It Would Have Been Impossible To Explore This 2,300-Year-Old Tomb Of A Black Pharaoh Without Divers

Published on 04/28/2021
ADVERTISEMENT

Even though the water did not seem pleasant, Kristin Romey prepared to plunge into its depths. Above her, there was a huge clue as to why she was even putting herself through this in the first place. You see, there is a pyramid in this part of northern Sudan. This is a monument made to honor a long-lost monarch that serves as evidence of a kingdom used to rule over big portions of this part of the continent. Once Romey and a colleague got to their destination, they were surprised by what they saw…

It Would Have Been Impossible To Explore This 2,300 Year Old Tomb Of A Black Pharaoh Without Divers

It Would Have Been Impossible To Explore This 2,300 Year Old Tomb Of A Black Pharaoh Without Divers

They Knew Where They Had To Go

The two of them knew where exactly they should go. There was a tomb of man below the pyramid in question, and he was not a regular Joe. Nastase once ruled as the pharaoh of Nubia. He had been buried in that spot over two millennia ago. Romey, an archaeologist, made her way down a stairway that had been etched into the stone. In case of emergency, she could only rely on a small canister for air.

They Knew Where They Had To Go

They Knew Where They Had To Go

So Deep There Was Not Much Headroom

Pearce Paul Creasman had been waiting for his colleague at the base of the stairway. He was also an archaeologist and worked under a grant courtesy of National Geographic. However, he had some words of warning for his colleague. He told her, “It’s really deep today. There’s not going to be any headroom in the first chamber.” And indeed, he was also chest-deep in the dark waters by then.

So Deep There Was Not Much Headroom

So Deep There Was Not Much Headroom

He First Checked It Out A Few Weeks Ago

Just a couple of weeks before this, Creasman got his opportunity to check out the flooded tomb for himself. Together with Romey, he now planned to go three chambers deep and find out more about a sarcophagus that had been untouched for centuries. Before they managed to this, he showed her a metal grated and told her that she needed to go through a small opening to reach the catacomb!

He First Checked It Out A Few Weeks Ago

He First Checked It Out A Few Weeks Ago

A Submerged Tomb At Nuri

The two archaeologists were exploring a tomb lying at Nuri, a site that spans almost 200 acres of land. It is pretty close to the east bank of the River Nile. This meant that it was located north of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The area is probably best known for the 20 pyramids or so that it houses. All of them were constructed sometime between 650 B.C. and 300 B.C.

A Submerged Tomb At Nuri

A Submerged Tomb At Nuri

Where The Water Came From

Nastase’s pyramid had a base that measures 100 square feet. It rests on a tiny area on level ground. Even though the tomb lies a mile away from the river, it has since become prone to groundwater flooding over time. This is the reason the three chambers of the final resting place are all submerged. After all, they were all sliced into the rock below the desert sands.

Where The Water Came From

Where The Water Came From

There Are Many Pyramids At Nuri

The pyramid in question is only one of many at Nuri. The huge structures are all part of a bigger complex first built during the Napatan period. The pyramids were built in the dry parts on both sides of the Nile, which had once been a part of the ancient region of Nubia. Like others found in the area, these huge structures are characterized by architecture and art features unique to the region surrounding Nuri.

There Are Many Pyramids At Nuri

There Are Many Pyramids At Nuri

It Is A UNESCO World Cultural Site

Thanks to how unique the area is, UNESCO has collectively recognized the area as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2003. The Gebel Barkel is the mountain near the area, and it is significant to both the current residents and those that lived there several millennia ago. There was a point when the Egyptian people thought that the god Amon lived in that mountain!

It Is A UNESCO World Cultural Site

It Is A UNESCO World Cultural Site

They Looked At The Past For Inspiration

To be specific, the five black pharaohs were inspired by the past. They decided to revive old customs and practices used by their predecessors. Among other things, they also built pyramids to mark their own graves as the old rulers did. All in all, over 80 royals were buried in Nuri. They had pyramids constructed for one in four of these graves as well.

They Looked At The Past For Inspiration

They Looked At The Past For Inspiration

How Influential The Kushites Were

Creasman had the opportunity to explain the historical and cultural importance of the Kushites when he talked to the BBC in July 2019. “[The Kushites] were on the only corridor across the Sahara where you can pass through the desert in sight of drinking water the whole way, so that put them in a very important position,” the archaeologist explained. “This pre-dates the arrival of the camel.”

How Influential The Kushites Were

How Influential The Kushites Were

Taharqa Started The Royal Burials There

On the other hand, royal burials at Nuri are believed to have been started by Taharqa. The pharaoh has the biggest pyramid in the region. His descendants kept using the area as their personal necropolis for years to come. Some of them utilized it for the same purpose even after the sands reclaimed Kush.

Taharqa Started The Royal Burials There

Taharqa Started The Royal Burials There

You Might Have Heard Of Him In The Bible

Are you familiar with the Bible? If so, his name might ring a bell. In the second book of Kings, we learned how he warded off the Assyrians during their attempt to take over Jerusalem. This battle ended in victory for him. So much so that Egypt and Kush enjoyed a long period of peace afterward. It was a great time for the pharaoh, who then channeled his attention on more building works.

You Might Have Heard Of Him In The Bible

You Might Have Heard Of Him In The Bible

Just Like Those Of The Egyptian Pharaohs

His pyramid at Nuri might resemble its counterparts in Egypt, but there is a clear distinction between them. You see, the Egyptian pharaohs had been buried in the pyramids. On the other hand, the Kushite kings were interred beneath theirs. Excavating the burial chambers of the Kushites is a more difficult task for archaeologists. After all, they had to dig into its bedrock below the structures to access the tombs.

Just Like Those Of The Egyptian Pharaohs

Just Like Those Of The Egyptian Pharaohs

The First Person To Attempt This

George Reisner became the first man to give this task a shot. He was an American archaeologist whose specialization was Egypt. Thanks to his fine judgment and vast knowledge, he was hailed as the authority on this ancient civilization that once dominated that region of North Africa. Before he took on Nuri, he had dug at Giza once. As you might already know, this is where the Great Pyramid lies.

The First Person To Attempt This

The First Person To Attempt This

Once He Got To Nuri

In the early 20th century, Reisner arrived in Nuri to dig into the burial chambers of Taharqa. He mapped out the other structures over there as well. The Egyptologist made a huge discovery during his time there. He found out that the groundwater that came from the Nile could make it very difficult to investigate the site any further.

Once He Got To Nuri

Once He Got To Nuri

He Did Not Publish His Findings

Despite this, he did not bother to publish the outcome of his investigation in Nuri. This meant that the site failed to get the attention that it could have received otherwise. Aside from that, it seems like Reisner did not think the Kushite kings and the Egyptian pharaohs were of equal standing from a racial perspective. It felt like he only saw their buildings as imitations of the older sites.

He Did Not Publish His Findings

He Did Not Publish His Findings

Why No One Had Tried Again

This was the reason no one had successfully tried it until 2018. This was when an archaeologist with the necessary skills finally paid attention to the site. Creasman is equipped with underwater archaeology experience that Reisner did not. On top of that, he was also knowledgeable in Egyptian studies. Just so you know, he also happens to be involved in dendrochronology, which is the study of tree rings.

Why No One Had Tried Again

Why No One Had Tried Again

The Perfect Person For The Job

His home base was the University of Arizona. From there, his interest in Sudan and ancient Egypt let him work on a research program in the African countries. The Egyptian Expedition of the college has been in operation since the late ‘90s. It has mostly focused on Thebes and the Valley of the Kings. His work in the field has received recognition from bodies like the Royal Geographical Society!

The Perfect Person For The Job

The Perfect Person For The Job

A Kushite King By The Name Of Nastase

Once Creasman arrived in Nuri, he wanted to check out the tomb of a Kushite king called Nastase. He ruled from 335 B.C. to 315 B.C. The ruler was the final person to have a tomb there, so he wound up with the worst plot of land in the area. We are glad that this did not put off the archaeologist. He instead saw the opportunity to study this burial spot. It was ideal for determining how waterlogged the rest of the structures in the area were.

A Kushite King By The Name Of Nastasen

A Kushite King By The Name Of Nastase

Towards The Fall Of The Napatans

The reign of Nastasen took place near the last days of the Napatan culture. The center of power in Nubia shifted not long after he passed on the throne to Meroë. This development led to turmoil between the Napatan house and other royals vying for control over Kush. This conflict made for quite the contrast with the reign of Nastase. During his time in power, his influence over the huge region was strong.

Towards The Fall Of The Napatans

Towards The Fall Of The Napatans

He Had It All Under Check

Nastase showed that he had everything in control when Egyptian king Khabbash attacked. This ambush did not end well for the outsider as the Nubian forces repulsed his group. It dealt a huge blow to his naval forces and treasury. Even though Nastasen had been a rather obscure figure, there is a reason that modern historians have learned quite a lot about the conflict in question.

He Had It All Under Check

He Had It All Under Check

They Found It Somewhere Else

The truth is that Nastasen commissioned a 5-foot-high granite monument known as a stela after he defeated Khabbash. It was probably placed at the temple of Amon at Gebel Barkal. It was later found in Dongola, a city by the River Nile in the northern part of Sudan. The stone is also marked with the most recent Egyptian hieroglyphs to have been discovered. The message commemorates the triumph of the black pharaoh.

They Found It Somewhere Else

They Found It Somewhere Else

Not Much Else Apart From That

Aside from that, not much else about Nastasen has been found. If they wanted to learn more about him, they needed to go through his tomb. This was much easier said than done. It did not help that the water level has gone up significantly after Reisner made the first expedition in the area.

Not Much Else Apart From That

Not Much Else Apart From That

They Found Stairs That Led To The Tomb

With that said, workers under Reisner did find a stairway that led down into the crypt of Nastase. After the team dug out the flight of stairs, they managed to head down into the tomb! This person spent some time digging a hole and taking some habits out of there. These are statues allegedly imbued with magical powers. They are supposed to look after the deceased in their next life.

They Found Stairs That Led To The Tomb

They Found Stairs That Led To The Tomb

It Laid Forgotten There Once More

That was all this worker had time to do. Soon enough, the team left. The tomb disappeared under the sand once more. When it was time for Creasman to explore Nuri, the first thing on his to-do list was to dig out the stairs once more. It proved to be a difficult job that took them an entire year to accomplish.

It Laid Forgotten There Once More

It Laid Forgotten There Once More

There Was Even More Water Down There

As a matter of fact, the expedition team only reached the entry point of the tomb in January 2019. This was not a cause for celebration yet since the team soon figured out that this portion of the tomb had been submerged completely. It looked like it accumulated even more groundwater than there had been in the past. This might have something to do with all the dam built on the river or even climate change.

There Was Even More Water Down There

There Was Even More Water Down There

How The Digging Process Went

When he spoke to the BBC, Creasman talked about the digging process and said that they went “as far as [they] could.” Even though the staircase only had 65 steps, they only “got about 40 stairs down until [they] hit the water table.” He went on, “[We] knew we wouldn’t be able to go any further without putting our heads under.”

How The Digging Process Went

How The Digging Process Went

More Dangers In Its Depths

There was also more danger lurking in the submerged burial area. Divers who went into the chambers had to risk getting trapped there if the rocks around the opening collapsed. Creasman decided to rely on a steel chute to strengthen the entry space. One had to struggle through the chute to gain access to the tomb. The archaeologist was pretty much blind as he slid through it because small particles rendered the water impossibly murky.

More Dangers In Its Depths

More Dangers In Its Depths

They Could Not Count On Scuba Tanks

That was bad enough, but the divers could not use scuba tanks for oxygen supply. The entrance was so small that it was too hard to have those devices on them. The explorers had no choice but to use a line that ushered in some air from above as they dove into the tomb at the beginning of 2019.

They Could Not Count On Scuba Tanks

They Could Not Count On Scuba Tanks

Getting A Peek Of The Sarcophagus

Once they finally got inside of it, the divers managed to get a glimpse of the sarcophagus. This is the huge stone container that stored the remains of Nastase. Once more, the members of the team had to be patient. It would take another year before they could see what was inside of it. They also had to wait to investigate the pit dug by Reisner’s team a long time ago.

Getting A Peek Of The Sarcophagus

Getting A Peek Of The Sarcophagus

What He Found In There

How did Creasman describe the burial area of Nastasen? “There are three chambers with these beautiful arched ceilings about the size of a small bus,” the archaeologist told the BBC. “You go in one chamber into the next, [and] it’s pitch black. You know you’re in a tomb if your flashlights aren’t on. And it starts revealing the secrets that are held within.”

What He Found In There

What He Found In There

Their Efforts Were Worth It

It was a good thing that their efforts to enter the burial chamber had been worth it. Creasman informed Newsday that there were some habits left there. “The gold offerings were still sitting there – these small glass-type statues [that] had been leafed in gold,” explained the archaeologist. “And while the water destroyed the glass underneath, the little gold flake was still there.”

Their Efforts Were Worth It

Their Efforts Were Worth It

The Water Had Been Helpful In A Way

You might also be interested to hear that the small golden tendrils in there came with a fascinating story. It looked like the water helped prevent thieves from going inside the burial chamber! If it had been dry, there is no doubt that they would have looted the place and taken the golden statuettes.

The Water Had Been Helpful In A Way

The Water Had Been Helpful In A Way

It Had Great Gold Production

The gold leaf discovery should not have come as a huge surprise, however. Kush was, after all, one of the greatest centers of gold production in antiquity. Kushite artisans did not just make jewelry, but they adorned figurines and places of worship with gold leaf as well! The gold trade helped boost the wealth of the kingdom. This meant that Kush had some sway in the politics of its Egyptian neighbor.

It Had Great Gold Production

It Had Great Gold Production

The Gold Industry Of The Kushites

A couple of years before the Creasman expedition, archaeologists discovered a site in the northern part of the country. They believed that it was crucial to the gold industry of Kush. The researchers in question found stones that might have been used to break down gold ore and obtain gold flakes courtesy of this precious metal.

The Gold Industry Of The Kushites

The Gold Industry Of The Kushites

Plenty More To Discover Out There

We do not doubt that there is still so much more to discover at the site in Nuri. We are sure that the Creasman expedition will find a lot of untouched treasures once they finish the dig at the tomb of Nastase. It was customary to bury various valuables beside the pharaoh. We are particularly curious to see what is lying inside the sarcophagus in the third chamber of the tomb.

Plenty More To Discover Out There

Plenty More To Discover Out There

It Deserves To Be Told

There is no doubt that Creasman is also interested to see what lies underneath the site. “I think we finally have the technology to be able to tell the story of Nuri – to fill in the blanks of what happened here,” the archaeologist told National Geographic. “It’s a remarkable point in history that so few know about. It’s a story that deserves to be told.”

It Deserves To Be Told

It Deserves To Be Told

This Has Always Been An Important Site

The pyramids have always been important to the people in the area. They represented the final resting places of the kings and queens of the Kingdom of Kush. The “black pharaohs” used to be underlings of the Egyptian emperors. When the New Kingdom fell apart, their influence in the region started to grow bigger. As a matter of fact, the Kushites took control of all of Egypt by 760 B.C.

This Has Always Been An Important Site

This Has Always Been An Important Site

Its Influence Came And Went

Kush earned more prominence in 2000 B.C., but its influence went through ups and downs. Despite this, it is hard to ignore its production of gold. The neo-Assyrians chased the black pharaohs out of Egypt in the seventh century B.C. Even if this were the case, they kept ruling over the region until the fourth century A.D. This was when their reign over their domination finally ended.

Its Influence Came And Went

Its Influence Came And Went

Nuri Remained Unexplored For The Most Part

In 1922, the discovery of the Tutankhamun burial site received global attention. Despite this, Nuri stayed relatively unexplored. We are sure that it did not help that the huge side came with a huge challenge to archaeologists who dared to learn more about it. A lot of the tombs might have been submerged. At the time, underwater archaeology had yet to be attempted in the country of Sudan.

Nuri Remained Unexplored For The Most Part

Nuri Remained Unexplored For The Most Part

ADVERTISEMENT