History of Research

Mentioned in travel logs from 1820 onwards, the site of Kerma was first excavated between 1913 and 1916, before the Swiss archaeological mission started its research programme in 1977.

The archaeological site of Kerma owes its reputation to the two mudbrick monuments noted by European travellers as early as 1820. The descriptions and drawings made by these explorers—notably F. Cailliaud, L. M. Linant de Bellefonds and K. R. Lepsius—are still considered first-rate documents today. Already at this time, these mysterious massifs are called deffufa, a Nubian word used to describe a monument of a certain height constructed of mudbrick. However, the site only becomes truly famous when G.A. Reisner (1867-1942) conducts excavations there between 1913 and 1916. He identifies a unique culture to which he gives the name of the modern town located nearby.


Coming to Upper Nubia to explore a region archaeologically ill known, Egyptologist G. A. Reisner discovers the remains of mudbrick houses on the east bank of the Nile together with the ruins of the two deffufas. He believes he has discovered an Egyptian trading post in Nubia, the western deffufa being the residence of the Egyptian "governor general." As for the second deffufa, located in the eastern necropolis, it is thought to be a funerary chapel associated with the cult of important individuals buried in the larger tumuli. Egyptocentric and 19th century cultural biases lead Reisner astray. Fascinated by the site's wealth, he could not imagine it to be the work of an indigenous Nubian civilisation. Kerma is thus considered a faraway post administered by the Egyptians, who had known how to stimulate the development of the region. This interpretation nonetheless prevailed for several decades despite the fact that it was contested, notably by German scholar Hermann Junker, prior to the release of the final publication.

In the 1970s, following new discoveries concerning the Kerma culture, the Mission of the University of Geneva, under the directorship of Charles Bonnet, decides to undertake its own research project on site. The first surveys took place between 1973 and 1976. Bonnet is convinced that the site has yet to reveal all its secrets The man knows Sudan: he worked at the site of Tabo (1965-1974), with the archaeological mission of the Henry M. Blackmer Foundation of New York and the Centre for Oriental Studies at the University of Geneva. In 1977, 61 years after Reisner, he obtains permission for renewed excavations on site. Fieldwork has continued ever since thanks to the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research, the Museum of art and history of Geneva, as well as private funding and occasional grants. This new project has revealed the ancient city's urban planning over an area measuring more than 30 hectares. These excavations in the city (between 1977 and 2002) coincide with those at the contemporaneous eastern necropolis. Today, it is accepted that the archaeological site of Kerma is the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, to which Egyptian texts so often refer. This civilisation plays a key role in understanding the relations between Egypt and Central Africa, and this is one of the reasons that led Charles Bonnet to pursue his research at the site of Dukki Gel, where were discovered the black pharaohs.

Since 2002, the mission is under the directorship of Matthieu Honegger, professor at the University of Neuchâtel. He offers new research perspectives in the region. The project, funded by the university and the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research, now encompasses hitherto unexplored areas, particularly in the desert, east of the Nile Valley. Surveys lead to the identification of important sites regarding the prehistory of Upper Nubia. Each year, excavations are conducted at several sites—Pre-Kerma, el-Barga, Wadi el-Arab or Busharia, each contributing to the understanding of the region's settlement and of the processes leading to a social complexity eventually marked by the emergence of the Kingdom of Kerma.

The Mission’s Goals

General Goals / Site Specific Goals

Origin of the City

The mission’s first goal is to develop a scientific study of the Kerma region, particularly of the urbanisation process in this central area of Nubia. Each year, excavations are conducted at several prehistoric and historic sites.

Social Complexification

Research at Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic, Pre-Kerma and Kerma sites allow us to develop scenarios involving social and economic transformations that took place during the millennia and eventually lead to the development of the Kingdom of Kush. Sedentary lifestyle, livestock farming, agriculture, population growth, social disparity and the birth of the first cities are all essential elements in the understanding of dynamics of the Kerma region.

Protection of Cultural Heritage

The mission also participates in the protection of the most important remains in the region, notably those of cities of Kerma and Dukki Gel, where were discovered the statues of the “Black Pharaohs.” These sites necessitate important conservation work in order to make them accessible to the public and preserve them for future generations. The goal of the Kerma Museum is to present to a wide audience the region’s rich cultural heritage.

The Mission’s Goals

Site Specific Goals

Doukki Gel

The goal is to understand the planning and the development of the religious quarter as well as the evolution of the fortification system that surrounds it. The study of this site allows the reconstruction of the different stages of the Egyptian conquest and the transition between the fall of the Kingdom of Kerma and the New Kingdom. It also helps understand the city’s development during the Napatan and Meroitic periods (8th century B.C. – 4th century A.D.).

City of Kerma

Various scientific analyses conducted after the excavation of the city, completed in 2002, enabled the understanding of the urbanisation process of the Kingdom of Kush. A book reconstructing the city’s history is currently in preparation.

Eastern Cemetery of Kerma

The renewed excavations of the Early Kerma, located in the northern area of the necropolis, have for goal the understanding of the kingdom’s origins and its relations with the C-Group. It shall also contribute to our understanding of the workings of an entirely excavated sector as well as allow the completion of the general catalogue of the necropolis, currently in preparation.


Excavations will continue in order to trace the enclosure wall, which reveals the extent of the agglomeration. Surveys within the cemetery as well as in the region will enable the identification of settlements and burials linked to this culture.


Excavations were concluded in January 2008. The goal is now to publish the Epipalaeolithic hut as well as the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic cemeteries.

Wadi El-Arab

The goal is to study the settlement dynamics of the region at the onset of the Holocene. The deposit’s main feature is its series of stratified occupations that span two millennia (8200-6200 B.C.). This site also reveals important information concerning the origins of pastoralism in Africa.


The site’s main interest is its date and the fact that its contains ceramics. Indeed, it is the oldest pottery production known in Sudan (8300 B.C.). Extending the excavation area shall provide more information regarding this context and the possible relations with contemporaneous Saharan pottery.

Current Research

The 2008-2009 excavation campaign took place from December 20, 2008 to January 31, 2009. Work focussed on these four sites:

Doukki Gel

Continued clearing in the religious quarter, notably in the area of the circular temple and the fortification remains

Eastern Cemetery of Kerma

Renewed excavations in the sectors of the earliest Kerma in order to understand the spatial distribution of the tombs and the conditions regarding the birth of the Kingdom of Kerma (Early Kerma, C-Group). A palaeoanthropological study has begun on these older sectors. A relational database about the burials is under construction.

Pre-Kerma Agglomeration

Continued excavations to define the extent of this proto-urban settlement.

Wadi el-Arab

Clearing of a funerary area containing burials dated from 7000 to 6500 B.C.; probably the oldest Neolithic burials on the continent.


The 2009-2010 excavation campaign began on December 4, 2009 and ended on February 2, 2010. A new excavation house was built and inaugurated, and the research focused on the 3 main sites being excavated

Doukki Gel

Continuation of the clearings of the western sectors of the religious complex, with the desire to understand the establishments of the time of Thutmose I and the transformations of Thutmose III.

Eastern Necropolis of Kerma

Continuation of the excavations in the sectors of the oldest Kerma, to better understand the spatial organization of the tombs and the conditions for the establishment of the Kingdom of Kerma (old Kerma, group C.). Continuation of the paleoanthropological study.

Wadi El-Arab

Search for remains of habitat, probably dated between 7000 and 6500 BC. J.-C.


The 2010-2011 excavation campaign is scheduled from December 15 to February 3, 2011. Research will continue on the 3 main sites.

Swiss collaborators

Professor Matthieu Honegger

Project director since 2002
Institut d'archéologie
Université de Neuchâtel
Laténium - Espace Paul Vouga
CH-2068 Hauterive

Professeur Charles Bonnet

Former director, co-responsible for the project
Membre de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres
17, ch. Bornalet
CH-1242 Satigny


Camille Fallet, Université de Neuchâtel
Dr. Christian Simon † et Dr. Jocelyne Desideri, Département d’anthropologie et d’écologie, Université de Genève


Veerle Linseele, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Honorary professor Louis Chaix, Museum d’Histoire Naturelle, Genève
Stine Rossel † Université de Copenhague


Kerma : Dr. Béatrice Privati et Philippe Ruffieux, Service cantonal d’archéologie, Genève Prehistory : Dr. Maria Carmela Gatto, Université de Yale
Chrystel Jeanbourquin, Prof. Matthieu Honegger, Université de Neuchâtel


Professeur Dominique Valbelle, Titulaire de la Chaire d’Egyptologie, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne

Scientific Collaborators

Bastien Jakob

PhD Students

Jérôme Dubosson, Camille Fallet, Hélène Delattres, Marc Bundi, Université de Neuchâtel

Master Students

Laure Prétôt


Michel Guélat, IPNA, Université de Bâle
Dr. Bruno Marcolongo et Nicola Surian, Instituto di Geologica applicata, Université de Padoue
Dr. Martin Williams, University of Adelaide


Jean-Michel Yoyotte CNRS
Nicolas Faure, independent photographer

Scientific secretaries

Nora Ferrero, Jérôme Dubosson, Philippe Marti


Dr. Brigitte Gratien, Institut de papyrologie et d’égyptologie, Université de Lille

Excavation technicians, drawers

Marion Berti, Daniel Conforti, Alain Peillex, Marc Bundi, Inès Matter-Horisberger, Patricia Jegher

Former collaborators

Aïxa Andretta, Daniel Berti, Alfred Hidber, Gérard Deuber, Thomas Kholer, Sophie Maytan, Françoise Plojoux-Rochat, Pascal Rummler-Kholer, Jean-Baptiste Sevette


Philippe Marti, Jérôme Dubosson, Université de Neuchâtel
Design: Magali Babey
English translation : Caroline M. Rocheleau


Sudaneses Collaborators

National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM)

Abdel Rahman Ali (Director General)
El-Hassan Ahmed Mohamed (Director of Fieldwork )
Salah Eddin Mohamed Ahmed (responsible for the Qatar-Sudan archaeological project)


Gad Abdallah, Saleh Melieh, Abdelrazek Omer Nouri, Idriss Osman Idriss, Khidir Magboul

Kerma Museum

Abdel Magid (curator of the Kerma Museum)
Shahinda Omer Ahmed (University of Khartoum)

NCAM Inspectors

Authorities of Northern Province and the region of Kerma

Location of Collections


Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Geneva


Département d'anthropologie et d'écologie de l'Université de Genève


Kerma Museum
Sudan National Museum, Khartoum
Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva
Institut de préhistoire et des sciences de l'Antiquité de l'Université de Neuchâtel

Ancient collections

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
British Museum, London
Egyptian Museum of Berlin