Taharqa was a pharaoh of the 25th dynasty of Egypt and came to power ca. 690 BC. The pharaohs of this dynasty were from Nubia a territory located in modern day Sudan and southern Egypt. When Taharqa came to power, he controlled an empire stretching fromSudan to theLevant.
The Nubian pharaohs tried to incorporate Egyptian culture into their own. They built pyramids inSudan even though pyramid building in Egypt hadnt been practiced in nearly 800 years.
Taharqas rule was a high water mark for the 25th dynasty. By the end of his reign a conflict with the Assyrians had forced him to retreat south, back intoNubia where he died in 664 BC.
Egypt became an Assyrian vassal eventually gaining independence during the 26th dynasty. Taharqas successors were never able to retake Egypt.
In addition to Taharqas statue, those of two of his successors – Senkamanisken and Aspelta were found alongside. These two rulers controlled territory in Sudan, but not Egypt.
The story I wrote a week ago was largely based on a blog entry by Dr. Caroline Rocheleau of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Unfortunately, since it was the holidays, I had to wait a bit until an interview could be arranged.
That wait is now over.
On Thursday morning I interviewed Dr. Julie Anderson of the British Museum, she is co-director for the Dangeil excavations. This projectis an archaeological mission of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Sudan. It is also co-directed by Dr. Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed.
In addition to the interview the team generously released some pictures of the find. Anderson also provided me with a scholarly article, published recently in the journal Sudan & Nubia. It contains a wealth of information including the translation for the inscriptions found on the statues. The journal does not appear to be published electronically so Im afraid I cant link to it.
No other statue of a pharaoh has been found further south than Taharqas
Dr. Anderson confirmed something that I suspected. No statue of a pharaoh has ever been found further south of Egypt than this one. Thats one reason its so exciting and very interesting, she said. The discovery was such a surprise that one colleagueof Anderson’s didn’t believe it atfirst saying that the statues cant possibly be (at) Dangeil.
Dangeil is near the fifth cataract of the Nile River, about 350 kilometres northeast of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. There was a settlement at the time of Taharqa, but little of it has been excavated.
Most of the finds discovered at Dangeil, so far, date to the time of the Kingdom of Meroe (3rd century BC 3rd century AD).
While this is the furthest south that a pharaohs statue has been found, it doesnt necessarily mean thatDangeil is thesouthern border of Taharqas empire. Its possible that he controlled territory further upthe Nile.
A giant of a statue
The statue of Taharqa is truly monumental. Its a symbol of royal power, said Dr. Anderson, an indicator that Dangeil was an important royal city.
Its made of granite and weighs more than one ton. It stood about 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) when it had its head. In ancient times it was smashed into several pieces on purpose. This was also done to the two other statues.
Its not known who did thisor why. It happened a long time after Taharqa, said Anderson.
One idea is that there was a dynastic struggle. A group came to power in Nubiathat was determined to eliminate reminders of Taharqas reign and that of this successors.
Another possibility is that in 593 BC an Egyptian military force, led by pharaoh Psamtek II, succeeded in reaching Dangeil and decided to damage the statues.
The largest piece of Taharqa’s statue is thetorso and base.This part of the statue is so heavy that the archaeological team had to use 18 men to move it onto a truck.
We had trouble moving him a couple hundred meters, said Anderson. The move was extremely well planned, with theteam spending eight to nine days figuring out how to accomplish it without the statue (or the movers) getting damaged.
Given the lack of moving equipment the team resorted to traditional methods.
In the paper Anderson and Ahmed say that the back of the statue was first protected with sacking after which a heavy plank of wood was attached to the backpillar. Trenches were dug under the statue to facilitate the attachment of the wood backing,
Theteam than rotated the statue so that it rested on this wood. A platform of red-brick and silt was created beneath the statue. The statue was raised upwards, one bricks thickness at a time (approximately 80mm), using wooden and iron levers.
A team of 18 men then brought it to a truck, dragging it over an ancient wall.
Taharqas ancient statue movers would have had an even rougher job. The nearest granite quarry is at the third cataract hundreds of kilometres up the Nile. The trip was certainly many days said Anderson, consisting of a river ride and in some places dragging.
The construction of the statue and the painstaking effort to move it to Dangeil demonstrates how powerful he (Taharqa) was.
Dr. Anderson has a working theory about what the statue was doing at the site. She believes that there was a temple to the god Amun there during Taharqas time. It would have been nearby or underneath where a Meroe temple stands today.
Taharqas statue would have been inside this temple along with Senkamanisken and Aspelta. I asked her if there are more royal statues waiting to be found at the site, Im certain of it, she said. There are, more kings between Taharqa and Aspelta.
Indeed there are three rulers between Taharqa and Aspeltawho don’t have a statue discovered at DangeilTanwetamani, Atlanersa and Anlamani.
On Taharqas belt these words are inscribed:
The perfect god Taharqo son of Amun-Re
The statues backpillar also contains a partial inscription-
The Perfect God, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of Action… King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nefertum-Khu-Re, son of Re, Taharqo, [beloved] of Re-Harakhty who resides in Ms (the inscription here is gone) forever
The inscription is broken following the Ms, said Anderson and Ahmed in their paper.
But finishes with forever. Given all life, stability and dominion like Re likely preceded the forever.
The perfect god and lord of the two lands are common usage for a pharaoh of Egypt. Ms may be part of the ancient name for Dangeil.
The statue of Senkamanisken has an interesting inscription on its back-pillar.
The perfect God, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of Action, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Se-kheper-en-re, son of Re, Senkamani[sken
This inscription is a perfect example of why you should not believe everything that you read. By the reign of Senkamanisken the Nubians had lost control of Egypt.
Kushite kings still used standard titles, said Anderson. Theyre actually king of Sudan.
I will probably be there (at Dangeil) until I die, said Dr. Anderson. There is work for generations to come.
For good reason to. The sites size is the equivalent of 24 football fields and archaeologists have barely scratched the surface of the remains that date to Taharqa and his successors. Anderson’s hoping to find the head of the Taharqa statue in future seasons (the next one is in October).
We may never recover it, she said. That I’mafraid will come down to luck.