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A defensive monument along the Middle Nile.

Solved: Researchers Uncover Secrets of Over 100 Ancient Monumental Structures Across the Middle Nile

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After a long period of speculation, a team of Polish archeologists has discovered the functions of almost one hundred monumental structures across the Middle Nile, which were built between the 4 th and 6 th centuries AD across an area of approximately 500 km, from today's south of Egypt to central Sudan. The defensive structures served as refuges for the local population, who could gather inside behind the safety of the high walls during times of unrest.

According to PAP, the project led by Bogdan Żurawski, Head of Nubiology at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures, was subsidy granted by the Foundation for Polish Science, to investigate the structures in the context of the formation of the Christian kingdoms in the valley of the Middle Nile.  As Professor Bogdan Żurawski said to PAP:

"Archaeological landscape of Egypt is dominated by the pyramids, and Sudan - by stone defensive structures from the time just before - and just after the Christianisation of pagan kingdoms in the mid-sixth century. They are literally all over the whole valley of the Middle Nile"

These defensive structures were built 20-30 km apart, and between them observation towers were placed.

A defensive monument along the Middle Nile.

A defensive monument along the Middle Nile. Credit: Bogdan Żurawski / PAP

According to the researchers, some of the ramparts were a few meters wide and a few meters high and were made of mud brick or stones, or sometimes of combination of both. The blocks were bonded with mud mortar and the walls covered an area of several hectares.

In a few of the fortresses, the team of Egyptologists discovered traces of trebuchets, ballistic devices that tossed stones at distances up to 100 meters. But as well their military function, the researchers found evidence that the monuments also had a refugial function. The lack of homes around the monuments also points to this.

Regarding the discovery Żurawski said:

"The scale is unbelievable. After last research season, we are certain that the majority of the fortresses our team studied originally served as refuges, which means that in times of unrest local population would find refuge behind the huge walls and wait out the danger"

A defensive monument along the Middle Nile.

A defensive monument along the Middle Nile. Credit: Bogdan Żurawski / PAP

During the investigations, the main interest of the researchers was a rectangular walled structure with a church and a well in the middle in Selib. For a long time, the function of this monument was unclear. The wall did not contain any corner towers and was quite thin compared to other walls from this period, so it did not seem to have a defensive function.  However, after a year of working there, researchers unearthed sixteen bands of stone stairs leading to the top of the wall, which would have allowed quick access to the top of the wall to take defensive action, confirming that this monument was indeed used for defense.  

The researchers commented on the fact that the only brick building from this period was usually the church. Professor Zurawski explained that in the medieval mentality, the church was also a place where people searched for protection. “Episodes of the siege of Constantinople by the Arabs, known from descriptions of the chroniclers, testify to the wonderful role of Divine Providence in the defence of the walls," said Prof. Żurawski. In one example investigated by the researchers, a church continued its function within an abandoned fortress until the 17 th century.

Powerful fortifications like this one were built to guard against invasion and rebellion in Nubia, and control the area's rich resources, particularly gold. Some walls measured 24 feet thick, and were garrisoned by both Nubians and Egyptians over the span of history.

Powerful fortifications like this one were built to guard against invasion and rebellion in Nubia, and control the area's rich resources, particularly gold. Some walls measured 24 feet thick, and were garrisoned by both Nubians and Egyptians over the span of history. ( public domain )

Top image: A defensive monument along the Middle Nile. Credit: Bogdan Żurawski / PAP

By Natalia Klimzcak

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