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

Timothy Kendall

(Note: this article was first published in Steffen Wenig, ed. Neueste Feldforschungen im Sudan und in Eritrea:  Akten des Symposiums vom 13. bis 14. Oktober 1999 in Berlin (Meroitica 21).  Berlin:  Harrasowitz, 2004.  1-45, under the title “The Monument of Taharqa on Gebel Barkal.”  It is reprinted here with slight revisions and additional figures).


I.  Legends of Colossal Statues on Jebel Barkal and the Discovery of an Inscription on the Pinnacle Apex.

The most unusual feature of Jebel Barkal is its pinnacle, which projects from the southern corner of the mountain and rises vertically 74.67 m from ground level (measured from the level of the ancient pavement at the entrance of the Great Amun Temple [B 500]) (fig. 1).  For approximately two thirds its height it is joined to the cliff behind.  Higher up it stands free, at first swelling, then narrowing in a steep cone to a small cylindrical apex.  From far upstream the monolith looks like the spire of a cathedral.  At close range, it has an unsettling, lifelike presence and towers over the temples like a giant sentinel.  Throughout the day an ever-changing play of light and shadow animates its surface and challenges the imagination to translate it into some comprehensible form. To one familiar with Egyptian art, the feeling that it is an Egyptian royal statue is irrepressible, for its uppermost part has the unmistakable profile of the White Crown.

Fig. 1: The pinnacle on Jebel Barkal as it appears from the northeast.

The first Western visitors to Jebel Barkal puzzled over this rock and occasionally wrote down their impressions.  George Waddington and Barnard Hanbury, viewing the mountain by river on the moonlit evening of Dec. 13, 1820, remarked in their journal that “we approached near enough to see some of its fragments and projections, which by uncertain light we mistook for columns and colossi” (Waddington and Hanbury 1822, 125).  By the time Frédéric Cailliaud arrived on the scene the following April, the two resident Englishmen had become temporary adherents to the belief of the local people that the pinnacle was the remains of a gigantic royal statue.  In his own journal Cailliaud wrote that the rock did have “some resemblance to an Egyptian head” and that some of the people believed it had been carved, but he said he couldn’t pardon the two Englishmen for embracing “this popular illusion.”  He then stated unequivocally that the “form of this rock is purely accidental and a simple trick of nature.” (Cailliaud 1826, 200)[1]

While sketched by some of the other visitors to Jebel Barkal in the nineteenth century, the pinnacle was not further described until the visit of E.A. Wallis Budge of the British Museum, who arrived at Karima on the heels of Kitchener’s army in 1897 to hunt for monuments.  Wrote Budge:

“The whole form of the mountain is very picturesque and imposing, especially when seen from a distance.  At the southwest corner, a large perpendicular mass of sandstone has become separated by a deep fissure from the body of the mountain, and when looked at from a distance of a mile upstream, it has all the appearance of a colossal statue.  The Arabs declare that it is a statue of one of the kings who reigned in the ‘Time of Ignorance,’ (i.e. before the time of Mohammed the Prophet), and in its profile some Englishmen have seen representations of the features of certain prominent English statesmen.  As Cailliaud says, however, the form of the rock is due to a freak of Nature and is purely accidental” (Budge 1907, v. I, 130-131). [2]

After such decisive statements, the legend of a statue on Jebel Barkal might have passed comfortably into history.  But in 1939 the issue was raised again in earnest by Major G. W. Titherington, then District Commissioner for Merowe, who pointed out to Anthony J. Arkell, the Sudan’s Commissioner for Archaeology, that the pinnacle was only the most prominent of four large, equally-sized, evenly-spaced projections on the face of the cliff behind the temples.  He then proposed that perhaps there had been not one but four huge standing statues there.  If this were so, he reasoned, there might be found between the two middle “colossi” - and beneath the tons of fallen rocks and rubble that had accumulated there over the centuries - the entrance to a rock-cut temple, just as at Abu Simbel.  Arkell investigated and at once embraced this theory with great enthusiasm.

Although the cliff wall behind the temples is rough and somewhat sinuous – not at all like the carefully dressed rock face from which the Abu Simbel statues emerge - three other massive projections in the rock wall can clearly be seen to the right of the pinnacle (fig. 2). They are regularly spaced; each is of nearly the same width, and each rises bastion-like from the base to the top of the cliff.  The two middle forms are hardly more than scars left by ancient collapses of the projecting rock, but the form on the far right, destroyed in its upper half, seems at close range almost to suggest a pair of enormous legs emerging from a kilt.  The proposal that these formations were not coincidental and that they were the remains of four ancient standing royal statues became a most seductive theory.  In his annual report for 1939, Arkell speculated that Ramses II, on the completion of his grandiose temples at Abu Simbel, had sent his sculptors south to Jebel Barkal to attempt an even more ambitious expression of his divinity at the limit of his empire.  To explain the fact that no finished surface remained evident on any of the “statues,” he observed that, being carved of such soft sandstone and fully exposed to the blasting effects of the northeast wind after the passage of three millennia, they had been scoured to near oblivion (Arkell 1940, 7-8).

Fig. 2:The façade of the Jebel Barkal cliff, showing the evenly-spaced projections that some observers once believed were remains of four weathered or collapsed colossi.  Photo by Enrico Ferorelli.

The theory was a bold one, which, if proven true, would have astonished the world.  The colossi would have been nearly four times as high as the seated statues at Abu Simbel, which were 20 m high.  Even if such a vast sculptural project could be verified as having been started and abandoned in an early stage, it could still be counted as the most ambitious ever dreamed by man, even to our own time.[3]

Intrigued by this potential world wonder, two British officials, G.H. Barter and J.W. Kenrick, visited Jebel Barkal in 1941 in order to observe the “colossi” for themselves.  Having binoculars and scanning the battered rock to seek evidence of traces of human workmanship, they saw what none had seen before.  This was a small, smoothed elongated area of dressed stone just beneath the peak of the pinnacle.  It was just below and on the front face of the apex of the “knob” of the “White Crown” - on the south face of the rock overlooking the temples - and it bore traces of an inscription with the unmistakable ovals of a pair of cartouches.  Arkell, reduplicating the observation in various lights of the day, thought he could see within the cartouches faint traces of hieroglyphs suggesting the names of Taharqo.  This unexpected discovery only compounded the mystery, for while the reality of the colossal statues still had not yet been proven, it was obvious now that an inscription, which could not be seen from the ground with the naked eye, had been carved at the very top of the “southern colossus” and that ancient man had indeed worked this stone - in a place that seemed utterly inaccessible (fig. 3) (Arkell 1944, 7-8).

Fig. 3:The front façade of the pinnacle, showing the location of the inscribed panel.

Arkell formally announced the theory of the four colossi and the discovery of the inscription in the Illustrated London News for Feb. 15, 1947 (214-15, and Arkell 1955, 130-131).   Now convinced that the cartouches he had seen were those of Taharqo, he modified his original hypothesis and attributed the “statues” to the Kushite king, suggesting that they had been cut into the face of the Barkal cliff by Taharqo to emulate the achievement of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.  He then again repeated his belief that a rock cut temple would be found between the middle two statues if only one were to excavate the steep mound of debris and fallen rock that had piled up there since antiquity.  He further pointed out that the axis of the Great Temple of Amun (B 500) almost precisely intersected the same point on the cliff.

While no scholars published rebuttals of Arkell’s proposal, the theory of the colossi and hidden temple was treated with skeptical reserve.  Since few Egyptologists, or anyone else, in those days ventured as far south as Jebel Barkal, few could form definite opinions.  In any case, no one hurried to excavate.[4]

In 1957 the statue theory was given new impetus by H. N. Chittick when the results of his own observations at Barkal were published in The Journal of Egyptian  Archaeology (Chittick 1957, 42-44).   Chittick, then an inspector for the Sudan Antiquities Service, had visited the site and made observations of the cliff in September, 1953, and, like Arkell, had come away convinced that the four projections were indeed the remnants of huge statues.  But only the southernmost, the pinnacle, he explained, retained anything of its original form owing to the fact that it was on the most sheltered side of the hill.  “Without the exercise of too much imagination,” he wrote, “[it is possible] to see this is the remains of a standing figure, and the upper part has some resemblance to the Egyptian White Crown.”  At this point, though, Chittick (1957, 42) entered into the record a new and surprising piece of “evidence”:

“Moreover, lying in the ruins of the small temple below and a little to the south is a fragment of a head (about a quarter of the whole, including an eye and part of an ear) about seven times life size.  Although much too small to have come from a statue nearly the height of the hill, it would be about the size one would expect for an attendant figure standing by the leg of the chief statue.”

Although Chittick did not publish a photograph of this object, his description seemed to render the statue theory more viable than ever.  Nearly all the colossi of Ramses had tiny figures of queens or princes standing beside the king’s lower legs, and even one of the Meroitic colossi from Tabo displayed such a figure (Hinkel 1978, 82 and plates). Unfortunately, without realizing it, he had merely described the sole surviving remnant of one of the colossal Bes caryatids that had supported the roof of the ruined court of the Mut temple (B 300) - an object that had nothing to do with any carving on the cliff.[5]

Despite that error, Chittick was able to make the first careful examination of the pinnacle inscription. He first viewed it with the telescope of a surveyor’s level in September, and again with a more powerful instrument in December, 1953.  At that time, he spent one whole day examining the rock face in the different lights and discovered that the text was a severely weathered inscription divided into “at least five panels,” in which he discerned four cartouches and imagined a fifth.  A simple drawing of the inscribed area accompanied his report.  The second panel from the left contained a pair of cartouches in which he correctly read the throne name and birth name of Nastasen.  The third contained a cartouche too damaged to read, and the fourth contained one with the throne name of Taharqa.  Although he could see traces of hieroglyphic text, he could decipher no more.

Clearly there had been a monument here, but how and why was it created?  Even disregarding the statue theory, one had to wonder how any human being could have reached this isolated aerie to carve the observed texts, which were poised vertically almost 75 m. over the temples.  The pinnacle itself is separated from the cliff edge by a gorge some 11 m. wide at its widest point. At a depth of 22 m., the pinnacle shaft joins the main mass of the mountain, but this point is yet another 23 m. above the highest level one can climb without the aid of special climbing apparatus, and that point is already 30 m above ground level.  To scale the pinnacle from below, one would have to ascend nearly 45 m of vertical rock wall that even a modern rock-climber would find extremely challenging.  What could have been the purpose of such texts?  The inscribed panel was so high as to be hardly visible from the ground, and the words or names could never have been read by any mortal.  Chittick, failing to see more with his telescope, concluded in frustration:

“I doubt whether much more can be made out from the ground, and it is quite impossible to scale the pinnacle or to gain access to it from the top of the main mass of the rock.  Useful results perhaps might be obtained by photographing from a close flying aeroplane; observation from a helicopter would be best. The reasons which prompted the placing of an inscription in such a curious position, presumably in expectation that it could never again be read, will no doubt always remain a mystery.”

II. New Examinations of the Pinnacle (1982-86)

II. New Examinations of the Pinnacle (1982-86)

I made my first visit to Jebel Barkal in December, 1982. Up to that time no further investigations either of the inscribed panel or of the imagined colossi had been undertaken, but the latter were still being mentioned as possible realities even by up-to-date sources.[6] When I first visited the site, it was for no more than one afternoon and a morning.  During those few hours, I was so preoccupied examining the temples that I did not really have a chance to convince myself one way or the other whether the “statues” were real, although common sense seemed to insist that they were not.  Even if they had been “real”, it seemed quite clear that they could never have been more than “roughed out” and left unfinished.   One observation I made before leaving the mountain, however, so intrigued me that I determined to investigate further if I ever returned.  This was that the cliff edge on the summit, directly opposite the pinnacle peak, had been extensively worked in antiquity by men using chisels. Here, between one and two meters from the cliff rim, there were three round holes cut in a line, each about a meter apart. This line, I could see, was perpendicular to another that, if drawn from the middle hole, would pass directly over the center-top of the pinnacle.  It was obvious that these features related to the manner in which the carvers of the inscription – and perhaps even of the “statue” - had spanned the gorge and had reached the top of the pinnacle from the cliff edge.

Just over three years later, in 1986, I was fortunate to be able to return to Jebel Barkal, accompanied by Cynthia Shartzer, as the vanguard of the renewed Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, expedition – sixty-six years after Reisner had ceased his work there. While our primary goal that year was to record the fragments of relief and inscriptions surviving in B 500, the mystery of the “colossi” and the inscribed panel still intrigued me, so I packed with our luggage a small but powerful reflecting telescope of 40x power (fig. 4).  With this I hoped, first, to settle once and for all the question of the statues, and, second, to view the inscribed panel in greater detail than it had ever been seen before.

Fig. 4: The author with small reflecting telescope used to observe the pinnacle inscription during the first season, 1986.  The telescope was generously donated by the Bausch and Lomb Corp., Rochester, NY.

On our first full day at the site, we carefully explored the base of the cliff, examining every fallen boulder, crag and mark on the rock wall, as well as the entire shaft of the pinnacle.  Even with the telescope, we could discern no obviously manmade features on the mountain other than the inscribed panel.  Since no traces of carving appeared on the pinnacle shaft and since very clear traces of the inscribed panel remained on its peak, Arkell’s idea that the “statues” might have lost their forms due to weathering seemed mere wishful thinking.  Disappointing as it was for us to admit it, it was plain that the huge projections on the mountain had never been carved and were nothing more than suggestive natural formations, as Cailliaud had decisively stated 165 years before.

At this point we turned our full attention to studying the inscription.  Once one knew it was there and where to look, the smoothed panel with its vertical register lines became obvious from the ground.  With our telescope aimed at it, we could clearly discern the cartouches and fragments of hieroglyphic text, and, for the first time, we could even see tiny incised figures in the stone.  We could see that the panel had been cut into six sections of equal width separated by vertical grooves.  Sadly, we could also see that most of the inscribed surface had fallen away through weathering.

Directly below the inscribed panel, we could see that there was a shallow manmade alcove with a narrow shelf in front of it. It appeared to have been made to offer the sculptors a place to stand while carving the inscription, or to offer them a place to sit and rest from their labors. I even wondered if it might have given access to a small chamber.  From the ground it was impossible to tell.  The whole thing seemed a mystery.  The only other data we could gather that season related to the ancient masons’ marks and holes I had observed four years previously on the cliff top.

For visitors to the site, the climb to the top of Jebel Barkal presents no great difficulty. It is only the mountain’s southeast face, directly behind the temples, that is sheer.  The regular path to the summit is on the northeast side, where one ascends a steep slope of tumbled, wind-worn boulders and rubble to meet a vertical rock ledge, about 2 to 3 m. high, girding the summit. It is over this that the climber must lift himself to the top of the mountain. Once there, he finds himself upon a broad, gently undulating surface of black rocks and pebbles approximately 4 hectares in area.

As one walks the cliff perimeter, he is drawn to the southern corner by the sight of the pinnacle rising from below.  The “colossus” is no less impressive from this vantage than it is from the ground.  As we later determined by survey, the pinnacle peak is 5.25 m lower in height than the cliff itself.  The inscribed panel, of course, cannot be seen, for it faces away from the cliff.

If one stands on the cliff edge opposite the pinnacle and looks down at his feet, he sees that the rock in antiquity was extensively modified by man.  Immediately to the left (east), he can see that a rock rise has been partly cut away and cut down some 70 to 90 cm so as to be level with the summit plain.  The obvious purpose of this was to eliminate an obstruction between the summit plain and the pinnacle and to provide a flatter work space for a gang of men on the cliff edge. On the surviving top of the rise, not cut away, one can see an ancient incised “x” mark.  This mark seems to have indicated the end of a plotted string line along which the three round artificial holes, described above, were cut (figs. 5a, b).  These holes, spaced about a meter apart, range between one and two meters from the cliff edge and form a line that, as stated above, is perpendicular to another that would pass over the top of the pinnacle, about 11 m away.   The two outer holes are each about 45 cm in diameter and 60 cm deep, while the middle hole is about 30 cm in diameter and 30 cm deep.  A difference of 85 cm in height separates the two outer holes.

Fig. 5a: Cynthia Shartzer stands beside a line of three ancient holes cut on the cliff edge directly opposite the apex of the pinnacle.  The third hole, not visible in the photo, is cut at the level of Ms. Shartzer’s feet.

Fig. 5b: Plan showing the line of three holes cut on the cliff edge in relation to the top of the pinnacle and the inscribed panel.  Line “A-B” indicates the line of the cross-section, drawn below.  Point  “C” indicates a partially cut hole, abandoned in favor of hole “B”.  Point “D” indicates the place where a rock rise has been cut down about 70-90 cm with chisels to the level of “A”.   Point “X” locates the incised ancient mark, enlarged at left.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

Although the large upper (eastern) hole was empty, dust and sand completely filled the lower (western) hole.  When we excavated this, we discovered to our surprise that the hole, to a depth of 30 cm, was filled with ancient mortar, which still bore the clear imprint of a square cut wooden post that had been set upright in it (fig. 6).  About 80 cm in front of this hole, the shallow depression of another unfinished hole, also 45 cm in diameter, can still be seen.  This suggests that the lower hole - and perhaps the entire line of holes - had at first been planned to be 80 cm closer to the cliff edge.  This plan had obviously been abandoned at an early stage in favor of the less risky final position.

Fig. 6: View into the excavated interior of the right (western) hole on the cliff edge, revealing that it had been partially filled with mortar.  The mortar still bears the imprint of a square-cut post that had been set upright in it.

Given the arrangement and placement of the three holes on the cliff edge, it appeared to me initially that they must have served as supports for posts of a suspension bridge (Kendall 1986, 5-7). I imagined that ropes had somehow been thrown over the pinnacle peak and secured to the posts on the cliff, and that it was by such means that the ancient sculptors had been able to reach the summit of the pinnacle to carve the inscription.  At the time this seemed the only possible explanation, but the following season I would be proven completely wrong. The reality was something far more surprising and complex.

III. Climbing the Pinnacle

III. Climbing the Pinnacle

Jebel Barkal had presented us with a puzzle that could not be solved without our actually climbing the pinnacle, so this now became our goal. We now needed the advice and services of a professional rock-climber.  After our return from the Sudan, we inquired in the Boston area and were put in touch with Paul Duval, one of the outstanding climbers in New England.  Paul was intrigued by our story.  After looking at the photographs we had taken, he convinced us that the pinnacle could be climbed, and he said he was ready to do it.  Although I had no previous climbing experience, I felt it was necessary for me to climb with him, since someone with Egyptological training needed to examine the inscription and do the recording.  Thus over the next year, he trained me in the basics of rock climbing so that I felt confident enough to undertake the task. By February of 1987, we were ready and embarked on our second season, this time with an expanded crew of five: Cynthia, Paul, myself, and two outstanding Egyptologists, Lynn Holden and Nathalie Beaux.

On our first day back at Jebel Barkal, February 19, 1987, we ascended the mountain to plan our strategy for the climb. Paul proposed that we rappel off the cliff at the point of the three holes and descend to the notch (where the pinnacle joined the mountain), 22 m below.  This would allow us to get the feel of the rock and the ropes and to examine any potential obstacles.  Then, establishing another anchor point there, we would rappel the remainder of the way down to the top of the rubble embankment at the base of the cliff.  In all, it would be a drop of about 45 m.  If there were no problems, we would repeat the drop to the notch the next day, and from there try to climb up the backside of the pinnacle.

Securing the drop rope, Paul hooked it to his rappel device, climbed over the edge of the cliff and lowered himself down (fig. 7). No sooner had his head disappeared from view than he shouted up to us that he could see a series of manmade holes on the backside of the pinnacle shaft descending all the way to the notch.  This was something unanticipated, for we had not seen them before (since to do so, one would have to lean dangerously over the precipice).  These holes suggested that something much more elaborate than a bridge had been constructed here.

Fig. 7:Paul Duval lowers himself into the gorge between the Barkal pinnacle and cliff (Feb. 1987).  Photo: Cynthia Shartzer.

When Paul reached the notch, he called for me to start down, and I edged myself over the rim.  Then I, too, gained the same view.  As my eye followed the pinnacle shaft downward, I could see clearly that it bore a number of square or round-topped holes descending to the point where Paul sat in the rock saddle (fig. 8). These were not toe- or handholds; they were too far apart from one another, typically 1 1/2 to 2 m.  As  I descended further, I observed just what I had begun to suspect: another series of corresponding holes on the cliff wall (fig. 9).  It was now obvious that a number of wooden beams, varying in length from 1 to 9 m, had been lifted into the gorge in antiquity and fitted into pairs of opposing holes.  These beams had been set horizontally to create stages or platforms on which men could stand so that they could cut more holes for other beams raised and set ever higher.  In such a way, men were able to climb up between the widening gap until they had reached the top of the pinnacle.  The holes suggested that altogether there may have been as many as thirteen levels of beams between the notch and the summit of the pinnacle.  The number of beams may have been as many as nineteen.

Fig. 8:View of the pinnacle shaft from inside the gorge, showing the cut holes used to support horizontal wooden beams set between it and the cliff wall.

Fig. 9: View of the cliff wall from inside the gorge, showing the cut holes corresponding to those on the pinnacle shaft.

As we quickly realized, the three cut holes on the cliff edge had not supported a suspension bridge.   They had supported the lifting device by which all the beams had been raised into the gorge.  The holes indicated that the type of device was a double shaduf.

A shaduf - as it is universally called by its Egyptian Arabic name - is a simple lever device still used by farmers along the Nile Valley, in the absence of motorized pumps, to raise water from one level to another (fig. 10a).  It consists of an elevated horizontal beam (i.e. fulcrum), supported by two vertical posts.  A long pole, weighted at one end, hangs from the beam by a rope and swings up and down on it like a seesaw.  One end of the swinging arm is shorter and weighted so that the longer end, which is used to lift the desired burden, is counterbalanced.  When used for irrigation, the longer end of the arm has a bucket suspended from it by a rope.  The farmer, standing under this arm, pulls down on the rope, which drops the arm and submerges the bucket in water at a low level.  The man then releases the rope; the shorter, weighted end raises the long arm and the bucket again; and the farmer can then tip the bucket and empty it into a trough or canal at a higher level (fig. 10b). Since it is easier to pull down on something than to lift it up, the shaduf much simplifies a heavy lifting task.  Such machines were evidently invented in the Bronze Age.  They are earliest depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings of Dynasty 18 Davies 1903, 41, pl. 32; 1933, 70-73; Arnold 1991, 70-71).

Fig. 10a: Photograph of a typical Egyptian shaduf used for irrigation (reference needed)

Fig. 10b: Multiple shadufs in operation, as pictured in the Description de l’Égypte (Tome II: État moderne, première partie [Paris: 1812], pl. IV), from a drawing by M. Cécile).

Archaeological research at the pyramids of Meroë, undertaken in the 1970’s by Friedrich W. Hinkel, has provided dramatic proof that the shaduf was used not only in irrigation but also in heavy construction.  The builders of the Kushite royal tombs used the shaduf to lift stone blocks to their respective levels, a method that accounts for the steep angles of the Meroitic pyramids (Hinkel 1982; 1984, 462-468).

The fulcra of these shadufs were single cedar logs set upright in the centers of the pyramids.  Hinkel actually found the remains of these logs still embedded in the stone masonry in the pyramid axes.  From this one can conclude that the shaduf was a common lifting device used in ancient Egyptian and Nubian construction whenever its unique features were compatible with the task at hand.  Probably never was its use so dramatically applied, however, as it was at Jebel Barkal.

The row of three holes on the top of the cliff suggested that the cross-beam/fulcrum had been held aloft by two stout upright posts, set in the larger end holes.  A smaller post, set in the middle hole, was evidently necessary to prevent the fulcrum beam from bowing in the middle under the weight.  This arrangement suggests that there had been two shadufs mounted here on either side of the center pole, working in tandem.  As suggested by the mortar imprint in the lower (western) hole, the outer posts were each about 30 cm square in section.  The center post was about 20 cm square.  The posts were probably 3 to 4 m in height. Since the holes for the large posts were only about 60 cm deep, one may assume that the posts were given added stability in the vertical position by triangular wooden side supports, which would have prevented their wobbling when in use.

This apparatus would probably have been used in the following manner.  To the lifting arm of each shaduf, reaching out over the gorge, a long rope would have been attached, which would have extended to the bottom of the cliff (i.e. to the level of the top of the rubble embankment), some 45 m below.  Counterbalancing this long length of rope would have been the opposite, weighted end of the arm, poised over the mountaintop.  Since a means of varying the counterweight was necessary, the rear end of each shaduf arm was probably fitted with a heavy net bag to which workmen could add or subtract stones to adjust the weight.  When a beam was to have been raised into the gorge, a gang of men would have cut it at ground level to a pre-measured length and carried it up the 30 m high slope to the east side of the pinnacle shaft.  Finding there the ends of the ropes of both shadufs, the men would have pulled down on the arm of one shaduf and attached the beam by its middle to its rope.  The men on the cliff top would have made the counterbalance heavier than the beam to be lifted so that when the men below released tension on the rope, the beam rose.  If they wished, they could let it rise to the maximum height allowed by the sweep of the shaduf arm, which was perhaps 7 to 8 m.

At this point, with the lifted beam suspended in a stationary position by the first shaduf, the men at the bottom of the cliff would have pulled down on the arm of the second shaduf.  One or more men stationed at the level of the suspended beam would then have had the ability to transfer the beam to the rope of the second shaduf while it was still attached to the first.  Once attached to the second shaduf, the beam could then have been disconnected from the first. This hypothesis assumes that the ropes of each shaduf were knotted with periodic loops or fixed at intervals with small metal hooks, which would have allowed for easy transfer of a beam from one rope to the other during its ascent.  Once the beam was attached to the second shaduf, the men below, as before, would have released tension on its rope so that the beam would rise again to the next level.  The process could be repeated as many times as necessary to raise the beam to the desired height, as long as at each step of the way men were stationed securely there to transfer it from one rope to the other. In this way, then, the beams could have been lifted into the gorge with relative ease.   There they could have been suspended indefinitely, while other men, standing on the beams already set in place, chiseled new holes to receive them. We can assume that the beams were already roughly cut to their required lengths while they were still on the ground.  Obviously, during this operation, the men at the bottom of the cliff and in the gorge had to work closely with the men at the top of the cliff.  One may imagine that there was much shouting of questions and commands from one level to another and back again, much in the manner of the way in which we ourselves had to work.

IV. The Evidence for Ancient Construction between Cliff and Pinnacle

IV. The Evidence for Ancient Construction between Cliff and Pinnacle

Two types of holes can be seen in the ravine between the rock walls, and these normally occur directly opposite one other.  These holes vary in width from 13 to 30 cm.  One type is a square or nearly square recess, while the other is squared on the bottom and rounded or open on the top.  This reveals that the wooden beams (or their ends) were square in section.  One can also conclude from the holes that the squared recess was the initial insertion point for a beam, while the open-topped hole was that into which the other end was dropped and locked into place.  Plans of the holes visible on the cliff and pinnacle walls, showing their correct size, relationship, and elevation from the ground, appear in figs. 11, 12. Since these features require some discussion, I have assigned them numbers, with the lowest numbers designating the features lowest in elevation and first to be cut.  The numbered holes on the cliff wall I have prefaced by the letter "C", while those on the pinnacle shaft, I have prefaced by the letter "P".  The number shared by each indicates the pair of holes that I believe were used to support a particular beam.

Fig. 11: Measured drawing of the holes cut into the cliff wall (left) and pinnacle shaft (right), showing their correct scale and relationship.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

Fig. 12: Profile of the upper part of the pinnacle and cliff, viewed from the northeast, showing the probable arrangement of beams set between the rock walls, based on the placement of the surviving cut holes.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

I established the height measurements presented here with the help of our surveyor David Goodman, who accompanied us in 1989. First, he established the height both of the cliff edge and the summit of the pinnacle (to which, that season, I carried a reflector for the total station).  As stated above, the height of the pinnacle was 74.67 m, measured from the ancient floor level of B 500 (Great Amun Temple).  The height of the cliff behind it was 5.25 m higher, or 79.92 m. Once these points were fixed, I established the heights of the holes both on the cliff wall and pinnacle shaft by rappelling down each rock face and marking each meter of depth by a piece of tape as I descended.  This allowed me to establish the approximate relationship of all the holes, as well as to measure each for size and depth. Since it was difficult, while hanging from a rope, to record the dimensions of the holes with a tape measure as well as to hold and use a notebook and pencil, I took my measurements with the tape and shouted them up to team members on the cliff top.  It was they who recorded them in our notebooks.

The lowest pair of holes I observed (C1 and P1) occurred just below the level of the notch, at about 53 m elevation (counting from ground level, or 23 m from the top of the rubble embankment). These holes were on the east side of the pinnacle shaft just below the point where it merged with the mountain. These two holes revealed that it was the eastern side of the pinnacle against which the beams were lifted from the top of the embankment.   Hole P1 was the insertion point and C1 was the open hole.  These evidently held a beam that was about 15 by 15 cm in section and 2.5 m in length.  This beam created a foothold or anchor point for one or more men standing just below the level of the notch in order to guide other beams as they were being raised up.  How these men were able to climb the first 23 m. is still not clear, for there are no obvious indications.  Perhaps it involved a wooden scaffolding or ladder propped against the rock at this point.

The first beam actually raised into the open space of the gorge was set between holes C2 and P 2 at a height of 2 m above the previous beam and about 1 m above the notch itself. The notch, as we have seen, actually affords a narrow but precarious perch. The beam set here was also 15 x 15 cm. in section and about 1.25 m in length, which is the width of the gap between the rock walls at this point.

About 2.2 m above hole C2, the cliff wall exhibits three square holes cut in a line (fig. 13). Each of these holes (C3A, C3B, and C3C) is about 25 cm sq. and 15 cm deep, and they are spaced 26-30 cm apart.  They supported three square beams, whose opposite ends attached to the natural flat shelf (P3), just over 1.2 m wide and 30 cm higher, on the pinnacle shaft.  The distance between holes C3 and shelf P3 is about 2 1/2 m.  Since the “C” holes are shallow and roughly cut, they would not have provided a secure footing for the beams if the beams were simply laid on the shelf.  It is more likely that the beams were tightly fitted or wedged in place against the “P” side to keep them securely locked in the C3 holes.  This row of three beams could have created a work platform about 1.3 m wide, just over 14 m from the summit of the pinnacle and 59.5 m from ground level.  The C3 holes appear to have been cut by a mason standing on beam C2-P2, just as holes C4 and C5, 2 m higher up, appear to have been cut by masons standing on platform C3-P3.

Fig. 13:Photo of the holes “C3A, B, C,” taken from the natural shelf “P3” on the pinnacle.

Fig. 14: Detail of hole “C4.”

Hole C4 is a finely cut, open-topped niche, with a width and depth of 35 cm and a height of 60 cm (fig. 14).  This hole clearly supported and locked into place the two beams inserted into the twin holes P4A and P4B (13 x 13 cm and 14 x 14 cm respectively, and each 5 cm deep).  Again, these beams, about 3 m in length, could only have been made secure by fitting very tightly into their niches.

Round-topped hole C5 (20 cm wide and deep, 24 cm high) was nearly 2.5 m above the platform C3-P3.  Its corresponding hole, P5 (15 x 18 cm, 7 cm deep), was 3.7 m above the platform.  Because both of these holes are too high to have been made by men actually standing on the platform, one must assume that the stone cutters had a means of elevating themselves above the platform, perhaps by standing on ladders resting on the platform and propped against or secured by beam C4-P4.  Such mounts would also have enabled the same men to cut the open-topped hole P6 (20 cm wide, 30 cm high, 25 cm deep) and the insertion hole C6 (20 cm sq., 20 cm deep), which is only slightly higher.   Both beams at this point were about 3.5 m in length.

By standing on beams C5-P5 and C6-P6, and bracing themselves against the cliff walls, the masons would have been able to carve holes C7 (34 cm high, 24 cm deep; width not preserved) and P7 (17 x 17 cm, 10 cm deep).  The beam inserted in these holes would have been approximately 5 m long.  The left half of hole C7 is missing due to a later collapse of the upper western side of the cliff wall.  Because of this ancient rock fall, the higher holes on the cliff wall to the height of the pinnacle peak are no longer preserved.  There is no doubt, however, given the appearance of cut features P8-15, that beams continued to be raised into the gorge and mounted at increasingly higher levels up to the full height of the pinnacle.

One meter above beam C7-P7, the cliff wall inclines backward, creating a rounded shelf.  Although there is no cut notch on the preserved section of this shelf, there is an open-topped hole P8 (35 cm. wide, 30 cm deep) at the same level on the pinnacle.  This is an interesting feature, since the bottom of the hole lay at the bottom of an open-sided vertical tube, 1.7 m in depth, cut from the level of shelf P9, described below, which was its insertion point.   Hole P-8 indicates that a beam C8-P8, about 5.5 m long, extended across the gorge at the level of about 8 m below the pinnacle summit.

Above this level by 1.7 m, is a manmade shelf P9, about 3 m long and about 50 cm at greatest width, that cuts horizontally across the rear face of the pinnacle. This, seemingly, would have allowed for a platform up to 2 m wide to be erected here, 6 1/2 m below the pinnacle summit at an elevation of 67.5 m from ground level.  On the western side of this shelf there is a pair of open-topped holes P9A and B (each 30 cm wide and deep, 35 cm high).  These suggest emplacements for two parallel beams mounted at this level, connected to the cliff, and that these beams were at least 6 m long.

A partially preserved, shallow, angled socket C9 appears on the cliff wall at the level of P9.  It obviously joined the P9 features, but so much of the cliff wall has fallen away here that it difficult to understand quite how.

Above shelf P9, the rear of the pinnacle is badly weathered, but it bears indications of at least six more holes, suggesting six more horizontal beams (that is, if all of these holes were actually used).  These holes are as follows: square hole P10 (11 cm wide, 16 cm high, 5 cm deep), round-topped hole P11 (weathered, but about the same size), round-topped hole P12 (weathered, but about 18 x 18 cm), round-topped hole P13 (18 x 18 cm), square hole P14 (about 20 x 20 cm), and a cut notch P15 (25 cm wide) on the pinnacle summit, made to hold a horizontal beam connecting the pinnacle summit with the cliff.   The beams implied by these holes were square or rectangular in section and measured between 11 x 16 cm and 20 x 20 cm.  Their length at that level would have been between 7 and 9 m.  Obviously, the type of wood utilized here would have been of a hard variety, requiring strength and rigidity in long spans.  The thicker beams were likely used by men as work stations or as bridges to cross on foot between the cliff and the pinnacle.  The thinner beams, set higher and parallel to the former, were likely used both as railings or hand-holds for the men, as well as temporary rests or shelves for the beams being raised to higher levels.

V. Exploration of the Pinnacle Summit

V. Exploration of the Pinnacle Summit

After first observing the cut holes between the cliff and pinnacle walls (Feb. 19, 1987), we were more curious than ever about what we might find on top of the pinnacle. Rising at dawn the next day and repeating our climb up the mountain, we again returned to the drop point.  As before Paul and I rappelled down into the notch (figs. 15 and 16), but this time we prepared to climb up the back side of the pinnacle shaft.  This was a nearly vertical ascent of about 20 m.

Fig. 15: Paul Duval rappels into the notch (where the pinnacle and cliff walls meet), preparatory to climbing the pinnacle (Feb., 1987).

Fig. 16: View of the Jebel Barkal temples from the notch.

Paul secured one anchor point in the notch, and I hooked into it.  He next secured himself to a rope that ran through a safety device on my own belt harness.  As he ascended, I was to pay out the rope through this device. This rope would also run through a series of safety clips that he would fasten into fissures in the rock as he worked his way up.  Were he to lose his grip, I would be able to check the rope; the clips in the rock were intended to prevent his falling more than a meter or so.

Once we were set, Paul started up.  To improve his grip on the rock, which did not offer any generous hand or toeholds, he wore tightly fitting rubber slippers and daubed his fingers in chalk for traction.  I let out the rope as he climbed up, and he soon disappeared from my view.  After several minutes of silence, with the rope still ascending, it suddenly stopped.  Then he shouted down that he was sitting on the summit, and it was my turn to start up.

Once having secured himself on the top of the pinnacle by looping a rope around the peak, Paul tossed down another rope to me, thus providing me with two lines.  One, which he secured to his belt, I bound to my harness.  As I ascended, he would take up the slack on this rope, which, were I to lose my grip, would prevent me from falling.  The second rope, hanging free before me, was available as a handhold in the event that all grips on the rock disappeared.  With this rope I could still pull myself up.

The climb, short as it was, was no simple matter. The inside wall of the pinnacle, where the stone was firm, was sheer and offered almost nothing to hold.  The west side offered more handholds, but here the stone was badly weathered and brittle.  Sometimes what looked like a solid handhold pulled off in my hand and crumbled into fragments.  I thus progressed upward slowly and cautiously, at one point having to trust solely in the loose rope, which seemed the only means of continuing.  Grasping it with my hands, I had to swing across the rock wall to the left and managed to get a toe in one of the ancient holes (figs. 17, 18).  Now pushing with my foot and pulling myself up on the extra rope and gripping one crack after another, I managed to reach the cut ledge P9 about 7 m from the summit. From here, I began inching my way around the west face, ready for what seemed now an easy climb to the top.

Fig. 17: The author climbs up the inside wall of the pinnacle shaft, using the ancient holes as grips.

Fig. 18: Paul Duval and the author on the pinnacle summit, Jan. 1989.  Photo:  Enrico Ferorelli for National Geographic.

No sooner had I begun the final climb than, to my surprise, I encountered more hewn holes and several deeply chiseled vertical grooves on the sides of the pinnacle apex. These holes, all well cut and finely rounded, revealed - to our collective astonishment - that more wooden beams had been erected here as posts. As Paul sat secure on top of the pinnacle and held me with the belay, I was able to move around the sides of the peak with relative ease and safety.  This allowed me to study, photograph, and measure all the man-made features on the summit and to make sketches and notes of their relationship. The rest of the team, seated on the cliff edge, watched everything and offered advice from their respective perches.

As I worked my way around the summit, I could see that there were round chiseled holes or tubular grooves for at least four vertical wooden posts on the eastern side of the pinnacle peak (fig. 19) and probably six on the western side.  These posts had apparently been bound together and secured in some way.  The west side also bore a diagonal cradle-like channel in which a massive beam had been laid and locked in place at the bottom by its own weight (fig. 20).  This beam had an angle of about 50°.  It was hard at first to imagine what precisely had been done here, or what had been the intention of the builders, or even which of the holes had actually been used and which may have simply been experimental.  Yet the very idea of men working here simply defied belief, for they were working at their extreme peril.

Fig. 19: Hole “PE 2”, cut on the sheer eastern side of the pinnacle peak, used for the insertion of a vertical wooden beam.  The hole is 16 cm in diameter and 1.9 m deep.

Fig. 20: Detail of diagonal channel “PW2” on the west side of the pinnacle peak which appears to have supported a long round beam used as a crane arm.

After viewing all of this evidence, we had to accept that hewn timbers, some perhaps up to 9 m long, had been hoisted up some 75 m from ground level and set securely between the cliffs. Next, we had to accept that more heavy beams had been manipulated up through this wooden scaffolding by men working under the most dangerous conditions, and lifted onto the top of the pinnacle, which offers a perch on which today no more than three or four persons can sit safely.  Next we had to imagine that these workers were able to maneuver and fit these beams into holes which they had cut on the steepest sides of the rock, where one misstep would have resulted in a death plunge – if they were not securely fastened with ropes.  They then had to bind these beams together in some way so that they formed a stable framework that would not collapse and fall.  From the looks of all the holes, grooves, and notches cut here, it appeared that the summit had been encased in a wooden  structure or scaffolding to a depth of 6.8 m.  One was left in complete awe both by the conception as well as by the achievement.  The project required enormous human ingenuity, strength, and especially bravery, but to what purpose?

VI. The Evidence for Ancient Construction on the Pinnacle Summit

VI. The Evidence for Ancient Construction on the Pinnacle Summit

The holes cut on the pinnacle peak are shown from above in figs. 21a, b.  It remains uncertain how many of them were actually used, for one suspects that some may have been “trial and error.”  The holes certainly indicate that a number of beams were mounted vertically around the summit.  In order for these beams to stand securely in the vertical, it would probably have been necessary that they be attached to at least two levels of horizontal beams:  one resting on the pinnacle summit, and another higher up.   The latter, by securing their tops, would have prevented their bases from spreading outward, which would have caused the structure to collapse and the posts to fall.  Although I cannot reconstruct this framework with absolute certainty, some of the features offer important clues to what was built there. In order to discuss these features specifically, I have given them special numbered designations like the others.  Those on the eastern side of the pinnacle summit I preface by "PE"; those on the western side, I preface by "PW".

Fig. 21a: Roughly measured sketch plan of the summit of the pinnacle, seen from above, showing the relative positions of the cut features with their designations (Compare with figs. 11, 12, 21b).  Drawing: T. Kendall.

Fig. 21b: Drawing of the pinnacle summit from the west, showing the man-made features as they appear today, with their designations.  Drawing: T. Kendall.

Evidence for construction on the top of the pinnacle begins at a depth of about 6.8 m.  This includes shelf P9 at the rear side and another shelf in front, at the same or nearly the same level (figs. 11, 12). Both shelves are manmade, and both feature shallow round holes, ostensibly for posts set vertically.  It is very difficult, however, to understand how posts standing upright in these holes could have been secured at their upper ends.  The twin holes P9A and B, described above, were each 30 cm in diameter. They could also have supported horizontal logs (as they have been restored here). Holes PW9A and B, also paired, were each 20 cm in diameter and 1 to 2 cm deep.  Other holes like these may have existed on the east side (PE), but the ledge has fallen away.

The most important feature on the west side is PW1, a wide vertical cut in the side of the rock, the bottom of which is 4.8 m from the summit.  It is about 90 cm wide and 40 cm deep.  Immediately beside PW1 to the left there are a six  elongated “masons’ marks” – five scrape lines possibly used for whetting chisels and a vertical “rope burn,” where an ancient rope has left a cut in the soft sandstone.  Just above, within the vertical hollow of PW1 there are several more such cut, one group forming a sign like a backward “N”.  The right (south) side of PW1 intersects with a cut diagonal channel, PW2, that has an angle of about 50° (figs. 20, 21a-b).  PW1 supported a vertical post probably at least 6 m high, while PW2 supported another beam at least 9 m long.  The latter, once set into this diagonal groove, would have been locked in place by its weight resting against the bottom of PW1.  Its base, thus, would have locked into place the vertical beam set in PW1.  The forward end of the diagonal beam PW2 would have overhung the top of the pinnacle.  There can be little doubt, as I will explain below, that this was a crane arm.

Holes PW9A and B seem to be situated directly under the presumed overhang of the crane, as if the posts set within them had been intended to support the upper end of the crane.  It is difficult to imagine, however, how these two beams could have stood securely in the vertical here without other supports, but there is no obvious evidence for them.

Other holes or grooves that appear to have been prepared as mounts for vertical posts are: PW5 (20 cm in diameter and 21 cm high, at depth of 4.6 m), PW6  (21 cm in diameter, at depth of 3.6 m), PW7  (21 cm in diameter, 25 cm high, at depth of 5.6 m), and PW8 (21 cm in diameter, at a depth of 5 m).  If there were posts mounted in PW5 and 6, they would have stood immediately beside the crane arm and could have been partly held in the vertical by it. Two other holes, PW3 and PW4, are mysterious because they are square cut recesses, cut to hold horizontal beams, but there is no indication of what would have supported the other ends of their beams, which would have projected – apparently - into space. Perhaps they were cut as anchor points for square horizontal projections mounted on the sides of  vertical beams, to give the latter more stability.  Both PW3 and PW4 are about 20 cm square and lie at a depth of 2 m from the summit.

The east face of the pinnacle peak is much steeper than the west, and its features are clearer.   Here there are three deep vertical holes, suggesting that a line of round wooden posts had been mounted here (fig. 12).  Hole PE1 is 1.36 m deep and held a round post 20 cm in diameter.  Hole PE2 is 1.9 m deep and held a round post 16 cm in diameter (fig. 19). These posts were probably the most secure on the pinnacle, and they may well have been the anchors to which all the remaining construction was tied.  Hole PE3, parallel to the others, is 2.4 m lower down and suggests the emplacement for a very tall post 25 cm in diameter.  The base of this post seems to have rested in a round depression 80 cm below the floor level of the alcove, about 4.5 m below the level of the pinnacle summit.

It must be assumed that there were horizontal beams resting on the summit of the pinnacle peak that would have been bound to the vertical beams rising from both the east and west sides, so that the construction would have had stability. This framework may have provided a wider and more secure working space on top; it also likely provided a series of anchors for workmen hanging from ropes and working farther down on the sides of the pinnacle.  Part of this apparatus certainly involved a crane.  But why the need for all this construction?

VII. Examination of the Pinnacle Inscription

VII. Examination of the Pinnacle Inscription

As I worked my way around to the front (south) face of the pinnacle peak (figs. 22a, b), I was at last able to view the inscribed panel, the surviving part of which was about 2 m below the summit.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment, for I saw that the original surface was nearly two-thirds gone, obliterated top and bottom by weathering and rock falls.  Only a thin, ragged middle section survived, and here the texts were extremely worn and difficult to read.  I could see, however, that the sculptors had originally worked a rectangular area about 120 cm high by about 270 cm long.  At the top it had curved outward slightly.  The original prepared surface had been divided into six vertical panels, each about 40 cm wide, separated by deep, square-cut grooves, 5 cm wide and about 3 cm deep.  The two middle panels each bore texts of Taharqo in three vertical lines of neatly formed hieroglyphs in raised relief (figs. 23, 24).  The inside lines each preserved Taharqo’s throne name in mirror image, followed by the words “son of Re,” which surely introduced his birth name, now lost.  The middle columns of text, as we determined after some study back in Boston, had mentioned victories over enemies east and west.  The panel on the right (east) referred to the Mntiw Stt, which would have been the traditional way of referring to eastern Asiatic enemies, possibly here to Assyria.  That on the left (west) made reference to the Tjmhu (“western desert people”), in which the determinative is a bound, kneeling, decapitated figure.[7] The outer inscribed columns of text in each panel did not preserve enough to be legible, although the outer line in the east panel preserved the hieroglyph of the White Crown. (This fact becomes interesting when we recall that the pinnacle, when seen from its east side, has a strong resemblance to a figure wearing the White Crown, and when we come to realize that the ancients  saw the same resemblance and gave the rock deep meaning because of this resemblance).

Fig. 22a: Front view of the pinnacle, showing Paul Duval seated on the summit and the author standing on the shelf in front of the alcove below the inscribed panel.  Note the vertical indentation in the face of the pinnacle, just below and to the left.  This feature is situated immediately beneath the point where the presumed crane arm, set in the diagonal channel “PW2,” would have overhung the pinnacle peak.  This groove seems to have provided clearance for burdens lifted by the crane from the ground.   Three to four meters below the author the rock face has been packed with rough stone masonry and mortar.  Photo: Enrico Ferorelli.

Fig. 22b: Telephoto view of the author seated just beneath the remains of the inscribed panel, which is divided into six sections.  The two central sections bear the cartouches of Taharqo; the second from right bears the cartouches of Nastasen.  All are covered with small holes, two of which still contained bronze nails in 1987, suggesting that the stone had been covered with gold sheet.  Below the panel is the alcove, at the sides of which were built walls, 60 cm think, made with rough stones set in plaster.  The author’s foot rests in the remains of a sunken socket apparently for a small statue.  Photo by Enrico Ferorelli.

Fig. 23: Drawing of the surviving remains of the inscribed panel, showing location of all surviving holes for bronze nails, with which the presumed gold sheet was attached to the stone.  The complete original panel was about 2.70 m long by 1.20 m high.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

Fig. 24: Detail of the eastern (right) panel of Taharqo.

To the left of Taharqo’s panels was one bearing a more crudely carved text of Nastasen, in sunk relief (fig. 25). The king’s throne and birth names appeared in twin cartouches – “Ba-ka-Re Nastasen” – surmounting the phrase di ‘nh mi r dt (“given life like Re forever”). To the left of the cartouches were two small incised standing figures, facing right, with hands upraised in adoration of the royal names.  To the right of Nastasen’s cartouches and also below them a third and fourth figure appeared in similar pose, adoring the names and texts of Taharqo, just beside them to the right.

Fig. 25: View of the inscribed panel of Nastasen, showing his double cartouche and the small incised figures adoring his name and that of Taharqo (just off photo, to right).

It was evident that Taharqo had ordered the original work here.  Three and a half centuries later, the monument had been restored by Nastasen, who evidently left the central two panels intact out of respect for his predecessor.  The panels on either side of Taharqo’s were on a plane 2 cm lower, suggesting that Nastasen had ordered his sculptors to grind down the originals and to erase Taharqo’s texts or reliefs there, which by then had probably become so worn or damaged that the panels needed complete resurfacing.

There seemed nothing remarkable about the texts or the carving; the surprise was in the discovery that all over the surviving original surface of the stone there were small, evenly spaced holes, and that two of these holes still contained bronze nails embedded in plaster (figs. 23-25).  This kind of work is well-known from temples in Egypt and from textual references even of the time of Taharqo (Lacau 1955, 221-250; Macadam 1949, 16, n. 20). This revealed that the complete original panel had once been entirely covered by a sheet - or multiple overlapping sheets - of gold, held in place by bronze nails fixed into the stone.  The thin gold would have been pressed against the inscriptions so that it conformed to their relief.

It suddenly became a bit clearer what these kings had been doing here.  They had carved on the most inaccessible point of the mountain a monument with an inscription - not to be read by man but to be seen by him from below and from afar.  While the texts had been written only for the eyes of the gods, the gold sheathing made the panel the most conspicuous feature of the mountain.  Facing southeastward (at an angle of about 160°), the gold panel would have reflected the sun variously from different angles throughout the day and throughout the year, and would have made a dazzling ornament for the mountain and the sanctuary below.  It was probably visible from across the river, and possibly for some distance even to caravans approaching from the Bayuda Desert to the south.

But there was more.  Under the inscription was the alcove we had observed through the telescope. It actually undercut the panel to a depth of about a meter, and it was about a meter high.  It was large enough for one or two men to squat in.  At either end, there were remnants of walls, each about 60 cm thick, built of rough stones set in a heavy white mortar (figs. 22b, 26).  In the middle of the floor of the alcove, centered beneath the two Taharqo panels, was the remnant of the back edge and corner of a square-cut depression, which looked like part of a socket for a small statue.  The floor beside it had been pecked, as if prepared for plaster.

Fig. 26:Remains of the crude masonry and mortar wall built at the east end of the alcove beneath the inscribed panel (taken from the east, looking west).  A similar wall, less well preserved, was also built at the west end.  These walls may have given shelter for a small statue set in the floor of the alcove in a squared socket centered beneath the panels of Taharqo.

As my eye followed the rock face downward from here some 3 to 4 m, I could see that there was a large irregular cavity that had been filled with the same crude masonry and plaster that had been used in the construction of the alcove walls (fig. 22a).  It appeared that the builders had done this to alter the face of the pinnacle cosmetically.

The need for the elaborate wooden construction on the top of the pinnacle now seemed evident. Heavy baskets of mortar and stones, and perhaps even a small statue, had been lifted to this point directly from ground level.  To accomplish this feat the builders had to erect here a wooden crane arm with a pulley.[8] This explained the function of the prominent diagonal groove PW2, which had supported a stout beam set at a 50° angle (fig. 27). Directly below the point where this crane arm would have overhung the pinnacle peak, it will be seen that the face of the pinnacle has a vertical groove, apparently natural, which would have allowed the rope of the crane to rise from or drop freely to the ground (fig. 22a). (If this crane had been set further to the left or right, the rope would always have been obstructed by the projecting stone).  Since the top of the pinnacle cannot have safely seated more than three or four men, even with the aid of a constructed platform, and since such a platform cannot have been large enough to support both the men and the enormous quantities of rope that would have gathered during any lifting operation from ground level, and since the few men on the pinnacle summit could not have lifted a statue or heavy baskets of stones or cement to this height anyway, it seems that this crane, mounted atop the pinnacle, had to be operated by a gang of men standing on top of the mountain itself, some 11 m away across the gorge.  The men on the pinnacle would merely have shouted out and signaled instructions to the men on the mountaintop, who were pulling the rope.

Fig. 27: Profile of the upper part of the pinnacle and cliff, seen from the west, showing the possible functions of the cut features.  Drawing:  T. Kendall.

In 1987 we ascended the pinnacle five times; in 1989 we repeated the operation five more times.  On each ascent we observed and recorded new features that we had missed before. Although we had found evidence of an extraordinary construction project, we were still baffled by the motivations that lay behind it.  Why had Taharqo expended so much effort and risked so many men’s lives to inscribe and gild the summit of the pinnacle?  Why had Nastasen thought it necessary to restore the monument three centuries later?  Why had a major part of the labor included filling a large cavity in the front face of the pinnacle with mortar and rough stones?  What had been the form and meaning of the small statue seemingly raised up and set beneath the inscription?  Why did the Jebel Barkal temples (B 500, B 600, B 700, B 800, B 900, B 200, and B 300, B 1100 and 1150) and first palace (B 1200) all cluster around the pinnacle in an arc?

VIII. Conclusions

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.