By Dr. George A. Reisne, Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin Vol. XVI BOSTON, OCTOBER, 1918 No. 97
All the pyramids at Nuri were of the slender type, steep sides inclined at an angle of about 68” to the horizontal, quite different in aspect from the massive squat pyramids of Giza. Each stood in a small enclosure bounded by a low wall and had an offering chapel consisting of a single room placed against the “ western ” face. The chapel was roofed with two rows of large stone slabs, which leaned against each other from the opposite walls, thus forming a sort of arch. In the middle of the “ eastern ” end of the chapel, a stela was set in the face of the pyramid, and on the floor, in front of the stela two offering stands were placed and a flat altar resting on a stone pillar. Out in front of the chapel a long stairway, open at the top, descended from the “west ” to a doorway opening into a series of two or three burial chambers (A, B, and C) hollowed in the solid rock under the chapel and the pyramid. In the innermost chamber the coffin, usually of wood, but in two cases of granite, had been placed on a stone bench, and in this, the mummy, enclosed in two or three mummy cases.
The fingers and toes of the mummy had been cased in gold, and the body had borne a heart scarab and many ornaments as in Egypt. Around the walls of this room, and sometimes of Room B also, the small magical figures called shawabti (“ answerer ”) were ranged in rows, and these we often found in place. There had also been wooden boxes inlaid with colored stones and containing alabaster ointment jars, gold ointment sticks, silver mirrors, gold cups and vessels, silver bowls, and other valuable objects. The pottery seems to have been set mainly in Rooms B and A. After the burial the outer doorway was blocked with rough masonry and the stairway filled in with the broken rock taken out during the excavation of the stairway and the chambers. This debris had been piled on each side of the “ western ” end of the stairway, and some of it was always leftover after filling the stairway. Even now after all these centuries the two low mounds can still be seen at the end of the stairway and guided us more than once to the entrance.
Such was the original condition, but each of the pyramids had been used as a quarry for stone and its burial chambers had been repeatedly robbed. The thieves seem to have sought only for gold and to have been regardless of what they broke and trampled underfoot. In the abundance which they found they carelessly dropped some of the gold ornaments in almost every tomb and left gold leaf scattered through all the rooms. I came to the conclusion that there had been a time soon after the abandonment of the cemetery (about 300-250 B.C.) when tomb after tomb was cleared out in a perfect orgy of treasure-hunting.
From this account, the hope of finding much of value might seem very small; but there was something in every tomb, and the end of the work left us with a very satisfactory collection. These objects were, moreover, entirely the work of royal craftsmen represent all that will ever be recovered of these classes of objects from this period of Ethiopian history. For we have excavated the tombs of all the kings and queens of Ethiopia who lived after Tirhaqa, except the four kings and their queens who are buried in our concession at Kurru. Leaving aside all the other finds, the inscribed objects alone were sufficient to identify every one of the twenty kings and twenty-five of the fifty-three royal ladies buried at Nuri. The earliest generation of craftsmen or schools of craftsmen, the sculptors, the faience-workers, the gold-and silver-smiths, the potters, the makers of stone vessels, the masons, and the scribes,- all took the traditions of their crafts from the Egyptian schools and were probably themselves Egyptians.
The objects which they made are indistinguishable in form and technique from the objects made in the corresponding period in Egypt (665-650 B. C.). Each subsequent set of workmen must have learned their crafts from the preceding set, producing, of course, from time to time new methods and new styles, and either losing or gaining in skill and in their hold on the early traditions. Thus of the various craftsmen who worked for anyone king, some must have continued to work under his successor, some would have died and handed on their traditions through their apprentices, and some would have been supplanted by new masters of their crafts. In other words, it may be assumed that the archaeological group of each king contained examples of the work of some craftsmen who had worked for his predecessor and of some who were to work for his successor, but was in itself a unique group, the production of a set of men who lived contemporaneously only under one king.
Thus, by careful comparison, it should be possible to link up to these twenty groups as a continuous series of overlapping units and to set the names of the corresponding rulers of the country in the same order. In thus establishing the list of the kings of Ethiopia in their chronological order the initial step was the division of all the pyramids into four groups (a, b, c, and d) each characterized by peculiarities of masonry and plan and each showing such a technical advance over the other as to leave no doubt as to the order of the groups. Group a contained the pyramids of Tirhaqa and Tanutaman, and group d exhibited the nearest approach to the masonry and plan of the pyramids of the Meroitic period, which came after the Ethiopian period. An examination of the stelae, altars, inscriptions, faience figures, stone vessels, gold and silver ornaments, and other objects confirmed the division into four groups in the order already determined and indicated the order of the pyramids in each group.
At this point in the course of the fieldwork, the discovery was made that a sacrificial foundation deposit had been made under each of the four corners of most of the pyramids, as follows :
One Tomb of Aspalta. Gold jug pyramid of the group a, all the pyramids of groups b and c, and all but three of the pyramids of group d. Foundation deposits had never before been found under pyramids. We had already searched for them at Nuri itself, but hampered by the doubt as to their existence, by ignorance of their position, and by fear of damaging to no purpose the masonry of the pyramids, we had failed to find them. At the very end of the season of 1916-1917, when I had already set the date of our departure for Egypt, one of the workmen clearing the corner of Pyramid II (Astabarqaman) to enable Mr. Williams to make a plan of that pyramid, accidentally broke through into a cavity containing a sacrificial foundation deposit. This pyramid had been built originally about 28 meters square on shallow foundations so that the “ northern ” side had either cracked or fallen; and the whole pyramid had been taken down and rebuilt on more solid, deeper foundations, but on a smaller scale (about 27 meters square). The outer row of stones of the foundation course of the older pyramid had been left in place, and our workman engaged on the second pyramid broke through from the inside into the deposit covered by the “ northwestern ” comer of the first pyramid. With this assurance of the existence of the deposits and this indication of their position, the finding of the other deposits was a simple matter. I sent off Mr. Williams, the architect, and Mrs. Symons, the secretary, at the appointed time, while Mr. Kemp, the recorder, Mrs. Reisner, who was helping with the care of the antiquities, my daughter and I remained until the 10th of May and finished up the recording of the foundation deposits. Fortunately, the weather held unusually cool for Sudan, although we were well inside the tropical zone.
The contents of the deposits varied, like all else, from group to group and from pyramid to pyramid. The earlier cavities were square and the later circular, decreasing in size. All the cavities contained, lying on the top, the skull and one forequarter of a sacrificial calf or young bull. There were also vessels of pottery, or models of such vessels, and a few stone implements (bread-grinder and rubbing stone, mortar, and pestle) which varied from the pyramid to pyramid. In the deposits of group b, there were also from eighteen to twenty faience cups, and in the deposits of the two earliest pyramids, these cups were inscribed with the name of the king and of a god who loved him. Below, the floor of the cavity was strewn with tablets and model tools of bronze and iron. In the earlier deposits, there were tablets only, but these gold, electrum, silver, bronze, faience, red jasper, crystal, lapis lazuli, alabaster, and malachite, one of which was inscribed with the name of the king. In the c-group, the tablets were much the same, but only the faience tablets were inscribed. In the d-group, except for one faience tablet in each deposit of Pyramid XI, none of the tablets were inscribed ; but in compensation the deposits of this group contained models of various tools which in the earlier pyramids (XI and XII) were of bronze and in the later pyramids (XIII and XIV) of both bronze and iron. The evidence offered by the changing character of these deposits and their contents confirmed fully the conclusions already obtained regarding the chronological sequence of the kings.
It is with the names of these long-forgotten kings and queens that we have now filled out the four centuries after the death of Tanutaman. But before Tanutaman, the life of the Ethiopian monarchy had been only a short one, consisting of the reigns of Kashta, Piankhy I, Shabaka, Shabatoka, and then our Tirhaqa, a period of only about eighty years. The royal cemetery at Nuri was founded by Tirhaqa. His pyramid, the largest of all, was the first king’s pyramid to be built on the site, and that of Tanutaman was the second. Henceforth, the kings of Ethiopia were to rule only over their own were of land, the most barren part of the Nile valley, a country which owed its material prosperity to its every geographical position as the land of the trade routes between Egypt and Central Africa and to the gold mines of its eastern desert. The native Negroid race had never developed either its trade or any industry worthy of mention and owed their cultural position to the Egyptian immigrants and to the imported Egyptian civilization. The early kings sprang certainly from the Egyptianized ruling class and had, without doubt, a large portion of Lybian or Egyptian blood in their veins.
After the expulsion of Tanutaman from Egypt, the kings of Ethiopia were unable to exercise any authority over Egypt except quite temporarily over the provinces south of Thebes. Nevertheless, they all claimed the fivefold titulary of the kings of Egypt until in the days of Harsiotef and the other kings of the later d-group the very names used with three of the five titles became stereotyped and passed as parts of the titles from king to king. One king succeeded another, built temples, endowed the offerings of the gods, suffered under the intrigues of courtiers and priests, and waged his petty wars with the negro tribes the south or with the nomads of the eastern and the western deserts. Each one gave much heed as profited him to the priest-made oracles of Amon-Ra of Gebel Barkal, married him a queen from his own family, gave his mother honored burial at Nuri, built himself a pyramid in the same field, died, was buried with his fathers.
The Egypt-Lybian elements in the royal family and in the ruling class were gradually replaced by the native Negroid elements, probably through climatic influences and intermarriage. The deadening effects of this racial change appear in the gradual decline of all the arts and crafts. Later, after the death of Nastasan, there was a new influx of people from Egypt and there was a new influx of people from Egypt and which we call Meroitic. But the native influence continued, in spite of this apparent set-back, and the language of the people replaced the Egyptian even in the royal inscriptions. The native language was first written in a sort of bastard hieroglyphics and finally in a cursive alphabet adapted from these hieroglyphics, the so-called Meroitic script.
Thus summarized, the history of Ethiopia may seem the dullest of affairs. But the stelae found at Barkal give us certain details of the reigns of Tanutaman, Aspalta, Harsiotef, and Nastasan which add human interest to these names. As all the other kings of Ethiopia undoubtedly left similar records at the great temple of Amon-Ra at a Gebel Barkal, there must once have been fifteen or twenty more of these stelae which have not yet been found. It may, therefore, be hoped by continuing the excavations in that temple to find further records which will enliven our knowledge, of many another king of Ethiopia. With the material now at hand, all the broad outlines have been recovered which in the history of Ethiopia add to human knowledge another example of the physical basis of political power and of the dependence of the exploitation of that power on racial on capabilities, another example of the organization of a theocratic state and of the practical effect of such an organization on human affairs. Set in this historical background, the collections of objects found at Nuri present the whole course of the development of the arts and crafts of Ethiopia and over a period of four centuries.* But far more than this, if the objects now buried in the fourteen royal tombs at Kurru be added, then these are all the remains which mankind is ever likely to recover of most of the Ethiopian crafts of this period. Examples of the sculpture, it is true, will probably be found in the temples at Barkal and elsewhere; but the condition of the smaller private tombs already excavated shows that nothing is to be hoped from these. The series of gold objects, of foundation deposits, and above all, of the shaw wabtis can never be duplicated. Aside from the historical importance of these figures, a large number of them possess artistic merits of no small value. The stone figures of Tirhaqa are unique for this period, and the faience figures of Senkamanseken, Aspalta, and some of the early queens are unsurpassed by anything of the same sort found in Egypt.
C. A. R.
Born December 5, 1883; Died October 8, 1918. The Museum has learned with regret of the death of Oric Bates, formerly Assistant in the Egyptian Department and in the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Egyptian Expedition under Dr. Reisner. Mr. Bates died of pneumonia on October 8 at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky, whither he had gone a fortnight before as a member of the 12th Observation Battery, Section G. He had already shown his value as museum official, explorer, and writer, and a long and fruitful course of scientific investigation might have been his contribution to his country’s achievement but for the sudden sacrifice of his life in its military service. Mr. Bates’s associates at the Museum extend sympathy to his family in their personal grief and to his fellow students of archaeology in their feeling of loss. A career of exceptional promise has been cut short by Mr. Bates’s death. October 14, 1918.