Libmonster ID: U.S.-1359
Author(s) of the publication: N. H. BASHIYER


Graduate student

Peoples ' Friendship University of Russia (RUDN)

Sudan, Meroite Kingdom, Abu Erteila, Hafirs,Keywords: problems of water supply, archaeological research

Sudan is one of the largest countries in north-east Africa with a rich tradition and eventful history. On its vast territory, ancient civilizations and the Christian and Muslim cultures that came to replace them have been replacing each other and getting along for thousands of years, which contributed to the formation of unique beliefs, rituals, traditions and customs of this amazing country. Many of the most valuable objects of the deep African civilization have so far remained out of the attention of specialists.

This happened to the Sudanese village of Abu Erteila, located less than a kilometer from the ruins of an ancient settlement of the Meroite kingdom period (VII-VI centuries BC-VIII-IX centuries AD). Until recently, this village was not even on the geographical map. Since 2009, a Russian-Italian archaeological expedition has been working in Abu Erteil, and I was a member of it. Her findings and discoveries served as the basis for writing this article.

In ancient times, as in our days, agriculture and the life of the country as a whole were directly related to the available water resources. In the midst of agricultural societies, various rational economic systems were created, the basis of which was irrigation agriculture. Such economic areas undoubtedly included the kingdom of Meroe. The Roman historian Pliny wrote that "in the vicinity of Meroe, the grass is greener and there are some forests" 1, and in the Nile "the only water suitable for drinking"2.

Excavations by archaeologists confirm that the area of central Sudan in ancient times was very fertile and had opportunities for pasture and meadow farming. 3

"Living below the Elephantine mountains* and drinking Nile water" 4 - this is how Herodotus described the population of ancient Sudan. It was on this territory that the capital of the ancient Sudanese kingdom, Meroe, was located, which was then well known far beyond its borders. The city originated on the "island of Meroe" formed by the channels of the tributaries of the White and Blue Nile, which, judging by the works of ancient authors that have come down to us, was the center of the country. (Today, the ancient city of Meroe, located 45 km northeast of the modern city of Shendi, is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.)

In Central Sudan, precipitation was extremely uneven, and the Atbara (a tributary of the White Nile) and Rahad (a tributary of the Blue Nile) Rivers that flanked Meroe Island dried up to separate lakes by the beginning of the summer flood; the Blue Nile itself was also shallow. As a result, one of the main sources of water in the dry season was hafirs - artificially constructed sites with high earth mounds, usually rounded in shape, open in the direction of rainwater runoff from the hills. Hafirs were intended for collecting and storing rainwater for further use in the farm 5.

The problem of water supply to settlements in desert areas far from the Nile is still solved by two factors: the presence of wadis-occasionally flowing streams that flow into the Nile, and the accumulation of rainwater on solid ground during precipitation. For this purpose, dams and artificial reservoirs are built, the bottom of which is laid out with a stone that prevents water from seeping into the ground - the same hafirs-miniature lakes filled with rainwater.


Abu Erteila, inhabited mainly by pastoralist families, is located southeast of the main city of the large administrative center of Sudan - Shendi, at a distance of 9 km from the capital of the ancient Sudanese kingdom of Meroe and 5 km from the eastern bank of the Nile channel. Along its western border is a road that connects Khartoum and Atbara.

During the rainy season, from July to September, the riverbed of the former wadi that once fed the village of Abu Erteila and the surrounding area becomes so overflowing with water that the villagers are forced to carry their children on their shoulders to the road that leads to school. The filling borders of the ancient wadi can be seen today and in the dry season.

In times of drought, the inhabitants of Abu Erteila use an ancient hafir made at the turn of our era. Ali, one of the villagers, told us that the old hafir is well preserved and the locals bring their cattle to it to drink. The diameter of the hafir is about 230 m, and the bottom is lined with black stone, which is still mined nearby in the Gebel Makbor Mountains.

* Elephantine (other-Greek) - the name of an ancient city on the island of the same name on the Nile River after the first rapids, on the southern border of the Egyptian state. It was a busy point of Egyptian trade with the South. ed.).

page 69

Hafir is located between the settlements of Abu Erteila, where the Russian-Italian archaeological expedition is currently excavating, and Khor Aulib (the site of excavations by Polish archaeologists), along the course of Wadi al-Hawad, on the eastern side of the Nile.

Today, filtered Nile water enters village homes in specially equipped cisterns only a few hours a day. For the daily needs of the residents of the neighborhood, another hafir was made, larger in size at a considerable distance from the old one.

A little bit about the life of the inhabitants of Abu Erteila, descendants of the civilization, almost on the ruins of which they live today, using the invention of their ancient predecessors to collect and preserve water.

Many Sudanese villages speak their own dialect of Arabic. And the inhabitants of Abu Erteila call their village in their own way-Retail, after the name of dangerous blood-sucking insects that are found in this area and are very annoying to both people and livestock.

The villagers participate in an annual excavation expedition. They are looking forward to the arrival of khawajis (whites), who give them the opportunity to earn at least a little money. They call the site "infidel territory" 6 and do not build their homes there. One day, a shepherd found a golden statue there, which he exchanged for marissa, a local light sorghum beer - a favorite drink of the Sudanese.

Closer to 11 o'clock, when it became very hot, there was a break in work, and local residents often invited us to visit for breakfast, since in the early morning they drink only tea. Breakfast consisted of kisra (sorghum bread) or its variety - durra (shaped like thick Russian pancakes) and malukhia-a thick sauce made from local plants. For sweets - zabadi - kefir made from goat's milk. They eat with their hands, dipping the cheese in the sauce. The village lives poorly, in mud houses almost all the inhabitants have only beds, the bed of which is woven from plastic twine, and stools, very rarely tables or cabinets.

Ancient customs are strictly observed. Not all relatives can eat together. So, for example, the wife's father does not have the right to eat together with the husband of his daughter, he is served food separately. In many homes, men and women eat in separate rooms. Almost everyone has corrals for cattle (goats, rams), some keep camels and donkeys - the main means of transport. Camel hair is used to make simple clothing. In the winter, Sudan has very cold nights, and even the simplest camel blanket in the village is a luxury. The nearest school for children is located at a distance of more than 5 km, often children go there and back on foot, because there is no regular transport. Despite their poverty, the people of Abu Erteila generously shared what they had with the expedition members.

* * *

In ancient times, hafirs in the territory of the modern province of Shendi were widely distributed and, as already mentioned, were intended for collecting and storing water outside the period of the Nile floods, its use for drinking people and animals, as well as irrigation of agricultural land. And, of course, the ancient hafir near Abu Erteila is far from the only one that has survived to this day. However, not all of them can be used for everyday needs today.

Hafirs were typical only for the Meroite kingdom, in ancient Egypt there were no such reclamation structures. This makes them one of the most important technological innovations of the Meroe kingdom and an important sign of its high cultural development.7 With their help, in the area of 4 - 6 rapids of the Nile, even when it was shallow, the area of land suitable for sowing agricultural crops increased. Hafirs are used up to the present time, but now cement and other modern materials are used in their construction.

The typical Sudanese phenomenon of human adaptation to the environment demonstrates an amazing example of the heritage and evolution of the achievements of ancient culture, the principle of the unity of nature and man, realized many millennia ago by the experience of survival in the desert and has come down to our days almost unchanged, except for the achievements of technological progress in the field of building materials.

Pliny. 1 Natural History (VI-185).

2 Ibid. (VI-166).

Sadr Karim. 3 The Medjay in Southern Atbai., Archeologie Du Nil Moyen. Vol. 4, 1990, p. 66.

Herodotus. 4 History (II, 18).

Arkell A.J. 5 A History of Sudan from the earliest times to 1821. 2 ed., London, 1961, p. 166; Addison F. An Archeological Survey of The Sudan, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan from Within, ed. by J.A. de C. Hamilton, London., 1935, p. 24.

Hakem Ali A.M. 6 Meroitic Architecture, a background of an African Civilization. Khartoum, 1988, p. 329 - 330.

Naser Cludia. 7 The Great Hafir at Musawwarat Es-Sufra. Fieldwork of the Archaeological Mission of Humboldt University Berlin in 2005 and 2006. Between the Catracts, Proceedings of the II the Conference of Nubian Studies, Warsaw University. 27 Aug. - 2 Sept. 2006, Warsaw 2006, p. 40 - 42.



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