British Museum blog

Angareeb – a living Sudanese tradition

Shadia Abdu Rabo, Sudan National Museum

New beds stacked up in Omdurman market near Khartoum

New beds stacked up in Omdurman market near Khartoum

In November, clearing out a store in the expedition house at Amara West, we came across many fragments of traditional beds, or angareeb, made of wood, leather and rope. We have repaired some of these, to use in our lounge area, but also in some of the bedrooms.

Angareeb bed legs found in the storeroom of the expedition house at Amara West

Angareeb bed legs found in the storeroom of the expedition house at Amara West

These beds have a very long history in Sudan, going back to the ancient Kerma culture, where the dead were placed on low beds inside graves.

The Virgin Mary on a bed. Painted scene from Faras, Sudan National Museum

The Virgin Mary on a bed. Painted scene from Faras, Sudan National Museum

In the cemetery at Amara West, despite the actions of both robbers and termites, there is clear evidence that some of the burials featured similar beds. In some tombs, there is evidence for both beds of this type and Egyptian coffins, reflecting a mixture of different cultural traditions in the late second millennium BC.

But the form of the bed survived through historical, political and religious changes.

In a fifth century AD painting in the church at Faras, now in the Sudan National Museum, the Virgin Mary is shown upon a bed, while in the late nineteenth century, the wife of the ruling Mahdi owned a lavish example of an angareeb.

An angareeb decked out for a wedding

An angareeb decked out for a wedding

The beds follow people from birth to death: childbirth often takes place on such angareeb; circumcision rituals are performed; beds are used in Koranic khalwa-school, are adorned for wedding ceremonies, and are a feature of funeral processions.

Craftsman cutting legs for a new angareeb, in Omdurman market near Khartoum

Craftsman cutting legs for a new angareeb, in Omdurman market near Khartoum

The shape has not changed radically, and today one can visit craftsmen in the market to see the beams of acacia, mahogany or date palm being cut and joined (now with wire and metal nails), before the bed is strung – often with nylon string not rope.

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At the mouth of the Nile, the city of Thonis-Heracleion flourished as the main entry point into Egypt. Underwater excavations have found a large harbour, numerous ships and anchors, proving this was an international port. This magnificent monument was crucial to revealing that Thonis (in Egyptian) and Heracleion (in Greek) were in fact the same city. The decree was issued by the pharaoh Nectanebo I, regarding the taxation of goods passing through Thonis and Naukratis. A copy was found in the main Egyptian temple in each port. The inscription states that this slab stood at the mouth of the ‘Sea of the Greeks’ (the Mediterranean) in Thonis. 
Learn more about the connections between the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece in our #SunkenCities exhibition - until 30 November. Follow the link in our bio to find out more about it. 
Stela commissioned by Nectanebo I (r. 378–362 BC), Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, 380 BC. On loan from National Museum, Alexandria. Photo: Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. For centuries nobody suspected that Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus lay beneath the sea. Recorded in ancient writings and Greek mythology, the cities were believed to be lost. After sightings from a plane, a diving survey was organised in 1933 to explore submerged ruins. But it was only from 1996, with the use of innovative techniques and a huge survey covering 42 square miles of the seabed, that underwater archaeologists rediscovered the lost cities. 
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