powrót do strony głównej
english version

Meroitic beadwork: an overview based on finds from Sai in ancient Nubia

Joanna Then-Obłuska


The paper provides a preliminary overview of beads and pendants found at two Meroitic cemeteries, 8-B-5.A and 8-B-52.B, on Saï Island. In the Meroitic period, strings of beads and pendants were an easily discerned motif in royal and private iconography, as well as in the arts and crafts, pottery included. The Saï bead and pendant assemblage is characterized by a variety of materials, techniques, and shapes that contribute significantly to a comparative study of the Meroitic bead collections. Alongside objects already identified at other sites, richly imbued with visible Egyptian and Greek influences, the Saï assemblage contributes some new bead types. Moreover, the originally strung objects and their fragments confirm known bead patterns used over a long time between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, the date of the Saï necropolises. Finally, a comparison with other sites enables the tracing of some regional differences in Meroitic beadwork.


Nubia, beadwork, Saï, Meroitic


Adams, W.Y. (2001). Meinarti II. The early and classic Christian phases [=BAR IS 966]. Oxford: Archaeopress

Allason-Jones, L. (1991). The finds. In D.A. Welsby and C. Daniels, Soba: Archaeological research at a medieval capital on the Blue Nile [=British Institute in Eastern Africa Memoir 12] (pp. 126–245). London: British Institute in Eastern Africa

Baker, B. (2008). Post-Meroitic to Early Christian Period mortuary activity at Ginefab: The 2007 field season of the UCSB-ASU Fourth Cataract Project. In B. Gratien (ed.), Actes de la 4eConférence internationale sur l’archéologie de la 4e cataracte du Nil: Villeneuve d’Ascq, 22 et 23 juin 2007 [=CRIPEL Supplément 7] (pp. 217–224). Villeneuve d’Ascq: Universite Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3

Bashir, M.S. (2007). Rescue excavation of a Late-Meroitic tomb at Botri, south of Khartoum. Preliminary report. Sudan & Nubia, 11, 94–97

Bates, O. and Dunham, D. (1927). Excavations at Gammai. In E.A. Hooton and N.I. Bates (eds), Varia Africana IV (pp. 1–121). Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Harvard University

Beck, H.C. (1928). I. – Classification and nomenclature of beads and pendants. Archeologia (Second Series), 77, 1–76

Bénazeth, D. (1992). L’art du métal au début de l’ère chrétienne. Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux

Chéhab, M. (1986). Fouilles de Tyr. La necropole IV. Bulletin du Musée de Beyrouth, 36, 1–268

Dunham, D. (1963). The west and south cemeteries at Meroë [=Royal Cemeteries of Kush 5]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Edwards, D.N. (1998). Gabati: A Meroitic, post-Meroitic and medieval cemetery in central Sudan I [=BAR IS 740]. Oxford: Archaeopress

Edwards, D.N. (2001). The Christianisation of Nubia: some archaeological pointers. Sudan & Nubia, 5, 89–96

El-Tayeb, M. (2012). Funerary traditions in Nubian early Makuria [=GAMAR Monograph Series 1]. Gdańsk: Muzeum Archeologiczne w Gdańsku

Emery, W.B. and Kirwan, L.P. (1938). The royal tombs of Ballana and Qustul. Cairo: Government Press

Farid, S. (1963). Excavations at Ballana 1858–1959. In Fouilles en Nubie, 1959–1961 (pp. 89–93). Cairo: Organisme général des Imprimeries gouvernementales

Ferrazzoli, A.F. (2012). Byzantine small finds from Elaiussa Sebaste. In B. Böhlendorf-Arslan and A. Ricci (eds), Byzantine small finds in archaeological contexts [=Byzas 15] (pp. 289–307). Istanbul: Ege Yayınları

Francigny, V. and David, R. (2013). Dating funerary material in the Meroitic Kingdom. Der Antike Sudan, 24, 105–115

Francis Jr., P. (2002). Asia’s maritime bead trade: 300 B.C. to the present. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press

Godlewski, W. (2008). Bishops and kings. The official program of the Pachoras (Faras) Cathedrals. In W. Godlewski and A. Łajtar (eds), Between the cataracts: Proceedings of the 11th Conference for Nubian studies, Warsaw University, 27 August – 2 September 2006, I. Main papers [=PAM Supplement Series 2.1] (pp. 263–282). Warsaw: Warsaw University Press

Godlewski, W. (2013). Archbishop Georgios of Dongola. Socio-political change in the kingdom of Makuria in the second half of the 11th century. PAM, 22, 663–677

Godlewski, W., Obłuski, A., and Zielińska, D. (2005). Uli Island. Preliminary report. PAM, 16, 339–350

Habachi, L. (1967). Kleinfunde. In H. Ricke, Ausgrabungen von Khor-Dehmit bis Bet el-Wali [=The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition 2] (pp. 68–70). Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Higuchi, T. and Saito, K. (eds). (2001). Tomb F, tomb of BWLH and BWRP: Southeast necropolis Palmyra, Syria [=Publication of Research Center for Silk Roadology 2]. Nara: Research Center for Silk Roadology

Jacquet-Gordon, H. and Bonnet, C. (1971). Tombs of the Tanqasi Culture at Tabo. JARCE, 9, 77–83

Kenoyer, J.M. (2003). The technology of stone beads: Bead and pendant making techniques. In J.W. Lankton, A bead timeline: A resource for identification, classification and dating I. Prehistory to 1200 CE (pp. 14–19). Wahington, DC: Bead Society of Greater Washington

Khairedinova, E.A. (2012). Early medieval crosses from the South-Western Crimea. In B. Böhlendorf-Arslan and A. Ricci (eds), Byzantine small finds in archaeological contexts [=Byzas 15] (pp. 417–440). Istanbul: Ege Yayınları

Kirwan, L.P. (1939). The Oxford University excavations at Firḳa. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Kołosowska, E. and Borcowski, Z. (2014). Once more on Kassinger Bahri cemetery. Final report. GAMAR, 11, 17–58

Lenoble, P. (1994). El-Hobagi. In B. Gratien and F. Le Saout (eds), Nubie, les cultures antiques du Soudan: à travers les explorations et les fouilles françaises et franco-soudanaises. Exposition organisée à la Fondation Prouvost, Marcq en Baroeul, du 16 septembre au 27 novembre 1994 (pp. 223–232). Villeneuve d’Ascq: Universite Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3

Lenoble, P. (2004a). The pre-Christian empire and kingdoms. In D.A. Welsby and J.R. Anderson (eds), Sudan: Ancient treasures. An exhibition of recent discoveries from the Sudan National Museum (pp. 186–192). London: British Museum Press

Lenoble, P. (2004b). El-Hobagi. In D.A. Welsby and J.R. Anderson (eds), Sudan: Ancient treasures. An exhibition of recent discoveries from the Sudan National Museum (pp. 193–197). London: British Museum Press

Longa, A. (2011). Beads and warriors. The cemetery at Hagar el-Beida 2 (Sudan). PAM, 20, 499–508

Maritan, L., Angelini, I., Gravagna, E., Dal Sasso, G., Artioli, G., Mazzoli, C., Zerboni, A., Ali Mohamed, A., Salvatori, S., and Usai, D. (2014). Archaeometry at Al Khiday: What’s for? Poster presented at the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies, Université de Neuchȃtel, 1–6 September 2014

Markowitz, Y.J. and Doxey, D.M. (2014). Jewels of ancient Nubia. Boston: MFA Publications Mills, A.J. (1982). The cemeteries of Qaṣr Ibrîm: A report of the excavations conducted by W.B. Emery in 1961 [=EES Excavation Memoirs 51]. London: Egypt Exploration Society

Montero Fenollós, J.L. and Al-Shbib, S. (eds). (2008). La necrópolis bizantina de Tall as-Sin (Deir ez-Zor, Siria): memorias del Proyecto Arqueológico Medio Éufrates Sirio-I [=Biblioteca del Próximo Oriente Antiguo 4]. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas

Munro-Hay, S.C. (ed.). (1989). Excavations at Aksum: An account of research at the ancient Ethiopian capital directed in 1972–4 by the late Dr. Neville Chittick [=British Institute in Eastern Africa Memoir 10]. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa

Näser, C. (1998). Decorated Meroitic bells and their significance for royal burials. CRIPEL, 17(3), 155–162

O’Connell, E. (2014). Catalogue of British Museum objects from the Egypt Exploration Fund’s 1913/14 excavation at Antinoupolis (Antinoë). In R. Pintaudi (ed.), Antinoupolis II [=Scavi e materiali 3] (pp. 467–504). Florence: Firenze University Press

Ogden, J. (1994). The technology of medieval jewelry. In D.A. Scott, J. Podany, and B.B. Considine (eds), Ancient & historic metals: Conservation and scientific research. Proceedings of a symposium organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute, November 1991 (pp. 153–182). Marina del Rey, CA: Getty Conservation Institute

Ogden, J. (2003). Connections between Islam, Europe, and the Far East in the medieval period: The evidence of jewelry technology. In P. Jett (ed.), Scientific research in the field of Asian art: Proceedings of the First Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art (pp. 2–7). London: Archetype

Pellicer Catalán, M. and Llongueras Campañà, M. (1965). Las necrópolis meroíticas del grupo “X” y cristianas de Nag-el-Arab (Argín, Sudán) [=Memorias de la Misión Arqueológica Española en Nubia 5]. Madrid: Dirección General de Relaciones Culturales

Petrie, W.M.F. (1914). Amulets. London: Constable & Co. Ltd Petrina, Y. (2014). Jewellery from Late Antique Egypt. British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan, 21, 31–43

Phillips, J. (1987). Test excavations at El Ghaddar. In K.A. Grzymski, Archaeological reconnaissance in Upper Nubia [=Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Publication 14] (pp. 35–41). Toronto: Benben Publications

Phillipson, D.W. (ed.). (2000). Archaeology at Aksum, Ethiopia, 1993–7 [=British Institute in Eastern Africa Memoir 17]. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa

Pokorná, A., Suková, L., Varadzin, L., Novák, J., Juřičková, L., Havelková, P., and Pokorný, P. (2014). An early post-Meroitic burial of an archer at Jebel Sabaloka. Multidisciplinary investigation. Poster presented at the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies, Université de Neuchȃtel, 1–6 September 2014

Presedo Velo, F., Blanco y Caro, R., and Pellicer Catalán, M. (1970). La necrópolis de Mirmad: (Argin Sur – Nubia sudanesa) [=Memorias de la Misión Arqueológica Española en Nubia 11]. Madrid: Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Dirección de Relaciones Culturales Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Dirección General de Bellas Artes

Russell, J. (1995). The archaeological context of magic in the Early Byzantine Period. In H. Maguire (ed.), Byzantine magic (pp. 35–50). Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Säve-Söderbergh, T. (1981). Late Nubian cemeteries [=Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia 6]. Copenhagen: Scandinavian University Books

Seland, E.H. (2012). Trade and Christianity in the Indian Ocean during Late Antiquity. Journal of Late Antiquity, 5(1), 72–86

Seland, E.H. (2014). Archaeology of trade in the Western Indian Ocean, 300 BC–AD 700. Journal of Archaeological Research, 22(4), 367–402

Stolz, Y. (2007). Early Byzantine jewellery and related finds from the underwater excavations in Abuqir Bay in Egypt: Their classification, production and function (unpubl. Ph.D. diss.). University of Oxford

Strouhal, E. (1984). Wadi Qitna and Kalabsha-South: Late Roman – early Byzantine tumuli cemeteries in Egyptian Nubia I. Archaeology. Prague: Charles University

Tait, H. (2006). 7000 years of jewellery (3rd ed.). London: British Museum Press

Then-Obłuska, J. (2013a). Medieval transcultural medium: Beads and pendants from Makurian and post-Makurian Dongola in Nubia. Preliminary assessment. PAM, 22, 679–720

Then-Obłuska, J. (2013b). A few millimeters via thousands of kilometers: An Asian “etched” carnelian bead in Early Makurian Nubia, Sudan. Der Antike Sudan, 24, 117–123

Then-Obłuska, J. (2014). The code of the hidden beads – From the Kerma to the Islamic Period according to the Fourth Cataract. Material from the Gdańsk Archaeological Museum Expedition excavations. In J.R. Anderson and D.A. Welsby (eds), The Fourth Cataract and beyond: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies [=British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1] (pp. 1069–1090). Leuven: Peeters

Then-Obłuska, J. (2015). Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt. Preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012). PAM, 24/1, 735–777

Then-Obłuska, J. (forthcoming). Short and long distance contacts of Late Nubia: A view through a bead hole. In Proceedings of the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies

Török, L. (1988). Late antique Nubia: History and archaeology of the southern neighbor of Egypt in the 4th–6th c. A.D. [=Antaeus 16]. Budapest: Archaeological Institute of The Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Vila, A. (1984). La nécropole de Missiminia III. Les sépultures ballanéennes [=La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au Sud de la cataracte de Dal (Nubie soudanaise) 14]. Paris: Centre national de la recherche scientifique

Welsby, D.A. (2002). The medieval kingdoms of Nubia: Pagans, Christians and Muslims along the Middle Nile. London: British Museum Press

Welsby, D.A. and Daniels, C. (1991). Soba: Archaeological research at a medieval capital on the Blue Nile [=British Institute in Eastern Africa Memoir 12]. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa

Welsby, D.A. and Welsby Sjöström, I. (2011). Post-Meroitic cow burial at the fourth Nile cataract. In V. Rondot, F. Alpi, and F. Villeneuve (eds), La pioche et la plume : autour du Soudan, du Liban et de la Jordanie. Hommages archéologiques à Patrice Lenoble (pp. 465–480). Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne

Wildung, D. (1996). Die spätmeroitische Kultur. In D. Wildung (ed.), Sudan: Antike Königreiche am Nil (pp. 381–390). Tübingen: Wasmuth

Williams, B. (1991). Noubadian X-Group remains from royal complexes in cemeteries Q and 219 and from private cemeteries Q, R, V, W, B, J, and M at Qustul and Ballana [=Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition 9]. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Williams, D. and Ogden, J. (1994). Greek gold: Jewelry of the classical world. New York: Abrams

Winter, T. (1996). Jewelry and miscellaneous objects. In G. Avni and Z. Greenhut, The Akeldama Tombs: Three burial caves in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem [=IAA Reports 1] (pp. 109–116). Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority

Winter, T. (2013). The glass vessels, beads and metal artifacts from the burial cave at ‘En Ya‘al, Jerusalem. ‘Atiqot, 76, 15*–22* [in Hebrew with English summary]

Zazzaro, C. (2013). The ancient Red Sea port of Adulis and the Eritrean coastal region: Previous investigations and museum collections [=BAR IS 2569]. Oxford: Archaeopress

Żurawski, B. (2005). The archaeology of Saffi Island (2004 season). GAMAR, 4, 199–218

Żurawski, B. (2008). Shemkhiya 2006/2007, from archaeology to history. In B. Gratien (ed.), Actes de la 4eConférence internationale sur l’archéologie de la 4ecataracte du Nil: Villeneuve d’Ascq, 22 et 23 juin 2007 [=CRIPEL Supplément 7] (pp. 143–160). Villeneuve d’Ascq: Universite Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3

Żurawski, B. (2010). Facing the deluge. A preliminary report on the salvage operations conducted in the Manatiq of Umm Saffaya, El-Ar, Ashkot and Shemkhiya in 2007–2009. In H. Paner and S. Jakobielski (eds), Proceedings of the international conference The Fourth Cataract Archaeological Salvage Project 1996–2009, Gdańsk, 2–4 July, 2009 [=GAMAR 7] (pp. 189–215). Gdańsk: Muzeum Archeologiczne w Gdańsku