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The importance of the Christian states of Nubia in medieval times has hitherto been under-estimated by historians of Africa. There is now sufficient information to show that they played a significant part in the history of the Nile valley for some 800 years. Not only did the existence of Christian states impose a barrier to the expansion of Islam, but the Dongola kingdom at least was at times an important force in the politics of the area.
The recent campaign of excavations made necessary by the building of the Aswan dam has provided much new information about the material culture of the period, and shows a much higher artistic and social development than earlier emphasis on ecclesiastical monuments had suggested. Nubia is now seen to have had a highly developed civilization with considerable urban development. Detailed study of the pottery has made possible more precise dating of buildings and objects, as well as showing periods of increased and decreased trade with Egypt.
The discovery of important frescoes in the cathedral at Faras makes it possible to study the artistic development, and also adds new material for a study of the eastern, particularly Persian, influences already suspected in Nubian art. Information about domestic life is made available by the excavations at Debeira West, the first predominantly domestic site to have been excavated, whose material remains provide new evidence on diet, crafts and agriculture.
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