When George Andrew Reisner carried out, in 1907, the first campaign of rescue of the Antiquities of Lower Nubia and that he establishes the classification of the cultures which he met there (Group A, Group C …), he ignored the vestiges Kerma. Because these remain rare in Lower Nubia; it was only between 1913 and 1916 that he was commissioned to carry out salvage excavations in the Kerma region of Sudan and was confronted with exceptional and totally new material. He interpreted the ruins as the remains of an Egyptian governorate, placed under the orders of a leader whose first would have been Hapidjefa in the twelfth dynasty, this because he had found in a tomb fragments of one of his statues and that of his wife, Senouy. He later thought that Egyptian traditions would have been lost and that native rites would have become predominant in this remote colony.

But we must definitely abandon his interpretation. In fact, the many studies that have taken place in Sudan in recent years have proved that Reisner reversed the chronology and that Kerma is a totally Nubian culture, very old and local, since it began in the middle of the third millennium BC. -C in the “pre-Kerma”, contemporary of Group A, and that it continues until the conquest of Upper Nubia at the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty.

If Lower Nubia is a buffer state that will switch to one or other of its powerful neighbors, Egypt and Kerma, Kerma is a real state, led by a heqa prince, who is well known to the ancient Egyptians. The northern border is located on the second cataract, with the exception of the Second Intermediate Period during which the Kouch princes take control of Lower Nubia. We do not know the extent of the territory; recently Kerma remains have been discovered upstream of the 4th cataract and at Gebel Barkal. The centralization of power will be around the ancient city of Kerma, the capital, seat of political power in the palace and religious power in the temple. The kingdom is ideally located at a crossroads of trade routes which it takes control, on the Nile and the tracks between Red Sea and Sub-Saharan Africa, a situation on which relies its fortune. But agriculture and livestock are also the foundations of its economy.

Middle Nubia can provide human labor – it is renowned for the value of its soldiers and archers -, building materials, gold, small and large cattle, but through its territory transits southern products, ivory , ebony, feline skins, incense … In exchange, the shipments deliver for example perfumed oils and ointments in alabaster or faience vases, amulets and jewels, dairy products and oils in the numerous ceramics found on the sites …

The recent excavations conducted by Charles Bonnet and the University of Geneva in the capital, Kerma, those carried out by the University of Lille and myself in the regional metropolis of Saï and on the rural habitat of Gism el-Arba between Kerma and Dongola, completed by the English, Canadian, Polish explorations of Wadi el-Khowi, Letti Basin and Dongola Reach as well as the 4th cataract, have completely renewed our knowledge.

Kerma’s history is divided into four main phases: Ancient Kerma (circa-2400 / -2000), Middle Kerma (circa-2000 / -1750), Classic Kerma (circa -1750 / -1550) and Kerma recent (after – 1550), proposed dates parallel to Egyptian history.

The old Kerma, at the end of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period, could correspond to the country of Iam, such as Herkhouf or elephantine greats we describe in the autobiographical stories they have engraved on the walls of their graves. Egyptian inscriptions have been discovered in the ancient levels of Kerma, the name of the lady Senet-its on a mirror, and, on a stele reused in the foundations of a chapel, those of two captains of ships, Iy- Meri and Merri, a title frequently worn on this date by expedition leaders. We still know very little about this phase. Habitats are essentially made up of light structures, as before with pre-Kerma, huts 4 m in diameter on average; the tombs are narrow, deep, and already indicated by circles of black and white stones, by slabs of black stone, or by stelae of white sandstone. The dead bear his personal ornaments and weapons, but some of the furniture is on the surface. Sometimes an animal is sacrificed, a sheep, a goat … and bucrânes placed at the edge of the pit. We remember the tomb of the Kerma archer on an ox hide, holding the bow and arrows in his hand. and already indicated by circles of black and white stones, by slabs of black stone, or by stelae of white sandstone. The dead bear his personal ornaments and weapons, but some of the furniture is on the surface. Sometimes an animal is sacrificed, a sheep, a goat … and bucrânes placed at the edge of the pit. We remember the tomb of the Kerma archer on an ox hide, holding the bow and arrows in his hand. and already indicated by circles of black and white stones, by slabs of black stone, or by stelae of white sandstone. The dead bear his personal ornaments and weapons, but some of the furniture is on the surface. Sometimes an animal is sacrificed, a sheep, a goat … and bucrânes placed at the edge of the pit. We remember the tomb of the Kerma archer on an ox hide, holding the bow and arrows in his hand. a goat … and bucrânes placed at the edge of the pit. We remember the tomb of the Kerma archer on an ox hide, holding the bow and arrows in his hand. a goat … and bucrânes placed at the edge of the pit. We remember the tomb of the Kerma archer on an ox hide, holding the bow and arrows in his hand.

All are seduced by the quality of ceramics, beautiful red bowls with black edges, polished, sometimes simply decorated with a geometric pattern under the lip, sometimes covered with impressions on the whole body; other cuts take the motifs of Group C contemporary, vases incised ribbon patterns, or imitating basketry, or sometimes covered with a procession of bovine. Others are inspired by the productions of Eastern Sudan and covered with buttons in relief.

During this period, the society seems to be still little hierarchical, even if it is possible that different social groups coexist in the capital; Ceramic production is uniform and of similar quality throughout the valley. Mirrors and copper tools, carnelian or hard stone jewelery, vases made of alabaster, ivory toilet articles, earthenware amulets … are everywhere and testify to the access by all to imported goods. Livestock is already one of the bases of the economy.

The average Kermawhich roughly corresponds to the Middle Kingdom sees the structuring of power between capital and regional metropolises, those perhaps mentioned in the texts of execration, but also the confrontation with Egypt. It is at this date that the term Kouch appears, which corresponds according to Georges Posener to a small territory upstream of the 2nd cataract, then will extend to the whole region. And it is therefore justified to make the connection with the average Kerma culture. Sesostris I and General Mentuhotep conquered Lower Nubia; the king fixes the southern border of Egypt to Semna. The pharaohs will build a series of powerful fortresses on the river,

Agriculture and livestock are growing; the hinterland is densely occupied; the villages are now composed of small brick dwellings, the capital is growing around the sanctuary. The social status is recognized in the burials. The furniture is now placed in the pit indicated by a tumulus bordered by a ring of stones; the deceased is lying on a low bed with his personal belongings; the food is deposited in many jars, and animal offerings accompany the dead, rams, sheep, goats placed whole or cut, sometimes a dog or a gazelle, sometimes a human sacrificed. But the rank and fortune are also reflected in the number of bucrânes deposited south of the well: Louis Chaix, in Kerma, has counted about 4000 around one of the royal tombs, a real herd of animals of all ages and all sex; some were painted, others had deformed horns; they came from all parts of the kingdom. A chapel adjoins the most important tombs. they came from all parts of the kingdom. A chapel adjoins the most important tombs. they came from all parts of the kingdom. A chapel adjoins the most important tombs.

The craft industry is diversifying, as well as the ceramic production where the storage jars and cooking pots for the kitchen are next to the drinking vases of very good quality. We work textile, basketry, leather, copper, ostrich egg, faience …; from the north come vases, amulets, food products in large jars; southern, ivory, ebony … The average Kerma is a favorable period in the history of Nubia.

The classical Kerma is however the most famous phase, partly because of the excavations of Reisner and the good state of conservation of the last state of the city of Kerma. The expanse of the territory reaches its greatest extension when the control of Lower Nubia and the Egyptian cities of the second cataract, whose garrisons pass to the service of the king of Kush: Sepedher rebuilds for him the temple of Horus . It seems that the power is therefore concentrated in Kerma, because the provincial graves are very modest.
The city of Kerma is dominated by the temple, the western deffufa, which, in its last state and perhaps under the influence of Egyptian architects, presents the appearance of an Egyptian temple with its pylons. But this massive building in raw bricks still rises to about ten meters and consists of a room with an altar of blue enamelled white marble, a narrow and blind corridor, the holy of holies; a staircase leads to the roof where other ceremonies were to take place. The religious sector also includes many chapels, shops, workshops including bakeries …

Nearby, a ceremonial hut, for a very long time in use, must be a ceremonial hut of the king, with granaries and shops; a palace is distinguished by the throne room, a public part where an “office” controls by affixing seals what circulates in the residence, a private party, and also attics and stores. Inside ramparts, palisades and ditches constantly repulsed, the city develops around four main axes leading to the temple; the houses are generally large and organized around a central courtyard, according to a model that can still be seen today in the region. Outside, a secondary agglomeration gathers chapels,

Some thirty kilometers away, the villages of Gism el-Arba give a less glitzy image of the rural habitat; the construction of large “farms” is spreading: buildings of 20 x 20 m always distributed around a central courtyard, where rooms and places of craft activity are distributed around the perimeter, while a part of the activities take place outside, for example the manufacture of utility pottery in primitive ovens. All Wadi el-Khowi is then exploited, and the hinterland provides for the needs of the capital. Livestock rearing must still be one of the foundations of the economy; however, it seems to become less, perhaps because the climate is changing, the pastures are getting poorer; this is reflected in the scarcity of sacrifices, both of the large cattle outside the graves and the small cattle. At the river’s edge, it has recently been discovered in the same area what seems to be a storage center; around an official building there were “shops”, in earth and wood on stone foundations, of an African type. The rich furniture came from both Egypt and Nubia; the Kerma and Egyptian prints and seals seem to support this hypothesis. both large cattle outside the graves and small livestock. At the river’s edge, it has recently been discovered in the same area what seems to be a storage center; around an official building there were “shops”, in earth and wood on stone foundations, of an African type. The rich furniture came from both Egypt and Nubia; the Kerma and Egyptian prints and seals seem to support this hypothesis. both large cattle outside the graves and small livestock. At the river’s edge, it has recently been discovered in the same area what seems to be a storage center; around an official building there were “shops”, in earth and wood on stone foundations, of an African type. The rich furniture came from both Egypt and Nubia; the Kerma and Egyptian prints and seals seem to support this hypothesis. in earth and wood on stone foundations, of an African type. The rich furniture came from both Egypt and Nubia; the Kerma and Egyptian prints and seals seem to support this hypothesis. in earth and wood on stone foundations, of an African type. The rich furniture came from both Egypt and Nubia; the Kerma and Egyptian prints and seals seem to support this hypothesis.

In the necropolis of Kerma, for example, the royal tombs become gigantic and the dead person is deposited in an apartment and accompanied by hundreds of sacrifices; it is here that the fragments of the statues of officials of the Middle Kingdom were found, perhaps acquired by the kerma kings during the looting of the Egyptian sites at the northern margin of the kingdom. The funerary temples adjoin the tombs, thus the eastern deffufa, consisting of two rooms with columns. The walls are decorated with frescoes: friezes of hippos at the entrance, and inside, more “African” scenes on the south wall, and rather “Egyptian” on the north side,

The more modest tombs are always indicated by a tumulus; the deceased may carry arms, daggers and knives; under its cover, we sometimes discover one or two sacrificed and a sacrificed ovi-caprine. But the classic Kerma is especially famous for the quality of its ceramics, especially the famous vases-tulips, red with black edge and luster, decorated with a white band, a thickness of a few millimeters. The forms are complicated: stacked vases, animal shapes, spouted vases, vases in the form of huts, not to mention the utility pottery such as storage jars with printed lip and cooking pots …

Kerma is still in contact with Egypt: ceramic shards, and also some burials, have been found in the valley, in the western oases and even in the eastern Delta. The letter of the Prince of Avaris to the King of Kerma, intercepted by Kamose in the desert, proves the connections; King Hyksos kept himself perfectly informed of the Nubian events. Egyptian products continue to arrive in Nubia. However, the situation changed rapidly at the beginning of the 18th dynasty when the pharaohs began the conquest of Kush. We can follow the progress through the Egyptian texts. Thus Thutmosis I penetrates as far as Tombos where he engraves the story of his campaign, and transforms the rock of Haggar el-Merowe in Kourgos into a gigantic border stele. Fortresses and new towns are built and the temples of Egyptian divinities multiply, such as the Temple of Amun in the holy mountain, the Gebel Barkal. The takeover of the country will not be easy and it will take almost a century to pacify it. One of the dignitaries Kerma is buried in a tomb stone masonry. The town of Kerma will be abandoned and a new agglomeration built a few kilometers as evidenced by the recent work of Charles Bonnet who has just discovered there several temples of the XVIIIth dynasty. The royal children are sent to the Residence, where they will acquire an Egyptian education, probably according to the method that the Romans will apply in the future. As for the villages, they only have a few cells like Gism el-Arba, and their inhabitants adopt the Egyptian techniques, for example the beautiful red ceramic on board disappears in favor of a common ceramics tour. The population is gradually acculturated as it appears in the funerary ritual. The management of the country is entrusted to the royal son of Kouch. and their inhabitants adopt the Egyptian techniques, for example the beautiful red ceramic on board disappears in favor of a common ceramics tour. The population is gradually acculturated as it appears in the funerary ritual. The management of the country is entrusted to the royal son of Kouch. and their inhabitants adopt the Egyptian techniques, for example the beautiful red ceramic on board disappears in favor of a common ceramics tour. The population is gradually acculturated as it appears in the funerary ritual. The management of the country is entrusted to the royal son of Kouch.

Thus, the first independent African kingdom known to the south of Egypt is extinguished. It will be seven centuries before the Nubian traditions reappear in that of Napata.

Brigitte Gratien
research director at CNRS
UMR 8027 CNRS / University of Lille 3

 

Bibliography:
– GA Reisner, Excavations at Kerma, Harvard African Studies, vol. V and VI, Cambridge, Mass., 1923
– B. Gratien, Kerma cultures. Classification test, Villeneuve d’Ascq, 1978
– Ch. Bonnet, Kerma, territory and metropolis, Paris, 1986
– Ch. Bonnet, Kerma, Kingdom of Nubia, Geneva, 1990
– Sudan, kingdoms on the Nile, exhibition catalog , Paris, 1997
– J. Reinold, Archeology in Sudan. The civilizations of Nubia, Paris, 2000
– Charles Bonnet, Edifices and funerary rites in Kerma, Paris, 2000