There are plenty of secrets hiding within the ancient pyramids in Africa. Scientists and archaeologists dedicate their lives to deciphering hieroglyphics, placements of monuments, and much more so that we can better understand the fascinating history. One such case is the flooded tomb of Nastasen.
Underneath a 2,300-year-old Sudanese pyramid are three chambers connected by a tunnel where a Pharaoh secretly remained. An excessive amount of water made reaching this Pharoh nearly impossible. That is until two archeologists dove underwater to take a closer look.
In Sudan, Pharaohs Are Buried Below The Pyramids
The Sudanese and Egyptian pyramids carry a critical distinction between the two. In Egypt, they buried their Pharaohs inside of the structures. In Sudan, the Pharaohs would go underneath the monuments.
It is beneath these “forgotten pyramids” that a group of archaeologists put on their wetsuits and had a jaw-dropping finding. Sure, it took a lot of perseverance, but it was all worth it in the end. This discovery is something no one could’ve imagined…
Nastasen, The Pharaoh of Nubia
Kristen Romey and other explorers figured out exactly where they needed to go. The former pharaoh of Nubia, Nastasen, rested underneath a pyramid in northern Sudan. There are over 20 ancient pyramids spread across 170 acres, making the location known as Nuri a fascinating site for Romey and others to explore.
Before they could get started, they needed to excavate the processional staircase leading to the chambers well beneath Nastasen’s pyramid. It was going to be an exceptional journey.
Help From Pearce Paul Creasman
Romey couldn’t do this task alone, as another archaeologist by the name of Pearce Paul Creasman provided as much help as he could. Creasman received a grant from National Geographic to work on this exciting project.
As he awaited Romey at the stairs, he warned her, “It’s really deep today. There’s not going to be any headroom in the first chamber.” He said all of this as the murky waters were already up to his chest.
Getting A Feel For The Environment
Weeks before linking up with Romey, Creasman visited and went inside of the flooded tomb of Nastasen. The time came for both of them to work together to find out the secrets of the three chambers.
“Sweat drips into the dive mask hung around my neck as I negotiate my way down a narrow, ancient staircase cut deep into the bedrock,” Romey brilliantly explained. Things weren’t going to be easy as Romey and Creasman descended further into the depths…
“With more than 20 ancient pyramids sprawling across 170 acres of Sudanese desert, Nuri is perhaps the most stunning archaeological site you’ve never heard of,” National Geographic reports. Nuri is an archaeologist’s dream.
Romey and Creasman were given the chance to uncover ancient secrets no one else before them had been granted access to. The expedition required them to be intensely focused and mentally prepared, as to not get stifled by the fantastic findings they hoped to find while on this mission.
Nastasen’s Resting Place
Nastasen’s pyramid is large. It rests on a small area on ground-level, reasonably close to the Nile River’s east bank found north of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Research estimates that the pyramids were built between 650 B.C. and 300 B.C.
Even though the tomb was miles away from the Nile, it became prone to flooding over time. This resulted in all three chambers of the pharaoh’s resting area being submerged in water. It’s essential that Romey and Creasman were trained as underwater archaeologists.
More To It Than Just A Tomb
Nastasen’s resting place was only a piece of the greatness surrounding the explorers. There are plenty of towering structures in Nuri apart of the system built under the Napatan culture.
Upon more in-depth examination, researchers found that some pyramids are in the dry areas as well as both sides of the Nile formerly apart of Nubia. The constructions around this historic river have particular elements and architecture unique to the region near Nuri, signaling to researchers that the same people built them.
Underlings Of the Kushite Kings
While what’s underneath possesses the utmost importance, the pyramids themselves were also very vital. They represented the final resting place of the Kushite kings and queens. The “black pharaohs” were underlings of the Egyptian emperors.
When the New Kingdom fell to pieces, the black pharaohs’ status rose. Around 760 B.C., Kushites began to take over Egypt, and they worked tirelessly to claim their territory. It wasn’t long before the land they occupied started to take shape.
Finding Inspiration From The Past
They say history repeats itself, and that was the case with the five black pharaohs. They looked to the past for inspiration, and that’s when they decided to mark their graves as their ancestors did by building pyramids.
Over 80 royals received a proper burial in Nuri, but not all of them had their graves crowned by pyramids. Of those buried, only about one in four received that honor, making them the highest of the high.
Explaining The Value Of The Kushites
In July 2019, Creasman explained the historical impact and importance of the Kushites to the BBC. The strategic location of the Kushites was what stood out in Creasman’s explanation to the BBC.
“[The Kushites] were on the only corridor across the Sahara where you can pass through the desert in sight of drinking water the whole way, so that put them in a very important position,” he said. “This pre-dates the arrival of the camel.”
Unable To Ignore The Kushites
Once the Kushites came into power in 2000 B.C., their influence ebbed and flowed, but you couldn’t ignore their region because of their production of gold. Still, nothing stopped the neo-Assyrians from running the black pharaohs out of Egypt in the seventh century B.C.
After getting ran out of town, they continued to reign over the land they claimed through the fourth century A.D. That’s when their rule came to an end.
Initiating Burials In Nuri
The belief is that Pharaoh Taharqa is the one who initiated royal burials in Nuri, as his pyramid is still the largest in the area. Taharqa’s descendants continued to use the grounds as a cemetery well after he passed.
Many others would begin to use the area for the same reasons, too, even after the Kushites vanished. Before all of that took place, other historical events happened that would shape the way the Kushites lived.
A Story From The Bible
For those that read and know the Bible, the name Taharqa might ring a bell. In the Old Testament, there’s a story of Taharqa fighting off an Assyrian attack on Jerusalem.
Taharqa won the battle in such a landslide that it resulted in extended peace for Egypt and the Kushites. Since there wasn’t any fighting to focus on, the pharaoh shifted his attention towards construction. Following the triumphant victory, it seemed like perfect timing.
A Difficult Task Ahead
The counterpart pyramids in Egypt had their leaders buried inside of the structures, whereas the Kushite Kings were placed under the monuments. Exploring the grounds of Nubia would be a much more robust project than a typical mission in Egypt.
A century ago, a Harvard Egyptologist by the name of George Reisner excavated the chambers underneath Taharqa’s pyramid. “His field notes show that many of the tombs he encountered were already inundated with groundwater percolating from the nearby Nile, making traditional dirt excavation unsafe or impossible,” Romey noted.
Reisner’s Inaccurate Findings
Due to Reisner never publishing his findings (someone scraped together what little documentation there was and made a report in 1955), many ignored Nuri. Reisner did no justice for the Kushite Kings.
He dismissed “the Kushite kings as racially inferior and their accomplishments as an inheritance of older Egyptian traditions,” Romey reported. Even after gaining global attention in 1922 thanks to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s burial site, Nuri still wasn’t adequately searched. The underwater factor made things difficult for archaeologists.
Creasman Takes The Challenge
In 2018, Creasman saw a unique chance to search the watery tombs that Reisner couldn’t enter a century ago. As both an underwater archaeologist and Egyptologist, Creasman knew he had the skills for the endeavor.
Once Creasman decided to zero-in on Nastasen, the hard work began. Nastasen was the last king buried in Nuri, so he had the most mediocre piece of real estate in the necropolis. “Creasman’s team spent the 2018 field season and part of the 2019 season digging out the staircase,” Romey said.
Kristin Romey Joins The Party
When Romey makes it to Nuri, Creasman did a lot of groundwork that allowed Romey to smoothly join the operation. The waters were high just as Creasman warned, so Romey had to work smart.
She dived into the first chamber, moving around carefully. “Every movement kicks up a cloud of ultra-fine sediment that makes it almost impossible to see what’s directly in front of me,” she said. It wouldn’t be long before she found her way to the second and third chambers…
A Special Finding
“Swimming through a low, rounded, rock-cut doorway, we enter the third chamber,” Romey noted. “The stone sarcophagus is dimly visible below us—a thrilling sight—and we spot the pit that was hastily dug by Reisner’s nervous worker a century ago.”
Since Reisner didn’t do such a great job, that left the door wide open for Romey and Creasman to become the heroes of this excavation. Creasman had strict objectives and one of which was to “thoroughly excavate ‘Reisner’s pit’ to see what he overlooked.” Romey and Creasman kept hope alive that robbers didn’t already go through the tomb…
Some Tantalizing Discoveries
As the duo continued their mission, they came across clues and items that led them to believe robbers hadn’t already looted Nastasen’s tomb. One thing that helped them think this was the rising groundwater.
As they rummaged through the water, they “discover paper-thin foils of pure gold that likely once covered precious figurines that long ago dissolved in the water,” which are easy targets for thieves as well. At that time, they had to keep their focus on the objectives already outlined. That didn’t include looking into the coffin.
The Next Plan Of Action
Since those adventures took place in 2019, the new objective for 2020 is to finally look inside the coffin. During their final dive in the chambers, Romey and Creasman discussed how audacious it would be to excavate a 2,300-year-old royal underground, but Creasman remained optimistic.
“I think we finally have the technology to be able to tell the story of Nuri, to fill in the blanks of what happened here,” Creasman says. “It’s a remarkable point in history that so few know about. It’s a story that deserves to be told.”