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The Qustul Incense Burner - KNC

The Qustul Incense Burner

The Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition of the University of Chicago research team made a major discovery in the 1960s before the completion of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Bruce Williams, a research associate and chief archaeologist responsible for publishing the research work, gave an interview to the New York Times in 1979 concerning the team’s findings. The story was published on the front page of the paper entitled, “Ancient Nubian Artifacts Yield Evidence of Earliest Monarchy,” by Boyce Rensberger. Williams revealed that the team discovered a large cemetery with 33 royal tombs from the Kingdom of Ta-Seti in the city of Qustul in the region of Nubia.

Reproduction of imagery on Qustul incense burner

Reproduction of imagery on Qustul incense burner

They found a cemetery with large tombs which contained evidence of wealth and representations of rulers and their victories. The featured discovery was made in Cemetery L in tomb no. 24 (Tomb L24), and it was the largest of the burials in the cemetery. Tomb L24 contained among other items a limestone incense burner, which contained multiple images of a king with definitive royal symbols that later appeared in Egypt generations later with the founding of its first dynasty. The area is now flooded but Qustul was located in southern Egypt at the border with Sudan in lower Nubia. Before this discovery, the Kingdom of Ta-Seti in Nubia was unknown. This was a surprising discovery because it has direct implications for state formation and the origins of pharaonic kingship in Egypt.

Several facts became clear before Williams gave his interview to the NY Times: 1) Cemetery L was a royal burial ground; 2) the individuals buried had the status of pharaohs; 3) these rulers represented the Kingdom of Ta-Seti in the Nubian region; and 4) the dating of the incense burner (and other artifacts from Tomb L24) is about 3300-3200 BCE during the “A- Group” period, which is several generations before the rise of pharaohs and the first dynasty in Egypt.


Nubian archers, Kingdom of Ta-Seti

Nubian archers, from Kingdom of Ta-Seti

There have been attempts by investigators to relate Cemetery L to contemporary materials and events in ancient Egypt, but these efforts have been unsuccessful. The objects created, materials used, and the practices shown on the artifacts indicate that these pharaohs belong to Nubia, and the incense burner is distinctly Nubian in form. Bruce Williams states, “Qustul in Nubia could well have been the seat [origin] of Egypt’s founding dynasty” of pharaohs.

Abu Simbel Temple

Abu Simbel Temple

Ampim, Manu. “History Of African Civilizations, History 110 Course Reader.” Unit 4: Classical African Civilizations (Nubia). Oakland, CA: Advancing The Research, 2016. 71-72.

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