The site of the city of Meroë is marked by more than two hundred pyramids in three groups, of which many are in ruins. They are identified as Nubian pyramids because of their distinctive shape and proportions. Meroë was the southern capital of the Kushite Kingdom, or Napata/Meroitic Kingdom, that spanned the period c. 800 BC - c. 350 AD. Meroë was the base of a flourishing kingdom whose wealth was due to strong iron industry, plus an international trade involving India and China.
At the time, iron was one of the most researched metals worldwide, and
Meroitic metalworkers were among the best in the world. Meroë also
exported textiles and jewelry. Their textiles were based on cotton and
working on this product reached its highest achievement in Nubia
around 400 BC. Furthermore, Nubia was very rich in gold. Trade in
"exotic" animals from farther south in Africa was another
feature of their economy. It is possible that the Egyptian word for
gold, nub, was the source of name of Nubia.
Modern archaeology in Sudan has been impossible because of the on-going civil war. In the nineteenth century, after the ruins at Meroë had been described by several European travellers, some treasure-hunting excavations were executed on a small scale in 1834 by Giuseppe Ferlini, who discovered (or professed to discover) various antiquities, chiefly in the form of jewelry, now in the museums of Berlin and Munich.
The ruins were examined more carefully in 1844 by Karl Richard Lepsius, who brought many plans, sketches, and copies, besides actual antiquities, to Berlin. Further excavations were carried on by E. A. Wallis Budge in the years 1902 and 1905, the results of which are recorded in his work, The Egyptian Sudan: its History and Monuments (London, 1907). Troops were furnished by Sir Reginald Wingate, governor of the Sudan, who made paths to and between the pyramids, and sank shafts.
It was found that the pyramids regularly were built over sepulchral chambers, containing the remains of bodies either burned or buried without being mummified. The most interesting objects found were the reliefs on the chapel walls, already described by Lepsius, and containing the names and representations of their queens, Candaces or the Nubian Kentakes, some kings, and with some chapters of the Book of the Dead; some stelae with inscriptions in the Meroitic language, and some vessels of metal and earthenware. The best of the reliefs were taken down stone by stone in 1905, and set up partly in the British Museum and partly in the museum at Khartoum.
In 1910, in consequence of a report by Archibald Sayce, excavations were commenced in the mounds of the town and the necropolis by J. Garstang on behalf of the University of Liverpool, and the ruins of a palace and several temples built by the Meroite rulers were discovered.