The Meroitic Cemetery at Berber: Discussion on Funerary Practices and Implications for Understanding the Role of Sorghum and Trade in the Meroitic Society in the Middle Nile Region
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The recent discovery of a large, well-preserved Meroitic cemetery at Berber together with a similar cemetery at Dangeil is of considerable interest, and possesses great research potential for Meroitic funerary traditions. The tombs in both cemeteries have lost their superstructures due to weathering agents such as seasonal rains and prevailing winds; therefore, it is impossible to identify these tombs by simple surface observations. Human activities have been responsible for their chance discovery. The Meroitic cemetery at Berber was discovered when archaeological materials consisting of pottery jars, bowls and human bones were found while digging foundation trenches for a factory for plastic production, while the discovery of the Meroitic cemetery at Dangeil was the result of digging a drainage canal beside the neighboring village of el-Fereikha.
The tomb structures and the burial practices in the Meroitic cemeteries in Berber and Dangeil show the same Meroitic funerary tradition of that era. However in some aspects there are more similarities between the Meroitic burials in the region of Berber with those located further north. The archaeological fieldwork in the cemetery site at Berber has revealed large number of finds with variety of types and materials. The exceptional well state of preservation makes these finds unique. Pottery vessels decorated and painted with different pattern have been found in a large quantity. Small finds of different materials and source were also well represented among the archaeological objects recovered at Berber. In general the grave good shows clear richness of the Meroitic cemetery at Berber that raises the status of its associated settlement to an elite community.
The variety of the recovered materials from Berber and Dangeil together with their different sources has been related to trade and exchange of prestigious items among elites societies which is a mechanism controlled by the royals as means of power. The presence of such items together with the important geographical location of the region of Berber as corridor linking the Nile and the Red Sea and the southern part of the kingdom of Kush with its northern part make the region cross-road for trade caravans. This argument has been supported by archaeological evidence including the discovery of ancient routes passing by Berber and some way-stations located along the desert route to Berber. Some historical sources have also noted the presence of Berber as trade centre and well established market since the early Islamic period. These sources have been used to support the ancient role of the region that continues from the early Kushite Napatan period to the modern history.
The archaeological finds from Berber provided some exceptional objects that represent more evidence for the special association of the Kushite society with sorghum. The motif of sorghum plants has been noted as a feature appeared in number of pottery jars found at Berber. The long history of sorghum and its important role in Sudanese food culture had been well documented through archaeological, ethnographical and epigraphic evidence. The presence of such Meroitic distinctive motifs that considered symbols of identity in number of the recovered pottery from Berber seems to indicate the importance of the society and mark the significant role of the region during the Meroitic Period.
PublisherThe University of Bergen
- Archaeology 98