During its very long history, the Middle Nile Region (Sudan area of the Nile) witnessed the emergence of two powerful African civilizations. The first, the Kingdom of Kerma (c. 2500– 1500 BCE), named after the modern city located about 18 miles to the south of the 3rd Cataract of the Nile, where there are found the most important remains of the civilization: the kingdom’s capital and its eastern cemetery. Not much is known about the pre-Kerma period in the region, as there are many unanswered questions because of the paucity of identified settlements and the scarcity of discovered burials. At the moment, it is difficult to determine its territorial expansion, its social system, and its evolution, but nevertheless the region is the cultural substratum from which Kerma civilization developed.
Based on ceramic materials in the cemeteries on Sai and at Kerma, three chronological periods can be identified: Early Kerma (2500-2050), Middle Kerma (2050-1750 BCE), and Classic Kerma (1750-1500 BCE). A fourth period, called Final Kerma, denotes the transition between the end of the kingdom and the Egyptian occupation (1500-1450 BCE). As early as the Early Kerma period, the capital city developed around a sanctuary and its surrounding structures. A series of palaces situated in the same location for almost a thousand years lead to the development of a complex religious quarter comprised of chapels, storage areas, and workshops.
Ruins of the Western Deffufa, Kerma
The numerous modifications attest to the area’s vitality. The ruins of the western deffufa (large mud brick building where ceremonies were performed), center of religious power, stand almost 20 feet high and still dominate the city today. The seat of political power, on the other hand, is within the palace located 160 feet south-east. It comprises a large circular cabin that must have served as an audience chamber or stateroom for the king to conduct formal business.
Classic Kerma is the most illustrious period of the kingdom and its political importance in the region. Monumental and large-scale works are undertaken in the city and the cemetery. Along with the western deffufa, a port is established south of the city, and two large temples of more than 131 feet tall are erected in the cemetery, where the last royal tumuli clearly demonstrate the power of the kings. The cemetery contains between 30,000 and 40,000 burials. The size of each burial varies by periods and the rank of the deceased, but the largest burials are 295 feet in diameter.
The city was protected by walls and trenches that were modified as it expanded. During the Middle Kerma period, it fit within a square approximately 170 x 170 meters and possessed six different entrances. During the Classic Kerma, expansions modify the city’s configuration, and at the end of this period, the city covered more than 49 acres.
Ruins of city of Kerma
While an important avenue goes through the city, the paths that lead to the center were narrow passages. Generally, houses are comprised of two groups of rectangular buildings divided by a courtyard. The more spacious houses are near the paths leading to the city center and most have a courtyard with a wall, where the kitchen, grain storage, and domestic quarters are located. The well-defined quarters confirm that Kerma was a large urban city.
Since the excavation of the city (1977-2002) by the Mission of the University of Geneva (Switzerland) under the directorship of Charles Bonnet was completed in 2002, new scholarly studies have allowed for the understanding of Kushite urban development at Kerma. The Kingdom of Kerma was maintained by the rulers for almost a thousand years until Kush was conquered by the Eighteen Dynasty pharaohs of Egypt (mainly Thutmose III around 1450 BCE). They destroyed and condemned the capital and founded a new city 1⁄2 mile further north, on the site of Dukki Gel (meaning “red mound”).
At Dukki Gel while clearing a temple in January 2003, Bonnet and his Swiss team excavated a pit and discovered the famous cache of 40 black granite statue fragments of Kushite rulers. The statues were deliberately broken sometime after the 25th dynasty faded to destroy the power that the king represented. The buried fragments were eventually assembled and there are seven standing statues of Kushite kings, and represent the last two kings of the 25th dynasty, Taharqa and Tanwetamani, and their successors: Senkamanisken, Anlamani, and Aspelta, all identified by inscriptions on the back pillar. Tanwetamani, and Senkamanisken are represented twice. These kings are now mislabeled as the “black pharaohs.” [See the section on the “Misleading ‘Black Pharaohs’ Label (25th Dynasty)”].
Ampim, Manu. “History Of African Civilizations, History 110 Course Reader.” Unit 3: Classical African Civilizations (Kush). Oakland, CA: Advancing The Research, 2016. 48-50.