Above and just beyond reach in the clarity of desert night, countless stars and endless clusters lay in brilliant suspension. Then dawn began to erase the night sky and the north wind, constant and cold slipped over the dune’s knife-edge and found me huddled in its lea. My blanket, useless against its penetrating chill, served only to partially filter its cargo of biting sand that still worked its way into my ears and eyes and crunched uncomfortably between my teeth. Abandoning sleep I wrapped the blanket tighter and set off across the expanse of untracked dunes towards the distant rocky escarpment.
Silhouettes in the half-light, twenty pyramids rose to meet a morning sun that had illuminated their perfect lines for millennia. These were the tombs of the Pharaohs of Meroe, the last of the Cushites – the ancient Sudanese. Once they had conquered Egypt and established its 25th Dynasty in 712 BC, then Assyrian armies had forced them back deep into the Sudan to Meroe where they made their final capital. Through the centuries they became less Egyptian, developing a unique and spectacular culture until, in 350 AD, the Auxamite Ethiopians invaded and the last of the Cushites disappeared, their history locked away in Meroe’s yet untranslated hieroglyphics.