The European Research Council has awarded an ERC Consolidator grant to Dr Artur Obłuski’s project “Afropolis Tungul: Urban biography of a cosmopolitan African capital”. The project will be based at the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, the University of Warsaw.

PCMA UW is also home to Dr. Obłuski’s first ERC grant, an ERC Starting Grant awarded in 2017. Both projects focus on the study of urban centers, and the communities that inhabit them, in a diachronic perspective using the example of Tungul (Old Dongola) in Sudan – a Nubian metropolis that existed for more than one and a half thousand years.


“The project’s acronym captures its essence. Afropolis stands for a city that was built at the intersection of two great cultures – that of the ancient Mediterranean world and Africa. The people who inhabited the city were extremely effective in leveraging their geographical location, skillfully drawing on the two resource bases to create a social, political and cultural organism that was unique in global terms. Tungul is the native name of this urban center, which survived for 15 centuries. One of our aspirations is to tackle the myth of Africa as a continent without history and without civilization. Tungul and the kingdom of Makuria were established five hundred years before the emergence of Poland,” Artur Obłuski explains.


The “Afropolis Tungul” project will focus on the period when the city was the capital of the Christian kingdom of Makuria (4th–15th c.), but it will also incorporate the results of the earlier ERC project, UMMA, which studied the most recent 500 years of the city. The project is a multidisciplinary attempt at gaining a profound understanding of settlement persistence in the Nile Valley: Why was Tungul established in this particular place? What factors allowed it to survive for so long, despite harsh environmental conditions and dynamic political changes?


The “urban biography” will portray the life of the capital city, which surpassed contemporary European centres in size, on a variety of levels: urban planning, environmental and demographic.


“In my interpretations of the findings I want to go beyond traditional narratives steeped in ecological or political determinism,” the head of the project points out, adding, “By giving equal attention to climatic, environmental, socioeconomic and political factors, I hope to present analyses that will offer new perspectives for broader archaeological and theoretical studies of urbanism and complex societies.”


While most of the work will focus on the collection and analysis of data on Tungul during the Makurian period (4th–15th cent.), the project’s research goals require combining this material with data on the Funj period (16th–19th c.) obtained over the course of the ERC Starting Grant UMMA project, and other information gathered during the PCMA UW expedition’s excavations at the site. This research has been going on for more than five decades and is the longest-running Polish archaeological expedition in Sudan. Not least because of the advances in research at Old Dongola, the PCMA UW established in 2018 a Research Centre in Sudan, with two units: in Khartoum and Old Dongola.


The ERC has awarded €1,999,950 for the five-year project. ERC Consolidator Grants are intended for successful researchers, with 7 to 12 years’ experience since completion of PhD, who build excellent research teams.

Artur Obłuski, PhD, is an archaeologist specializing in the study of medieval Nubia. He has been the director of the PCMA UW since 2018, having previously headed the PCMA UW Research Center in Cairo. He advocates a change in the approach to archaeological research in Africa and the Middle East from considering it as a purely scientific endeavor towards using heritage to foster economic development of local communities and their active involvement in the research process.


He has received grants from the National Science Center of Poland, as well as, among others, the Columbus Scholarship from the Foundation for Polish Science held at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, one of the top ten universities in the world. He is the first Polish archaeologist to receive two ERC grants. In 2017, he obtained an ERC Starting Grant for the project “UMMA – Urban Metamorphosis of the community of a Medieval African capital city.” This was the first ERC grant awarded to an archaeologist in Poland. In 2022, he received the Public Choice award in the ERC Public Engagement with Research Award competition for sharing the results of his research through collaborative archaeology. He also received the Prime Minister’s Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement in 2021.