Sunday, June 10, 2018


Andrea Manzo, Eastern Sudan in its Setting: The Archaeology of a Region Far from the Nile Valley. Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology, 94. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2017. Pp. viii, 82. ISBN 9781784915582. £25.00. ISBN 9781784915599. ebook.

Reviewed by Rennan Lemos, University of Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

Open Access
[Chapter titles are listed below.]

The present volume is a good introduction to the archaeology of Eastern Sudan, and moreover is available as open access. It consists of a broad overview of the archaeology of Eastern Sudan, containing descriptions of environmental traits and a chronological sequence of the area. The book also contains descriptions of material assemblages characterising regional cultural units of each period covered in the overview. This evidence is described as basis for establishing the author's main argument, which aims to overcome past perceptions of Eastern Sudan as a marginal area. Manzo emphasises the region's complexity as part of a network of social interactions involving, for instance, long-distance trade within northeast Africa (ebony, ivory, resins and gold), and broader connections of the region with other neighbouring areas through the Red Sea.

Eastern Sudan remains an area we know little about. The book aims to raise awareness of the importance of the region and the role of its peoples in major processes taking place in northeast Africa. The author's principal objective is to explain "the main cultural changes that characterized [Eastern Sudan] from the 6th millennium BC to the 2nd millennium AD" (p. 4). Special emphasis is given to the transition to a nomadic way of life from around the 1st millennium BC to the mid-2nd millennium AD, and to how local traditions emerge and interact with the broader cultural landscape.

The book is divided into 5 chapters. Colour illustrations help the reader to visualise the detailed descriptions of material culture provided in the text. The three main chapters (2, 3 and 4) are dedicated to describing material assemblages that characterise cultural units and their chronological sequence, with discussions of the organisational and economic aspects of society.

In chapter 1, the reader will find an introduction to the archaeology of Eastern Sudan and a summary of fieldwork previously carried out in the region. Archaeologists started to systematically work in Eastern Sudan in the 1960s, although archaeologists have known the site of Mahal Teglinos (Kassala) from the beginning of the 20th century. The major explorations in the area, though, occurred in 1980s. These excavations intended to explore the relationships between the Nile Valley and the Ethio-Eritrean highlands. These explorations resulted in a long chronological sequence of Eastern Sudan. Manzo's book benefits greatly from the results of these excavations, but it also adds a lot to our knowledge of Eastern Sudan as it explores new evidence produced by recent excavations. The book also represents current interests in the archaeology of social organisation and networks.

The publication also presents a detailed description of environmental factors that contributed to the development of cultural and social activities in Eastern Sudan, e.g., how movements of people were related to natural processes. Climatic conditions in Eastern Sudan have varied between wetter and dryer periods. Seasonal rains and water supply influenced a great deal the distribution of areas richer in resources, which has determined human activity, including agriculture and grazing, as well as exploration of mineral and animal resources.

In chapter 2, Manzo states that Egyptologists have, in general, paid little attention to desert areas, but have focused on monumental sites, especially those that provide objects with inscriptions. Eastern Sudan does not usually provide such type of data, but other publications have also shown that the potential of such areas is immense in terms of uncovering interconnections between far away regions such as northern Egypt and Sudan (Darnell, 2002, 2013; Duistermaat and Barnard eds. 2012; Weschenfelder, 2014). 1 Eastern Sudan in its Setting comes as a further contribution to this debate.

The author argues that the study of any region of the Nile Valley must take into consideration the surrounding desert areas, although Eastern Sudan and other desert areas across the Nile Valley have been considered peripheral. Yet he points towards the fact that local traditions of Eastern Sudan were related to major global processes throughout the time period covered by the book. This is the case, for instance, with the similarities in the pottery produced by the Pan-Grave culture in the Nile Valley (Lower Nubia and Upper Egypt) and the Jebel Mokram group in Eastern Sudan, as discussed in chapter 3 (p. 51).

This book can be viewed within the movement in Sudanese archaeology that seeks to understand local complexity and the role of local traditions in broader social processes. Early discourses such as the 'Egyptianisation' of Nubia tended to diminish the role of indigenous traditions. But Manzo's book raises awareness of the important roles of local traditions in the construction of global ways of creating culture and society.

This is especially true when the author develops his argument of the 'nomadic melting pot' in chapter 4. Instead of being a retrograde region, Eastern Sudan was an area where various ways of life came together and were still part of broader networks of exchange of goods and cultural trends. For instance, local belief systems interacted with Christianity and Islam, producing "different funerary structures dating c. AD 1500…related to the variety characterizing the region also from a religious point of view" (p. 69). This probably resulted in a diversified setting where different cultural units coexisted and interacted, creating different material expressions as a result of those interactions. Following a trend that aims to overcome isolationist approaches to ancient societies, Manzo's book presents us with evidence for how the Eastern Desert in Sudan established itself as a crossroads from where objects and ideas circulated.

Overall, the book represents a very positive contribution to our knowledge of Eastern Sudan. The descriptions in the book are well presented and detailed, although it sometimes makes reading a heavy endeavour. The book consists of a thorough introduction that can be used as starting point by anyone aiming to explore the archaeology of the region.

Chapter titles

Chapter 1. Introduction
1.1 The archaeological exploration of the 'marginal' areas in Sudan
1.2 The archaeological exploration of Eastern Sudan
1.3 The present and past environment
1.4 The resources
1.5 Communications
Chapter 2. The emerging of a regional tradition (c. 6000-3000 BC)
2.1 The Pre-Saroba sites and the Amm Adam Group
2.2 The Malawiya Group
2.3 The Butana Group
2.4 A broader perspective on Mesolithic and Neolithic: the emerging complexity
Chapter 3. In a fledging network (c. 3000-1000 BC)
3.1 The Gash Group
3.2 The Jebel Mokram Group
3.3 Between Kush and Egypt
3.4 In the aktionsradius of the Pan-Grave
Chapter 4. The transition to nomadism (c. 1000 BC-AD 1500)
4.1 The Hagiz Group
4.2 The Khatmiya Group
4.3 The-Post Meroitic sites
4.4 Scatters of tumuli
4.5 The Christian sites
4.6 The Gergaf Group
4.7 The Islamic sites
4.8 A nomadic melting pot
Chapter 5. Final remarks and perspective of research


1.   Duiestermaat, K. and H. Barnard eds. 2012. The History of the Peoples of the Eastern Desert. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology; Darnell, J.C. 2002. Theban Desert Road Survey I. Chicago: Oriental Institute; Darnell, J.C. 2013. Theban Desert Road Survey II. New Haven: Yale Egyptological Publications; and Weschenfelder, P. 2014. "Linking the Eastern Desert and the Nile Valley: Pan-grave people from the Late Middle Kingdom to the Early New Kingdom", in J. Anderson and D. Welsby eds. The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. Leuven: Peeters: 357–366.

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