Henry Bishop-Wright

Henry Cosmo Bishop-Wright

Department: Classics and Ancient History
Discipline: Classics and Ancient History

Project Summary

Chronology and Connectivity at Meroitic Faras (Sudan)

The Meroitic cemetery of Faras was excavated by Francis Llewellyn Griffith during the Oxford University archaeological campaign in Sudan and Egypt (1910-12). Located in Lower Nubia (northern Sudan), it is the largest non-royal cemetery known from the Meroitic kingdom and is of immense importance to the understanding of Meroitic chronology, material culture and connectivity.

Griffith’s excavation was only partially published and the vast potential of the site to Meroitic studies was never realised. The raising of the dam at Aswan (1960s and 70s) eventually lead to the flooding of Lower Nubia and the creation of the enormous reservoir that now stretches between the First and Second Cataracts. The result was the destruction of all the archaeology along a c.300 km stretch of the Nile between Wadi Halfa and Aswan, including Faras. Fortunately, the original field records of Griffith’s excavation were deposited in the Oxford Griffith Institute where they now reside, unpublished but available for study.

In collaboration with the Griffith Institute, this thesis – Chronology and Connectivity at Meroitic Faras – took full advantage of Griffith’s unpublished field records to offer a comprehensive reassessment of the Meroitic cemetery at Faras. The aims of this reassessment were twofold:

1. To present a new chronology of Faras.

2. To discuss Meroitic internal and external connectivity, particularly the Meroitic settlement of Lower Nubia.

The chronology used correspondence analysis to construct a seriation of ceramic forms at Faras. This ceramic sequence was then converted into an absolute chronology by assessing imported objects with independent dates. The result challenged the current understanding of Meroitic settlement in Lower Nubia and demonstrated that there was a settled community at Faras as early as the 3rd century BCE. The implications of this are extensive and it clearly refutes the out-dated idea that the Meroitic settlement of Lower Nubia did not occur until the 2nd century CE.

The discussion of Meroitic connectivity was fuelled by the examination of hundreds of museum artefacts and demonstrated a close commercial relationship between Faras, the Meroitic Butana and Ptolemaic-Roman Egypt. In addition, it drew upon the new chronology to offer an original synthesis on Lower Nubia that questioned how readily the territory should be viewed as “Meroitic” in the final centuries BCE. It also challenged the problematic notion that Lower Nubia was uninhabited throughout most of the 1st millennium BCE.

Work on this thesis necessitated a detailed knowledge of Ptolemaic, Romano-Egyptian, and Meroitic material culture: primarily, pottery, glass and bronze vessels. It also required an excellent understanding of Meroitic funerary archaeology and historical sources concerning Meroitic Kush (classical or otherwise). The project also necessitated competency in archaeological illustration, archival practice, and advanced forms of data analysis.

The thesis was examined by viva in October 2021 and passed without corrections. It is currently being prepared for publication as a monograph in the British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan.

Supervisory Team

Dr Robert Morkot (University of Exeter) and Professor Paul Nicholson (Cardiff University).

Wider Research Interests

The history and archaeology of Napatan and Meroitic Sudan.

Ptolemaic-Roman Egypt.

Hellenistic and early Roman archaeology in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Hellenistic-Roman material culture, particularly glass.

Roman frontier studies.



Authored Publications/Reports

Bishop-Wright, H. C. (2019) Reconsidering the Lower Nubian ‘Wine-Presses’ and their Leonine Spouts, Sudan & Nubia, No. 23, 158-168

Francigny, V. & Bishop-Wright, H. C. (2022) Beyond the Roman world: a decorated glass plate in Sudanese Nubia, Journal of Glass Studies , 64, Forthcoming