Excavating Egypt's Black History

Pourzal holds an artifact from a dig.
Pourzal holds an artifact from a dig.

Last month I traveled to Egypt as a member of the pioneering ASA Restoration Project to volunteer in the South Asasif Conservation (SAC) Project.


Since 2006, the SAC Project has been excavating three 25th Dynasty (eighth to seventh centuries B.C.) tombs (see my tomb video tour) of Kushite nobles in Luxor, Egypt. This dynasty reunified Egypt, established a cultural renaissance and was led by a succession of kings from Kush (south of Egypt). The last major Kushite ruler of Egypt was King Taharqa, who is the only pharaoh mentioned by name in the Bible, and the subject of an upcoming movie produced by Will Smith.

Many historians incorrectly refer to the kings of the 25th Dynasty as the "black" pharaohs, which implies that they were the only black Egyptian kings — but nothing could be further from the historical truth.

In fact, the art and literature produced and restored by this Nubian dynasty, including artwork found within SAC Project tombs, reveals a cultural connection between the 25th Dynasty and the original Egyptian pyramid builders of Dynasties 3 to 6 (28th to 26th centuries B.C.). The 25th Dynasty kings made a specific point to acknowledge their ancestors who lived and prospered in Egypt 2,000 years earlier.

According to SAC Project Director and Egyptologist Elena Pischikova, Ph.D., an expert on 25th Dynasty art and culture, this dynasty "saw themselves as spiritual relatives of the kings of the past … they went back to their roots."

Pischikova has made many personal sacrifices to ensure the project's survival; she has exhausted her own funds and taken out loans to fund the SAC Project.

After visiting the site in 2008 and witnessing Pischikova's commitment to 25th Dynasty history, cultural historian Anthony Browder began to support her work and founded the ASA (Asa Hilliard South Asasif) Restoration Project, which seeks to assist the SAC Project with funding and manpower.


Browder has already led three groups of self-funded volunteers, like myself, to Luxor. We are from all walks of life and are motivated by a love for African culture and history and a desire to increase awareness of the Kushite presence in Egypt. Conventional Egyptology is Eurocentric and has continuously deflected attention away from the role that indigenous Africans played in developing Egypt — an African nation.

The work was dirty, dusty, hot, exhausting. And thrilling. I was proud to be helping to restore a part of African — and world — history.


About five years ago, through the works of Anthony Browder and IKG, I became aware of Kemet's deep-rooted influence on the world and the systematic attempt to suppress the African nature of this great civilization. Since then I've immersed myself in Kemetic history, even studying to be able to conduct IKG's Egypt on the Potomac Field Trips in Washington, D.C. Working to illuminate African history is in my blood; I am the grandson of the groundbreaking American-African historian Benjamin Quarles.

Restoring an ancient tomb is a magical, tedious and elaborate process. It is similar to assembling a 3-D puzzle, the pieces of which have been stolen by humans, burned by fire and smoke, eroded by water and wind, buried under limestone rubble and then covered by 50 feet of sand.


Of the three tombs currently being restored, the tomb of Karakhamun (a Kushitic priest) will yield the greatest results. It is one of the first 25th Dynasty tombs built in Egypt. This tomb has an extensive history that has yet to be fully told. After construction, Karakhmun's tomb was usurped and reused by various Egyptian nobles. It was used as a jewelry factory by the Greeks and as a dump by an Arab family, who also robbed the tomb of its most valuable contents.

Like other tombs in the South Asasif Valley, it was carved out of a huge, underground limestone deposit and features multiple pillared halls that can accommodate dozens of people. This concept of a "temple-tomb," a place where the living could interact with the spiritual world, was an architectural innovation introduced into Egypt by the 25th Dynasty.


Our main job as volunteers was the registration of the tomb fragments found by the excavating workmen. We meticulously analyzed and recorded fragment condition, pigmentation and workmanship of carving, among other aspects of the tomb, and if we saw hieroglyphs, we recorded the meaning, too.

We also took turns excavating the steps leading to the burial chamber in the western end of the tomb. We worked slowly and with great care as we sifted through debris and sorted out animal bones, pottery fragments and ancient artifacts.


For a couple of days, I also helped work on restoring a pillar with the conservation team (see video). Our goal is to restore the pillars, columns, walls and ceiling of the tomb with the fragments we are uncovering from the excavation.

The ASA volunteers also maintained a blog about our varied experiences while at the site.


Volunteering at the dig was exhausting but extremely rewarding. When the tomb is restored, we will tell our children and grandchildren that we helped reconstruct African history and, equally important, helped write world history. When we bring them to Luxor years from now, we will be able to show them what we accomplished and what they have the capacity to do.

Jonathan Pourzal, a D.C. resident and student of world history, conducts study tours that illuminate the ancient Egyptian influence on America's founding fathers and Washington, D.C.