Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project:
Amri to Kirbekan Survey (AKS)

Project team

  • Derek Welsby, project leader
  • Daniel Antoine
  • Barbara Wills
  • Caroline Cartwright
  • Margaret Judd 2002-3
  • Betina Jakob 2005-6

Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan 


  • Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS)

Supported by

  • SARS
  • Egypt Exploration Society
  • British Academy
  • British Institute in Eastern Africa
  • Institute of Archaeology, UCL
  • Packhard Humanities Institute
  • Institute for Bioarchaeology
  • Emery Museum, Atlanta
  • Townley Group
  • Patrons of SARS

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The construction of a new dam at the Fourth Nile Cataract has resulted in a major international rescue campaign. The British Museum, in conjunction with the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, is a significant contributor to this project.

Beginning in 1999 several seasons of survey and excavation have been undertaken on the left bank of the river, and on the islands, over a stretch of 40km. A vast number of archaeological sites has been recorded, resulting, along with data collected by other missions, in a total rewriting of the history of occupation of this hitherto little known region over the last 150,000 years.

Among the most significant results is the recognition of the control of this region by the first Kingdom of Kush, sub-Saharan Africa’s earliest urban civilisation, in the third and second millennia BC. Dating from the early first millennium BC the discovery of a granite pyramid, clearly the tomb monument of an important and wealthy individual, highlights the importance of the area and is forcing a reappraisal of the role of cataract zones in the Nile valley.

The fieldwork is now complete but the considerable amount of material and data is currently being studied  leading to full publication of the results.

burial of a cow at site 3-O-380

The burial of a cow at site 3-O-380 was accompanied by a string of quartzite beads, a fine glass beaker, a copper-alloy bowl and an extremely well made ivory kohl pot. Dating to the post-Meroitic period it is a highly unusual discovery.

Project aims

The region of the Fourth Cataract, prior to the threat posed by the construction of the new dam, had been very little studied and was one of the least known reaches of the Nile valley from an archaeological perspective. In this arid zone human settlement at most periods in the past has been focussed on the river and hence the construction of the dam and the resulting 170km-long reservoir will cause immense damage to the archaeological heritage of the region.

The project set out to recover as much information on ancient settlement in the region as time allowed through the study of all remains up to the immediately pre-modern period as well as documenting some aspects of the life of the present-day inhabitants. Among the material recovered is a large collection of human skeletal material allowing a detailed study of the people who lived in the region in the past as well as the study of their settlements and artefacts.

The project also relocated some of the abundant rock art for eventual display in the new museums to be built which will be devoted to the ancient and modern cultures of the region as well as the 390 blocks of the granite pyramid.

Find out more

Artefacts from this campaign donated to the Sudan Archaeological Research Society and passed on for curation to the British Museum in recognition of its work can be seen in Room 65, Sudan, Egypt and Nubia

The Sudan Archaeological Research Society 

The International Society for Nubian Studies 


D. A. Welsby, 'The Amri to Kirbekan Survey 1999', SUDAN & NUBIA 3 (1999), pp. 51-57.

D. A. Welsby, 'The Amri to Kirbekan Survey: the 2002-2003 Season', SUDAN & NUBIA 7 (2003), pp. 26-32

D. A. Welsby (main author), 'Survey above the Fourth Nile Cataract', SARS publication no. 10, (London, 2003)

D. A. Welsby, 'The SARS Amri to Kirbekan Survey. Excavations at the pyramid, Site 4-F-71', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 2-3

D. Q Fuller, 'The Central Amri to Kirbekan Survey: A Preliminary Report on Excavations and Survey 2003-04', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 4-10

C. Kleinitz, 'The Central Amri to Kirbekan Survey: Rock art and ‘rock gongs’ in the Fourth Nile Cataract region: the Ishashi island rock art survey', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 11-16

P. Wolf, 'The SARS Anglo-German Expedition at the Fourth Cataract of the Nile: the 2003/04 season', SUDAN & NUBIA 8 (2004), pp. 17-26

D. A. Welsby, 'The Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project Survey in the Vicinity of ed-Doma (AKSE), 2004-2005', SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 2-8

J. Payne, 'Excavations of the Late Kushite and Medieval Settlement on Umm Muri',  SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 9-13

G. Carpio and S. Guillen, 'Excavations at Site 3-J-23, et-Tereif, Sudan', SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 14-16


F. Welsh, 'Architecture of the Modern Houses at the Fourth Cataract', SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 18-23

P. Wolf and U. Nowotnick 'The Second Season of the SARS Anglo-German Expedition to the Fourth Cataract', SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 23-31

C. Kleinitz and C. Olsson,'Christian Period Rock Art Landscapes in the Fourth Cataract Region: The Dar el-Arab and et-Tereif Rock Art Surveys',  SUDAN & NUBIA 9 (2005), pp. 32-39

D.A. Welsby, 'Excavations in the vicinity of ed-Doma (AKSE), 2005-2006', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 8-12

A. Ginns, 'Preliminary report on the excavations conducted on Mis Island (AKSC), 2005-2006', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 13-19

P. Wolf and U. Nowotnick, 'The Third Season of the SARS Anglo-German Expedition to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 20-31

R. Schiestl, 'Comments on the two Egyptian jars found at Tomb no. 1 of site 3-Q-94', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 32-33

C. Kleinitz and R. Koenitz, 'Fourth Nile Cataract petroglyphs in context: the ed-Doma and Dirbi rock-art survey', SUDAN & NUBIA 10 (2006), pp. 34-42

D. A. Welsby 'Rescue archaeology at the Fourth Nile Cataract', EGYPTIAN ARCHAEOLOGY 29 (2006), pp. 9-12


D. A. Welsby 'Dams on the Nile: from Aswan to the Fourth Cataract', SUDAN STUDIES 37, April (2008a), pp. 5-18.

D. A. Welsby. 'The Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project. Summary of the results 1996-2006', in W. Godlewski and A. Łajtar (eds).  Between the Cataracts. Proceedings of the 11th Conference for Nubian Studies Warsaw University, 27 August - 2 September 2006. Part one. Main Papers, Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean Supplement Series vol 2, pt 1 Warsaw, (2008b), pp. 33-47.

D. A. Welsby 'Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project. The Sudan Archaeological Research Society’s Amri to Kirbekan Survey', Gdańsk Archaeological Museum and Heritage Protection Fund African Reports 7, (2010), pp. 177-187.

D. A. Welsby and I. Welsby Sjöström (with a contribution by K. Manning) ‘Post-Meroitic Cow Burial at the Fourth Nile Cataract’, in V. Rondot, F. Alpi and F. Villeneuve (eds), La Pioche et La Plume, Autour du Soudan, du Liban et de la Jordanie. Hommages archéologiques à Patrice Lenoble. Paris (2011), pp. 465-480.

The project also featured in the Timewatch film 'The Black Pharaohs' (2004), and in the BBC television series 'The Museum - behind the scenes at the British Museum' (2007).