Current situation in the Sudan and its repercussions on the Naga Project

Blick vom Gebel Naga in die Steppe, am Horizont geht die Sonne auf.© Naga Projekt

In Sudan, the government army and paramilitary forces (Rapid Support Forces – RSF) have been fighting for power since the middle of April 2023. More than 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the beginning of hostilities. According to the UN, at least 6 million people have fled the region. The supply situation is catastrophic, the infrastructure is in shambles, the civilian population is suffering. The UN has recently closed its political mission in Sudan. The escalation of violence is a humanitarian catastrophe and a devastating setback for the democratic movement in Sudan.

The conflict also constitutes an acute danger for Sudan’s cultural heritage. The National Museum in Khartoum and the infrastructure of Sudan’s National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums – NCAM – are all located within the hostile zone. The RSF has even been targeting cultural institutions such as university buildings. State employees, among which are the personnel of the National Corporation for Antiquities, are no longer receiving their salaries from the State. For their own safety, many have left the main population centres or even the country.

Updates on the situation in Naga, the excavation site of the State Museum of Egyptian Art, are hard to come by. The Naga Project’s  latest campaign ended in March 2023. It was able to bring the current excavations, as well as the restoration work at the Lion Temple (financed by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs,) to a satisfactory close. All of the SMÄK team present at Naga managed to leave Sudan safely. Due to the lack of infrastructure since hostilities broke out (no internet or cellular reception), direct contact with those colleagues and their families living at and around Naga has been impossible. Sporadic contact has been maintained with the long-time inspector for the Naga Project who lives in Shendi and has remained there. We are also in contact with employees of the NCAM, to whom we are extremely grateful for their efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of Sudan.

We do know that there were some serious incidents at Naga: at the end of November 2023, a convoy of RSF troops crossed the Wadi Awatib, where Naga is located. In Naga itself, there have been firefights between military and police forces stationed there to protect the site. Several people were killed and others kidnapped. Before that, the doors of the dig house had been forced open by unknown parties. The extent of damages to materials and equipment remains unknown. The publicly accessible ancient monuments of Naga – such as the Temple of Amun with its avenue of rams and kiosk, the Lion Tempel and the Chapel of Hathor before it – all seem to have escaped unscathed so far. The greater site also seems to have been spared any damages.

We hope for peace and that the archaeological site of Naga will remain undamaged so that we may continue our work there. Our thoughts are with our colleagues in the Naga Project, our cooperation partners and friends on the ground and with the whole of the population of Sudan.