I found Sai Island to be quite remarkable – definitely one of my favorite places in Sudan. The island is one of the largest in the Nile Valley yet remains almost completely uninhabited today.
This is despite the discovery of human remains that are over one hundred thousand years old and the presence of a vast necropolis surrounding a ruined fortress. So, obviously, people were here before and have been coming for quite a while.
The fortress, dominating the Nile River, was constructed on the site of a town from the Pharaonic period. It was built during the New Empire by Ahmose (1580 B.C.) or in the time of Amenophis II (1450-1425 B.C.) and has a temple dating from the reign of Thoutmosis III.
The massive necropolis surrounding the settlement shows how funerary practices developed through various periods, from the Nubian kingdom of Kerma with its tumuli of up to 40 meters in diameter, up until the Pharaonic, Napatan, Meroitic and post-Meroitic eras.
We left early in the morning for Sai Island, but it was already a suffocatingly hot day. Below is the home we were staying in:
Driving to the Nile River crossing… Hard to imagine a river the size of the Nile out here, huh?
We parked in a grove of date palms for shade and then waited for someone to come by in a boat that could take us across. Given that essentially all human development in Sudan takes place along the Nile – both historically and today – if you want to see anything, you probably have to cross the Nile to get there.
I first noticed this guy when I saw him climbing down from this date palm:
I’m not sure what he and his companion were doing there, but he looked like he could use a few more dates:
After a few moments we found someone to take us across to Sai Island:
The lad in the front with the shotgun is on the lookout for the large crocodiles that live in this section of the river:
First thing to do when we arrived was to check in and have a tea with the family that lives on the island… And as if to drive home the point about the crocodiles:
The pleasantries over, my Italian and I soon headed out to check out the ruins of the fortress:
With the Nile so close in the background, you can see how the fortress would have allowed the river to be easily controlled from here:
The word “necropolis” had not really resonated with me on the way out to Sai Island, but after wandering away from the remains of the fortress, I realized something – there were human bones everywhere:
One of the styles of burial involved placing the dead in these “pockets”:
Others buried their dead in the more conventional fashion of today:
Still others opted to involve these elaborate chambers (behind the Italian) in the disposal of their dead:
This is what they look like on the inside:
And this is what they look like when they have collapsed… Your editor is pointing to more human remains:
Part of the experience of Sai Island is provided by the utter desolation – There is just a vast expanse of emptiness. It’s great:
While down on my stomach exploring this tunnel pictured below (which led to a large burial chamber), I heard my Italian gasp in surprise above me:
Eleonora had literally stumbled across this skeleton encased in a small chamber of stones:
After startling a jackal that was holed up near this spot below (the ruins of the fortress are in the background), we retreated from the heat and rejoined the family:
The Sai Island family:
After two more teas, it was time for us to depart. They walked with us to the edge of the Nile and gave us a very warm farewell:
A solid day for Team Ames.