One of 16 pyramids uncovered in a cemetery in the ancient town of Gematon in Sudan. The pyramid likely rose more than 39 feet (12 meters) in height.

16 Ancient Pyramids, Burial Sites for a Vanished Kingdom, Found in Sudan

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2,000-year-old pyramids have been found in an ancient cemetery, revealing the burial practices of a long-vanished kingdom in Sudan. Discovered near the ancient town of Gematon in Sudan, the 16 pyramids have burial tombs beneath them, and were built during the reign of pharaohs in the kingdom of Kush.

The Kushites built pyramids much like their neighbors to the north, the Egyptians, but not on the same scale. The ruins of the largest of the pyramids found at Gematon (modern Kawa, Sudan) is about 35 feet (10.6 meters) long on each side, and was calculated to have risen approximately 43 feet (13 meters) high, according to LiveScience.

Kushite pyramids are generally steeper and more pointed than the Egyptian pyramids

Kushite pyramids are generally steeper and more pointed than the Egyptian pyramids ( Wikimedia Commons )

Derek Welsby, curator at the British Museum in London and his team have been excavating at the archaeological site in Sudan since 1998. He says of the recent pyramid work, “So far, we've excavated six made out of stone and 10 made out of mud brick.”

Not all burials at the site are marked by pyramids. Other types of burials in the ancient cemetery include piles of rocks or mounds called “tumuli”, and rectangular surface structures called “mastaba”. Many tombs do not have burial markers of any kind. The mix of types of burial reveal the cemetery wasn’t reserved for the upper-elites only, and individuals of various stations were entombed at the same site.

Example of a mastaba in Egypt.

Example of a mastaba in Egypt. (Jon Bodsworth/ CreativeCommons)

Royal Artifacts

The burial tombs beneath the pyramids have largely been plundered by looters over the years, however some artifacts have been recovered by researchers.

A tin and bronze offering table was found in one tomb. The carved surface depicts offerings being made to Osiris, ruler of the underworld by a priest or royalty. Isis, sister and wife to Osiris “is shown pouring libations” behind the other deity, notes LiveScience.

Welsby explains the offering table indicates a very senior member of a royal family was buried there, as it is a “royal object.”

A tin-bronze offering table reportedly indicates a royal burial under a pyramid in Sudan.

A tin-bronze offering table reportedly indicates a royal burial under a pyramid in Sudan. Credit: D. A. Welsby; Copyright SARS NDRS Archive

Only one of the 16 pyramid tombs were spared robbers, and it held the remains of three infants and 100 ceramic faience beads. The researchers speculate robbers may have known the grave did not contain gold artifacts and thus left it alone.

Archaeologists uncovered a burial chamber holding the remains of three infants. It was the only pyramid burial left undisturbed by looters.

Archaeologists uncovered a burial chamber holding the remains of three infants. It was the only pyramid burial left undisturbed by looters. Credit: D. A. Welsby; Copyright SARS NDRS Archive

The Kingdom of Kush

Originally a colony of Egypt in the 18 th century BC, Kush was the kingdom which rose after the disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt. Nubian leaders conquered Egypt and established a rich dynasty of their own. They held large territory in Sudan between 800 BC and 350 AD.

Location of Kush - Map of kingdoms, states and tribes in 400 BC Africa.

Location of Kush - Map of kingdoms, states and tribes in 400 BC Africa. ( Creative Commons )

Archaeologists with the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS) believe the Gematon was a major urban center stretching over 40 hectares (400,000 square meters) at its height. It was the site of several temples to Egyptian gods, and developed by Egyptian rulers such as Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, and Kushite Kings. Gematon was thought to have been abandoned by the fourth century AD, and both time and sand buried the past.

Nubian Pharaohs.

Nubian Pharaohs. ( Public Domain)

Research excavations continue at Kawa, one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Sudan. Archaeologists hope to uncover what life was like for the people of Gematon 2,000 and 3,000 years ago. As well, they seek to learn more on the overall health, wellbeing and longevity of the inhabitants based on the remains of those buried in the long lost kingdom.

Featured Image:  One of 16 pyramids uncovered in a cemetery in the ancient town of Gematon in Sudan. The pyramid likely rose more than 39 feet (12 meters) in height. Credit: D. A. Welsby; Copyright SARS NDRS Archive

By Liz Leafloor

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