National Geographic : 2003 Feb
small, doomed captives. The queen is recogniz ably Nubian: Chiseled in pharaonic splendor, she is a mix of Egyptian elegance and full-hipped African beauty. Her prisoners too strike me as dead ringers. They look like the far-flung citizens of Sudan's modern fringe: fierce Beja nomads from the Red Sea Hills-or even Negroid Din kas or Nubas from the south. Blinking sweat from my eyes, I stare in amazement at this antique blueprint for governance in Sudan-a 2,000 year-old political poster advertising the power of Nile-based elites over the weak periphery. "Some things never change," says Dietrich Wil dung, head of the Egyptian Museum and Papy rus Collection in Berlin and one of the sunburned archaeologists working at Naga. "The north always thinks itself supreme-Egypt over Sudan, Berlin over Munich, New York over Alabama." Wildung, an almost dauntingly effusive man, pads briskly around his digs in a flimsy pair of sneakers, pointing out details on a half-excavated temple that make him exclaim with pure delight. According to archaeologists, Sudan's northern deserts hide one of the great civilizations not only of Africa but the world. These Sudanic realms-variously known as Nubia, Kush, or Meroe-were no mere appendages of neigh boring Egypt, as was sometimes thought. Their intelligentsia created an Egyptian-derived writ ing system, Meroitic, for a still unintelligible lan guage. And the "black pharaohs" of Sudan and their notorious archers eventually gained such power that they briefly ruled all of Egypt some 2,700 years ago. Proudly,Wildung shows me his latest discov ery: an altar excavated from beneath a fallen wall. Nile gods painted on its plaster-covered pedestal indicate Egyptian influence, and the floral designs are pure Africa-all exuberance, singing colors. Ancient Greece reveals itself too in the classical flourishes on a figurine of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Crouched over a hole in the earth, we behold the unexpected beauty of Sudan's fractured nature, the art of a continental crossroads.