A visitor looking at the granite sculpture of the Sphinx of King Taharqo

Room 65

Sudan, Egypt and Nubia

Prehistory – AD 1000s
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily 10.00–17.30, 20.30 on Fridays

This gallery tells the story of Sudan, southern Egypt, Nubia and the river Nile.

A corridor for trade and the movement of people and ideas, this territory was home to major civilisations. For thousands of years it was a vital link between central Africa, Egypt, the Eastern and Western deserts and the Mediterranean world. The objects shown here reflect the diversity of cultures and art inspired by a mix of indigenous, Graeco-Roman, Byzantine and Pharaonic sources.

Found on the first floor, Gallery 65 displays objects from 100,000 BC to the Islamic period, including ancient rock art, a Kerma burial, plus elaborate religious and household goods.
 

 

Gallery facts

  • Located upstream of the First Cataract of the Nile – today northern Sudan and Upper Egypt – people lived in ancient Nubia from at least 300,000 BC, and the area was later home to the earliest sub-Saharan urban culture in Africa. 
  • The culture and urban society of Kerma flourished between about 2500–1500 BC. This vast state constructed large burial mounds (tumuli) for their rulers, who were accompanied in death by human sacrifices, and created some of the finest pottery ever made in the Nile Valley.
  • Cattle herding was a key activity across the many cultures that coexisted in Sudan, so cows and bulls often feature in funerary offerings and art.
  • Nubia's many resources included gold, ivory, ebony, animal skins and precious stones, often traded with Egypt and further afield.
  • Ancient Nubia and Pharaonic Egypt traded and at times fought over resources. In the Middle (c. 2055–1650 BC) and New Kingdoms (c. 1550–1069 BC) Egypt colonised Nubia and occupied parts of the region. Later, in the eighth century BC, the Sudanese Kingdom of Kush conquered Egypt and ruled it for over a century.
  • The appearance of churches, monasteries, and distinct writing and burial customs herald the arrival of Christianity during the Medieval period. Nubian creative expression flowered at this time, notably in the production of pottery, paintings, and architecture.

Sudan, Egypt and Nubia timeline

About 300,000–2500 BC

Prehistory

There's evidence that people lived in the Middle Nile region at least 300,000 years ago. There was an abundance of hard rock to make stone tools and by 5,000 BC there were many villages or seasonal camps in the region. 

About 2500–1500 BC

Kerma period

By around 2500 BC, a powerful kingdom had developed in northern Sudan, centred on the town of Kerma. The kingdom rapidly extended its cultural influence as far upstream as the Fourth Cataract.

About 1550–1190 BC

The New Kingdom

During the New Kingdom, Egyptian kings colonised Nubia, reaching as far as Kurgus upstream of the Fourth Cataract. They built pharaonic towns in Nubia. Some Nubians adopted Egyptian modes of expression, while others retained indigenous practices.

About 950 BC–AD 350

The Kingdom of Kush

At its most powerful the Kingdom of Kush ruled over an empire extending from central Sudan to the Mediterranean. The heartland of this kingdom during its early history lay a little downstream of the Fourth Cataract, at Napata (modern Jebel Barkal). 

4th century AD – 5th century AD

Post-Meroitic

After the collapse of the Kushite state, small kingdoms sprang up across Sudan. Large burial mounds (tumuli) were constructed across the Nile Valley, while rulers at Qustul and Ballana were buried with sacrificed retainers and rich goods of gold and silver, including crowns.

6th century AD – 1504

The Medieval period

Three Christian kingdoms arose from the sixth century AD: Nobadia, Makuria, and Alwa. Their major cities were furnished with cathedrals and churches. From the 12th century, internal dynastic strife and poor relations with surrounding powers brought about their decline and collapse.

About AD 1500–1820

The Islamic period

During the 16th century, new powerful Islamic kingdoms developed – the Funj Sultanate at Sennar and the Abdallab state in the Butana. These thrived until the region was invaded and colonised by Ottoman forces from Egypt in 1820, while the Keira Kingdom ruled in Darfur until annexation into the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1916.

Accessibility

  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language guide handset, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Seating is available in this gallery.
  • Step-free access available.
  • View sensory map.

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.