This website is intended to function as an online archive of all the documentation available about a single Nubian burial – 350/II – excavated in 1963 by the Scandinavian Joint Expedition. This specific grave was located at Debeira, in Lower Nubia, on a site labelled Neg ‘Iryan. Nowadays, the whole region of Lower Nubia between Wadi Halfa (Sudan) and Aswan (Egypt) is covered by the waters of Lake Nasser, and the site – as well as its many neighbors – has disappeared. The material presented here has been acquired by the author between 2018 and 2020, primarily during a research stay at the Gustavianum museum, University of Uppsala (Sweden), which house most of the archives pertaining to the expedition as well as a large part of the objects discovered. It was then completed by research in the SJE publications and by correspondence with the archaeological museum of the University of Stavanger (Norway). The several textiles found in the grave were our first focus, and they all received a detailed analysis, but we also tried to present them as integrative parts of the burial.
Why this grave?
One could easily ask “Why 350/II?”. Why this grave, and not another? 350/II is not special in any way, nor by the nature and amount of its content, nor by the quality of its archaeological documentation. As Torgny Säve-Soderberg put it himself, cemetery 350 was part of a chain of cemeteries in the plain South of Wadi Serra, which were “all rather small and unimportant” (preface, SJE I, p. 20). This is exactly why the grave was selected, as one of the first aim of the website was to test the possibilities and limits of online archiving for the SJE material. A ‘regular’ grave seemed like a fitting and useful first try. When we started the project, we only knew that the grave was found undisturbed and that all the textiles were sampled and brought to Uppsala. The rest of the picture emerged as study progressed, through the ups-and-downs of archival research and scholarly inquiries between Copenhagen, Stavanger and Uppsala. Nubia felt rather far away!
However, by bringing this documentation together, we hope to make available fragments of the Nubian culture: its ancient textile manufacture, its burial rites, and the archaeological practices of the 1960s that, through collaboration between Sudanese, Egyptians, Europeans and Americans, brought the heritage of this region to the international stage.
Re-excavating SJE350/II was born out of converging stories. Archaeologists are very much used to work in and in between superposed layers of time, and that concept proved particularly fitting in this case. In and around this grave converge many different stories:
- The stories of the artifacts: their manufacture, their use and reuse by their successive owners, their deposition in the grave, their long stay buried in the sand, their rediscovery in modern times, their excavation and transport to Europe, and finally their conservation, study, and transformation into museum objects.
- The story of the grave: the individual in life and death, the digging of the cavity, the deposition of the body and funerary equipment, the burial rites surrounding the deceased, the decomposition of the corpse and skeletonisation of the remains, and the formation of the archaeological record through time.
- The story of the archaeological discovery, in 1963, by the archaeologist Gunborg Ohlson of the Scandinavian Joint Expedition: the team’s archaeological practices, how the grave was recorded, studied, and published. By whom? Why? How and why it is re-examined today?
As material for the website began to come together, these different stories collided. It then became apparent that the main thread is, first and foremost, a story of loss and retrieval.
Through time and the succession of many different actors around this Nubian burial, we have lost artifacts, human remains, information, and archival documents. But we have also lost the entire landscape of Lower Nubia, today buried under Lake Nasser together with ancestral ways of life. We hope to participate, modestly, in retrieving and safeguarding a few bribes of these stories, so they can become little stones in the building of a digital Nubian landscape.
Image: View of the second cataract at Semna East ©The Gunvor Betting Image Archive, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen.