Medieval sites

Having been thinly populated since the 2nd millennium BC, the Batn al-Hajar saw the appearance of many new settlements in the early medieval period – the same period which saw the development of the kingdom of Nobadia. This widespread colonisation, reaching into nearly all areas, was made possible by the availability of waterwheel (saqia) irrigation. Amongst the many small farmsteads and hamlets which clustered around the rare patches of alluvial soil, a number of churches and what may be monastic sites were identified by the ASSN project. Most of the churches seem likely to date to the later medieval period, from c.12th century CE.

16-S-1 F363-9Remains of mudbrick church at Duweishat East [16-S-1] looking west across river


There was an unusual concentration of churches in the central Batn al-Hajar around Semna, an otherwise quite thinly populated area during the medieval period. This  church [16-E-16] was at Semna South; the photo is looking east towards the river the building had stone foundations with a mudbrick superstructure, which had been largely eroded away [photo ASSN F321:07].


Another of the Semna churches on the west bank was this mudbrick example [16-E-19], seen from the west end looking towards the Nile and the east bank beyond. [photo ASSNF328:03]


In the most barren parts of the Batn al-Hajar, traces of settlements were more ephemeral, as is seen in the remains of this late medieval settlement [15-Y-28] on the west bank at Melik en-Nasr. [photo ASSNF500:12]


Some small islands provided secure locations, apparently also most favoured in the late and post-medieval (Ottoman) periods. At the southern end of Saras the island of Diffinarti [11-P-1] was one such site. The sandy west bank can be seen behind.  [photo ASSNF335:2]

One of the best preserved medieval churches in the region was situated at Sonki West (Sonqi Tino) – site 21-D-5, first identified during the 1963-1964 reconnaissance, this was largely buried in blown sand, which had ensure the excellent preservation of much of the site.

Location of Sonqi Tino church (site 21-D-5), deeply buried in sand (29 March 1964)
Fragment of wall painting – close to the surface – beneath mudbrick vault within the church at Sonki West (site 21-D-5) – (29 March 1964)

This was later fully excavated and recorded by an Italian mission over 4 seasons (1967-1970). A notable dicovery there was some remarkable wall paintings, including a depiction of a Nubian king. Despite its location, in an isolated and thinly populated area, this church clearly enjoyed a special significance. An account of the Italian Mission, with some photographs of the site can be found here.

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