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Gebel Barkal, Nubia

   A Brief History  

page updated December 24, 2007
Gebel Barkal is the current name for the small mountain and its archaeological site situated about 400km north of Khartoum, the Sudan.  The site lies at the approximate mid-point of the great bend in the Nile River, about 1.5km away on the north bank, beside the present town of Karima.  Its 98m-high, flat-topped eminence once marked a primary river crossing on the important north-south overland trade route between central Africa and Egypt (click here for map).
The gebel (image size 15k)

The marker points to the location of Gebel Barkal; turn on the "Satellite" view to show the gebel and zoom in a bit to find the temple remains.

About 1450 BCE, the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III extended his conquests to Gebel Barkal and established it as the southern border of his empire.  The city he founded there was called Napata. The Egyptians remained only about 300 years.  Later Napata became the seat of royal authority of an independent Nubian kingdom called Kush, and from about 720 to 660 BCE its kings conquered and ruled Egypt as the 25th Dynasty.  Napata was the political capital of Upper Egypt (northward to Memphis) during the late-8th-century reign of Piyankhy (or Piye).  After the Kushites were driven out of Egypt, Napata continued as an important royal residence and religious center until about 350 BCE, when the kingdom finally collapsed.

The extensive remains at Gebel Barkal (encompassing at least 13 temples and 3 palaces) were first observed and described by European explorers in the 1820s, but it was not until 1916 that the first major excavations were undertaken, by George A. Reisner and the joint Harvard University/ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Expedition.  Reisner cleared nine buildings at the site and assigned them each a 100-number, prefaced by the letter B (for Barkal).  From the 1970s to the present, excavations have continued by a team from the University of Rome, under the direction of Sergio Donadoni, which was joined in the 1980s by another team from the Boston museum, under the direction of Timothy Kendall.

Gebel Barkal--overhead view of Learning Sites' 3D site model

Overview of the temple complex, from B1200 (at the right) to B700 (in the rear), and B300 (at the far left).

(click on the image to enlarge)

LEARNING SITES is working with Timothy Kendall to reconstruct the site digitally, one temple at a time.  The resulting 3D models, high-resolution animations, and virtual worlds will be first used as research tools for better understanding the function of the site and its many buildings.  Subsequently, the material will be made available for museum display kiosks and educational materials.

In 2006, Learning Sites' flyover of Gebel Barkal was featured in a program on ancient Sudan for Japanese TV produced by Nexent.

(compiled for Learning Sites by Timothy Kendall, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Kendall,Timothy. The Gebel Barkal Temples 1989-90: A Progress Report on the Work of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Sudan Mission. Geneva: 7th International Conference for Nubian Studies, 3-8 Sept., 1990.

    "Gebel Barkal Temples, Karima, Sudan. 1987 Season, Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Institute of Art and Archaeology Newsletter. Memphis, TN: Memphis State University, 1988, pp.10-18.
Reisner,George. "Inscribed Monuments from Gebel Barkal." Zeitschrift fur Agyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 6:76-100. 1931.
    "The Barkal Temples in 1916 [Part II]." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 5:99-112. 1918.

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Reference Information

page added February 27, 1997
page updated December 24, 2007
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