For 60 years the Humboldt-Universität has been involved in archaeological excavations in Sudan, starting with Fritz and Ursula Hintze, who made a spectacular discovery. The Humboldt Lab provides insights into research collaboration with a focus on an equal footing right from the start.
“Today was the great day!!” were the opening words of the 27 January 1960 diary entry by the Africanologist Dr Ursula Hintze, 1918–89. “At 12.35 hours Fritz found on the south side of the south-eastern temple excellently preserved reliefs with inscriptions in Ancient Egyptian (…).” Her husband, the Egyptologist Professor Fritz Hintze, 1915–93, was in charge of the Humboldt-Universität’s first field research in Sudan from the late 1950s onward. The archaeological cooperation project in the African country, which gained independence in 1956, was enormously prestigious for the GDR in terms of both science and foreign policy. “It was so well known that a set of postage stamps with motifs from Musawwarat was issued,” says Dr Cornelia Kleinitz, who was head of the Humboldt-Universität’s Sudan Archaeology Collection from 2015 until the end of 2020 and is now working on it for her habilitation thesis. The commemorative postage stamps featuring unique temple reliefs from Musawwarat are part of the Collection’s archive material that is now on show in the Humboldt Lab.
Science as Anti-Colonial Collaboration
The Sudan Archaeology Collection shows what long-term international research cooperation can be like. With some interruptions it has been under way for over 60 years. The GDR, says the Humboldt Lab’s head curator Dr Gorch Pieken, sought with this research project, which was categorised as “international friendship,” to underscore its anti-colonial credentials. “In that respect they were already very focussed in the 1960s and considering how to collaborate with local actors on an equal footing,” says Cornelia Kleinitz. Professional and private relations have evolved over several generations as a result of this cooperation. “We are still there and working with the grandchildren of the people back then. I don’t want to romanticise it, but long-term archaeological projects have the potential for sustainable work,” the archaeologist says.
While other exhibits in the Humboldt Lab’s scientific exhibition, such as the minerals from Tsumeb in Namibia, have their origins in colonial and exploitative contexts, the Sudan Archaeology Collection is different. Its exhibits came to Berlin before 1975 on the basis of contracts between the Sudanese Department of Antiquities and the excavation project. The Humboldt-Universität’s Sudan Archaeology Collection does not include unique items or extraordinary finds. It mainly serves teaching and research purposes and consists of several hundred items, including decorated architectural parts, temple inventory, vessels, pearls, amulets, tools and weapons from Ancient Sudan, almost without exception from Musawwarat es-Sufra.
An Early Find Decrypted the Temple’s Origins
The Collection’s objects and archive material on show in the Humboldt Lab provide insights into the beginnings of on-site research. Fritz Hintze’s archaeological field diary documents the excavations and their principal findings, whereas Ursula Hintze in her personal diary vividly describes the supporting processes. Her notes reveal that the mood on the day of the discovery was euphoric. “The diary testifies to the team’s delight at this early success of the excavations. It was a wonderful, important moment,” says Cornelia Kleinitz. On that “great day” Fritz Hintze found in the ruins of an ancient temple a sandstone block with two so-called cartouches – oval lines enclosing names of rulers –, in this case that of King Arnekhamani (c. 220 BC). “That solved the riddle of the chronological classification of the temple and its builder,” Dr Kleinitz explains.
Other relief parts referred to the temple’s ritual lord, the lion-headed god Apedemak. The Apedemak or Lion Temple of Musawwarat, the reconstruction of which the GDR funded, is thus the oldest known building dedicated to this local god and and an important part of an ensemble of monumental buildings in the Musawwarat es-Sufra Valley. They date back to the Kushite kingdom (eighth century BC to fourth century AD) in northern Sudan. Since 2011 they have formed part of a UNESCO cultural heritage site.
The History of Science from a Female Viewpoint
The archive material selected for the Humboldt Lab’s inaugural exhibition includes, in addition to her diaries, photographs taken by Ursula Hintze. She developed her photos on-site in extreme climate conditions of heat and dryness. “She played an essential role in organising and documenting the excavations,” Dr Kleinitz notes. She filmed, photographed, wrote and quickly learnt the local language in order to be able to communicate with the dig’s partners.
The Hintzes tipify how the merits of women as scientists or co-scientists are often underrated, says Gorch Pieken. The Humboldt Lab aims to focus on the role of female researchers and to critically scrutinise the history of science. “The collections consist of many omissions and powerful representations. Certain things are emphasised and noted as being important. They are frequently the scientific achievements of men.” One could well refer to an “academic patriarchate” that is still far from having been overcome. “We can see that, for example, in the fact that women account for a mere 25 per cent of university professors in Germany,” says the Humboldt Lab’s head curator. To underscore Ursula Hintze’s role and acknowledge it in retrospect a fictitious commemorative postage stamp was designed for the exhibition. It shows her at work wearing a hat and sunglasses with a camera in her hand.
Making the Collection Accessible
After many years in storage, parts of the Sudan Archaeology Collection are now housed in new work- and storerooms and will soon be accessible in a new exhibition room in the main Humboldt-Universität building’s west wing for students, researchers and the general public. In the Humboldt Lab fragments of a large vessel from what is assumed to have been a place of sacrifice at the Lion Temple are also on show. Research is now under way on these ceramic shards to solve new questions using new methods. It may, for example, help to identify local African elements of Kushite religious practices.
The Humboldt-Universität still works in Musawwarat es-Sufra. “In recent years we have focussed on cultural preservation,” says Cornelia Kleinitz. Conservation, restoration and protective measures have been undertaken and routes have been laid out for groups of visitors. “All that remains for us to do is to install information boards.”
|Date:||02. Februar 2021|