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Pyramid of Queen Khennuwa at the royal necropolis at Meroe.

New Investigations Begin on the Pyramid of the Mysterious Queen Khennuwa

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After almost a century, archaeologists are re-entering the burial chambers of the mysterious Queen Khennuwa, who remains a mysterious personality of the Kingdom of Meroe.

The archaeologists re-opened the tomb to increase documentation and research on the queen and site. According to Heritage Daily, the burial chambers were completely decorated with executed paintings and hieroglyphic texts, many of which are still in a good state of preservation. It was identified as the tomb of Queen Khennuwa due to the inscriptions in hieroglyphic texts.

The pyramid of Queen Khennuwa was excavated in 1922 during the excavations in ancient Nubia by George A. Reisner of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. However, the documentation created by his team wasn't complete, it contained only a few photographs and a few hand copies of inscriptions. This lack of information about the burial led archaeologists from the Qatari Mission for the Pyramids of Sudan (QMPS) to ask for permission to re-open the tomb.

The Southern Cemetery of Meroe, where Queen Khennuwa’s tomb is located.

The Southern Cemetery of Meroe, where Queen Khennuwa’s tomb is located. (TrackHD/CC BY 3.0)

The work in the pyramid was initiated by QMPS with the support of the Sudanese National Cooperation of Antiquities and Museums and the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. The work consists of conservation and security measures at the site. These acts are planned to enable the burial of Queen Khennuwa to be open for tourists. Additionally, the team of researchers will analyze the paintings, the general condition of the tomb, and investigate the history of the tomb with the use of the newest technologies.

Dating the Tomb

The re-opening of the tomb was possible as a part of the research and the conservation program of the Qatari Mission for the Pyramids of Sudan. The program was created to restore and preserve the 53 Nubian pyramids at the al Begrawiya area, Nahar al Nil State, north of the National Capital Khartoum. The current investigation covers more than 100 pyramids in the royal cemeteries at Meroe. The international team of experts are working to preserve the heritage of the Egyptian “Black Pharaohs” of the 25th Dynasty (7th century BC), and their ancestors who ruled the Kingdom of Kush (currently located in Sudan) for four centuries.

The tomb of Queen Khennuwa is located 6 meters (19.7 feet) below the pyramid, which is typical for pyramids belonging to the Kingdom of Kush (Meroe). The pyramid has been dated to the early 4th century BC. However, according to research on the life of Queen Khennuwa, she lived in the 3rd century BC, suggesting that the chamber could have been previously prepared for someone else. According to Dows Dunham, her reign can be dated in the middle of the 3d century BC and her consort was perhaps Amanislo, a king of Kush.

Subterranean burial chambers of Queen Khennuwa at Meroe.

Subterranean burial chambers of Queen Khennuwa at Meroe. (P. Wolf/DAI)

The style of decoration in the tomb is very similar to the one used during the reign of the Egyptian 25th dynasty. Kings and queens of the Kingdom of Kush often used similar decorations to their great ancestors. The inscriptions discovered in the burial chambers also contain very similar texts to the funerary texts of the 25th Dynasty, further proving the strong influence of earlier Nubian traditions.

The Forgotten Queen and King of Kush

Queen Khennuwa is known only by her pyramid. In the decorated burial chamber, Queen Khennuwa is titled as the Royal Wife. There is also very little information about Amanislo. He was buried in another pyramid known as Beg. S5. He was most probably the successor of King Arakamani and predecessor of Amantekha.

According to the Historical Dictionary of Ancient Medieval Nubia, Amanislo is believed to be responsible for removing a pair of red granite couchant lion statues from Sulb to Napata. They were installed in Sulb by Amenhotep III (18th dynasty, Egypt), and perhaps reused by Tutankhamun. When they were transported to Napata, Amanislo decided to inscribe them with his name. Currently the lions are part of the collection of the British Museum in London.

The Great Pyramids of Meroe

The kingdom of Amanislo and Khennuwa was located about 200 km (124.3 miles) north of present-day Khartoum, Sudan. The pyramids at Meroe are not as tall as the pyramids in Giza, Egypt. They were discovered in the 1880s by the Italian explorer Giussepe Ferlini. Unfortunately, he destroyed the tops of many of the structures, looking for treasures within.

Aerial view of pyramids at Meroe in 2001.

Aerial view of pyramids at Meroe in 2001. (B N Chagny/CC BY SA 1.0)

Different than the ones found in Egypt, the pyramids of Meroe were built close to each other, so there are many pyramids in a one small section. The royal pyramid necropolis site of Meroe is officially a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Featured Image: Pyramid of Queen Khennuwa at the royal necropolis at Meroe. Source: P. Wolf/DAI

By Natalia Klimczak



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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