent exhibit.

Professor O’Connor will give a public lecture on the exhibition Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m., Auditorium C, Angell Hall. For other information, call (313) 747-0441.

Initial funding for "Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa" came from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Financial support was also provided by the University’s International Institute and the Office of the Vice President for Research. All images used in this article are from the exhibition catalog by David O'Connor and may not be reproduced without permission of the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.


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The ancient region of Nubia was located in northeast Africa, in what is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The first group of Nubian people that we know much about, called the A-Group by archaeologists, lived around 3500 BC, but there is evidence of civilization in Nubia as far back as 8000 BC.

Because Nubians were great archers, the Egyptians called Nubia "Ta-Seti," or Land of the Bow. The name Nubia came into use in the Middle Ages.

Although it was a hot, dry land, ancient Nubia was a treasure trove of gold, ivory, stone, and other riches, and therefore a tempting target to foreign rulers. At times Egypt ruled Nubia; at other times, various Nubian kingdoms flourished.

The great kingdom of Kush (or Cush) was located in south Nubia. The ancient Greeks called it Ethiopia. In the 8th century BC, Kush -- led by King Piankhi (or Piye) and later his brother and successor King Shabaka -- conquered Egypt. These Kushite kings founded Egypt's 25th ruling dynasty. After Shabaka died, Piankhi's son Shebitku became pharaoh; he was succeeded by his brother Taharqa.

But the Nubian Dynasty's reign in Egypt proved to be short-lived. In the middle of the 7th century BC, Taharqa was driven out of Egypt by the Assyrians. He and his cousin Tanutamon, who succeeded Taharqa as king of Kush, tried but failed to regain the Egyptian throne.

Around 592 BC, Egypt sacked Kush's capital, Napata. After that, the city of Meroe became the capital of Kush. The kingdom lasted for some 900 years more.

One notable Kushite ruler was the fierce one-eyed warrior queen Amanirenas, who battled an occupying Roman army in the first century AD. Her ambassadors were conducted into the presence of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, and according to the Roman writer Strabo, they "obtained all that they desired, and Caesar even remitted the tribute which he had imposed." Queen Amanirenas had won; the Romans withdrew from most of Nubia.

It seems Kush gradually went into decline, and crumbled completely after the armies of Aksum (an kingdom of ancient Ethiopia) conquered Meroe around 350 AD. New kingdoms arose in Nubia, and these kingdoms started converting to Christianity in the 6th century AD. Around 1400, Nubia began falling under the control of Arab rulers, and many Nubians converted to Islam. But much of Nubian culture has survived through the centuries, and the Nubian language is still spoken today in Egypt and Sudan.

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Books About Nubia
Unless otherwise noted, these books are for sale at Amazon.com. Your purchase from Amazon or Alibris through these links will help to support the continued operation and improvement of the Royalty.nu site.

Book Categories: Nubia, Kush, Funj, Sudan, Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Children's Books

Nubia and Egypt
Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa by David O'Connor. Based on a museum exhibition, this book includes drawings, maps, and photographs.

The Black Pharaohs: Egypt's Nubian Rulers by Robert G. Morkot. A powerful kingdom arose in northern Sudan (Kush) during the 9th century BC. Conquering Egypt, its kings ruled the Nile Valley from the Mediterranean as far as Khartoum for half a century.

From Slave to Pharaoh: The Black Experience of Ancient Egypt by Donald B. Redford. Examines the interactions between Egypt and the Nubian and Sudanese civilizations to the south, focusing on the role of racial identity in the formulation of imperial power in Egypt.

Piankhy in Egypt: A Study of the Piankhy Stela by Hans Goedicke. Piankhi or Piye was a king of Kush who invaded Egypt.

Kingdom of Kush
The Kingdom of Kush: Handbook of the Napatan-Meriotic Civilization by Laszlo Torok. Discusses the emergence of the native state of Kush, the rule of the kings of Kush in Egypt, and the history of the kingdom in the Napatan and Meroitic periods. Includes a genealogy of the kings of Kush from Alara to Nastasen.

The Kingdom of Kush: The Napatan and Meroitic Empires by Derek A. Welsby. A scholarly look at the ancient kingdom. Includes illustrations.

Egypt and Ethiopia
Books About Royalty in Egypt
Books About Ethiopian Royalty

Funj Kings
The Sudan of the Three Niles: The Funj Chronicle, 910-1288/1504-1871 by P.M. Holt. The Funj kings reigned in Sudan from the 16th century through the 19th century.

A History of the Sudan: From the Coming of Islam to the Present Day by P.M. Holt and M.W. Daly. A comprehensive introductory history of the Sudan.

Historical Dictionary of the Sudan by Robert S. Kramer, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban. Focuses on the Sudan in Islamic times from the 14th century to the present, including info on the sultanates of Sinnar and Dar Fur, the Mahdiya, and the history of Islam in the Sudan.

Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile edited by Dietrich Wildung, translated by Peter Der Manuelian. Exhibition catalog with large photographs and illustrations.

More Books About Nubia
Children's Books
The Ancient African Kingdom of Kush by Pamela F. Service is for children ages 9 to 12.

The Land of Gold by Gillian Bradshaw. After the murder of her parents, a Nubian princess is helped to her rightful place on the throne by two friendly Egyptians. For children. Out of print, but available from Alibris.


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Kush - Africa's oldest interior civilization

The ancient civilization of Kush is often a neglected area of the ancient civilization curriculum.

However, if students are to have a balanced view of the development of civilizations throughout the world, then they need to learn about this ancient civilization of the interior of Africa.

As Kush possessed all the features of a major civilization it should take its place alongside the other major civilizations of the ancient world.

Kush was not simply an extension of its northern neighbor Egypt, but a civilization in its own right, with a distinct and separate culture.

Influenced by Egypt on some occasions and influencing Egypt on others, Kush nevertheless followed a unique path of development.

With this in mind Waldorf Education Resources has produced a teaching pack with three SubUnits on Kush, starting with the Kerma culture and taking students through to the destruction of Meroe by the king of Axum.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 6:47 pm    Post subject: MODERN NUBIAN KINGDOMS Reply with quote

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Queen of Egypt
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 10:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's a nice site here listing some of the Rulers of Kush.
The site covers ca 750 BC and later.

(And please do not use all capitals. It's the internet version of shouting and it's a bit jarring. Thank you Very Happy)
Math and Art: http://mathematicsaroundus.blogspot.com/
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 11:57 pm    Post subject: Capitails Reply with quote

anneke wrote:
There's a nice site here listing some of the Rulers of Kush.
The site covers ca 750 BC and later.

(And please do not use all capitals. It's the internet version of shouting and it's a bit jarring. Thank you Very Happy)

I know,i just got excited coming here for the first time.
I really do not do that when i write on the internet.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 12:00 am    Post subject: Editing Reply with quote

Is there anyway to edited if there is a mistake?
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Queen of Egypt
Queen of Egypt

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 1:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

No, only the moderator can edit a post.

The owner of the board has said that in the past people had abused the editing feature. Changing previous posts if a heated debate ensued etc.

If there'e ever anything you would like to have changed or deleted than PM me (or kmt-sesh) and we can fix it.

Although we try not to edit too much.

Thanks for all the information by the way. I will have to read some of it at my leasure when I have a bit more time.

The discovery of the palace sounds very interesting. I'm assuming Nubia was pretty well unified during that time. It will be interesting to see if they find any names of the royalty.

Did the structure of the Meroitic state have same of the same features as the Egyptian state? Did they have Viziers, Overseers of the Granary, Treasury etc. ?
Math and Art: http://mathematicsaroundus.blogspot.com/
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 7:07 am    Post subject: titles Reply with quote

yes nubia had the same basic type of rulership of course titles might be different in name only because of the language and as we know so far every couple of cen. nubian rulership became more developed.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 7:22 am    Post subject: meroe Reply with quote

The napatan period of nubia was more like egypt,the late napatan period,meroe and later nubia was more nubianized again in culture,art,costumes and maybe titles but the same basic structure was there but new books have come out so i do not want to really say yes or no.
daily life of the nubians is one of those new books.
some of the older ones mention this but i have not read them in awhile so i can't be so sure yet.

Two good books that is older but good-
Ancient nubia-egypt's rival in africa by david o' conner
and the kingdom of kush by derek a. welsby

The articles i have posted would some of those answers but the meriotic period was less known when when those books and articles came out but new works would have more updated and more correct info. on the meriotic period.
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