The Elusive Kingdom of Kush

Michigan archaeologist Geoff Emberling explores the Nubian capital in Sudan

Archaeologists know little about the Nubian Kingdom of Kush, focusing archaeological activity on temples and tombs, such as this one at El-Kurru.

In the 8th century B.C.E., the Nubian Kingdom of Kush took over its politically fragmented northern neighbor, forming Egypt’s twenty-fifth dynasty, known as the Nubian dynasty or the Kushite Empire. While the Kushites ushered in an era of prosperity while creating the largest Egyptian empire since the New Kingdom, archaeologists know little about the origins of the Kushite kings.

Michigan archaeologist Geoff Emberling is on an archaeological expedition to Sudan to find out more about the Nubian homeland. While violence and instability in Sudan have kept many archaeologists away, Emberling stated in a University of Michigan news release that “I’ve loved working with the Sudanese … We’re able to just be archaeologists and focus on our work, without worrying about how it will affect claims of different ethnic groups or territorial boundaries.” Geoff Emberling notes that previous archaeological activity has focused on the Nubian tombs and temples at El-Kurru, but “there has been a real lack of excavation of settlements, where you find out where people actually lived on a daily basis … I’m hoping to come away with a good idea about where the city’s remains are and be able to map them as extensively as I can.” He is working with a Danish and Sudanese team using advanced survey technologies to create a new understanding of the Kingdom of Kush, and is due to return to the United States in February.

Read more from the University of Michigan News Service.

The British Museum’s Derek A. Welsby led Kushite excavations in Sudan for many years. Check out his book The Kingdom of Kush: The Napatan and Meroitic Empires on Amazon.

Posted in The Ancient Near Eastern World.

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  1. Tim says

    They have been able to decipher the Meroitic script, but not the language associated with it. So obviously, Arabic came in and overtook it. But the Meroitic language is believed not to be related to Semitic, Hamitic, or Cushitic. Was it within its own language family, or was it an Indo-European language?

  2. Charles says

    Neither, likely. It’s probably related to some of the other languages of the area, either Nilo-Saharan (like the Sudanic languages) or Afro-Asiatic (like ancient Egyptian, Tamazight, and Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew). Definitely not Indo-European. The interpretation of the texts being uncertain, there’s not enough reliable data to prove or disprove any hypothesis.

  3. Paul says

    The book of Isaiah chapter 18 is about the Cushites and it begins with a an expression of displeasure; “Ah!” I often wondered if the Hebrew “Huy!” may hint at an Egyption official who was the viceroy of Cush under King Tutenkhamon.
    In the Tomb of Huy there is a painting of a procession of Cushites bringing tribute and include a princess riding in a chariot drawn by oxen accompanied by “The children of the chiefs of all the countries” (Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt p.425).
    Ceremonies were also conducted at the temple of Amon which connects this scene to Isaiah 18:7; “In that time, tribute shall be brought to the Lord of Hosts.”

  4. Jobir says

    Kush is grand son of Noah the son of Ham.The decendent of Kush called the Kushite.The same people called Ethiopia by
    Greek. The histry does not end in Nubia,it comes Down to the tower of Axum in Ethiopia called aq-Kush . Which the tower is made by Kush during the Axumite kingdom which is the kingdom of Kush.


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