Discover astounding Nubian Inventions and Developments

The Nubian Complex, Use of Fire, Rafts, Reed weaving, Ropes, Hunting and fishing, First settlements, Agriculture, Irrigation, Pottery, Rock art, Astronomy, Trade, Mining, Construction, Protection of Nature, Medicine, Mathematics, Sources

Inventions, Discoveries and Technology - الاختراعات والاكتشافات والتكنولوجيا

Nubia, the region of the Nile valley stretching from the first cataract of the Nile close to the town of Aswan in the North (Southern Egypt) to the sixth cataract in the South (today's Sudan, close to the capital Khartoum), is considered as the cradle of human civilization. This was not always the case, as the bias of earlier Western societies and the bias of archaeologists downplayed the ancient Nubian civilization, or just referred to it as Egyptian. New finds in recent years however attracted the interest of archaeologists, who partially corrected history. Nubia was inhabited by humans since at least half a million years ago, possibly up to 2 million years ago, as shown by stone tools and bones of butchered animals discovered by the Swiss paleontologist Mathieu Honegger at archaeological sites in Kaddanarti and Kabrinarti, not far from the ancient town of Krema in the southern Nubian Nile Valley (Northern Sudan). Similar tools were found in the cliffs of Abu Simbel, in the Lower Nubian Nile Valley (Southern Egypt), dating human presence to 700'000 to 2 million years ago.

These early humans - who had settled in an ideal environment providing them with everything they needed for an easy and prosperous living - progressively invented and developed better tools, ustensils and a living environment, as well as settlements and a social organization allowing them to create art, visual communication like rock drawings and carvings, the precursors of writing, ships for transportation, trade, agriculture, domestication of animals, as well as science like astronomy, engineering, mathematics and medicine, that all greatly improved their living experience and set the groundwork for human knowledge and creativity that were transmitted to other parts of the World, in exchanges through migrations, trade and travel.

Up to this day, Nubians are known for their kind and sociable nature, generosity and welcoming of strangers; these moral qualities, together with their habit of sharing their goods and knowledge, allowed them to live a mostly peaceful life and spread their civilization inside and outside of Africa, emigrating first to the Arab Peninsula and Eastern Mediterranean and later further to Southern and Central Asia and Southern Europe. Later migrations brought them further North inside Asia and Europe, and finally to the Americas, where they encountered earlier migrants and adapted their lifestyle to the harsher environment, creating regional cultures on their way.

Development of stone tools and creation of lighter and more sophisticated Nubian Complex tools

(ca. 150'000 to 5'500 years ago)

Improvement of Stone Tools

The first invention of humankind, is doubtlessly the creation of tools, which alloed early humans to better hunt, butcher their prey, fish, defend themselves against wild animals, and create shelter and ustensils facilitating their daily life and their living conditions. The climate and the environment they had chosen to live in - the Nubian Nile Valley - was rich in a large variety of animals, fowl, fish, vegetation, dates and other wild fruit, grain and vegetables. The stone tools the humans living in this idyllic environment first used stone tools sharpened on one end by knoapping flakes off one side of a stone core with a hard hammer stone, to create a sharp and cutting edge. These tools - categorized by paleontologists as "Oldowan" tools - allowed them to hit like with an axe, to scrap, to dig, and to cut various materials, as for instance reed that was widely used to form baskets, traps and other items.

Their intelligence allowed them to further improve their tools, into sharper symmetric shapes knapping off flakes from both sides, creating tools for various uses: the "Achaeulean" tools, found on several sites in the Nubian valley. The knowledge of this tool production technology allowed people to migrate, due to climate fluctuations, in the hope to find better habitats or just out of curiosity, and to restart a new life elsewhere; that's why archaeologists found this type of tools in the Middle East, the first stage of their migrations, to Southern Europe and up to South-Central Asia.

A further development of their tools led to the "Levallois" assemblages of stone instruments that included sharper points and edges for various purposes, including spearheads and harpoons: their aim, shape and production method had to be pre-planned, and the technology to produce them was compicated including the removal of flakes by hitting the core in various directions, inclinations and whith varied strenght. A wrong hit could make the tool useless.

Although these stone instruments became very efficient, they had a disadvantage: their size and weight limited their range, and made it difficult to transport them, so they had to be re-produced wherever their owners decided to travel to other places or to migrate.

Finally, starting around 150'000 years ago, the inhabitants of the Nubian Valley developed new tools similar to Levallois, but in a reduced size, that needed even more planning and work to produce. These small tools could easily be transported, and lighter spear- and arrow-heads allowed for the production of more efficient hunting tools. Due to their Nubian origin, paleontologists labeled them as "Nubian Levallois" or "Nubian Complex" tools. Their specific shape and production technology allows historians to trace the migration of these early settlers of the Nubian Valley to other parts of Africa and the Arab Peninsula, the Middle East, and later further North to Europe and the Balkan as well as East up to Indonesia.

Nubian Complex sites

Are you wondering why we call the production of stone tools a "technology"? Well, if you observe the creation of a "Levallois" tool in this video, done by Dr. Chris Clarkson, an expert in paleontology, and with modern equipment - that was not available to phrehistoric inhabitants of the Nubian Nile Valley - you will be astonished how much thought, planning, expertise, precision and also efforts are involved in the creation of just one tool. And the Nubian Complex technology - with its reduction in size while improving the tool's quality and efficacy - was even more sophisticated in its production. For this reason, paleontologisits and archaeologists speak about a lithic "industry" and the various "technologies" to produce them. By the way, you could try it yourself...

Nubian Complex Reduction Techniques

Nubian Complex Tools Reduction Techniques

Control of fire

(probably 2 to 1.7 million years ago, evidence since 1 million years ago)

Control of fire

Control of fire by early inhabitants of the Nubian Nile Valley

Several archaeological finds of burnt flint, and microashes of bones and wood in Eastern Aftica, show that Homo Erectus - who inhabited the Nubian Nile Valley since at least half a million years ago, probably up to 2 million years ago - mastered control of fire, that he could use for protection, lighting, warming, baking stone tools and for the working of various materials like wood, bone, ebony and leather, as well of course for grilling meat and fish. As for other discoveries related to these early humans, finding them in the Nubian Nile Valley is very difficult, as the habitat of these people was covered every year by large silt deposits that formed a steadily growing crust burying most evidence of early human activity. However, finds up the Nile around Lake Turkana and the Eastern Rift Valley - and at a later stage in the Middle East, mostly Palestine - lets assume that the use of fire as well, as for tools and lifestyle - were further devweloped in the Nubian Valley. Like for other developments, humans migrating from or through Nubian lands to various parts of Africa, the Middle East and later to Central Asia and Southern Europe brought their knowledge to the ancesters of humans who had left before them and whom they encountered on their path.

Production of reed rafts and boats for travel, fishing and transportation

(at least since 800'000 years ago)

Preparation of a simple raft

Preparation of a simple raft with sugar cane and palm flax

Since very early times settlers of the Nile Valley discovered how to use the Nile itself to get from one place to another. Using their stone tools to cut water reed, sugar cane reed and papyrus reed - that was abundant on the shores of the Nile - they bundled them with palm flax or fiber into simple rafts, on which they could slide on the river and explore wide regions. These rafts even allowed them to negotiate the Nile rapids - the so-called "cataracts" - which are impassable with ordinary ships. Nubian children still use this method to race and enjoy themselves...


Raft at Semna rapids

Binding several reed bundles together, early humanis in the Nubian Nile Valley created simple boats, which not only were easier to steer, but allowed full control and the opportunity to fish or transport simple goods. Later, larger and stronger boats where constructed, with raised bow and stern to make the boat more hydrodynamic, which could hold several people - one steering the boat and the others fishing or hunting, or as passengers, and they could also be used for transport, for visiting other people or for migration to other locations - up to the end of the Nile in Northern Egypt, from where they could leave Africa to the Middle East or West Africa (distinctions which, of course, were not made at the time...).

Fishing with reed boats

Nubian Nile Valley men fishing and hunting with reed boats

Weaving and braiding of local materials

(probably by the end of the early paleolithic, about 500'000 years ago)

At the shores of the Nile, the settlers found not only abundance of game for hunting, fish, dates and wild fruit and crops, but also all the materials they needed to produce whatever they needed for their daily life. Water reed, papyrus, palm leaves and fibers, palm and acacia wood were all materials that could easily be braided, woven and bound together to create temporary shelters, fences, frames for drying meat, fish and leather, baskets for collecting fruit and crops, mats, bags and whatever else they might have used. As long as Nubians could remain living in their natural environment by the Nile river, they continued producing almost all of their tools and ustensils from local materials.

Nubian woman weaving a palm leaf

Nubian woman weaving with palm leaf

Braided temporary shelter and woven basket

Braided temporary shelter and woven basket

Production of ropes and cords

(probably by the end of the early paleolithic, about 500'000 years ago)

Production of a rope

A Nubian producing a rope from date fibers

Even if it might sound trivial, ropes are another important step on the way of creating the first human civilization. While very early settlers of the Nubian Nile Valley may have been using naturally occurring fibers and vines, they soon recognized the utility of twisting and braiding the abundantly available water reed, palm tree fibers, papyrus, flax, long grasses and flexible branches as well as animal leather to produce longer and stronger ropes. They could be used to bind reed together, hoist water from the Nile, attach rafts and boats, produce nets and traps for hunting and fishing, construct shelters, hang fish and meat for drying them in the sun as well as for carrying and pulling. In later stages ropes took also an important function in construction, in hoisting and pulleys, and even in engineering - for the flawless symmetry of temples and pyramids. Wall paintings in later Egypt show the importance attributed to "rope stretchers".

Rope stretchers

Rope stretchers depicted on an Egyptian wall painting

Hunting and fishing techniques

The Nubian Nile Valley, constantly irrigated by the river and surrounded by lush vegetation, was an ideal habitat for early humans, as it was sprawling with various kinds of animals, fowl and fish, which were relatively easy to hunt, as they all depended on the Nile for drinking. With simple spears, long straight wood or reed lances with a sharpened point - and later a stone spearhead, and axes or other stone tools, early settlers of the Nubian Nile Valley already hunted large animals like hippopotamus, an extinct elephant species, large bovid and antelopes, of course in addition to smaller animals.

Hunting hippopotamus

Hunting a hippopotamus

Hunting hippopotamus

Hunting birds


Wall painting of a Nubian archer

Nubian archers

A Nubian archers engraved in a stone tablet

At a later stage, after the hunters started creating lighter arrowheads, they also used the bow and arrows, which allowed them to hunt for animals from much further away, and thus venture into more arid environments. Nubians where so famous - and feared - as skillful archers that later Egyptians would call Nubia "Ta Seti", meaning "the land of the bow".

Nubian archers

Nubian archers represented on a wall relief

Hunting traps

Chute, the end of a game trap

To compensate for the more sparse water sources in dryer environments - that kept animals further dispersed - they invented hunting traps (game traps); they built corridors bordered by long rows of protruding high stones, stretching sometimes for more than a kilmometer, with a wide opening at the beginning becoming progressively narrower and closing into a cone with a very narrow opening - the chute - giving way for only one animal at the time. A part of the hunters chased the animals - mostly gazelles - into the corridor, and others waited for them at the end where they could easily be hunted. Such hunting traps are still visible in the Southern Nubian Valley, between West Aswan and today's border to Sudan.

Game trap

Hunting trap

Fishing traps

Fishing with spears or harpoons

Fishing on Lake Turkana

Spear fishing depicted in an ancient wall painting

Fishing was the other great activity providing people with food that was quite easy to acquire. The Nile was full of a large variety of fish, and its many gaps, cleavages and protruding rocks provided an ideal opportunity to fish with spears and harpoons. However, these early humans found an even easier way to fish, by creating fish traps - like a big loose basket - from sea reeds, sugar cane of papyrus - which all grew in the wild at the shores of the Nile.

fishing trap

Fishing trap

Aligning several of these basket traps with the opening upstream, fish entered the traps and it was easy to collect them. Nets were also used, and often spread among two rafts. Archaeologists found in habitation sites between Aswan and Halfa, that were explored before their drowning under Lake Nasser in 1964, remains of large deep-water fish. That shows that the inhabitants of the Nubian Nile Valley were highly organized, specializing in various types of hunting, fishing and gathering, and were so successful and able to develop a great civilization through their cooperation.

aligned fishing traps

Aligned fishing traps

The World's first permanent housing and villages

(since about 100'000 or 70'000 B.C.)

As Humans had found a suitable environment in the Nile Valley where many kinds of animals and fish were abundant, as well as bird and ostrich eggs, honey, dates various crops and fruit could be collected, these people - who had organized themselves hunting, fishing, creating tools and living together - developed the first permanent or semi-permanent housing and villages. According to finds at the archaeological sites Arkin 8 near Wadi Halfa (now drowned by Lake Nasser) and Affad 23 south of Dongola, in the Southern Nile Valley, the basements of early housing - the so-called "Tent Rigs" - were found, round or ovale sites surrounded by stones, digged into the ground by about 30 cm and sometimes paved with flat sandstone slabs, surrounded by holes into the ground into which wooden or reed poles were fixed. The house was probably covered with palm leaves or animal skins; at a later stage, a low stone wall protected the construction.

Tent rig

Basement of an early home, or "tent rig"

Early housing

Early housing, up to 100'000 years ago


Archaeologists at the Affad 23 site

The settlers of the Nubian valley built their villages close to a workshop, where appropriate stone core for the knapping of their tools was available. The flakes knapped out of the core - spread all-over the soil - as well as stone tools themselves were found in many locations. At this stage, bone, ivory and hematite, an iron oxide, were also used to produce various kinds of tools.



Meat drying

Drying or smoking of meat pieces

Fish smoking

Salting or smoking of fish

Archaeologists found herds in these villages, as well as holes in the soil where wooden frames or walls were erected on which the villagers dried meat in the sun, or salted and smoked fish for preservation. The fact that these methods were used in other parts of the World, further shows that the migrants from Nubia to other parts of the world readily continued to use their traditions and transmitted their knowledge. The hunted animals were slaughtered at a location slightly remote from the village, probably to avoid wild animals being attracted by the bones and remains.


Grinder to grind grain and dyes

The grains of various types of cereals, including early types of wheat, sorgum and millet were reduced to flour with grinders and since early times villagers baked bread on common hearths. With round pounding stones they also produced powdered dyes from various colored stone and minerals as well as roots.


Ancient Nubian bread

Agriculture and the domestication of animals

(since about 20'000 B.C.)

Taking advantage of the wide shores of the Nile, enriched with the fertile sediments washed down in annual floods from the volcanic highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, together with a year-round warm temperature and an environment protected by the Nile and the bordering mountains, the ingenious inhabitants of the Nubian Nile Valley started planting seeds and producing their own food. Encouraged by their spirit of cooperation and mutual help, their experience in living in communities and their creativity, neolithic Nubians thus laid the foundation for the development of agriculture about 20'000 years ago. Now that these communities lived a sedentary life, specializing in different activities, and as the population rapidly grew, they developed ways to produce their own crops which they would be able to harvest on a more regular basis. Preceding other societies by thousands of years, to whom they gradually brought their knowledge and experience, the residents of villages in the Nubian Nile Valley started to plant sorgum, millet, emmer wheat, broad beans, lentils, peas, tubers, sweet potato, herbs and spices. Fruits like water melon, palm trees and wild fig trees were also progressively cultivated. Empowered by the fast pace of evolution - which historians call the "neolithic revolution" - and the greater ease of life by producing their own food and living a sedentary life, the inhabitants of early Nubian settlements had now more time and leisure to think about improving their daily work, inventing a big variety of tools.

Early agrigulture

Early agriculture was initiated in the Nubian Nile Valley

Agricultural cooperation

Organization and cooperation in agriculture

Generating agricultural products needed a further coordination and organization by the settlers of the Nubian valley. However, they had already proven to be excellent in organizing their society, improving their civilization and inventing tools and features helping them in their progress. As agriculture is depending on seasons, they had to find a way to store their harvest. That was easily done, by building clay chambers - partially or entirely buried into the soil - that kept food fresh, even under high outside temperature. This method is still used in Nubian houses where there is no electricity. In Wadi Kubbaniya, near Aswan, archaeologists found evidence of mass sorghum production and storage around 17'000 - 15'000 B.C.; other finds were made at Napta Playa (West of Abu Simbel), in Dukki Gel (near Kerma, central Nubian Valley) and other locations along the valley.

Storage chamber

Clay storage chamber for grain


Granary as it was present in large villages

Distribution of grain

Granary with its distribution of grain

What made the Nubian society so successful in developing the World's first civilization was their mentality of cooperation, sharing and justice. In Nubian villages that were not submerged by Lake Nasser and still live the traditional Nubian life, every villager shares whatever exceeds his own family's needs of his products - whether it is fish, poultry, meat, milk, eggs, fruit or grain and vegatables - with the other villagers. These wonderful principles were the foundation of the Nubian civilization since its beginnings. Miniature models found close to Aswan, on the Sai island and further south in the Nile Valley prove that the harvest of the village was stored in common granaries, and distributed it to the residents according to their needs.

Domestication of cows

Domestication of cows

Contrary to the most prevalent idea that animal domestication started in the Fertile Crescent in today's Iraq, pastoralism and animal farming as well has its origins in the Nile Valley. According to Dr. Christopher Ehret, genetic features of wild cattle started diverging 22'000 years ago, suggesting indigenous domestication. At the Toshka Cemerty, close to Abu Simbel in the North of the Nubian Nile Valley (Egypt), archaeologists found evidence of cattle use ca. 13'000 B.C., and at Napta Playa - 100 km west of Abu Simbel - cattle herding and pastoralism is documented in cattle burials and rock paintings, 12'000 - 7750 B.C. In the central and southern Nubian Nile Valley as well, at the Bir Kiseiba and Wadi El Arab sites archaeological sites, as well as in El Barga in Central Sudan cattle enclosures were found. Animal domestication wasn't limited to cows, buffalos and goats, but it included even more exotic animals like gazelles, ostrich, and even leopards, lions and possibly crocodiles.

Nubians with various domesticated animals

Nubians with various domesticated animals

Agriculture in the ancient Nile Valley

Agriculture in the ancient Nile Valley

While at the beginning the first peasants of the Nubian Nile Valley may have cut furroughs in their land with an axe, they soon created the hand plough or hoe, and the flail, helping them to prepare the earth. Sickels were developed to cut the grain; the cut cereals were than collected into harvest baskets with pick forks. Agricultural tools like the flail and hoe came to represent food production, and became sacred tools hold by the king or pharaoh as a sign that he was responsible for his people's livelihood and wellbeing.

Agriculturasl tools

Sickle and hand ploughs

King Scorpion

King Scorpion holding hoe during a ceremony

After animals were domesticated, cows were used to drag a prolonged plow, which made the task of labouring land so effective that this method is still widely used today. While grains had formerly been separated from the crops by letting cattle trample them, later a wooden thresher pulled by two cows did the work more efficiently.

Plowing in Nubia

Plowing land in Nubia

King Scorpion

Thresher in use to separate grains from the crops

Harvesting dates

Girls harvesting dates

The Nubian woman was the first woman in history working in agriculture. She was used to bring meals to her husband on the field, and help him in his agricultural work and the harvest. While the men cut the fruit from the trees, the women and girls were the one who sorted pomgrenates, mangoes, and dried the figs, dates and grapes in the sun for preservation. They also made juices; date juice was used as a sweetener. Cow and goat milk were used to make yoghurt and cheese; women also collected birt and ostrich eggs.


Harvesting fruit


(Neolithic period, 10'000 BC - 2018 AD


Digging an irrigation channel

In order to achieve mass production of agricultural products, the early inhabitants of the Nubian Nile Valley could not rely solely on one yearly harvest brought abouut by the flooding of the Nile and deposit of wet fertile silt. They soon started digging irrigation channels, to bring water to their fields during other periods of the year. However, the land at the shore of the nile is often slightly elevated, and bringing water to the channels was a tiring work.

Irrigation channels

Early agriculture in the Nubian Nile Valley, with irrigation channels

Once again, the ingenious people of ancient Nubia found a creative solution to this problem. They invented the "Shadouf", a device set up on an elevated platform over the river of the Nile, therby creating the oldest used mechanical principle. A long wooden pole was fixed on an upright wooden frame, on the longer edge holding a long rope with a bucket or leather bag, counterbalanced on the end of the shorter pole side with a large stone. This physics principle - later widely used for cranes in construction - made it easy for the operator to lower the bucket into the Nile and lift it without effort once it was full. The collected water could than be poured into a fountain, from which it flew into the irrigation channel.


Ancient representation of a Shadouf


An ingenious invention, the Shadouf

Reaching higher grounds

System of shadoufs reaching higher ground

Further improvements of the invention to increase its utility consisted in fixing two parallel lifting poles on the same frame, so that two operators could lift more water. Where even higher grounds had to be reached, shadoufs were erected on several steps, each one lifting the water brought by the former one. This system could be used further inland as well, dipping into an existing channel or well.

Eskale, Nubian Waterwheel

Eskale, Nubian Waterwheel

Despite the fact that the "Shadouf" made year-round agriculture possible, it was still tiring and labor intensive. Encouraged by the fast improvements developed by ancient Nubians, they thought about a way to irrigate their fields with lesser effort. And they succeeded: they invented the "Eskale", the first mechanical device in the World.

Eskale, buckets lifting wter

Eskale, buckets lifting water from the Nile

Eskale, gear  wheels

Eskale, gear of the Nubian Waterwheel

If you search for the history of mechanics, you will most probably find hints on ancient Greece as its origin. Few know that the foundations of mechanics - and thus of technology - in fact started at least 1000 years earlier, in the Nubian Nile Valley. After the Shadouf - that can be considered the first simple mechanical device - a much more elaborated mechanism was invented by ancient Nubians, in fact automating the irrigation process. It is estimated that the "Eskale", the Nubian Waterwheel, was developed at least 1'000 B.C., probably much earlier.

This first machine, that was wholly made out of local materials - wood and ropes - without any kind of nail, allowed its inventors to greatly increase agricultural production, which in turn gave them more significance and power. It certainly contributed to the establishment of the mighty Kingdom of Kush. So not only mechanics, but also automation were developed in Nubia. The "Eskale" or "Kole" in Nubian, or "Saqia" in Arabic, is a waterwheel rotating ropes holding water buckets down into the Nile river and lifting the full buckets to be emptied into the water channel on the elevated platform. Rotating the waterwheel is a sophisticated system, in which a large wooden gearwheel transmits its rotation to a perpendicular smaller gearwheel, that is connected to the waterwheel with a wooden axis. The large gearwheel is rotated through the regular circular walking of two oxen, controlled by a "driver" sitting on a wooden seat, both connected to the large gearwheel's horizontal central axis. In a seminar Dr. Mustafa Abdelqader, President of the Nubian Heritage Association, explains the composition and operation of the Eskale, and the great Poet Mohy Eldin Saleh speaks about its cultural importance in the Nubian society and art (in Arabic). Not only was the device itself meticulously planned, in order to adapt to the level of the Nile. The distribution of the extracted water as well was done with integrity and fairness, so that each participant in the construction and operation of the device, each farmer having a part of the land as well as landless persons in the village - like the teacher, widow, the village elder etc. benefited from the system in a just manner.


(Since ca. 20'000 B.C.)

Ceramic sites

Archaeological sites where pottery was found

Now that the people settling the shores of the Nile in in ancient Nubia produced their own food in large quantities, they needed vessels to transport it, store it and safeguard it. The plates and baskets made out of palm leaves degraded with time and humidity. They discovered early on that the clay deposited by the Nile floods was easy to shape, and being rich of various stone and sand particles, silicium and iron oxide, when it was dried in the sun or later fired in an oven it formed a homogeneous strong and lasting material. Fragments of early hand-made Nubian pottery usung the coiling and pinching techniques to create hemispherical bowls and globular pots, dating back to about 20'000 B.C., some with wave line decoration, were found in the Dongola Reach and El Zuma. Ancient Nubians started producing various kinds of bowls, pots, jugs and jars, that protected their content and kept it coool and clean. This allowed them to store food and liquids over extended periods of time.

Sherds of Nubian pottery

Sherds of Nubian pottery from various sites satarting as early as 20'000 B.C.

However, as Nubians have had art in their blood since the beginnings of human civilization, they didn't content themselves just to produce useful items. Since very early on they decorated their hand-shaped objects, first with simple lines, wave or geometric shapes they pressed into the moist clay with stone tools, fish or animal bones or ivory; later they used "stamping" to accelerate their work. As their art improved, they painted palm trees, ships and animals and diversified the shapes. Pottery finds give archaeologists a lot of information about the evolution of early civilization. In the central Nubian Nile Valley, a new style of pottery appeared. As the residents of the settlement in the region of Kerma - since about 7'000 B.C. - started firing their various clay pots, jars and bowls, they created a wonderful design putting the item into the fire or charcoal standing on its opening, so that it took a black color inside and up to a third of the outside, and a reddish clay color at the bottom. The two colors are sometimes divided by a spray-like white decoration.

Nubian Ceramics

Decorated Nubian Ceramics

Pre-Kerma ceramics

Pre-Kerma Ceramics

Artistic ceramics

Artistic ceramics

Not only the finish - by softening the surface and later by glassing - and the decoration were improved; the ceramic artists experimented with new shapes, creating "beak" jars for liquids, adding animal shapes to their creations, and even forming vessels in animal shapes. Even today we can't find ceramics made with such a huge amount of creativity... Small plates - probably used in magics rituals - as well as some other important household items were decorated with protruding hippopotamus, elefants and crocodiles, or were even created in the shape of an animal. And sculptures started to be made out of clay, mostly representing goddesses, fertility figurines and ceremonial dancers.

Rock engraving and painting

(Since ca. 15'000 B.C.)

The inhabitants of the Nubian Nile Valley used their tools not only for hunting, agriculture, daily household uses and decoration, but also to express their civilization in a permanent way graving geometric images, people and animal graffiti, and representations of ships, cattle and other animals, and humans in various activities and positions on rock walls. The oldest of these images are believed to date back to around 15'000 B.C., that were found on numerous sites mainly between Aswan and Wadi Halfa, close to settlements, flint quarries, water pits and transition roads as well as on rocks bordering the Nile; they may well have been a means of communication, a kind of poster describing the creators of this early artwork to later passers-by; these rock engravings are also interpreted as a kind of ritual, or religious proclamation.

Geometric rock carving

Geometric rock carving with superposed stylized animals

Rock carving showing ships

Rock carvings representing large ships and people

Nubian Rock Graffiti

Depiction of Nubian rock graffiti, precursors of hieroglyphic writing

Rock paintings

Rock paintings in the "Cave of the Swimmers"

While Nubian rock art evolved to represent astonishingly real-looking representations of animals; rock and cave walls were also painted with various dyes representing vivid hunting and life scenes, like in the "Cave of the Swimmers" and the "Cave of the Beasts" in central Nubia, at the foot of the Gif El Kerbir mountains at today's border between South-Western Egypt and Northern Sudan, dating back to about 8'000 B.C. Another development was the engraving of graffiti, single stylized animal, human or abstract figures, that are interpreted as the precursor of hieroglyphic writing, that started in Abydos 3'250 BC. These graffiti may already have conveyed a meaning that could be interpreted by other people as a message, as for instance familiarizing them with its creators or delimiting a boundary. It is easy to imagine that it was the successors of these early artists who would later decorate the astounding temples and tombs, and even carve whole holy sites into the rock as the magnificent temples of Ramses II and of Nefertari in Abu Simbel.


(Since ca. 11'000 B.C.)


Importance of astronomy in ancient Nubia

We spoke about many discoveries, inventions and developments early Nubians created to improve and assist their daily lives - laying even the foundations of engineering. But how about science? Yes, these brilliant people combined their creativity with meticulous observation of nature, to invent astronomy. The forces of nature, and what happens in the sky, had fascinated them so much that it encompassed their beliefs and rituals. Moreover, in order to be able to travel big distances into desertic lands further afar from the Nile river, at night - when temperatures were cooler - they guided themselves following the alignments of the stars.

Astronomical alignment

Astronomical alignment of a stone circle in Nabta Playa

Nubian nomadic cattle herders used to spend the summer months in what is now the Nubian desert, that at the time was irrigated by summer rains forming lakes and steppe lands, 100 km west from Abu Simbel. The first seasonal settlers of the place, which archaeologists Nabta Playa, and the further West located Gif El Kebir, settled the oasis from about 11'000 B.C. to 7'500 B.C.. After a period of drought, they returned about 6'500 B.C., digging wells and establishing planned and organized permanent villages. It's also at that time that the astronomers among them established several large stone circles, with large stone slabs - megaliths - precisely aligned with the stars of the Orion constellation at the time they created them, featuring a North-South and North-East to South-West viewline with one of the opening stone windows aligned with the sunrise at the summer solstice - announcing the rain season, and the opposite with the winter solstice.

The crossing stone windows were aligned with the spring and autumn equinoxes. Thus they had created the World's first astrophysics observatory, registering precise astronomical infromation, but also the first calendar, more than 2000 years before the famous Stonehedge in Europe. Archaeologists estimate that it was used between 6'300 and 3'000 B.C.. Physicist and Archaeo-Astronomer Prof. Thomas G. Brophy explains in a reconstruction the astounding information coded into the Nabta Playa astronomical stone observatory, in which the stones representing the three stars of the Orion belt and shoulder, are also aligned according to the relative distance of these stars. The breathtaking astronomical knowledge of ancient Nubian peoples were later applied in the alignment of the three pyramids of Giza. Further astronomical megalith alignments and the first sculpted large stones were also discovered at Nabta Playa.

Trade and Navigation

Since at least 10'000 B.C.

Early trade

Since early Nubians established villages, they exchanged their products among them

In the Nubian Nile Valley and the summer pastures in the western Nubian desert, early residents established settlements, often specialized in a specific type of products. The ones close to the Nile specialized in fishing, others with wide lands practiced agriculture and animal breeding, and hunters chose places were wild animals were plentiful. Loyal to the Nubian tradition, they exchanged the excess goods among them, so that all had a varied diet. However, in these remote locations seashells were also found, that were used for jewelry. They were brought or traded from afar, from the Red Sea; an evidence of early trade.

Traded seashells

Nubian settlements were far from the sea, but traded seashells were found

Inland trade routes

Trade routes to and from Nubia

Early traders may have been single groups of nomads, migrants or delegates from various locations. However, starting from around 6'000 B.C., larger and more robust ships allowed for organized trade. They built their vessels by strapping wooden planks together into a hull, stuffing reed and grass tigltly between them and erecting a wooden mast in the center on which a large sail made of animal skins or vowen fabric moved the ship southwards benefitting from the steady northern winds. Ships sailed on the Nile from Northern Egypt to Aswan and transported their goods, wheat, linen, manufactured goods, tableware, papyrus, beer and wine by land into central Nubia. On the other hand, Nubians acquired ivory, ebony, spices, fragrant resins, animal skins, precious stones and other items from various tribes coming from the center, the west and the east of today's Sudan and Ethiopia. Nubians traded these goods with the northern Egyptians, in addition to their own products - jewelry, cattle, leopard skins, preciaous stones and metals, mainly gold, and pottery, as the Nubian pottery was superior to the one of Northern Egypt. These goods were transported to Aswan and from there loaded again on the ships, that slided down the Nile with the current. Trade was done by exchanging goods that were considered by both parties being of equal value, but bargaining had already begun in certain ports.

Since the 3rd millenium B.C., trade in the Red Sea greatly increased; the relaively calm waters of the Red Sea and mostly northern winds helping navigation, numerous vessels - among them ships from Nubians and Aksumites (inhabiting today's North-Eastern Ethiopia) sailed up and down the Red Sea reaching up to South of today's Somalia. In the meantime, overland trade caravans to Libya in the West, the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant - today's Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia to the East and up to Southern Turkey, loading the goods on domesticated donkeys, horses and camels led to large inland trade centers.

These trade expeditions did not only allow people from remote regions exchange goods, but also knowledge, information, cultural and artistic particularities, developments and creativity, that spread agriculture and animal husbandry and enhanced and influenced each other and promoted human civilization. Furthermore, it allowed people from different backgrounds get acquainted with each other and gain respect for each other, and greatly contributed to peaceful diplomatic relations. However, at times greed or lust for power of a local ruler overcame the concern for common interest, and tensions arose between competitors, at times leading to war.

Trading sailing ship

Depiction of a trade sail ship

Nubian traders

Nubian traders

As the civilization revolution accelerated and literally exploded activities and ventures, and the city of Kerma in the central Nubian Nile Valley started asserting its reputation as a major trade center in pre-dynastic Egypt, ancient Nubians reached out to new sources from which they could acquire exotic goods for which the demand from Egypt and other trade partners grew. Not only did they provide their trading partners with precious metals, ornaments and jewelry from their own gold production, plants used for medicinal purposes, fragrant plants and gums, various kinds of spices, leather, skins and feathers of exotic animals, raw or carved ivory and ebony, but at the demand of Egyptian nobles they also provided them with live animals like baboons, giraffes, and even elephants, tigers, leoparts and lions, both for entertainment and religious purposes. Harkhuf, the governor of Elephantine, made several trade expeditions to the Nubian trade center called Yam, and told the king he had seen a dancing dwarf. The king was so excited he sent him to bring the dwarf and care for him well, "so that he didn't fall into the water".

Traded commodities

Some of the traded commodities

History records that starting by about 2'500 B.C., trade ships from North-East Africa, including from Nubia and the Axumite Kingdom, were frequently trading in the Arabian Sea, reaching up to the Persian Gulf and the Indian West Coast. Agatharchides, a Greek historian and geographer, wrote that “During the prosperous period of the Old Kingdom, between the 30th and 25th centuries BC, the river-routes were kept in order, and Egyptian ships sailed the Red Sea as far as the myrrh-country” (today's Somalia). In another description, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a merchant or captain described in detail the ports, routes and traded items from the Red Sea to Pakistan and India. Each region was famous for a certain type of products that were in high demand and of great value. Axum, for instance, traded obsidian, a glass-like volcanic rock that was used to produce sharp tools and mirrors. From the city of Opone in today's Somalia, turtle shells were traded to create elaborate ornaments, as well as cassia, a type of valuable cinnamon. Himyar and Saba (today's Yemen) were famous for their myrrh and frankincense. Magan, a port in today's Oman, provided copper, and Dilmum (probably in today's Bahrain) benefited from the trade between Mesopotamia and the Red Sea or India. Lapis-lazuli, a much desired light blue gemstone, was sourced from as far as Badakhshan - today's North-Eastern Afghanistan, and spices, especially pepper, as well coconut, batik cloth, silk, malachite and electrum, a natural gold-silver alloy, were traded from India. Also form India they brought gems, glass beads, as well as large amounts of timber, according to finds in the Red Sea Port Berenice, not far from Aswan. Large ships tavelling the 5'600 km to and from India, that could carry up to 1000 tons of goods, usually departed in July to take advantage of the Monsoon winds and returned in December.

Extended trade routes

Extended trade routes in dynastic period

Quarries, Mining, Metallurgy and Jewelry

Since ca. 5'000 B.C.

Sandstone quarries

Sandstone quarries and temple locations

Since humans inhabited the Nubian Nile Valley, they used naturally present flint and chert pebbles along limestone terraces - often at the top of extinct volcanoes - as workshops for surface extraction, sometimes digging pits and trenches, to produce stone tools. As their proficiency in stone working improved, since the predynastic period, they started quarrying limestone to build temples, mastabas (funerary hills over graves), to lay stone pavements and later to build pyramids. Since the early first dynasty, mainly around Aswan, they quarried diorite, Nubian sandstone and granite, as it was more resistant and coherent so that they could produce large items like temple columns, obelisks and large blocks, part of which were sent to Northern Egypt.

Metal mines were also plentiful: Nubia was famous for its gold, that was extracted since about 4'000 B.C. In fact, the name "Nubia" comes from the old Egyptian word "nub", that means gold.

Temple of Philae

Quarry with unfinished oblisk in Aswan

Ancient quarry

Ancient Quarry

Arabian Nubian Shield

The Arabian Nubian Shield, rich in gold ores in ancient times

Nubia occupies a large part of the geological precambrian Arabian-Nubian shield, shared with the Egyptian Eastern desert and the western coast of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, on which in ancient times gold was extracted from gold-bearing quartz veins, some visible in dessicated creeks or in digged-out shafts in around 250 mines, most of them on Nubian soil. It needed great motivation, perseverance and ingenuity for these ancient miners to search for gold in a difficult terrain, and without any instruments as they would be available today. Using stone hammers and awls, they dug down up to almost 100 meters. A greek writer described them breaking up rock with hammers and with fire. They than crushed the extracted material in mortars, and ground it into powder that could be washed for gold dust. Archaeologists found such tools together with stone mills, remains from settlements and mine schafts.

Remains of an ancient gold mine

Remains of an ancient gold mine in Southern Nubia (Northern Sudan)

Mining tools

Tools used in mining, grinding, tiny gold parts and mine shaft opening

Not only was it dangerous and incredibly difficult to extract gold from these mines with the simple tools the ancient residents of the Nubian Nile Valley had at their disposal; it was also very tiring, as it is estimated that they could extract an average of 30 g of gold from one ton of quartz ore. So the mined stone had to be reduced to gravel or powder with stone grinders. Nevertheless, geologist estimate that Nubia extracted around 12 tons of gold, until the mines were dried up. Another method used to retrieve gold was panning, while sand of the riverbed was "washed" and the small gold grains collected. Specific "washing tables" were constructed, where probably coated with sheep skins that retained the sharper gold grains and flushed the sand. Panning sites often show more archeological remains, as housing for a large number of workers had been established, while only few could work in underground mines.

Gold washing table

Gold washing table, as it was used to sieve panned gold

Another famous ancient gold settlement was Berenice Panchrysia, "the entirely golden Berenice", cited by Plinius the Elder in his book "Naturalis Historia" (Natural History), in Wadi Allaqi of the Nubian Desert. Legend says that a jealous spirit guarding the place lets it disappear to the eyes of anyone who had found it and wanted to return to the settlement.

Gold was so appreciated by Nubians and Egyptians not only for its luxury apperarance. The shiny yellow material was rather considered as sacred, as it represented the flesh of the gods, which - like the sun - would be reborn every day and would thus be immortal. For this reason much gold was used for ceremonial and religious purposes, for statues and figures representing the Gods, for gildening temple decorations and as offers to the temples. Pharaohs, who were considered representatives of the gods on Earth and became gods and immortal in the afterlife, were therefore buried with a golden mask and covered with golden amulets. Associating metallurgy with astronomy, every metal represented a planet: gold was the Sun, silver, which was considered as white gold, the Moon, electrum was equaled to Jupiter, iron to Mars, copper to Venus, tin was linked to Mercury, and lead to Saturn.

Berenice Panchrisia

Berenice Panchrysia, a main ancient gold extraction site

Large Nubian gold mine

One of the larges ancient Nubian gold mines

Mine workers

Mine workers

Goldsmiths at work

Wall painting showing goldsmiths at work


Silversmiths smelting silver from lead. Silver was considered white gold.

Ancient Nubian metallurgists experimented with smelting techniques and various kinds of metal alloys, gilding and inlay of several metal types or precious stones, producing astounding objects. Other naturally occurring metals, such as electrum, an alloy of 20% silver and 80% gold, mainly used for jewelry and trade, as well as copper, tin and lead and some silver were also mined in the eastern mountains of the Nubian valley, and even a kind of meteoric iron. The largest workshops were associated with the temples and palaces, where skilled craftsmen specialized in drafting, melting, shaping, inlaying enamel, gemstones and faience, and others in gilding decorations with thin gold plates. Small goldsmith shops in the streets of the towns produced mainly amulets and simpler jewelry to be sold to the public.

Ancient Nubian metallurgists experimented with smelting techniques and various kinds of metal alloys, gilding and inlay of several metal types or precious stones, producing astounding objects, which were considered the finest, most creative andmost beautiful of the Ancient World. By the time of the Kingdom of Kush they also produced bronze objects, an alloy between copper and tin. Furnaces and gold smithing tools became more and more elaborated, and ingenious gold smiths invented, designed and conceived objects of such magnificence that they have no equal even today.

Artifacts from the Kingdom of Kush

Wonderful gold, silver and copper artifacts from the Nubian Kingdom of Kush

Kushite jewelry

Kushite Nubians made jewelry of incredible beauty and ingenuity of electrum and inlayed gold

The environment in the mountains South-East of Aswan where emeralds were mined

In addition to mining for precious metals, probably after finding some crystals and geode-like broken boulders on the surface, the expert miners of the Nubian Nile Valley also extracted gemstones and crystals - mainly emerald, but also amethyst, both mined south-east of Aswan, as well as other quartz, jasper, carnelian, garnet, amazonite, microline, and other less frequent precious and semi-precious rock and mineral gemstones from the rock of the Eastern deserts and mountains South-East of Aswan and of Kerma, as well as the plains of the central and southern Nubian valley, digging them out with flat chisels and pointed sticks, and cutting them from the quartz veins with sharp stone tools. In later times, when iron was mined - mainly around Aswan, they also produced harder iron picks and chisels to replace weaker copper and bronze tools. Even ornamental stone featuring attractive colors and patterns were mined out of the rocks, shaped into intriguing statues and objects and polished.

Gemstones were appreciated for their radiant shine, sparkle and color varying with the reflection of light, which was associated with the environment and mystic qualities. Red, found in camelian, garnet and some jasper, reflected the life-sustaining blood, the sun, power and vitality; green, found in amazonite, some chalcedony, some jasper, malachite and some turquoise, reflected rebirth in the afterlife, fertility, joy, and vegetation; the dark blue of lapis lazuli represented the protective night sky, and the light blue of some turquoise symbolized the primordial waters and daytime sky.The "Book of the Dead" even instructs how to use specific gemstones for amulets, according to their color.


Jewellers piercing and assembling emerald jewelry


Pigments used to paint a shrine wall at Kawa in the Upper Nubian valley

Taking advantage of the fine powder resulting from mining various ores, veins and rocks in the metal and gemstone mines, ancient Nubians produced amazing dyes and pigments they used for the decoration of pottery, statues and various objects, temples, painting of walls, the production of ceramics and faience, and for jewelry, shabtis and amulets, imitating the rare and valuable gemstones. Iron oxide, red ocre and red jasper were ground into powder and mixed with bingind agents; yellow ocre occurred naturally and was the base for yellow pigments; blue azurite and blue obsidian as well as turquoise were mixed with copper; green turquoise, green obsidian, green jasper and vercicris from copper rust produced green color powder; black, the oldest of pigments, was produced from carbon rock, wood ash or black obsidian, and white occurred from gypsum and alabaster.

Another important accomplishment of the outstanding craftsmen of ancient Nubia was the production of wonderful faience artwork, that was appreciated similarly to the precious metals and gemstone artifacts. Although the materials were abundant - quartz, alkaline salts, lime and colorants, possibly retrieved from residues of ore mining, this ceramic material with a siliceous body and a brightly colored glaze was quite difficult to work with. Creating a paste by adding water to the powdered components creating a thick paste, that has to be shaped as required. However, the paste broke easily; therefore the artisans often used clay molds, and formed small objects by hand. To make colored inlays or tiles, they worked the paste into flat slabs. Faience paste could also be attached to other objects, or to combustible cores or fruit, which disappeared when the object was fired. To create large objects, either by hand or in half-molds, the paste was half-dried and the two parts than assembled. The expertise of these early artists, who started faience production since ca. 5'000 B.C., deserves our admiration.


Nubian faience objects, inlays, amulets and wall decorations as well as a vase with shapes of God Bes and its sculpture

Engineering and Construction

Since ca. 10'000 B.C.

Foundantion of storage room

Early half-subearthed storage room with remains of wheel pottery

Since the first permanent housing was established in the Central and Southern Nubian Nile Valley, possibly as far as 100'000 years ago, many improvements have occurred. Later habitations were built over a foundation that was partially dug into the soil, which kept it cooler. Some were lined with flat stone slabs on the floor. Stones were also used to fortify the lower structure of the habitations, protecting it from the wind and rodents, or to build a protecting outer wall outside of the dwelling.As raw stones were used without any material to cement them together, only few of these structures were found.

Early stone structure

Early stone structure habitation

Hut in El Barga

Reconstruction of a hut as it might have been erected at El Barga


Drawing of a late mesolithic hut

By around 7'500 B.C. mesolithic villages in Nubia become better structured. As shown by remains of a settlement at El Barga, to the East of the city of Kerma in the Middle Nubian Valley (Northern Sudan), habitations became larger. The foundation of huts measured slightly less than five meters in diameter, with a maximum depth exceeding 50 centimeters. Its structure may have been supported by one or several wooden poles. The walls formed by the reed structure may also have been fortified with mud.

During the Neolithic period (6'000 - 3'500 B.C.), creativity and ingenuity of the people in the Nile Valley rapidly increased, and exchange of knowledge coming with increase in trade from and to the South and the North, and contacts with people from other regions helped spread expertise. Well-structured and protected villages were constructed, witnessing a high degree of organization; the difference in size of the habitations, the variation in burials and offerings, and need for defence let assume that the former Nubian egalitarian society of smaller communities gradually developed into a more stratified and politicized socienty. In 1986, the famous Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet unearthed parts of the Pre-Kerma village of El-Barga. While it was founded about 4'700 B.C., at its peak about 3'800 B.C. it comprised several round huts and some rectangular buildings, which may have served special purposes, possibly cultic or administrative functions. Fenced enclosures for cattle, storage pits and protection walls made of wooden palisades covered with mud and earth were new features, that would eventually lead to the later town of Old Kerma. The innovative Nubian population of these villages are named the "A-Group" by archaeologists.


Reconstruction of the Pre-Kerma "A-Group" village discovered by Archaeologist Charles Bonnet

A-Group habitations

Habitations like the ones constructed in Pre-Kerma villages

Kingdom of Ta-Seti

Incense burner of Qustul showing a king with a white crown, a falcon and rosette sitting on a boat towards a palace, and a seal imprint from Seyala with a falcon on a serekh, a man saluting him and a bow, symbol of Ta-Seti ("Land of the Bow", Egyptian name for Nubia)

Further North, close to the 2nd cataract of the Nile (at today's border between Egypt and Sudan) the Nubian village of Qustul was researched by archaeologist Keith C. Seele in 1964, during his last "salvation" mission before the village would be submerged due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Although he didn't expect great discoveries, he was astonished to find 33 tombs, 12 of which were tremendous, each one large and rich enough to have served a predynastic king. Although they had already been looted, they still contained thousand painted bowls, 100 stone vessels, 22 storage jars in one tomb, and local objects in unusual numbers, flasks and bowls, some from far South and the Levant, and various incense burners. After his death, Dr. Bruce Williams examined them again, finding obvious kingship symbols that would later be used by Egyptian pharaohs. A Qustul incense burner made no later than 3'300 B.C. shows figures of three ships sailing towards a palace. A king is sitting on one of them, wearing the white crown (like the ones that were later worn by the Pharaoh of Upper Egypt), in front of him a falcon on a serekh, being the symbol of the royal residence, a large building with an elaborate paneled facade with two square towers and intricate recessed doorways, a Nubian invention, that was used in the early dynastic period, and and a rosette, in Abydos and Saqqara, all denoting kingship. Together with other similar evidence, he assumed that a kingdom of Ta-Seti with Qustul as capital existed with 12 kings or pharaohs in 8 or 9 generations in the pre-dynastic period, and they induced the the later pharaonic dynasties that we know as Egyptian. This provides archaeological evidence that the first pharaohs of Egypt were from Nubia, as stated by Dr. Williams.


Reconstruction of the town of Kerma, around 2'500 B.C., excavated by Archaeologists Charles Bonnet and Mathieu Honegger

In the meantime, neolithic villages around the 3rd cataract region gradually evolved into pre-dynastic Kerma (3'500 to 2'950 B.C.), which by 2'500 B.C. had developed into a wonderful, planned and structured town - the town of Krema, was erected on a peninsula formed by the Nile, that would remain continuously inhabited for 9'500 years. Since that time, Kerma is known to historians as a Nubian kingdom, that at times extended from the first to the fifth cataract of the Nile. Nine kings of Kerma are known to have reigned before Kerma and the whole region from North of the 2nd cataract up to South of today's Khartoum became known as the Kingdom of Kush, whose first capital was Kerma.


Drawing of Kerma

Since at least Old Kerma, built about 2'500 B.C., homes in the newly emerging towns of the Nubian Nile Valley were built with adobe bricks - made of saltless Nile mud fortified with sand or straw. The wet mud was shaped with wooden molds, the surface flattened by hand and than let dry in the sun for one week. At some places the thin walls, often just one brick wide, were fortified with a support. The houses' architecture was quite similar to the Nubian houses that are still built today with local materials and by their owners themselves: rectangular or square homes containing a large inner court, surrounded by a reception room, a women's room with food storage and cooking place, sleeping rooms and a large sitting room with a roof supported by wooden stems or poles in the center that were placed on large stone blocks to avoid damage by termites or rodents. Decorations in geometric shapes - lozanges and triangles - paint in red ocher were found on the walls, the same way as Nubia homes are artfully painted today, mainly by women. Archaeologists also found pottery sherds, beads and ustensils shedding light on Kerma's inhabitants daily life.

Old Kerma, unearthed by Swiss archaeologists Charles Bonnet and Mathieu Honegger and their teams

Nubian vault

Nubian vaults in village before flooding

Nubian mud brick vault and dome roofing are known to have been constructed since at least around 4'000 years, as some have been found covering food silos. Being perfectly adapted to the prevailing climate conditions, and easily constructed with local materials, this roofing system - which consists of a vault or dome built with self-sustaining mud bricks resting on walls with a vaulted top giving it the shape, and ventilated through openings on the upper third of the vaulted walls allowing the rising hot air to escape, keeps the room cool and pleasantly aerated. Although the vaults on ancient buildings have mostly disappeared, many contemporary Nubian houses still feature them and today's architects re-discovered the Nubian vault as an affordable, sustainable, resistant, environment-friendly and beautiful architectural structure and apply it as well in new housing and touristic developments as for schools and other community buildings.

Bricks for Nubian vault
Old Nubian vault

Mud bricks are dried in the sun, and old mudbrick roofing

Kerma was estimated to be inhabited by about 10'000 people, and was built around the first large known temple, dedicated to god Amun; the Western Deffufa, a 18 meters high, 3-stories construction of unbaked mud-bricks measuring 25 by 50 meters in the same shape as later temples, with a double-towered pylon at its front. On top of the building ceremonies were held, and the whole region can be overseen. Two other deffufas were also built; they are lower but comprise columned interieor halls with wall paintings. Although the age of its construction is not exactly known, archaeologists detected the Western Deffufa had been rebuilt 10 times; some estimate it might have been an extention and reconstruction of a shrine as old as 9'500 years; at very least, it has been built 4'500 years ago. If we try to imagine ourselves back into a time when multi-stories construction was unknown, and the deffufa was intact - and possibly decorated, it must have been an immensely impressing view. The town had other administrative buildings, a palace, a large round hall, chapels and workshops, and was surrounded by protective bastions and trenches with 6 entrances.

Deffufa, side view

Side view and drawing on the Western Deffufa in the center of Kerma

Deffufa, front view

Front view of the Deffufa, as it still stands today

Political map

Political map showing overlapping regions as known from ancient Egyptian texts -

In ancient times, there were no borders and clear delimitations; populations from the North headed South along the Nile Valley, and ancient Nubians moved south from their cultural centers. According to Dr. Larry Ross, "Changes in climate during the 5. millennium BCE had an impact on the movement of Nubian populations to the north, where they took the resilient technocomplex that they had developed, therefore Nubians were in Middle Egypt spreading their cultural practices, beliefs, material wares, and genes long before the emergence of `Pharonic' Egypt". People and cultures mixed, mainly in the new attractive towns like Hierakonpolis between Aswan and Luxor, where three Nubian cemetries were unearthed and many Nubian objects were found. However, traces of Nubian artifacts, presence and traditions are also be fount further North, up to Abydos and Memphis and East to the Red Sea. It is also very conceivable that Nubians were implicated in the construction and decoration of temples and tombs, as they had already some thousand years of experience in artistic work when the first Egyptian temples and graves were built.

Places were Nubian traces were found

Towns in which Nubian cemetries or traces of occupation were found

Hierakonpolis - or Nekhen in Egyptian - was a predynastic town erected around the cult of Horus, the falcon god and god of the pharaohs - another connection to the falcon kingship symbols from Qustul. In front of a ceremonial court, a large colorful wooden temple was erected in his honor, covered with a roof formed to resemble the upper part of a falcon. It is in Hierakonpolis that probably the first kings or pharaohs of Egypt were crowned, in what is now called "Dynasty 0"; King "Skorpion" - whose symbol, a skorpion, is also represented in a rock drawing close to Wadi Halfa, and was probably of Nubian origin - reigned about 200 years before the first known "Egyptian" pharaoh, Nemes, whose tablette was also found in Nekhen. As stated by the Greek historian Diodorus Sicilus, who questioned Egyptians about the origins of their great culture, he was told that it originated under influence from people coming from the South - from Nubian lands (Ta-Seti) - so it is quite probable that the first dynasty of Egyptian pharohs arose under the impact and influence of Nubian traditions and the Kingdom of Ta-Seti.

Horus temple of Nekhen

Reconstruction of the pre-dynastic Horus temple in Hierakonpolis (Nekhen in Egyptian), with the roof resembling a faclon

Temple of Kalabsha

Drawing of the original Temple of Kalabsha

While initially cult sites were built mainly as simple structures, experience in quarrying large stones and the rise of the kings - who justified themselves as being assigned to rule by the gods - lead to the erection of wonderful large temples. In the Northern Nile Valley (Southern Egypt) alone, there were around 23 Nubian temples, in addition to the many more built in the central and upper Nile Valley. 11 of them were relocated before large parts of Lower Nubia was drowned. The oldest one is the Amada temple, dedicated to Amun, built around 1450 B.C. Initially built during the same era, the largest free-standing structure is the Kalabsha temple dedicated to the Nubian sun god Merwel (called Manaulis by the Greeks), with a length of 75 meters after several additions to the structure in the Roman period. Its delicately and finely executed architectural ornaments, paintings and sculptures make it one of the most magnificent testimonies of ancient art.

Amada temple

The temple of Amada, the oldest of the Nubian stone-built temples

View of the Ramses II temple in Abu Simbel

View of the rock-carved Ramses II temple in Abu Simbel

One of the great achievements of the ancient Nubian population since pre-dynastic times was the carving of spaces into the rock. It was mainly used for the preparation of graves, which evolved from shallow round or ovale pits to complex systems of subterranean rooms, sometimes covered with a Nubian vault. The rock-carving technique was perfected in a splendid manner in later rock-carved temples in Nubia, the most amazing of which are the temples of Abu Simbel, dug far into the rock and adorned with numerous larg-size statues and wall carvings. Not only is its execution mind-blowing, but also its architectural science - it has been constructed in a manner that the sun enters and illuminates the four statues in the innermost holiest chamber only twice a year, once on 22nd October, Pharaoh Ramses II's birthday, and once on 22nd February, on the anniversary of his crowning! Other rock-carved temples are spread along the shores of Lake Nasser.

Abu Simbel interior view

Interior of the Ramses II temple at Abu Simbel

Artistic rendering of the pyramids of Meroë

Artistic rendering of the Nubian pyramids

Pyramids of Meroë

Pyramids of Meroë

During the Nubian Kingdom of Kush, Pharaohs, Kings and Queens and some nobles were burid in Nubian pyramids. Most of the pyramids, built with sandstone and granite, measute between 10 and 30 meter in height, with an angle of 70 degrees. Many have attached chapels facing East, with beautiful wall paintings. From the 223 Nubian pyramids - more than double the number of pyramids in Egypt - most are located in Meroë some can be found at the site of Nuri in Napata. However, the oldest structures were constructed in El Kurru, close to the ancient city of Kerma, since 751 B.C. by the first Kushite Pharaohs.

Between 2009 and 2012, another group of 35 pyramids was discovered near Sedeinga. Unfortunately, more than 40 Nubian pyramids were partly or fully destroyed by a criminal Italian treasure hunter, Giuseppe Ferlini, in 1830, who blew up the top of the pyramids after he found jewels in one of them. Some of the looted gold and silver jewelry from Queen Amanishakheto he found in her pyramid are exhibited in the Egyptian Museums of Munich and Berlin, in Germany.

Young Sudanese discover and promote the Nubian Pyramids

Chapel of a pyramid  in Kurru

Interior of the chapel entrance to the pyramid of King Tawentamai, located in El Kurru

Pharaoh Taharqa monument

Artistic representation of the construction of the Taharqa monument on the pinnacle of Jebel Barkal

Holes in the cliff wall

Holes in the cliff wall and parallel holes in the pinnacle wall where wooden beams of the scaffolding were inserted

The construction of such stunning buildings, rock-carved temples and mine shafts needed not only an advanced understanding of mathematics, geometry and trigonometry, but also creative and inventive technological engineering solutions, as there were no heavy machines that are used today to perform similar tasks. One of the most remarkable achievements that astounded researchers is the inscribed panel created by Pharaoh Taharqa (around 670 B.C.) on the almost inaccessible pinnacle of Jebel Barkal, at a height of 75 meters over the town and temples at the foot of the mountain. The inscription praising Pharaoh Taharqa, his popularity and his wictories measured 1.20 x 2.70 meters, and was gold-plated - so it must have reflected the sun and was seen from far away. An alcove with a now lost gold statue was carved below it. The otherwise unaccessible pinnacle was first climbed in 1987 by archaeologist T. Kendall and alpinist Paul Duval, equipped with modern climbing gear. So how did these ancient engineers and artists achieve this incredible exploit?

Taharqa inscription panel

Panel with inscription and holes in which the gildening plate was fixed

Pharaoh Taharqa monument

Pyramid of Pharaoh Taharqa astronomically aligned with the pinnacle of Jebel Barkal

Once more, it's the incredible ingenuity of the ancient Nubian engineers that brought the solution. Inside the cliff opposite to the pinnacle, and the wall of the pinnacle itself, several parallel holes were cut to fix nineteen horizontal wooden beams that had been lifted by the "shadouf" cranes, supported by thre vertical wooden posts, creating a scaffolding onto which the workers could climb up to the summit of the pinnacle, that was itself encased in a wooden structure. A diagonal channel further supported a stout beam with a pulley, used as crane to lift the statue and heavy material. The smoothed panel was than inscribed and gilded. After the removal of the scaffolding the broadly shining inscription was again inaccessible. Even more mind-blowing is the fact that the pyramid of Pharaoh Taharqa had been constructed beyond the river, at a distance of 9.7 km of Jebel Barkal, but aligned with the pinnacle in a way that it resembles the profile of Osiris, wearing a white crown, and in a perfect astronomical relationship coincident with the ancient dates of the rising and falling of the Nile!

Taharqa inscription panel

Pyramid of Taharqa

Protection of Nature

(Since the beginnings...)

Clean villages

Nubian villages and environment are kept flawlessly clean

Did you think the care for the environment and protection of nature are new sciences? Not at all! In fact, while we tend to consider ecology a modern occurrence, the ancient people of the Nubian Nile Valley cared for their environment since hundreds of thousands of years. Up to this day, Nubians avoid by any means polluting the Nile river, which in Nubian lands is so clean that people drink from its waters. It is unconceivable for them to throw any thrash or waste into the river; they even retrieved water from the Nile filling a pond to let their animals drink from it, at a distance of several hundert meters from the river. Animals were kept in enclosures, and Nubian villages - since thousands of years up to now - are examples of cleanliness, inside and outside their homes. Since ancient times, Nubians understood the importance of hygiene and clean water in order to avoid illness, pests and insects. Even when fishing or hunting, they never caught young animals, in order to ensure their offspring and secure food resources for their own children and next generations.

Drinking from the Nile

Since thousands of years Nubians drink water from the Nile

Water for the animals

Water is retrieved from the Nile to let animals drink some 100 m far from the river

Medicine and Helath Care

(Since ca. 5'000 B.C.)

Acacia Nilotica

Nile Acacia tree, which cured many diseases, is found abundantly in Nubia

As mind-blowing as discoveries, inventions and developments in Ancient Nubia in many fields may be, medicine may be an even more stupefying example. In fact, since thousands of years the population of the Nubian Nile Valley knew how to heal most of the common diseases with medicinal herbs, roots, spices, barks, resins or gums, seeds and leaves, a knowledge that was transmitted from generation to generation, and is still practiced in the few remaining remote Nubian villages in the Central and Southern Nubian Nile Valley (Northern Sudan). For instance, all parts of the Nile Acacia are used for medical purposes, curing diarrhea, healing of bleeding wounds, exzema and skin treatment, sore throat, tratment of the eyes, excessive bodily fluids, and its seeds have antiinflammatory and antibacterial properties. Moreover, it even treats hair loss and thin branches are used to clean teeth... Other disorders like headache, breath and stomach problems, and bilharizia, were also cured with plants, herbs, honey, garlic and other natural resources, and others were used as pain killers. Up to this day, Nubians who still live in their lands only eat and drink natural products, and strictly refuse processed foods, gazeous drinks and any products containing colorants and preservatives. It is not unusual to find Nubians reaching or surpassing the age of 100 years, some of whom never saw a doctor.

Nile Acacia medicine

Dried fruit and powder from Acacia Nilotica/p>

Trepanated skull

Skull of a man aged 55 to 65 years from Khor Shambat, that had undergone trepanation surgery

But ancient Nubians didn't content themselves with curing diseases with medicine. Although there is no written record of their science, the analysis of thousands of skeletons tell an even more amazing story: ancient Nubians even practiced surgery. A skull unearthed in the neolithic settlement of Khor Shambat, a village at the Nile near Omdurman in Southern Nubia, that was inhabited since at least 8'000 B.C., by Polish team led by Dr. Maciej Jórdeczka from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Poznań, showed it had undergone trapanation - a neatly drilled or cut circular hole of 2cm diameter in the skull - around 7'000 years ago! Trepanation is still done today, for brain operations. Although it is not obvious why this man, aged 55 to 65 years - an old age for his period - had undergone the surgery, it was probably due to an age-related brain disease, such as convulsions, headaches, infection or paralysis. Dr. Łukasz Maurycy Stanaszek, an anthropologist from the National Archaeological Museum in Warsaw, said the man had not survived the trepanation, as the wound did not have time to heal. However, he pointed out that the surgery had been done proficiently, with special scraping tools like knives, drills or flint-bone scrapers. That lets assume that the science was well-known and probably practiced since even earlier times. Due to the far-southern location, and the early period, the medical art of these doctors was certainly not influenced by Egypt, but rather transferred to the North in the later pre-dynastic period.

Other surgeries, like successful limb amputation, removal of bone splinters and surgery of bone fractures, using splints - solid sticks used to keep an injured body part from moving and to stabilize a broken bone - were also practiced by these skilled surgeons in ancient Nubia. In fact, the analysis of 6000 skeletal and mummified remains unearthed during the First Archaeological Survey of Nubia (1907–1911), dating between 4'000 BC and 1'000 AD, showed that some had undergone well-healed bone fracture operations using splints, and others had healed from amputations. Several instruments, most of bronze, flint stone, and sharp obsidian blades used in surgery were found at different locations and represented in wall envgravings. A collection of such instruments - including a scalpel - are exhibited at the Nubian Museum in Aswan.

Surgical instruments

A scalpel and other surgical instruments used in Ancient Nubia, exhibited at the Nubian Museum in Aswan

Potion flasks

Flasks used for medical potions

A bioarcheologist, George Armelagos, was puzzled when he found during his examination of human fossils from the Southern Nubian Nile Valley (Northern Sudan) in 1981 that their bones, dating between 250 A.D. and 550 A.D., contained the antibiotic substance tetracycline. He had difficulties to convince modern scientists - who attribute the "discovery" of the antibiotic penicillin to Alexander Fleming in 1928 - that ancient Nubians were purposedly producing a special brew of beer containing tetracycline and drinking it regularly and healing gum disease and other infections with this medical substance. Mark Nelson, a specialist in tetracycline, examined the bones again and found large concentrations of the substance, even in the tibia and skull of a 4-years old child in an attempt to heal him. In addition to drinking the beer, patients probably eat the fermented gruel. Other medical herbs, spices and substances like honey were also added to beer and wine, and probably to sweetened drinks, as a medicine, and as an anesthetic and sedative substance.

Ancient Nubian Antibiotics

Scientists discovered that ancient Nubians produced potions -probably a special brew of beer - containing antibiotics

Mathematics, Algebra and Trigonometry

(Since ca. 6'000 B.C.)

Meroe sketch

Sketch on the wall of a palace in Meroe, showing an astronomer with his instrument - and modern interpretation

Research has proven that ancient Nubians had a sophisticated knowledge of mathematics, geometry and trigonometry. Based on engraved plans of Meroitic King Amanikhabali's pyramids in Meroë, Nubians also had an appreciation of the harmonic ratio. The ancient Nubians also established a system of geometry which they used in creating early versions of sun clocks, called gnomons. At the western outer wall of the ancient Royal Palace of Meroë, three graffiti attest of advanced observations done there around 160 BC, and the resulting calculations, that may suggest that the building was used as an astronomical observatory. According to Prof. Leo Depuydt, on one graffito, an astronomer - or mathematician - is apparently sitting holding his transit instrument - probably a gnomon, a flat shadow instrument with a protruding stick of a specified size, that measures the length of the shadow cast by the sun, and a ring - possibly to measure the radius of the angle. The other scetches, showing marks and calculations, determine the summer solstice and 45 days (plus some days) - or degrees - before and after the solstice to the day when the shadow of the sun was exactly vertical at noon. The meroitic letter "aleph" may have been the initial of the scientist.

Sketches in Meroe

Meroe sketches about astronomical observations

The several structures of standing megalithic stones at Nabta Playa, 100km west of Abu Simbel, erected since around 6'000 BC, are another example of the early Nubians' efforts to record their discoveries. The alignment of the stone circles, extending up to a mile, marked geographical directions, and some were aligned to announce the summer solstice and the start of the rain season, 6'000 years ago. The pyramids built much later at Saqqara, Abusir and Giza show the same alignments, on a northeast-southwest line. Nubians also invented the calendar at around the same period. In 4'200 BC, they defined a year of 365 days + 5 feast days, starting on 21st June, the summer solstice.

Nabta Playa stone circle

A megalithic stone circle at Nabta Playa mapping an early calendar

Names of the months written in Old Nubian script

Nemes macehead

Macehead of Nubian Pharaoh Nemes, the founder of the 1st dynasty

Sketches in Meroe

Print from the Nemes macehead, representing the object and number signs

Nubians also had a specific numbering system, based on a unit of 4 = 1 karra, 4 units = 16 1 masha, and it allowed to count indefinitely. On the macehead of Nubian Pharaoh Nemes, the founder of the first dynasty, dating from around 3100 BC, the gains of his conquest are enumerated; 120'000 prisoners, 400'000 oxen, and 1'422'000 goats. Certainly, mathematics was mainly used for general administrative purposes, measuring the land, registering stored goods, distribution of food items, registration of the animals in herds, of mined gold and metals, etc.

Sources and further reading - المصادر وقراءات أخرى

Head Surgery

Head Surgery

جراحة رأس عمرها 7000 عام: واحدة من أقدم جماجم النقب التي تم اكتشافها في السودان

7,000-Year-Old Head Surgery: One of the Oldest Trepanned Skulls Discovered in Sudan - Ancient Origins

Antibiotic beer

Ancient antibiotic beer

Ancient brew masters tapped antibiotic secrets - Science Daily

استغل أساتذة المشروبات القدامى أسرار المضادات الحيوية

Nubia and Egypt

Nubia and Egypt

النوبة ومصر 10'000 ق. إلى 400 م - د. لاري روس

Nubia and Egypt 10'000 B.C. to 400 A.D. - Dr. Larry Ross

In Between Nubia

In Between Nubia

In Between Nubia - Reappraising Nubian identity through material culture

في بين النوبة - إعادة تقييم الهوية النوبية من خلال الثقافة المادية

Taharqa monument

The Pinnacle Monument of Taharqa

The Pinnacle Monument of Taharqa - Timothy Kendall

نصب تذكاري جبل البركل لفرعون طاهرقا

Ancient Egyptian Science

Ancient Egyptian Science

Ancient Egyptian Science - Edited and Prepared by Prof. Hamed A. Ead - Tour Egypt

العلوم المصرية القديمة - تحرير وإعداد أ.د. حامد عياد



رياضيات مصر القديمة

The Mathematics of ancient Egypt - Dr. Williams - State University of New York at Buffalo.


Neolithic Skywatchers

Neolithic Skywatchers - Andrew L. Slayman - Archaeology

مراقبو السماء من العصر الحجري الحديث

Nubia and Egypt

Early Agrarian Society

وادي النيل: مجتمع زراعي مبكر - التاريخ الأفريقي القديم

Nile Valley: An early agrarian society - Ancient African History

In Between Nubia

Ancient Qustul

The artifacts speak: Ancient Qustul (Ta-Seti) - Egypt's Founder - Narrative

القطع الأثرية تتحدث: قسطل القديمة (تا ستي) - مؤسس مصر


Deffufa Temples

The Deffufa Temples in Kerma, Nubia, Sudan at least 9,500 years old? - Sola Rey

معابد دفوفا في كرمة ، النوبة ، السودان ، عمرها على الأقل 9500 سنة؟



By its scale and architectural system, the Pre-Kerma agglomeration heralds the future development Nubia will know with the emergence of the city of Kerma. - website

من خلال نطاقها ونظامها المعماري ، يبشر تكتل ما قبل كرمة بالتطور المستقبلي الذي ستعرفه النوبة مع ظهور مدينة كرمة.

The City of Kerma

The City of Kerma

مدينة كرمة هي عاصمة مملكة كوش الأولى. في أوجها ، امتدت أراضي المملكة من الشلال الأول إلى الشلال الخامس.

The city of Kerma is the capital of the first Kingdom of Kush. During its heyday, the kingdom’s territory extended from the First to the Fifth cataracts. -


Nubian Mudbrick Vault

The Nubian Mudbrick Vault. A Pharaonic building technique in Nubian village dwellings - Lilli Zabrana

قبو الطوب النوبي. تقنية بناء فرعونية في مساكن القرية النوبية

The Monument of Pharaoh Taharqa

The Jebel Barkal Monument of Pharaoh Taharqa"

نصب جبل البركل بيناكل لفرعون طهارقة

The Jebel Barkal Pinnacle Monument of Pharaoh Taharqa - T. Kendall -

Ancient Astronomy

Ancient Qustul

Ancient Astronomy of the Nabta Playa Nubian Stone Circle - Dr. Ali Aby Muhammed - Nubian Geographic

علم الفلك القديم لدائرة نبتة بلايا النوبية الحجرية


Ancient Game Traps

The ancient stone-built game traps at Gharb Aswan and beyond, Lower Nubia and Upper Egypt - P. Storemyr - Semantic Scholar

الفخاخ القديمة المبنية بالحجارة في غرب أسوان وما وراءها والنوبة السفلى وصعيد مصر


Maritime trade

Africa’s inventions: the Earliest Sea-Faring Vessels -

الاختراعات الأفريقية: أقدم السفن البحرية

Egypt Prehistory

Egypt Prehistory

عصور ما قبل التاريخ في مصر

Egypt Prehistory - Nile Cruised

The Nubian Complex

The Nubian Complex

The Nubian Complex and the Dispersal of Modern Humans in North Africa - P. Van Peer & Pierre M. Vermeersch

المجمع النوبي وتشتت الإنسان الحديث في شمال إفريقيا

Ancient Pottery

Predynastic Pottery

نظرة عامة على فخار ما قبل الأسرات في مصر القديمة

An overview of the Predynastic Pottery of Ancient Egypt - Diane Leemann - Academia

Ancient Astronomy

Berenice Panchrysia

Berenice Panchrysos: la città fantasma del deserto nubiano. - Museu Castiglioni

Berenice Panchrysos: مدينة الأشباح في الصحراء النوبية.


Mines and Quarries

Mines and Quarries of Ancient Egypt: An Introduction - Jimmy Dunn - Tour Egypt

مناجم ومحاجر مصر القديمة: مقدمة


Prehistoric Egypt


مصر ما قبل التاريخ: الإنسان الأول ، الفن الصخري ، الأدوات ، الدفن ، والهجرة إلى النيل