REVIEW BY ANNA GARNETT
Studies of the ancient Nile Valley have traditionally focused on Egypt as the predominant political and cultural power in the region, with relatively limited work in the Upper Nile region (until the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the associated Nubian Rescue Campaign in the 1960s). This volume, part of the Lost Civilizations series, aims to even out the imbalance, through a highly readable, dynamic, and transparent approach to the vast history of Nubia and Sudan.
The first chapter (‘The Lost Land of Nubia’) sets the scene by outlining the geography and archaeological history of the region. The ‘swinging pendulum of power’ between Egypt and Nubia is made evident. The chapter entitled ‘When Nubia Ruled the (Ancient) World’, for example, illustrates this point very well: the 1st millennium BC in particular was a period when Sudanese kings and queens ruled over Egypt. As a result, rulers including Shabaqo and Taharqo are rightfully recognised as significant characters in the history of Egypt, and not only in their native Sudan.
The complex issue of ‘cultural entanglement’ is unpicked by the author, who explores what it meant to be ‘Nubian’ at times of Egyptian colonial activity. Drawing on historic records and modern archaeological discoveries, readers are presented with a wide range of data to help them understand this complex relationship.
Sudan’s modern history is not often woven as effectively into the narrative as it is here. For example, readers can learn about the Christian Period of Nubia, a period little-known or understood by Egyptologists. The timeline presented at the start of the book begins around a million years ago and ends in AD 2022, though sadly there will be more to add following the recent political events from April 2023. Now, more than ever, it is important for us to be aware of the rich depth of history in Nubia and Sudan when so much of it is currently at risk.
A comprehensive bibliography and references throughout will support future research in this area.
Beautifully illustrated, including archive photographs of the region, this volume is highly recommended reading for all.
Nubia: Lost Civilizations by Sarah M Schellinger Reaktion Books, 2022 ISBN 978-17891-4659-2 Hardback £18