Czech team excavates ancient sites dedicated to Nubian gods

Photo: National Museum

An archaeological expedition organised by the National Museum has made remarkable finds in the area of Wad ban Naqa – ruins dating back to the Kingdom of Meroe in today’s Sudan. The Náprstek Museum is currently holding talks on the expedition’s progress after the first two seasons, including research at a temple dedicated to Nubian lion gods. They have also been studying a circular structure whose origins have remained a mystery since it was first excavated in the 1950s.

Photo: National Museum
Earlier I spoke to expedition leader Pavel Onderka and asked him to tell me more about Wad ban Naqa.

“The site of Wad ban Naqa is one of the most important archaeological sites in the territory of the ancient Kingdom of Meroe. Most of the structures that are located there, some of them were already archaeologically surveyed in the past. During our second excavation season we focussed mainly on the so-called ‘small temple’, a structure built in either the first century BC or first century AD and continually used as a sacred building until the collapse of the Meroe Kingdom in the fourth century. The temple was likely dedicated to one of the native Nubian lion gods, either Apedemak or Sebiumeker.”

How important were these gods for worshippers?

Photo: National Museum
“Apedemak headed the ancient Nubian pantheon and together with the Egyptian god Amun, Apedemak was the most important deity in the period of the Nubian kingdom and the Kingdom of Meroe. Our research could be quite astonishing because it appears that the building may have been dedicated to Sebiumeker.”

What was his role?

“He was worshipped like the other lion gods and goddesses (lions were common in the area into the 19th century and were highly revered as powerful and majestic beasts). If we are able to prove that Sebiumeker was the main deity in this temple, it would be the first archaeological structure dedicated to him uncovered.”

I’ve also read about a complex of buildings that you have been exploring whose original use remains a mystery; could you tell me a little bit about those?

“We started exploring the structure of the so-called circular building even in our first excavation season. There are two earlier theories concerning the function of the main building of the complex, a perfect circle with a diameter of 27 metres, what was once a building in the shape of a beehive.

Pavel Onderka,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
“The first theory claimed that this was like a large granary or silo used by the wider population at Wad ban Naqa. The second theory is that it was a unique shrine that had an as-yet unknown architectural form. Our work over two seasons clearly indicates that the structure must have had a sacral role and served the cult of a god. These are preliminary findings but we hope that they will be confirmed in the autumn when we go back for the third excavation season.”