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from the trenches
A Parchment with Moral Fiber Volume 60 Number 6, November/December 2007
by Andrew Curry

(Courtesy Claudia Näser (2))


German archaeologists digging in northern Sudan have unearthed hundreds of parchment and leather fragments, likely from an ancient library buried beneath the ruins of a tenth-century A.D. Nubian church. One sheet of parchment survived nearly whole. Written in Greek, it is a priest's homily on the evils of adultery. The text quotes the upstart Old Testament prophets Nathan and Daniel, who rebuked the unfaithful King David and argued that older, powerful men should be punished for cheating, too. "It's really rare to find parchment in such a good state," says Claudia Näser, an archaeologist from Humboldt University in Berlin who led the excavation. "You can just read the text straight from the page, which is extraordinary."

International teams excavating in Sudan are battling against the clock. Some time next year, the Nile Valley around the river's Fourth Cataract will be flooded by a massive dam project ("Damming Sudan," November/December 2006). The legacy of Nubian Christianity, which flourished in isolation until the Nubians converted to Islam in the fifteenth century, is just one chapter in Sudanese history the dam will erase.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America