Nubia Gallery Floor Plan
Our Nubian Gallery contains objects from the earliest civilizations to the Medieval period. Learn more about what is in each display case by exploring the links bellow:
A society whose ancient name is unknown, called A-Group by archaeologists, was the earliest Nubian culture with strong rulers. Developing out of Neolithic cultures of the Nile valley, the AGroup is known largely from its cemeteries.
These pots are very early examples of the fine, hand-made pottery that remains a tradition throughout Nubian history. Many designs mimic the weave of baskets or the shapes of gourds.
Oriental Institute archaeologists found three significant A-Group cemeteries at Qustul. The most important, Cemetery L, revealed wealthy burials of A-Group rulers and high officials. Burials of officials were also found in Cemetery V. Cemetery W contained the simpler graves of people of lesser status.
Tombs of rulers and officials often contained Egyptian imports, which Nubians obtained by trading gold from Nubia and other products like ebony and ivory that they had acquired from regions to the south. Made of materials or by techniques not available in Nubia, imports from Egypt included faience and vessels made from Egyptian alabaster.
Three distinct cultures that archaeologists have named C-Group, Pan-Grave, and Kerma are found in Nubia from 2400 BC to the time of Egypt‘s conquest of Nubia around 1550 BC. Although they were in close contact for long periods of time and shared many features, such as round houses and tombs, these cultures maintained their separate identities.
Small circular houses with stone foundations, handmade ceramics with elaborate incised decoration, and graves covered with circular stone mounds are features that C-Group shared with earlier Nubian A-Group and Pre-Kerma cultures. But the importance of cattle in the C-Group, shown in its burial stelae, pottery, figurines, and rock drawings, also links it firmly to the African cattle cultures that began in the Neolithic and then spread across sub-Saharan Africa.
The Medjay were a semi-nomadic people whose homeland was in the eastern desert ranging from Egypt to the Red Sea. They are mentioned as early as 2400 BC, when Egyptian texts recorded them as warriors serving with the Egyptian military. Later Egyptian texts also document their presence as soldiers at fortresses built along the Nile in Nubia. Their role serving the forces of authority was so enduring that by the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom the name Medjay had become a word for police of any ethnic or cultural background.
The most powerful Nubian state of the early 2nd millennium BC was based at Kerma, a partly fortified settlement near the 3rd cataract. While perhaps only 2000 people lived in the city of Kerma, distinctive Kerma culture is found from the 2nd cataract to beyond the 4th cataract, more than 200 miles.
After defeating the Nubians as far upstream as the 4th cataract, pharaohs of Egypt’s New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC) incorporated Nubia, which they called Kush, into their far-reaching empire to enhance trade and exploit Nubia’s mineral wealth. For 500 years Nubia was a colony of Egypt. Many Nubians adopted aspects of ancient Egyptian culture, and their artifacts look much like those found in Egypt
Images of Nubians in Egyptian tomb and temple art during Egypt’s New Kingdom, a time when Egypt dominated Nubia (1550–1069BC), commonly show Nubians as subjects of Egypt’s empire. Created for religious and state purposes, these images accentuate Nubians as “other” than Egyptians.
The Kushite king Kashta arrived in Egypt amid political disarray to claim the office of pharaoh, apparently at Thebes and apparently peacefully. He was the first of the Nubian line of kings who ruled as Egypt’s 25th dynasty (747–656 BC).
Archers formed the core of Nubian armies that vied with Egypt for control over parts of the Nile valley, conquered Egypt in the 8th century BC, and confronted the troops of the Assyrian empire. The skill of Nubian archers made them valued members in the military forces of other lands.
Meroe, between the 5th and 6th cataracts of the Nile, had become the new capital of the Kushite state by about 270 BC. The Noubadians (X-Group), invading from the south, conquered Nubia around 370 AD. Missionaries from Byzantium converted Nubia to Christianity in the decades before 600 AD. Christian Nubia successfully resisted attacks by Arab armies following the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD and remained a Christian stronghold for several hundred years.
Kushites ruled Nubia from the royal city of Meroe for more than 600 years beginning about 270 BC. Excavations at the site have uncovered a walled compound enclosing palaces and a shrine celebrating the rise of Nile floodwaters.
Great tomb complexes built at Qustul around 370–400AD and across the Nile at Ballana around 400–500 AD mark a new material culture that appeared in northern Nubia after Meroitic rule ended there. Archaeologists call the new culture X-Group. Like the tumuli at Kerma 2000 years before, the tombs were earthen mounds over elaborate substructures that contained wealthy royal burials including sacrificed retainers. Horses and camels were also sacrificed and were buried in the shaft of the tomb or in separate pits. Texts written in Greek identify this kingdom as Noubadia
Byzantine missionaries converted it to Christianity just before 600 AD. The conversion brought great social change and introduced a new set of symbols for art and architecture.Many churches were built, some richly decorated with paintings, and Christian motifs like the cross and the fish appear on painted pottery.