Star clusters considered in the location of ancient tombs of Sudan

Star clusters considered in the location of ancient tombs of Sudan
Star clusters considered in the location of ancient tombs of Sudan

Scientists have pioneered a cosmological approach to archaeological sites to answer questions about the location of ancient burial ensembles in eastern Sudan. As it turned out, burials there are distributed in accordance with environmental and social factors, and their clusters resemble stars moving in the gravitational field of the galaxy as a whole.

Jebel Maman

Among the many archaeological sites in the world, there are burial grounds, tombs, barrows, and so on. Sometimes this is not just inhumation - the practice of burying the body of the deceased - but also evidence of the social order and culture. In the last millennia, people have created complex burial ensembles that have influenced the landscape and landscape, they are especially well preserved in arid regions, since there, in fact, there is no vegetation.

One of these archaeological sites focused on the authors of a new work - scientists from the University of the Orient in Naples (Italy), the School of History, Classics and Archeology at the University of Newcastle (UK) and the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums in Khartoum (Sudan). Their research, published in PLOS One, focuses on the burial ensembles of eastern Sudan, from the Islamic tombs of the modern Beja people to ancient burial mounds thousands of years old. The regions close to the Nile Valley have traditionally been more fully studied, in contrast to the territories far from this river. And until recently, they remained relatively unexplored due to generally less interest from scientists, as well as a lack of infrastructure.

One example is the hilly region of Kassala and the Eritrean border zone, where thousands of burial monuments form an integral part of the landscape. Some of these are known as burial mounds - simple towering structures found throughout African prehistoric times and beyond. Those located in Eastern Sudan are of obscure origin and date back to around the first millennium. Another category of monuments is associated with medieval Islam: such impressive and well-preserved tombs are known as kubbs - in the pan-Arab world, this term refers to Islamic tombs and shrines (usually covered with a dome).


Although the kubbas are numerous in Kassala, their origins and architectural style have been a matter of controversy. At first, historians attributed these structures to the ancient representatives of the Beja people, who peacefully converted to Islam, or to the scattered descendants of the wealthy inhabitants of the ruined city of Badi. Recently, some scholars attribute the appearance of the kubb to the end of the centuries-old conflict between Arab miners from Upper Egypt and the bej, as a result of which the latter converted to Islam.

The interpretation and study of such burial assemblies is significant. Deserts are mostly perceived as apparently empty places, but their archaeological sites are a bright trace of the Anthropocene. The aim of the new study was a comprehensive interpretation of the factors underlying the genesis and evolution of the architectural landscape of Kassala. Scientists did not consider the kurgans and kubbs as separate burials: they focused on their relationship with the physical and cultural geography of the region as a whole.

The team collected data on more than 10,000 burial sites scattered over an area of ​​over 4,000 square kilometers and discovered during fieldwork, as well as using remote sensing using satellite images.

“Archaeological records from the Gash river floodplain and the Atbar valley suggest that ancient people in this region date back to the Paleolithic era, and the flourishing of cultures took place, in particular, in the Holocene. Hundreds of prehistoric, protohistoric and later archaeological sites are located along the paleochannels of the Gash River and at the foot of isolated cliffs. During the Holocene, people living there gradually abandoned a sedentary lifestyle, which was facilitated by the then humid climate, which allowed cultivating the land, and moved on to a semi-nomadic cattle-breeding economy. Ancient written sources suggest that the Beja people settled in the region more than 2,000 years ago. And they still lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle,”the scientists write.


The location of burial structures was analyzed using the Neumann-Scott model, one of the most influential theorems in permutation group theory, originally developed to study the spatial structures of stars and galaxies. As it turned out, hundreds of burials in Kassala are grouped around central, "parental" points, which are, apparently, more important tombs. This reminded scientists of how stars of a common origin cluster around the centers of gravity and move in the galactic field as a whole.

According to scientists, in general, the location of the monuments is determined by the environment: if you look at a large scale, it is noticeable that they are concentrated in regions where the landscape is more favorable and convenient for transporting building materials. But on a smaller scale, social factors are visible: tombs were usually built close to previous buildings, thereby forming, for example, family burials.

Popular by topic