Archaeologists studying thousands of ancient funerary monuments in Eastern Sudan discovered they appear to be arranged like stars in galaxies. The tombs belong to the pastoral nomadic Beja people, considered by some as the “living descendants of ancient Egyptians.”
Stefano Costanzo, a Ph.D. student in archaeology at the University of Naples “L’Orientale,” led the researchers.
Using satellite imagery, the researchers discovered there were far more tombs than previously thought. Although they first thought they might find 1,000 monuments, they ended up finding ten times as many.
Then, they applied a spatial statistic tool developed to study the spatial pattern of galaxies, which they say is a first for archaeology.
Burial structures of ancient ancestors form the center while their descendants branch out something like constellations.
Galaxies of Ancient Tombs in Sudan
It sounds incredible that there may be tombs arranged like galaxies in the Nile Valley, only now being discovered. However, the researchers say the region has remained unexplored because of “generally lesser academic interest and lack of infrastructure.”
For the first time, the archaeologists used the Neyman-Scott Cluster process developed for cosmology to analyze the point pattern of the tombs.
“The application of NSC to our archaeological data disclosed a galaxy-like distribution of funerary monuments and suggested the existence of elusive factors affecting the spatial distribution of cemeteries.”
As Vice summarizes, the layout of the burials indicates older tombs and clusters around them.
“Running the distribution patterns through the cosmological tool exposed a ‘cosmogony of burials’ composed of ‘clusters composed of offspring points revolving around parents,’ according to the study. These parent sites, which are akin to galactic centers, coincide with locations with favorable burial conditions and available construction materials. The team speculates that the central sites may contain older tombs of cultural importance, with younger tombs radiating away from them, like the stars in a galactic disk.”
In addition to the data analysis, the local Kassala people’s oral traditions and cultural knowledge informed the archaeologists’ on-the-ground fieldwork. However, the team did not excavate any of the tombs.
Hopefully, the study findings will help protect the monuments in an area where treasure hunters have been drawn in search of gold.
Tombs Called Tumuli and Qubbas in Sudan
Notably, there are two types of funerary monuments. First, there are older earthen or stone-built tumuli (mounds) up to 20 meters across. In shape, they are rings, disks, or rounded cones. Although generally found in small groups or isolated, some of the tumuli are found in large clusters.
Second, there are Qubbas, square structures made of stone slabs measuring up to 5 meters on each side and 2 meters tall. These tombs are related to later Islamic practices.
Some are simple two-story structures tall with a domed top, while more recent ones were more elaborate with plaster and mud surfaces. The most recent structures included large “single tombs of holy men.'”
The qubbas can be found in groups of thousands in the foothills and small hilltops.
Using satellite imagery and GIS software, the team explored the data comprising as many as 783 tumuli and 10274 qubbas over an area of around 4100 square kilometers.
The Beja People in Sudan
The tombs belong to the Beja people still living in the area of Sudan. Thye have lived in the region between the Nile River and the Red Sea in Sudan, Eritrea, and eastern Egypt for at least 2000 years. From generation to generation, they passed down oral traditions about the tombs of their ancestors. Today, the Beja language is still widely spoken.
According to the researchers, the Beja people believe their ancestors were there much longer than 2000 years. Possibly, their ancestors lived in the area for 4000 years or more, dating as far back as the Palaeolithic period.
“In fact, Beja social memory suggests that they settled the region since ‘time immemorial,’ and ancient written sources mention their existence well before 2000 years ago.”
Today, the Beja people continue to preserve a semi-nomadic lifestyle, traveling vast distances with their flocks and herds of cattle and camels. Thus, they have been able to resist modernization and trade.
During the Roman era, the Beja people were known as the Blemmyes. In ancient Roman writings, they were stereotyped as barbarians and even headless beings with their faces on their chests.
Tales about headless beings with faces on their chests persisted for over a thousand years, appearing on maps, manuscripts, and even in Shakespeare. However, it’s not clear where this strange idea came from.
Praying to a Non-Egyptian Sun God?
Among the Blemmye’s religious practices was the worship of a sun god called Mandulis, also called Merul or Melul. According to Egyptian inscriptions, he is named “Merwel,” but he is hellenized in the Greek text, “Vision of Mandulis.”
Mandulis was sometimes depicted much like an Egyptian Ba-bird, a bird with a human head. The Ba-bird represents a person’s non-physical being. In other cases, Mandulis wore a crown of ram horns with plumes, sun disks, and cobras.
The Nubian Temple of Kalabsha (formerly Talmis) may have served as the center of the religion. Although Mandulis obviously has an Egyptian style, he may have been largely unknown to the Pharaohs.
Certainly, this raised many intriguing questions and connections to the worship of a sun god. For example, the strange Pharoah Akhenaten was the first to create a state-mandated monotheistic system based around the Aten sun disc as a god. His reign was characterized by social, political, and religious upheaval, destroying the old ways of worshipping multiple gods.
After his reign, his son, King Tut, worked to erase his father’s legacy and restore the old ways.
Today, the location of Akhenaten’s resting place remains mysteriously unclear. His death is thought to have been sometime around 1336-1334 BC.
According to the American Research Center in Egypt:
“… Akhenaten’s cause of death is unknown largely because it is unclear whether his remains have ever been located. The royal tomb intended for Akhenaten at Amarna did not contain a royal burial, which prompts the question of what happened to the body.”
Today, controversy about Akhenaten’s true whereabouts remains ongoing.
Did Akhenaten Inspire Religions Outside Egypt?
One wonders if perhaps Akhenaten may have been exiled into Nubia, later inspiring worship for another sun god? Similar ideas have been suggested before, such as in Ancient Civilizations “Dogons and the Sirius Connection,” which explored the idea that the tribe had connections to the “mysticism of Akhenaten.”
However, this idea is not necessarily accepted by the Dogon. For example, Naba Iritah Shenmira, a Dogon priest, discusses “the truth about Akhenaten and the origin of monotheism” below:
Also, there has been speculation, including by famous Sigmund Freud, that perhaps Akhenaten and the biblical Moses were either the same people or Thutmose, Akhenaten’s mysterious brother.
Could Akhenaten have been chased away, crossing a body of water carrying tablets conveying the “word of god?”
The History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series explored this idea further. (see below)