Kerma is situated 40km to the north of Dongola near the 3rd cataract. Around 2500BC, one of the earliest urban centers in Sub-Saharan Africa developed there and was capital of a kingdom referred to in Egyptian hieroglyphic texts as the kingdom of Kush. At its height, this powerful kingdom controlled the area from upstream of the 4th cataract at least as far as Mograt island (and perhaps beyond), to downstream of the 1st cataract and the region around Aswan, Egypt. Though the most visible occupation dates to the kerms period, the area itself was continuously occupied from the Neolithic occupation being discovered in the region of the Eastern Cemetery. Just one kilometer to the north of the town of kerma is Dukki Gel, a site containing New Kingdom temples as well as those of Napatan and Meroiltic date.
The town of kerma is characterized by elaborate defense, an important religious quarter located at its heart, and countless domestic buildings, storage magazines, administrative and industrial complexes. Kerma had a rich material culture typified by extremely fine handmade pottery; a thin-walled red-polished were with a black-topped rim (see cat. 14) as well as bronzes, ivories and faiences. The American archaeologist G. A. Reinsert first explored the site between 1913 and 1916. Since 1973, the University of Geneva, Switzerland, has conducted archaeological work there. Kerma, situated on the route that linked Egypt and the Mediterranean world with central Africa, was a major commercial trading centre. Trade items passing through kerma included ivory, animal skins, hardwoods and gold that brought the kingdom great wealth as did its location in a large agricultural basin. This wealth and power were displayed in the royal tombs of the kerma kings and in those of the nobility as may be demonstrated by the large number of associated cattle sacrifices. One tomb, perhaps of a king of the Middle Kerma period (2050-1750BC) consisted of a grave 11.7m in diameter and 2m deep, covered by a mound that reached 25m across. More than 4.000 cattle bucrania were arranged in a crescent shape on the south side of the mound. The tombs of the later Kerma kings were even more impressive. From 1700BC, the kingdom of kush was the most powerful state in the Nile Valley. Buried under mounds up to 90m in diameter, these rulers were accompanied to their deaths by as many as 400 sacrifices humans, amongst whom may have been members of the king’s family, retainers and prisoners of war, though their identifies remain uncertain.