The Ancient Civilization of Kerma - Sudan

Kerma was a big surprise!

Clearly I hadn't read the itinerary closely enough, or perhaps that day not even at all - I guess that qualifies me as a bad blogger or at the very least a poor tourist, dubious anthropologist and unreliable researcher! Apparently we were visiting one of the earliest urbanized communities in Africa and I'd managed to forget it. There we so much we were surprised and delighted by in Sudan and Kerma was one of the most fascinating, particularly as it was a surprise! I knew we'd see Egyptian, Nubian, Christian and Islamic sites but I wasn't expecting  an ancient city state I knew nothing about. But that's what we got, along with a wonderful small museum where we had the opportunity to talk to a Swiss anthropologist - that's my kind of day!

Kerma was occupied continuously from 2,500 BCE until 1,500 BCE dating it to much the same time period as the Old and the Middle Kingdoms in Egypt. This agricultural and urban state controlled the area from the first to the fourth cataract and there is evidence they were an important trading power with an agricultural hinterland supporting an urban elite. However, a great deal is not known about what is called Kerma Civilization and there is a lot of ongoing archeological work in the immediate region. Clearly there was a lot of back and forth between  the civilization at Kerma and the Egyptians; Kerma allied with the Hyksos and had successfully invaded Egypt between 1575 and 1550 BCE,  in Tombus we saw a stelae  commemorating Tutmoses I's  victory  and the subsequant  annexation of the Kingdom at Kerma in 1504 BCE.
Clearly this was a sophisticated urban center, with the wealth and strength  to threaten the Egyptian Pharaonic power. Indeed some have suggested that perhaps the preceding communities known as Pre-Kerma (that emerged in the 4th Millennium BCE) had an influence on the development of Egyptian culture, suggesting that the early cultural influence and innovation came from the south and travelled north with the current on the Nile.
What was there to see?
We were in Kerma to see the enormous 19 meter mud Western Deffufa below. In my notes I have marked Defuffa as the Nubian word for old or mud building. It was an enormous, mud structure rising up above the archeological site. We were astonished by the size of the Deffufa and this was only one of three that exist in this region.

It dominated what had clearly been a populated urban areas. Below you can see the outlines of the excited structures surrounding the Deffufa.
There were roads, houses and artisan's workshops. The Deffufa seems to have had a symbolic, ritual or religious position and was probably connected to what appear to the thousands of sacrificial offerings of cattle buried here. 
But most of our questions remained unanswered, because currently the scholarship can tell us very little about the religious of cultural practices  of this society. Learning more is complicated by the fact that Kerma Culture does not appear to have relied a written record so currently knowledge is driven by painstaking archeological research.
We liked the small museum (below) in which we saw this extraordinary cache of seven large statues was found in one of the Dukki Gel temples in 2003. They represent the two last rulers of the 25th Egyptian Dynasty, Taharka and Tanwetamani and three of the first kings of the Napatan dynasty who ruled the area from the land from the second to the sixth cataracts.
While we visited they were  installing the  statues on a new plinth and it was a little difficult to distinguish between the black granite and the  settling concrete as you can see below.
Here you can see the sympathetically designed museum from the top of the Defuffa,  the excavated area is extremely large. 
I was astonished to find that Kerma is not on the UNESCO World Heritage List though it is on the "tentative" list which means Sudan has formally put it forward for consideration.

We visited Kerma on our way back from Soleb and once again we were the only tourists at another extraordinary site.  I noticed most itineraries don't include Kerma unless they continue to Soleb. This means that most tourist on the northern circuit in Sudan are missing out on a fascinating  ancient historical site. I highly recommend going beyond the standard itinerary and including Kerma on your trip.

You can find all of my Sudan posts here or find out where we went and why I recommend Lendi Travel so highly here.