Satellite imagery and the distribution of Islamic tombs and other funerary monuments. Credit: Stefano Costanzo

Archaeologists Find Ancient Islamic Tombs Cluster Like Entire Galaxies

Scientists have pioneered a cosmological approach to archaeological sites to answer questions about the location of ancient burials in eastern Sudan.

For the first time, an international team of archaeologists has applied a method developed to study space clusters to study ancient Islamic tombs in Sudan. As it turned out, burials there are distributed in accordance with environmental and social factors, and their clusters resemble stars moving in the gravitational field of the galaxy as a whole. The study was conducted by a group of archaeologists led by Stefano Costanzo from the University of Naples.


How did scientists find a galactic pattern in the distribution of ancient Islamic Tombs?

Scientists have been interested in objects located in the Kassala region in eastern Sudan for decades. Previously, a huge number of burial monuments were found there, ranging from burial mounds thousands of years old and ending with tombs of the Islamic period.

Archaeologists suggested that all these monuments were not built randomly, but according to some unknown algorithm. They believe that the location of the tombs was probably influenced by some geological and social factors. But until recently it was not possible to reveal this secret.

Satellite imagery and the distribution of Islamic tombs and other funerary monuments. Credit: Stefano Costanzo
Satellite imagery and the distribution of Islamic tombs and other funerary monuments. Credit: Stefano Costanzo

In the new study, Costanzo and his team first collected a dataset of more than 10,000 burial sites in the region. They are located on a vast territory of over 4,000 square kilometers. For this, information obtained in the course of fieldwork was used, as well as remote sensing data using satellite images.

Then, to analyze the location of these sites, archaeologists used a method they borrowed from astronomers. They used the Neumann-Scott model, which was developed to study spatial structures, star clusters, and galaxies.

The analysis brought an unexpected result. The model showed that the ancient burials at Kassala are literally hundreds of clusters around central “parental” points, which are usually the most ancient or most important tombs.

Field images of some of the funerary monuments and Islamic tombs in Eastern Sudan that were studied. Credit: Stefano Costanzo

By the same principle, stars are grouped around centers of high gravity. Incidentally, this was the first time the cosmological approach was applied to archeology. Thus, archaeologists received a new tool for finding answers to questions about the origin of ancient monuments.

To summarize, the authors of the work put forward a hypothesis about Sudanese tombs. They suggest that the larger-scale distribution of monuments was determined by the environment, favorable landscapes, and the availability of building materials.

And the distribution on a smaller scale was probably dictated by social factors. Scientists have noticed that new tombs were usually built close to older ones. Perhaps in some places, these were family burials, and in other cases, traditions and rituals, according to which important burials were arranged next to the most ancient burial monuments, could play an important role.


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Sources:

Costanzo, S., Brandolini, F., Ahmed, H. I., Zerboni, A., & Manzo, A. (n.d.). Creating the funerary landscape of Eastern Sudan. PLOS ONE.
HeritageDaily. (2021, July 7). Ancient Islamic tombs cluster like galaxies – HeritageDaily – Archaeology News.
Jarus, O. (2021, July 7). Secret patterns found in arrangement of medieval Islamic tombs. LiveScience.
VICE. (n.d.). Scientists Discover Thousands of Ancient Tombs In Galaxy-Like Patterns.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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