QSAP-30: New Finds on the Cemetery of Kerma by the Swiss Archaeological Mission
The Swiss team from the University of Neuchatel has been working in Kerma, ca. 700km north of Khartoum, since 2002, and in 2013, the mission joined the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project. In January 2018, the excavation concentrated on the so-called Eastern Cemetery, dateable to the end of Early Kerma period (2500-1500 BCE), a period 4000 years ago, during which the city was the center of an important empire. The excavation attempted to identify precisely at which moment in time the first royal graves of this civilisation apeared. Among the 27 graves studied, two of them were exceptional.
The first one was a tomb of a young archer, who had been about 18 years old when he died and was found partially mummified. His body was found completely intact which is rare for this period, as absolutely all adult graves were plundered at this period a few months after the funeral ceremony. As usual, the body was put in the pit on a cow's skin and was covered by another skin and a piece of flax textile was deposited on it. The archer held in his arms arrows and a bow was put close to them. A leather archer's armband was fixed on his left wrist. His adornment was composed of an ostrich feather fan and a necklace of ostrich eggshell beads with a mother of pearl pendent. He wore a sheep leather skirt with black and yellow hairs and a pair of sandal. A black sheep, which was an important animal in the beliefs of this society, was put at his feet with a long leather leash at its neck. The other end of the rope had been wound multiple times around the waist of the young man (figure 1). One pot of Egyptian origin and two made in Kerma were placed in the grave and possibly would have contained liquids such as milk, Sorghum beer or perfumed oil. This young man, as other well preserved graves, is very similar to the Nubian archers represented by the Egyptian during the New Kingdom (figure 2). This grave is a good example of the richness of this unique site which is now protected from the increase of car traffic and the extension of cultivated areas.
The second tomb is one of the earliest royal graves of the Eastern Cemetery, dated ca. 2050 BCE. Its circular layout measures about 10 meters in diameter (figure 3). The tomb was completely plundered and no skeletal remains were still in place, a situation observed many times in later royal graves. However, the filling of the pit revealed a great number of pots with numerous Egyptian imports. South of the grave and around it, large numbers of cow skulls had been arranged, possibly up to 1000. This arrangement was meant to symbolize the power of the buried king. Among these skulls were many that showed that their horns had been intentionally deformed (figure 4). On the ground of this empty grave a series of large postholes were discovered. They belonged to a relatively low (2m) wooden superstructure, covering a little more than half of the grave. It had been built to protect the body of the king over an extended period during which the late king was lying in wake. At the center of the grave, six large postholes indicated to a kind of bed on which the body of the king was laying in state. Around this bed other regular alignments of postholes showed that there had been a wooden funerary chamber as well.