About the project

Sphinx of Taharqo

The town at Kawa was founded or refounded almost certainly by Akhenaton around 1350 BC and given the name Gematon (The Aton is Perceived) which it retained for the next 1700 years.

The site of the earliest British excavations in Sudan, by soldiers from the Gordon Relief Expedition in 1885, extensive work was undertaken there by the eminent Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith from 1929-31 and following his death, by Miles Laming Macadam and Laurence Kirwan in 1935-6 on behalf of the Oxford Excavation Committee.

Those excavators uncovered the extremely well preserved remains of temples built by the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun and the Kushite king Taharqo between 684 and 680 BC. A number of the spectacular finds from those excavations are on display at the British Museum most notably one of the four rams (Room 4, EA 1779) from the temple built by Taharqo and a sphinx bearing the head of the king himself (Room 65, EA 1770).

The current project began with a survey of the environs of the town, in 1993, and of the region between 1993 and 1997. Work at Kawa began in earnest in the winter of 1997-8 but had to be discontinued in 2002 when the Sudan National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums launched an appeal for missions to work at the Fourth Cataract in advance of the construction of the Merowe Dam. On completion of that project the team returned to Kawa in 2007 and annually thereafter.

Project aims

Kawa is one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Sudan. Occupation for nearly two millennia has led to the formation of a mound 12 metres high, formed of layers of debris and buildings interleaved with sand. Kawa has always faced problems from wind-blown sand and any building falling into disrepair was rapidly engulfed and hence preserved. Periodic attempts were made to alleviate this problem, most famously by the Kushite king Amanote-Erike in the fifth century BC who set his royal entourage and army to clear the processional way to the temples, even the king lending a hand in the work. The town was abandoned in the fourth century AD and since then has lain largely unoccupied and undisturbed.

The current project, following on from that of the Oxford Excavation Committee with its focus on major religious buildings, is turning its attention to the inhabitants of the town. What was life like in Kawa 3,000 and 2,000 years ago?

To answer these questions a wide-ranging approach is being taken, with topographical survey and remote sensing going hand in hand with excavations of houses, shrines, industrial installations and store rooms. At the same time the contemporary cemetery is being investigated to provide evidence for funerary beliefs and mortuary practices but also through the study of the bodies of the inhabitants to gain an idea of general levels of health, wellbeing and longevity.