martes, 20 de mayo de 2014

Angels, toilets and graffiti revealed at Sudanese monastery (Sudan)

A large toilet block and previously unknown inscriptions and graffiti have been recorded at a Nubian church in northern Sudan.
Set in the desert some 15 kilometres from the North Sudanese town of Merowe – in a region known for the Pyramids of the Nubian Pharaohs and more recently for the controversial Merowe Dam Project – lies the the Christian monastery at El Ghazali oasis. First discovered in 1821, it was excavated by Peter Shinnie and H.N. Chittick of the Sudanese Antiquities Service in 1953 and 1954.
The monastery’s church is large by the standards of medieval Nubia, measuring 28.1 m long and 13.9 m wide and composed of mud brick resting on lower courses of dressed sandstone blocks. The layout was typically medieval Nubian, built in basilican style with a nave and two side aisles, the interior was plastered, and covered in graffiti.

Row of toilets

Polish archaeologists and conservators have just completed a three-month mission in March this year where they began excavations east of one of the two medieval churches. They expected to find the cemetery which would have made up part of the Byzantine monastic complex, and this particular place was supposed to have been the location for the higher status burials. However, they were in for a surprise.
“Along the east wall of the monastery we excavated a row of 15 toilets. However it may sound and look, it is an important discovery. Nowhere else in Nubia has such a large sanitary complex been discovered”, explained Dr. Artur Obłuski from the University of Chicago, leader of the expedition.
This was further proof that the nearby monastery had been inhabited by a large group of monks as well as visiting pilgrims. Obłuski explained that each toilet was at the end of a room in the shape of an elongated rectangle allowing some privacy.
In medieval Sudan, ceramic toilet bowls and toilet paper or a substitute was commonly used. The substitute was shards of pottery vessels, with their sharp edges smoothed for user comfort; many of these unusual artefacts were found during the excavation.

Conservation and discoveries

A group of conservators worked on site together with archaeologists (see header image). Their efforts focused on cleaning and protection of the plaster on the church which dated to the first half of the 7th-century CE.
“By removing a thick layer of mud, we restored part of the original appearance of the church, which is now glowing white from a distance. The glow of light reflected in the African sun is so blinding that we could work on the south wall only in early morning or late afternoon” - described Cristobal Calaforra-Rzepka, head of the conservation work.
Cleaning of the plaster also allowed us to discover dozens of previously unknown inscriptions and drawings depicting both saints and images of Jesus. The study of the inscriptions is carried out by Dr. Grzegorz Ochała from the University of Warsaw. His analysis shows that, as in many other places in medieval Nubia, the cult of angels was extremely popular in al-Ghazali. Among the inscriptions on the walls of the North Church, Dr. Ochała identified the names of the four archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel.

One who carries an angel

Particularly important are the writings that were scratched on everyday ceramic vessels. This year the archaeologists discovered a ceramic bowl with an inscription by a priest named Angeloforos (one who carries the news). According to Dr. Ochała, this is a particular form of expression that reveals a reverence for the angels – male names containing references such as Angeloforos to bearers of the news or messengers.
Ghazali is one of two important places of worship in medieval Nubia located outside the Nile Valley. The monastery is located in Wadi Abu Dom, the valley crossing the desert Bajuda, which once was a busy trade route in the north-eastern Africa. The complex size is similar to the famous monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, Egypt.
The Polish team will be returning to uncover and preserve more of this unique legacy from the Byzantine period. The mission operates under the auspices of the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, with funding from the University of Munster and the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project.

Source: Past Horizons:

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