35 pyramids discovered in Sudan

Researchers have been intrigued by at least 35 closely clustered small pyramids discovered between 2009 and 2012 at a site in Sudan.

Located at a site called Sedeinga, the pyramids are densely concentrated, according to a report on LiveScience.

"They date back around 2,000 years to a time when a kingdom named Kush flourished in Sudan. Kush shared a border with Egypt and, later on, the Roman Empire. The desire of the kingdom's people to build pyramids was apparently influenced by Egyptian funerary architecture," LiveScience said.

To illustrate how dense the pyramids are, 13 pyramids were found in 2011 packed into about 5,381 square feet (500 square meters) - slightly larger than an NBA basketball court.

Researchers also found the pyramids have a circle built inside them, with cross-braces connecting the circle to the corners of the pyramid.

"The density of the pyramids is huge ... Because it lasted for hundreds of years they built more, more, more pyramids and after centuries they started to fill all the spaces that were still available in the necropolis," said researcher Vincent Francigny, a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Francigny is the excavation director of the French Archaeological Mission to Sedeinga, which made the discoveries.

He and team leader Claude Rilly published an article detailing the results of their 2011 field season in the most recent edition of the journal Sudan and Nubia.

Of the 35 pyramids, the biggest discovered are about 22 feet (7 meters) wide at their base.

The smallest, likely constructed for the burial of a child, measured only 30 inches (750 millimeters) long.

Also, the researchers found the tops of the pyramids are not attached, as time and the presence of a camel caravan route may have resulted in damage to the monuments.

Francigny said the tops would have been decorated with a capstone depicting either a bird or a lotus flower on top of a solar orb.

Out of room

Francigny said the building of the pyramids continued until they ran out of room to build.

"They reached a point where it was so filled with people and graves that they had to reuse the oldest one," he said.

Inner circle

Several pyramids were designed with an inner cupola (circular structure) connected to the pyramid corners through cross-braces.

Rilly and Francigny noted the pyramid design resembles a "French Formal Garden."

Only one pyramid outside of Sedeinga is known to have been constructed this way, and researchers are wondering why Sedeinga people were fond of the design.

Rilly and Francigny noted this "did not add either to the solidity or to the external aspect (appearance) of the monument."

But Francigny said an "intriguing" discovery made in 2012 may provide a clue.

"What we found this year is very intriguing. A grave of a child and it was covered by only a kind of circle, almost complete, of brick," he said.

He said it is possible that when pyramid building came into fashion at Sedeinga, it was combined with a local circle-building tradition called tumulus construction, resulting in pyramids with circles within them.

One of the most interesting new finds was an offering table found by the remains of a pyramid, appearing to depict the goddess Isis and the jackal-headed god Anubis and includes an inscription, written in Meroitic language.

The inscription was dedicated to a woman named "Aba-la," which may be a nickname for "grandmother," Rilly said.

A translation read:

Oh Isis! Oh Osiris! It is Aba-la. Make her drink plentiful water; Make her eat plentiful bread; Make her be served a good meal.

The offering table with inscription was a final send-off for a woman, possibly a grandmother, given a pyramid burial nearly 2,000 years ago. — TJD, GMA News