The Excavation Project
Naga is the southernmost city of the Kingdom of Meroe, the neighbour and powerful rival of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. Situated northeast of Khartum, the capital of the Republic of the Sudan, in the steppe far from the banks of the Nile, Naga has remained untouched since its heyday from 200 BC to 250 AD. In other words, this site, sprawling over one square kilometre, provides ideal conditions for archaeological research. With financial backing by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (the German Research Association), the Egyptian Museum in Berlin excavated at Naga from 1995 to 2012; in 2013 they became a project of the Egyptian Museum in Munich.
As a secondary royal residence for the kings and queens of Meroe, Naga was a city of splendour. Three of its temples have survived intact through the millennia, ten further temples and palaces, concealed under huge mounds of rubble, await excavation along with the vast necropolis with its hundreds of graves.
African, Egyptian and Hellenistic components, merging in architecture, sculpture and relief (of which it has an abundance), make Naga a testimonial to the cultural bridge between Africa and the Mediterranean world. With its long-term restoration programme and the use of innovative 3-D technologies in the documentation of architecture and relief, the Naga Project is a model case of state-of-the-art archaeology.
To protect the large number of reliefs, statues and small finds, a museum is being constructed in Naga, for which the renowned British architect David Chipperfield has donated the plans, accepting no payment. Soon to be a focus for historical and cultural identity within the Sudan, the building, financed by the Qatar Sudan Archaeological Project, is due to be started with as soon as possible.
Discovery of the Site and Project History
The first Europeans to visit Naga – in 1822 – were two Frenchmen, L.M.A. Linant de Bellefonds and F. Caillaud. In 1844, the Prussian Expedition led by R. Lepsius documented all the monuments of the ancient city visible at the time. Nevertheless, Naga was to remained untouched for the next 150 years.
It was not until 1995 that the director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Dietrich Wildung, received an excavation license for Naga from the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums in recognition for the exhibitions on Ancient Sudan he had organised, in cooperation with the museum in Munich. Together with Lech Krzyzaniak of Posen, an archaeologist with many years of experience working in the Sudan, and the latter’s wife Karla Kröper, he began a long-term project financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. By 2009, the Tempel of Amun, Tempel 200 and – with the support of the Verein zur Förderung des Ägyptischen Museums Berlin e.V. (Friends of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin) – the Chapel of Hathor had all been excavated, documented and restored. Even though this work covered less than five percent of the city ruins lying undisturbed under the sand, these buildings proved to be a real treasure trove of architecture, relief and sculpture and are considered some of the most interesting archaeological sites in the Sudan.
In 2013, the Egyptian Museum in Munich took over the scientific and organisational administration of the Naga Project. Excavations will resume in the Fall of 2014, financed by the Qatar Sudan Archaeological Project.
The overall administration of the Naga Project is currently incumbent to the director of the State Museum of Egyptian Art, Dr. Sylvia Schoske.
Its Scientific Director is Prof. Dr. Dietrich Wildung, who had already, in his tenure as director of the Egyptian Museum in Munich (1975-1988), directed the excavations at the Eastern Delta site of Minshat Abu Omar (1977-1988). After becoming director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin (1989-2009), he began setting up the Naga Project in 1992.
Dr. Karla Kröper, as Field Director, is responsible for supervising the work on-site.
The scientific team is composed of archaeologists, architects and prehistorians from Germany, England, France, Canada and Poland.
The workers on the excavation itself, about 70 in number, are recruited from the seminomadic peoples living within several-kilometre radius around Naga. They use their fingerprint to sign for their salary every ten days.
The work is overseen by the Sudanese colleagues from the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums.
The research centre set up by the Naga team of archaeologists, conservators and sets the bar for Sudanese archaeology in terms of expert knowledge and equipment. The systematic use of 3D-scan technology for the documentation of architecture, relief and finds makes it possible to greatly optimize the publication of excavation results.
The subtle restauration of the excavated temples, without attempting to reconstruct absent areas, is supported by the Foreign Office and does justice to Naga’s status as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, preserving the general atmosphere of this “archaeological biotope”.
3D Documentation at Naga
With its impressive collection of data collected through the systematic and objective 3D recording of finds, reliefs, columns, capitals and even whole temples, the Naga Project can be considered a pioneer of three-dimensional archaeological inventorying. As early as 2005, the advantages of 3D scan technology and its manifold applications were proven in various tests. Since then, it has become impossible to imagine archaeological documentation without 3D scanning as a tool.
Because of the great number of blocks recovered, the 3D documentation of Temple 200 took several seasons to complete. For all of the 1,184 measured relief blocks and fragments, lists of measurements and to-scale depictions were generated. The goal of this work was not only a detailed documentation of the individual blocks, but also the reconstruction of the relief areas of the collapsed temple walls.
The first step of this reconstruction was done by staff from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin with the help of scaled-down printouts. The groundwork laid by the use of these cut-outs allowed the work to continue digitally and the walls to be virtually reconstructed.
The conical shape of the data flattened out from the columns scanned in the hypostyle hall were morphed into the proper shape using special correctional software – allowing the surface of the columns to be rendered into a flat relief. The finished surfaces were given virtual light sources using special software in order to offer the best shadows for viewing, then exported as scaled visual data .
The digitalisation and complete analysis of the measurements taken of 137 small finds took place, for the most part, in situ in the Sudan. Objects with fayence surfaces had not only 3-D scans taken of them, but also digital photographs of their surfaces. These photographs were used to give the objects a photorealistic texture, exporting the result as 3-D models with colour information. 3-D models, measurement lists and measurement pictures were made of all the objects scanned, in a reproducible format.
The Chapel of Hathor and architectural elements from the rubble were, once its excavation was complete and before it was restored, scanned in 3D. The high volume of data, comprising some 700 million measurement points, required a computation using specially upgraded computers in the Berlin offices. It was, however, possible to create 3-D secure data files for two statically unstable capitals that had cracked into several pieces. Afterwards, the destroyed capitals could be put back together on the computer and the data saved for the fabrication of physical copies. Replicas were made using a CNC-mill, of which the restorers then made casts for castings in colour-blended artificial stone.
The Naga Project is financed entirely by third-party funds.
- DFG – German Research Association (Sponsoring from 1995 – 2009)
- Foreign Office, Programme for Cultural Preservation (Sponsoring of restoration work)
- Friends of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin
- Westdeutsche Gipswerke Gebrüder Knauf, Iphofen
Are you interested in supporting our project? We would be delighted to receive your donation.
You will find more information on sponsoring here.