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pyramids in south africa

Pyramids are not in South Africa but in Egypt, North Africa. Pyramids outside Egypt in Africa are in Sudan

David Norden

They built more pyramids than the Egyptians, invented the world's first "rock" music, and were as bloodthirsty as the Aztecs when it came to human sacrifices.


Race to save first kingdoms pyramids in Africa from dam waters

Pieter Tesch in Doma, northern Sudan and Colin Freeman
(Filed: 08/01/2006) found at 

Yet ever since their demise at the hands of a vengeful pharaoh, the pre-Christian civilisations of ancient Sudan have been overshadowed by their Egyptian northern neighbours. Now, the race is on to excavate black Africa's first great kingdoms - before some of their heartlands are submerged for ever.

In a highly controversial move, the Sudanese government is planning to flood a vast stretch of the southern Nile valley as part of plans for a big hydro-electric dam at Merowe, near what was once the ancient city of Napata.

The project has been criticised by environmental groups, who say it will lead to the displacement of about 50,000 people - small farmers and their families, who have tilled the Nile's fertile banks for centuries.

The Sudanese government insists, however, that the Chinese-backed project should go ahead, saying it is essential to pull the country into the developed world. With the dam scheduled for completion in 2008, archaeologists are in a race against time to survey what will eventually become a 100-mile-long lake.

The affected area lies in what is known as the Nile's fourth cataract, one of the six stretches of river divided from each other by sets of rapids impassable by boat.

Already more than 700 sites of potential interest have been discovered in just one small part of the area to be flooded - showing the need not only for an urgent programme to rescue the most important artefacts, but also for a reappraisal of Sudan's archaeological importance.

"Previously we thought the fourth cataract was something of a backwater - it is wrong to say so," said Julie Anderson of the British Museum's department of ancient Egypt and Sudan. "But in the last year alone 700 brand new sites have been discovered - an indication of the untapped riches that exist.

"Although Sudan is the largest country in Africa it has often been in the shadow of Egypt. The fourth cataract is changing that perception. It is exciting, as everything we find is brand new."

Among the surprises uncovered during the digs is the influence of the ancient empire of Kerma, which flourished as a southern rival to Egypt's pharaohs but was previously not known to have extended into the fourth cataract. Kerma's kings, who ruled between 2500BC and 1500BC, have been discovered with up to 400 human sacrifices buried alongside them - indicating that they were important potentates in their time.

As the meeting point between the cultures of Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa, Kerma grew hugely prosperous, its merchants supplying the souks of the north with everything from gold and hardwoods to exotic animals and slaves.

But just as in modern-day Sudan, ethnic tensions constantly simmered between the north and the predominantly black south. After a brutal 220-year war, -among the longest in history - Kerma was finally vanquished by the Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, a leader whose aggression rivalled that of Genghis Khan.

The fourth cataract area also contains Paleolithic remains dating back 200,000 years, including prehistoric cave etchings of animals and "rock gongs" - primitive stone-age xylophones in which rocks produce different sounds when hit.

The archaeologists' biggest prize, however, still eludes them - a key to the ancient language of Meroitic, which first appeared on temples and artefacts during the 4th century BC but remains one of the world's few undeciphered scripts.

"We need to find a Rosetta Stone," said Dr Anderson, referring to the stone tablet discovered in 1799 which unlocked the mystery of hieroglyphics. ( pyramids in south africa )

The Sunday Telegraph was granted rare access to the area to be flooded when the dam is built.

As the largest project of its kind to be built in Africa since the Aswan dam, 300 miles down-river in Egypt in the 1960s, it has aroused strong opposition from people who will be displaced.

Archaeologists have come under pressure to down tools from campaigners against the dam, who claim that their activity lends the project legitimacy. 

Dr Anderson's colleague Derek Welsby, the deputy keeper of the British Museum's department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, who is currently excavating near the village of ed Doma, rejected this. "The dam is going ahead whether we are here or not and it would not benefit anybody if we were not working here," he said.

He admitted that it was sad to witness the end of a lifestyle that has continued, unchanged in many ways, since it was first depicted in the ancient rock etchings.

"You sense continuity from Neolithic times with their representations of elephants, giraffes and ostriches, to the cattle drawings of the Kerma period, and followed by drawings of camels, horses and fighting men," he said.

Ali Yousef, a date palm farmer in ed Doma, voiced fears that the artificially irrigated desert land offered in government resettlement pledges might not be as fertile as that on the Nile's banks, but added: "We have to accept that the dam is for the greater benefit of Sudan."

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2006.

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