Aerial view of Sanam Temple, January 2018

King Taharqa, the 25th Dynasty’s master builder, constructed an extensive network of Amun temples throughout Egypt and Sudan in the mid-first millennium BC. Sanam Temple, located near the fourth cataract of the Nile in modern-day Sudan, stands out among these: firstly, it was located in the 25th Dynasty’s heartland of Napata, surrounded by an extensive royal monumental landscape. Secondly, it is relatively well preserved and, crucially, archaeologically accessible, unlike the majority of surviving Amun temples in Nubia. The temple was first excavated over a century ago in the course of a single season by Francis Llewellyn Griffith, who published only a preliminary report of his work, and has remained untouched and understudied since then. Despite its neglect, it has huge potential to provide evidence of the place Egyptian visual and material culture had in first millennium BC Nubia, and to address the question of why the Nubian kings used it so extensively. The Sanam Temple Project was initiated in 2017 by Dr Kathryn Howley (Christ’s College, University of Cambridge) to investigate how this imposing, Egyptian-style monument would have been integrated in the daily lives of the Nubian people who lived and worked around it.

Left, a shabti mould discovered by Griffith at Sanam Temple. Ashmolean Museum 1921.941

One of Griffith’s most interesting discoveries at the temple was terracotta moulds for the production of faience shabtis, destined for the royal tombs at Nuri. The Egyptian appearance of the moulds is striking: the shabtis demonstrate several features that are impeccably Egyptian, including a “back pillar” that was not introduced in Egypt until the 26th Dynasty, making these Nubian-manufactured examples exceedingly trendy objects that followed the latest developments in shabti design in Egypt. The shabtis’ apparent production location at the temple site is also unusual. Faience objects were only produced in domestic contexts in Egypt, and the presence of production facilities rather at a temple in Nubia is therefore an intriguing difference in practice for the same object type in different cultural contexts. Griffith did not locate these production areas, however, and our knowledge of these objects’ manufacture is thus limited.

The Sanam Temple Project’s first season in January 2018 undertook a program of test trenching around the temple, to ascertain the degree of archaeological deposits still remaining and the possible location of any production areas. To the rear of the temple, just outside the temple walls, we uncovered an area from which large quantities of faience beads, chunks of molded faience, and shapeless “wasters” (by-products of the faience manufacturing process) were recovered. Unusually large amounts of charcoal were also found, suggesting that a kiln may have been used in the vicinity. Our next season will fully investigate these apparent faience production areas and further illuminate the social processes by which presumably Nubian craftsmen made Egyptian objects in the latest styles for the Nubian royal family, quite literally in the shadow of the Egyptian temple’s monumental walls.

Selection of faience beads, fragments and wasters recovered from faience production areas at Sanam Temple in January 2018

Location of production areas to the north-east of temple walls

Our excavations also uncovered at least two meters of stratigraphy outside the first pylon of the temple, demonstrating that, despite Griffith’s earlier excavations, there is still great potential to generate new insight into the ancient occupation of the temple. This is especially the case outside the temple walls, where both archival and archaeological investigation suggests Griffith did not venture. We look forward to working with the EES in future seasons to uncover more examples of the interplay between Egyptian appearance and Nubian practice at Sanam Temple.


The Sanam Temple Project would like to thank the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Sudan, for their indispensable assistance, especially Dr Abdelrahman Ali Mohamed and Mr El Hassan Ahmed. Thanks are also due to the Levy White Foundation for their financial support; and Liam McNamara, the Ashmolean Museum and the Griffith Institute for facilitating our access to Griffith’s excavation archives.

Further Reading

Griffith, F. Ll. 1922. “Oxford Excavations in Nubia VIII-XVII, Napata, Sanam Temple, Treasury and Town” in Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 9, 67-124.

Pope, Jeremy. 2014. The Double Kingdom under Taharqo: studies in the history of Kush and Egypt, c. 690-664 BC. Leiden: Brill, 58-144