B 350 - The Monument of Taharqo on the Jebel Barkal Pinnacle
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VIII. Conclusions

Initially we viewed Taharqo’s monument only as a royal vanity, but by the end of the 1987 season, we began to suspect that it had a more profound meaning. As we gradually came to understand, the Napatan kings and the Egyptian pharaohs before them, and probably even the prehistoric Nubians had all seen in the pinnacle the form of a colossal figure, just as had so many Sudanese and Europeans of the modern era. Our evolving realization of this fact, and of what this “figure” meant to the ancients, how it affected their comprehension of Jebel Barkal, how this knowledge affected their understanding of their own history as well as history itself, I have suggested in section III.

Although we moderns attribute no sentient being to statues, the ancient Egyptians and Nubians believed that all images, whether carved or naturally-occurring, held within them the living spirit and magic power of whatever they represented.[9] Similar beliefs with regard to natural stones are still held by the modern animist peoples of the Sudan, which suggests that such beliefs have probably continued locally since remote antiquity.  Typical among these beliefs is the idea that all elongated or tubular (i.e. phallic-shaped) rocks are sources of fertility.  They are also associated with serpents or ancestors or both, and can be either male or female.[10] Such stones, in other words, commonly have multiple meanings and identities for their worshipers, who associate them with god-like beings in whom all these meanings are combined simultaneously.

From many types of ancient sources, it has become clear over the years that the Jebel Barkal pinnacle was conceptualized in much the same way.  In Part III, we have seen that the pinnacle was conceptualized as a natural “statue” in which all divine, all creative, all sexual, and all royal identity and authority were thought to reside. With its overlapping and merging meanings, the pinnacle gave Jebel Barkal a supreme theological and historical importance. Taharqo’s monument on its summit, and his need to place a small statue there (probably representing himself) beneath the inscription, was doubtless his attempt to merge himself forever with his divine father, “hidden” within the pinnacle:  Amun-Re, Atum, Osiris.  It is now clear that he built his pyramid at Nuri in an astronomical relationship with the pinnacle so that the two created a regional calendar circle by which the seasons could be timed (See Nuri).  (figs. 28-30).

Fig. 28: Hypothetical reconstruction of the Taharqo monument near the apex of the Jebel Barkal pinnacle.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

Fig. 29: Artist’s conception of the Taharqo monument as it may have appeared under construction, by James Gurney for National Geographic, Nov. 1990.

Fig. 30: Climbers Paul Duval (top) and Timothy Kendall descend the pinnacle for the tenth and final time, Feb. 1989.


[1] “Son coté méridional, taillé à pic, a 64 mètres  d’élevation, et les déchirures qui le sillonnent présentent  un aspect pittoresque.  C’est sur ce point que sont situés tous les temples, qui sont face au  fleuve:  dans l’angle sud-ouest, une partie de roc qui s’en détache vers le sommet, a quelque ressemblence avec  une tete égyptienne*. (*Des Arabes peuvent  bien croire que ce rocher  fut travaillé de main d’homme et y reconnaitre  une figure; mais on ne saurait pardonner à MM. Wadington [sic!] et Hambury [sic!] d’avoir partagé cette illusion populaire.  La forme  de ce rocher  est purement accidentelle et un simple jeu de nature.”) .   In this connection  I should also recall the strange report given by the seventeenth  century Turkish traveler Evliya Celebi, who ventured into Upper Nubia in 1672-73.  He wrote that beyond Tangasi, after “eight hours” of travel, he came to a place  called the “Valley of the Afrits”,  where there was a hill with the colossal bronze image of a female, seated on a throne and holding a child, also bronze.  The head of the statue “reached  up to the heavens,”  and her two legs “reached  from the height of a minaret.”   The statue also shed tears, which flowed into a basin below and had curative powers.  At her feet were “porcelain  columns,” which bore inscriptions of Plato and others in Greek, Hebrew, Aryan, and Kufic.  Although this tale is pure fable, we can suspect that it may have been inspired by the “statues” of Jebel Barkal, coupled with a grossly embellished description of the ruins of B 300 (Zach 2000, 113-117).   The basin of curative waters may simply have been an invention, or it may reflect actual  knowledge of the round basin or well (B 1000) beside B 500, which was uncovered by Reisner in 1916.

[2] The reference to the “profile” of the pinnacle probably does not refer to its “head”  but rather to a section quite low down on the rock, which, when viewed from the east at sunset, gives the impression of a face in profile with a fleshy jowl, sunken lips, and a huge aquiline nose (fig. xxx).

[3] The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, erected in 280 BC, was said to have stood “70 cubits” or about 36 m. high.  The tallest of the rock-cut Buddhas at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, carved in the third century AD, was 55 m. high. The four presidents heads at Mt. Rushmore are each 18 m. high.  The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor stands 46 m. high from her feet to the top of her torch.  The sword-wielding female figure called “the Motherland,” erected to honor the fallen at Stalingrad, stands 52 m. high and holds an upraised sword rising another 29 m., giving the statue a total height of just over 80 meters. (Data derived from internet web sites) The imagined four colossi at Jebel Barkal would each have stood 75 – 85 m. high

[4] One archaeologist who did visit the site at this time was Dows Dunham, Curator of Egyptian Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Dunham and his wife Marion, accompanied by John Cooney of the Brooklyn Museum and Rosalind Moss and Ethel Burney of the Griffith Institute, arrived as tourists at Jebel Barkal in December, 1946 with Arkell as their guide.  In his diary of the trip, Dunham noted that Arkell discussed with them his theory of the colossi but that he (Dunham) remained “unconvinced.” Sharing among themselves a pair of binoculars, however, and training them “on top of the isolated pinnacle, which Arkell calls the southernmost colossus,” Dunham reported that they all saw the inscribed area, “including two or more cartouches .... impossible to read with the glasses we had.”  (Unpublished journal of Dows Dunham, in the library of the Dept. of Art of the Ancient World, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

[5] For photograph, see Hofmann and Tomandl 1986, 22, abb. 12.  In January of 1997, this fragment was removed from its exposed location in front of the ruins of B 300 by the author and placed inside the Jebel Barkal Museum for protection.

[6] Emery 1967, 280: “On the river side of (Gebel Barkal)  the face is so formed that it gives the appearance of an artificial  facade consisting of four colossal figures, and it has been suggested that these are the remains of a rock-cut temple of the style of Abu Simbel and of even greater size.  But many authorities doubt the existence of these rock-cut statues, and believe they are merely chance formations of natural rock.  However, high up on the cliff,  on the head of one of the supposed statues, cartouches of Taharqa are claimed to have been seen; so we must consider the possibility that here at Gebel Barkal the great king built a monument that may have rivaled Abu Simbel.  But only extensive excavation at the foot of the cliff can prove or disprove this interesting theory.” See also Adams 1977, 265; Wenig 1976, 436; 1978, 53.

[7] Many thanks to Ann Macy Roth, who helped me decipher these traces.  The Mntiw Stt are also named by Taharqo in his Year 8-10 Stele from Kawa.  See Macadam 1949, 36 (l. 21).

[8] On the history of pulleys in Egypt, see Arnold, 1991, 71, n. 18.  For an Assyrian  relief showing a pulley in use during the ninth century BC, see Curtis and Reade 1995,. 46-47.

[9] See,  for example, Kozloff and Bryan 1992, 125-153; Kozloff 2001; Myśliwiec 2001; Kendall 1982a, 28-29..

[10] Bell 1936, 314-316; Bolton 1936, 92-108.

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