UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

(Archaeology of) Religion in New Kingdom Nubia Lemos, Rennan


In the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BC), the ancient Egyptians colonized Nubia, the area which today comprises the south of Egypt from Aswan and the north of Sudan until Khartoum. Egyptologists have traditionally believed that, in this period, Nubians had been 'Egyptianized'. This presupposed that Nubians fully adopted Egyptian culture, consequently converting to Egyptian religion. In the New Kingdom, following an initial period of military expansion and conquest, the ancient Egyptians reoccupied previously built fortresses in Lower Nubia and erected temple-towns across Lower and Upper Nubia. These templetowns included a temple and other cultic spaces, administrative and housing areas and associated cemeteries. Evidence for religion in New Kingdom colonial Nubia comes from three different levels: the temple (state religion), houses/workshops/magazines (personal piety) and cemeteries (mortuary beliefs and practices). From an archaeological viewpoint, an overall substitution of local Nubian to Egyptian styles and patterns is apparent. However, today, archaeology is revealing a more complex context of cultural interactions between Egyptian colonisers and Nubian populations, including negotiations of identities and cultural entanglements. Moving away from previous colonial perspectives based on ideas such as acculturation, today archaeologists emphasize Nubian agency in the adoption, choice, refusal and maintenance of cultural patterns, which includes religious affiliation. Therefore, it remains hard to determine whether local populations converted to Egyptian religion or not, especially as today we accept that artefacts behave in different ways independently of how they look like. Egyptian-style temples, houses and material culture offer us glimpses of religious experiences in New Kingdom colonial Nubia. However, only a contextual approach allows us to detect religious affiliations in the light of complex and diverse processes of cultural perpetuity and change in colonial Nubia. Temples were dedicated to Egyptian deities, most importantly Amun-Ra (e.g., Jebel Barkal), but also Hathor (e.g., Mirgissa), Horus (e.g., Buhen), the deified pharaoh (e.g., Soleb temple didicated to Neb-Maat-Ra, Lord of Nubia) and even the Aten during the Amarna Period (evidence from Sedeinga, Sai, Sesebi and Kawa). Around 50 temples dedicated to Egyptian deities were found in Nubia. Temple ritual involved offerings to the gods (based on iconography), including incense and food (conical bread moulds are usually associated with temples) and votive offerings to Hathor at Mirgissa. Sai has been suggested as a solar cult centre: a non-funerary pyramid located in the New Kingdom cemetery on the island has been interpreted as a solar temple. Priests and other personnel associated with temples in New Kingdom Nubia lived in settlements across the Middle Nile and are known from titles on inscribed objects and architectural remains from settlements and cemeteries. Beyond cultic spaces, New Kingdom temples in Nubia also included a series of functional areas. Evidence for household religion includes pottery (incense burners with resin and offering platters), faience bowls potentially associated with domestic shrines, ancestor busts (which suggest a similar practice to Egyptian ancestor cult at home), female figurines usually assciated with fertility rituals, and various amulets/pendants representing deities etc. Animal figurines (namely cattle), typically of previous Nubian cultures, are sometimes found at New Kingdom settlements. Evidence from cemeteries point to commemoration and memory during funerals, when graves goods would be displayed to the community. Ritual displays would allow people to express cultural affiliation. Offerings of food and beer were placed in tombs, as well as oil/perfume. Animal sacrifices are occasionally found, a typical Nubian practice. Pouring black resin onto bodies, coffins and other objects, including canopic jars, was also part of the funerary ritual. This would point to mummification practices, although no mummified human remains were found in Nubia. Bodies were wrapped and placed in coffins. Remains of shrouds and the position of body members suggest manipulation of the body to fit communities' expectations of death. Grave goods included coffins (not often preserved), jewellery, cosmetic items, tools, and more specialized items such as shabtis and heart scarabs. The Egyptian Book of the Dead usually appears on these objects, but it is difficult to determine if Egyptian mortuary texts in Nubia indicate any Osirian beliefs locally. The position of certain objects around the body and the special placement of amulets in the hands or around the neck of individuals suggest some intention to protect the dead for the afterlife.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International