Kingdom of Kush or Cush was an ancient African state centered on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan. It was one of the earliest civilizations to develop in the Nile River Valley. Having also been referred to as Nubia, and as "Ethiopia" in ancient Greek and Greco-Roman records, the Kushites left their mark on various aspects of the ancient world and their legacy is still readily discernible from the various archaeological field sites scattered throughout modern Sudan.
Excavations – directed by Swiss archaeologists, Professor Charles Bonnet and Dr. Matthieu Honegger – have been revealing a royal palace, temples, extraordinary tombs and a massive ancient city on the banks of the Nile in Northern Sudan. Academics have been speculating over whether this long-lost civilisation may have been the precursor of the famous biblical Kingdom of Kush, which was alluded to in the Book of Genesis.As a direct result of these and other excavations, Sudan is emerging as one of the most significant archaeological regions in the world.
Due to the country’s superbly preserved archaeology, it has yielded evidence of early cattle domestication that pre-dates any in Egypt’s Nile Valley. What’s more, the earliest Sudanese civilisation – known as Ta-Sety (“the Land of the Archers’ Bow”) to the ancient Egyptians and Kerma to modern archaeologists – is the most ancient African urban culture outside the Land of the Pharaohs. It flourished as a totally independent political entity for at least 15 centuries – until finally, around 1500 B.C., it was conquered by the Pharaohs of Egypt. This ancient Sudanese civilisation appears to have been ruled by a series of extraordinarily powerful kings – perhaps even emperors. Several of the royal tombs were spectacular man-made hills, 30 metres wide and up to 15 metres high.
To underline their power in this life (and the next), the rulers of Kerma seem to have had the unsettling habit of taking all their retainers and many of their relatives with them to the afterlife! One tomb held 400 skeletons. Even before these kings began taking human escorts with them to eternity, their funerals had still been massive ritual events in which their imperial power over vast areas of territory was symbolically demonstrated.
Indeed, excavations and subsequent scientific investigations over the last few years have revealed that some of the kings had themselves buried alongside the remains of literally thousands of cattle. In front of one royal grave, the king’s retainers had sacrificed 4,500 of the animals – arranging their skulls in a huge, horn-shaped crescent in front of the tomb. But of greatest significance was the chemical analysis of the horns, which revealed that the cattle had been reared in different environments and been, brought to the funeral from the length and breadth of the kingdom.
What’s clear is that Kerma’s civilisation emerged out of an ancient pastoral culture that had flourished in that part of Sudan since at least 7000 B.C. when the first settlements were established. Nearby Kerma archaeologists have discovered one of the two oldest cemeteries ever found in Africa – dating back to 7500 B.C. – and the oldest evidence of cattle domestication ever found in Sudan or, indeed, in the Egyptian Nile Valley. Around 3000 BC a town grew up not far from the Neolithic dwellings place.
The economic basis of both of the pre-urban and urban cultures of ancient Kerma was cattle. The people themselves seem to have come from two distinct areas and may originally have belonged to two tribal groups. Excavations last winter revealed how, for the first 100 years of Kerma’s existence, these two peoples continued to preserve their distinct cultural traditions while living in the same city. Although the distinctions may have been tribal in origin, they also reflected differences in wealth and possibly social status. Kerma was an extraordinarily prosperous empire. It was an advanced Black African state which established itself very successfully as a middle-man between sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt. It therefore supplied ancient Egypt with everything from tropical animals and slaves to gold and precious hardwoods.
Archaeologists have been unearthing truly wonderful works of art in Kerma – everything from model hippopotami, lions, giraffes, falcons, vultures, scorpions and crocodiles made of faience, mica, ivory and quartz to bracelets, ear decorations and necklaces made of gold, shell and faience.
Kerma ceramics are among the most elegant from the ancient world – strikingly modern-looking with simple shapes and bold geometric designs.
The kingdom’s capital was defended by substantial city walls. At least two miles of ramparts and dozens of bastions protected it from attack.
Yet by around 1500 B.C., the defences failed and Kerma was conquered and occupied by the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, one of the most militarily aggressive rulers the world had ever seen.
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