The past is a dif­fer­ent place, if you dig deep

Kush ob­vi­ously needed a team of spin doc­tors, or per­haps a tourism min­istry

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Susan Kuro­sawa

IT’S ev­ery arche­ol­o­gist’s dream to make a dis­cov­ery that turns his­tory on its head. This open­ing an­nounce­ment on The Black Pharaohs leads us on a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery. Our des­ti­na­tions are the sand dunes and date palm- shaded set­tle­ments along the Nile in the an­cient king­dom of Kush, the re­gion now known as north­ern Su­dan.

At the glo­ri­ous peak of its 3000- year his­tory, the Nu­bian king­dom of Kush had about 300 pyra­mids and was home to fab­u­lous gold­mines. But it is Egypt that con­tin­ues to be con­sid­ered the colos­sus of the an­cient world. Kush ob­vi­ously needed a team of spin doc­tors, or per­haps an ac­tive min­istry of tourism, as its gilded neigh­bour grabbed all the glory.

This 2004 doco is from the BBC’s Time Watch se­ries, a col­lec­tion of six pro­grams that re­assesses his­tory. In this case, our knowl­edge and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the epic story of Kush’s rise to power ap­pears to have been com­pro­mised by a lack of arche­o­log­i­cal and doc­u­mented proof.

Kush was an evolved and agri­cul­tur­ally rich civil­i­sa­tion but many his­to­ri­ans be­lieved it was no more than a mi­nor trad­ing part­ner of Egypt, a vas­sal prov­ince rich in gold and re­sources. How­ever, in one re­cent dis­cov­ery, seven stat­ues up to 2.7m tall and in­scribed with the names of Kushite kings were un­cov­ered by arche­ol­o­gists in a pit in Kerma, south of the Third Cataract of the Nile. Two of th­ese so- called black kings, Ta­harqa and Tanouta­mon, also ruled Egypt from about 760BC to 660BC.

Vi­vian Davies of the Bri­tish Mu­seum be­lieves he can put the his­tory books right through a se­ries of fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant finds; he points to a set of re­cently un­cov­ered heiro­glyphs that, he says, prove the in­vad­ing kings of Kush held court over Egypt for a flour­ish­ing cen­tury.

By use of clever dig­i­tal magic, we see the pyra­mids and palaces of Kush as they would have looked in their golden hey­day. But more com­pelling than th­ese re- cre­ations are scenes of arche­ol­o­gists toil­ing in the field, shar­ing with view­ers the minu­tiae of their con­tin­u­ing finds.

We are shown rows of shell beads that once adorned the fine cos­tumes of Kushite sol­diers and burial cham- bers long stripped of their mum­mies and jew­elled trea­sures but em­bel­lished with pre­served heiro­glyphs of rulers with co­bra crowns and scenes of life along the Nile.

Out there in the dif­fi­cult heat and seem­ingly lim­it­less desert sands, arche­ol­o­gists from the Bri­tish Mu­seum and their col­leagues ap­pear to work with no sense of time or ur­gency. Each spade­ful of sand, peb­ble or shell could hold the key to an­other mys­tery of the an­cient world.

Push for Kush: Arche­ol­o­gist Derek Welsby at work in north­ern Su­dan

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