The city of Naga once stood in an inhospitable environment far from flowing waters. It belonged to the Meroitic culture (ca. 300 BC – ca. 300 AD), which worshipped Egyptian gods but was also greatly shaped by African roots. Naga was one of the most complex ensembles in the ancient Sudan. Its temples, palaces, necropolises, settlement areas, hafires (water reservoirs), and quarries constituted an urban area more than a square kilometer in extent. Naga lies 189 km north of Khartoum in a side valley of the Nile, on the border between the Sahel and the Sahara.
This geographic location is unusual within the framework of Topoi, and the project’s map had to be expanded to the south. For until now, the ancient Sudan is present neither in public consciousness nor in research. But actually, the roots of Egyptian culture lie here, rather than in Egypt itself, as previously thought. Beyond that, the country is the cultural-historical bridge between the Mediterranean realm and Africa; the Bible refers to it under the ancient Egyptian name Kush. The location of the city of Naga in the dry savanna is unusual, as is the idea of a state settled by nomads. But there was a political presence in a region that was almost a no man’s land – a central site for nomads?
The investigations not only cast new light on the Sudan as one of the great ancient cultures, but also reveal a changed image of ancient Egypt, which from now on must be seen as embedded in its African surroundings. Since ancient Greece, Westerners have been fixated on the European view of ancient Egypt and have seen the pharaohs as precursors of Western civilization. Their African roots were not seen.
Egyptologists can conduct research on Naga comparatively easily. The remnants of the complexes are well-preserved under meter-thick layers of sand. But working in the sand is more complicated for geo-scientists. The “archives” are like solid earth, but sand is more difficult to interpret on the whole.
Today the region gets about 100 mm of precipitation a year. But the region has been extremely dry for a long time. There must have been a reason to erect temples and palaces in this peripheral location. Did the landscape look different at that time from how it does now? Were there fluctuations in the amount of rainfall? What effects on climate may human activities have had?
Settlements, palaces, and temples were supplied with water by means of a complex system of storage basins (hafirs) and their feed lines. Especially in the hafirs, the geo-scientists found revealing sediments that can provide information on the natural conditions of an early past. As in Resafa in Syria, the question arises: How much rain had to fall to make this sophisticated irrigation system function? And what other traditional techniques were available to enable survival in this inhospitable environment?
At the end of the investigations stood the reconstruction of the history of the settlement and landscape of an extraordinary cultural realm.