(National Geographic’s November 1990 Issue, page 96-125)
Sudan’s Kingdom of Kush
by Archaeologist Timothy Kendall
Jebel Barkal Pinnacle
The natural pinnacle on the east front of Jebel Barkal. Inscriptions above a niche near the 260-foot summit had been spotted through binoculars. The climb on the top was awarded with a view across millet fields and date groves overlying ancient Napata beside the Nile. The climbers found sockets cut into the rock that could have held logs. Such timbers, hoisted with two shadoofs, probably formed scaffolding to give workman access to the niche, likely repository for a statue.
Lowered to that space, Kendall (above) was probably the first person to visit it since antiquity. The two central panels bore the cartouche of Taharqa, while one to the left bore the cartouche of Nastasen, a Kushite king who had reworked the monument three centuries later to include himself. Weathering had left only the midsection with hopelessly incomplete hieroglyphic texts, although mention of “Asian Bedouin” on the east panel and “Libyan nomads” on the west suggested that Taharqa had proclaimed his military exploits. Nastasen had added small figures carved in relief, which praised his name and that of his glorious ancestors. The surprise came in discovering small, evenly spaced holes all over the smoothed surface, some still containing bronze nails. I knew what this meant from certain temples in Egypt. At one time a sheet of gold, held by nails fixed to the stone, had covered the entire panel and its texts. All traces of the gold had vanished, stripped off perhaps by winds or daring vandals.
Although the texts, carved at the highest, most inaccessible point on the pinnacle, had been written only for the eyes of gods, the kings had intended the gold to be the most conspicuous feature of the mountain, striking awe in mortals below and afar. Facing south-eastward across the river and perfectly positioned at this great height to catch the first rays of the rising sun, this brilliant reflector, for much of the day, would cast a beam of light out into the desert, visible from a great distance. To caravans from the south it would have been a beacon welcoming travelers to the holy city of Napata and the residence of it god, Amun.
Exploring next an alcove carved below the inscribed panel, I examined a square-cut depression in the floor. Based on evidence from other ancient examples, it appeared to be a niche for a statue four to five feet high. At either end of the alcove were remnants of sheltering walls of mortar and rough stone. Large cavities farther down the crumbling face of the pinnacle had also been filled with stone and plaster for reinforcement.
The ancients saw the shape of their sacred cobra, crowned with a sun disk, in the pinnacle (top left, overlay), Kendall believes. He found support for the theory in a temple (right) the pinnacle, where ram-headed Amun is shown seated inside the mountain with a rearing cobra outside.
Here in the delta, Piye accepts the homage of vanquished princes and a tribute of horses.
High-crowned images of Hathor and Mut, Amun’s concort, flank a doorway in the temple of Mut, where royal births were probably celebrated.
In the painting based on this site, columns portraying the god Bes, protector of women in childbirth, gaze on a procession taking an infant to bathe in the Nile.