The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia

Review by Anna Garnett

The past two decades have seen greater recognition that the cultures of Nubia represent the earliest complex societies in inner Africa in their own right: scholars of ancient Nile cultures now more frequently seek to look beyond the traditional Egyptological centring of Egypt in the historical narrative. However, these cultures remain poorly known outside their modern descendants, and those archaeologists and researchers who are studying them. This multi-authored volume, part of the Oxford Handbooks series, aims to remedy this by providing an accessible starting point for those seeking to gain a greater understanding of the archaeology, history, and peoples of ancient Nubia and Sudan. Fifty-five chapters written by international experts from diverse fields – including Sudanese scholars – provide a comprehensive background to this complex region and examine important issues that are relevant to Sudan and Nubia today.

At 1,200 pages, this weighty tome may initially seem daunting, but it is usefully split into three main parts. The first group of introductory chapters covers the historic and geographical background; the second assesses the development of cultures, peoples, states, and empires; and finally the third group of chapters presents and interrogates social and industrial themes, as well as issues relating to Nubian people in Sudan today. The authors cover a vast temporal and spatial setting: from Aswan to Khartoum, the Eastern and Western Desert expanses, and the Sudanese Red Sea coast, covering thousands of years from the Palaeolithic to the early modern period.

The pace of archaeological fieldwork in Sudan has significantly increased over the past 15 years, due in part to an increase in funding for salvage work linked with new dam construction projects. Recent results from this fieldwork are woven into current approaches to the wider histories of the region, drawing on relevant material in important Sudanese and Nubian collections around the world. Discussion of ancient and modern colonialism and chapters assessing the impact of climate and environmental change in the Sudanese Nile Valley are also timely, as is the critical assessment of the UNESCO campaign and modern dam-construction projects.

Illustrated throughout, with supporting endnotes and bibliography in each chapter, and a comprehensive index, this volume will be essential for all those intrigued by the human history of this captivating region. It will also become a key text for students of ancient Egypt and Sudan for many years to come.

The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia
Edited by Geoff Emberling and Bruce Beyer Williams
Oxford University Press, 2022
ISBN 978-0-1904-9627-2
Hardback £150; also available as an e-book