Karanog, Wealthy Capital of a Lower Nubian Province

Behind the Scenes

Originally Published in 1993

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Karanog, a provincial capital of the Meroitic kingdom during the 2nd centuries A.D., provides our richest glimpse into a culture found only in Lower Nubia. It was partially excavated by C. Leonard Woolley and D. Randall-MacIver for the University Museum in 1907. The excavated ara of the town contained both elite an dlower order houses. From the cemetery came a vast array of objects representative of Meroitic daily life. Most of these objects were made in Nubia, but some were imported from Roman Egypt.

The models shown here, part of the the exhibit Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa, were fabricated by Christ Ray, in collaboration with David O’Connor and Stacie Olson, from plans and descriptions of the 1907 excavations. They vividly evoke the setting, in life and death, of the peshto–the princely governor who stood a the peak of the social pyramid in Lower Nubia.

Figure 1, The governor’s palace.

At Karanog, University Museum archaeologists discovered tow structures in Meroitic archaeology. Each of these structures was a  palace used by the peshtos, or governors, of Meroitic Lower Nubia (see Dafa’alla, Fig. 16, this issue). The model depicts the larger building, occupying almost 650 square meters *7000 square feet).

Build of mud-brick, the palace stood three stories high and had vaulted ceilings and roofs. A central well provided air and light to the interior. On the ground floor were the governor’s reception halls and offices, along with service rooms and storage magazines. His residence occupied mush of the second floor, together with service and servants’ rooms. The third floor was probably similarly divided.

Figure 2, A governor's tomb.
Figure 2, A governor’s tomb.
Tomb G 187, Karanog cemetery

A governor’s tomb. Meleton, a governor of Lower Nubia, was buried in the richest of all the tombs in the Karanog cemetery (see also Dafa’alla, Fig. 15b, this issue). Below ground, two chambers housed several burials. Meleton’s, which had been completely plundered, was in the front chamber.

During the funerary cult activities, which were periodically repeated, the priest approached the pyramid from the east. Food and libations for the dead were placed on a stone offering table. Beyond, a small chapel housed a stela which established the merits and prestige of the deceased, thus inspiring the continuation of the cult. (The stela depicted here may not actually have belonged to Meleton’s pyramid.) In this reconstruction, a niche in the pyramid face shelters the deceased’s ba statue.

Figure 3, Ba statue, garbed in princely regalia, from Meleton’s tomb.
From C. Leonard Woolley and D. Randall-MacIver, Karanog: The Romano-Nubian Cemetery, Vol. 4 (Philadelphia: The University Museum, 1910), Pl. 2.

Ba statues are winged figures representing the soul of the deceased, able to fly up to join the sun god in its endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Nubian versions of thsi Egyptian concept may have been placed in a niched in the face of the tomb pyramid, as shown in Figure 2, rather than inside. This statue, found in a robber’s hole beside the tomb, is now in the Cairo Museum.


Cite This Article

"Karanog, Wealthy Capital of a Lower Nubian Province." Expedition Magazine 35, no. 2 (July, 1993): -. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/karanog-wealthy-capital-of-a-lower-nubian-province/

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