Necropolis of Kerma

The necropolis of Kerma is one of the most impressive in Nubia, notably because of the countless black and white stone circles that mark the location of the burials.

The necropolis of Kerma, contemporary with the city, is located 4 kilometers further east. The installation of the necropolis at this location is perhaps linked to the presence of the Pre-Kerma agglomeration which occupied this land from the end of the fourth millennium BC. The excavations began in 1977, parallel to those of the city. These are excavations by sector, due to the immensity of the necropolis. Its area is around 90 hectares, the number of tombs is between 30,000 and 40,000, and the largest of them reach 90 meters in diameter. The works made it possible to understand the development of the necropolis, which follows a north-south axis, parallel to the Nile.

The graves consist of an earthen mound, held in place by several concentric circles of black and white stones. Their dimensions have varied according to the times and the rank of the deceased. To the north, the tombs of ancient Kerma are relatively uniform in size. The deceased lies on a leather blanket, sometimes a second covers his body. He is dressed in a loincloth and the funeral equipment is limited to a few personal items (items of adornment, ostrich feather fans, pair of sandals, dagger). Sometimes one or two subjects accompany the deceased. The burial ceremonies included meals and libations materialized by surface offerings placed at the foot of the tumulus: to the north, dozens of bowls are turned upside down, to the south bucranes arranged in a semi-circle symbolize the wealth of the deceased. From the end of this period, the differences between the tombs become more marked, with groupings around a privileged burial.

With the increasing hierarchy of society in the middle Kerma, this phenomenon will continue to amplify. The cowhide on which the deceased was lying is replaced by a wooden bed and the deposits of offerings in the tombs are then more and more important. The furniture is enriched with toiletries, tools, scented oils and ointments contained in containers sometimes imported from Egypt. Deposits of domestic animals and pieces of meat inside the pit are becoming more widespread, and the number of bucranes deposited south of the tumulus is increasing. It is not uncommon to find, alongside the main subject, several individuals put to death on the occasion of the death of the person buried. In the large tumuli of classical Kerma, G. A. Reisner estimated their number at several hundred. During this period, pottery was placed in and in front of chapels erected near important tombs. They were broken during funeral banquets, so as to share food and drink with the deceased. This practice will also continue during Meroitic times.

For more information, see the publications of C. Bonnet (archeology) and L. Chaix (archaeozoology and anthropology).