Hamitic-Kushitic Origins of Egypt and Ethiopia / Sudan. Oromos, Arabic Speaking Sudanese, Nubians II

Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
In an earlier article, I expanded on the Hamitic identity of A-Group state and civilization in 4th ? 3rd millennium BCE Southern Egypt. In the present article, I will explore the earliest phases of Kushitic - Ethiopian civilization, the interaction with Egypt, and the mistaken use of the term ´Nubian´ for the monuments built and the historical states formed in Ancient Kush ? Ethiopia, i.e. today´s Northern Sudan.

3rd ? 2nd Millennium BCE Kush / Ethiopia, the Displaced Terms Upper / Lower Nubia, C-Group, and the Rise of Kerma

Following the Egyptian invasion of the A-Group area (between Aswan and Wadi Halfa) by Pharaoh Snefru and the subsequent dissolution / incorporation of the Qustul-centered Hamitic state, the area became well-known to, and explored by, the Egyptians. Egyptian presence was not long lasting, and several new comers allied with the remaining indigenous people in an effort to keep the Egyptians out of the area. New types of burial architecture, new types of pottery and new names are now in use.

Beyond Egypt´s limit at the first cataract, the Egyptians now denote three successive lands, namely Wawat, Irtjet and Setju. At the same period, Egyptian texts start mentioning the Nehesy, the earliest name used to denote the Nubians. Nehesy is an ethnic term, whereas the other three names seem to be rather geographical terms. A desert-based ethnic group is also first mentioned in this period, the Medjaw. All these terms find their archeological counterpart in the name C-Group that was also coined by Reisner before more than 100 years.

C-Group Kush was neither strong nor united; it was totally eclipsed by the rise in force of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, a Delta-centered state that needed the natural resources of Upper Egypt and Kush for its magnificent projects. C-Group Kush was inhabited by a mixture of Kushitic and Nubian populations that we cannot easily identify with the aforementioned three geographical terms. The strong Kushitic - Ethiopian component of C-Group is suggested by the workmanship, the artistic choices (particularly in terms of pottery, architecture and sculpture), the burial traditions, and several religious practices. It is plausible that Kushitic populations emigrated to Wawat, Irtjet and Setju from Kerma in the south, and from as far in the south as Khartoum.

At the end of the Old Kingdom, Egypt was an absolutely exhausted state and pharaoh Merenere (ca. 2255 BCE) accepted to hold a summit with the kings, called chiefs, of Wawat, Irtjet and Setju. As the pharaoh was in need of wood for the fluvial transportation of stones for the erection of his pyramid, the kings of the three regions ? states proved to be of help. Due to the rapprochement, mercenaries from the three regions started being hired by the Egyptian army.

Further in the south, beyond the third cataract, there was Yam, as the Ancient Egyptians called Kush ? Ethiopia first. The exact identification of Yam seems somewhat difficult, but most of the leading Egyptologists are inclined to accept the identification of Yam with the Kerma-based Kushitic ? Ethiopian kingdom.

Yam was described as much stronger than Wawat, Irtjet and Setju, and in the 2nd half of the 3rd millennium BCE royal gifts were exchanged many times between Yam and Egypt; a pygmy "from the land of the horizon dwellers" was sent as a gift once. The event suggests that at the end of the 3rd millennium BCE the Kushitic Ethiopian state of Yam already led expeditions south of the Equator. The huge round palace unearthed at Kerma by Charles Bonnet seems to be one more reason for us to identify Yam with Kerma. However, when Wawat, Irtjet and Setju were somewhat stronger and unfriendly, Egyptians had to travel through the desert to avoid troubles.

Egypt-friendly and Egypt-unfriendly Kush

Chaos prevailed in Egypt during the so-called First Intermediate Period between the end of the Old Kingdom and the rise of the Middle Kingdom. Similar situations characterized Kush ? Ethiopia at the same time. Following this period of generalized and overwhelming turmoil (equally attested in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Canaan), a new world order came gradually to surface. In Egypt, the decision making center shifted to the south again; in Kush ?Ethiopia, another Kushitic tribe or clan prevailed. The accuracy of the Ancient Egyptian scribes revealed this development, as the term Yam from ca. 2150 onwards started being replaced by the term Kas (Kush). This development was perceived very negatively by the Egyptians who for two millennia perceived Kush as the land of the contemptible and evil. The prevalence of a polytheistic version of the Amunite ideology in Kushite - Ethiopian Kerma in contrast with the early Theban Amunism seems to have been the real divide, and the clash was repeated many times during more than 1500 years.

All the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom gave great importance to the consolidation of the Egyptian military presence in the South; they therefore built a great number of fortifications that could serve as bases for military expeditions whenever needed. Part of the consolidation project was the annexation of almost all the territory between the first and the second cataracts. It was then that the Nubians expanded from Upper Egypt further to the South, in Kush ? Ethiopia.

The Kerma-based Kushite ? Ethiopian state was the first powerful and sizeable Ethiopian state in History (I repeat: totally unrelated to the Semitic Yemenite ancestors of today´s Amhara and Tigray Abyssinians); it was locaed ca. 350 km south of today´s Egyptian ? Sudanese borderline. This means 900 km far from Thebes (the first Middle Kingdom capital of Egypt) and almost 1500 km far from Itj Tawy, Amenemhat´s new capital (named after him, Amenemhat Itj Tawy, Amenemhat Seizer of the Two Lands, which was another name of Ancient Egypt, highlighting its division into Lower and Upper) near today´s Lisht (El Lisht) south of Cairo.

Kerma is the modern name of the location whereby extensive excavations brought to surface numerous monuments covering the period ca. 2500 ? 2500 BCE. At its earlier levels, Kerma was not a big and powerful capital, as I already said; it seems that the area rose to prominence at the period of decadence of Egypt, which is customarily called Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1800 ? 1550). The Ethiopian Kushitic state with Kerma as capital proved to be a threat for the Egyptian interests in the south, that´s why Amenemhat I campaigned in the area between the two cataracts that was the border region between the two states. The transfer of the Egyptian capital far to the north may also be due to the rise of Kerma, and eventually because of a rapprochement between the Ethiopians of Kerma and the Nubian chieftains whose rights and privileges had been curtailed by the centralizing administration of Amenemhat I.

But Kerma is not a Nubian state; wikipedia text represents an absolute falsehood (´It became a real Nubian state during the 3rd millennium": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerma). There is not a single proof that Ancient Nubians ruled the Kushitic - Ethiopian state of Kerma. At those days, Egyptian Hieroglyphic was the only existing writing either in Egypt or the Kerma-based state of Kush ? Ethiopia. The Egyptian Hieroglyphic sources of that period ? with no exception ? name that state as Kas, which is the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of Kush.

The aforementioned entry of wikipedia is abundant in inaccuracies written only to diffuse the fallacious attribution of the Kushitic ? Ethiopian state to the Nubians. Even the starting sentence contains an extraordinary falsehood, identifying the entire Sudanese city of Kerma with a small part of the archeological place that is located there. The text reads: "Kerma (now known as Doukki Gel ? a Nubian term which can be roughly translated as ´red mound´)". Kerma is not known as Doukki Gel, but as Kerma. The name itself is not of Nubian etymology. The archeological place itself is rather known as Kerma Deffufa, after a Nubian term for ´mud brick structure´, but the entire town is named Kerma.

The confusion can unfortunately be attested even among specialized scholars who fail to understand the importance of clarity in History, and more importantly in historical terminology. In the academic portal www.nubianet.org

(sponsored by CUBE/EDC ? with funding support from the National endowment for Humanities, and with the following co-directors: Ronald Bailey,

Professor of African American Studies and History, Northeastern University; Marcia Baynes, Teacher and Curriculum Developer; Timothy Kendall, Former Associate Curator, Dept. of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - and Vice President, International Nubian Studies Society), the contradictions are omnipresent and opposite terms are used one after the other.

Typical example: under a mistaken title (Kerma, the First Nubian City), the first sentence of the text reads as follows: "Only one archaeological site in the Sudan fits all the criteria for having been the capital of the first kingdom of Kush". The unspecialized reader remains therefore in mysteries; was Kerma a Kushite or a Nubian city? By producing and diffusing such terminological confusion, today´s Egyptologists prevent the Arabic speaking Sudanese from thoroughly establishing their National History, as through the aforementioned it appears that only the Nubians are the heirs of the Kerma Antiquities and Heritage.

About the collapse of the Kerma kingdom, the Egyptian predominance in Ethiopia / Kush, and the Napatan dynasty, I will expand in a forthcoming article, dissociating Nubians from Kushites during that period as well.

Further readings:






google_protectAndRun("ads_core.google_render_ad", google_handleError, google_render_ad);


1. C-Group


The C-group (2200- 1500 BC),5 contemporary with the Kerma culture in Sudan , settled in Lower Nubia and like the A-Group, our information on the C-Group mainly comes from grave finds.

Graves of the C-Group people were unique in building circular superstructures made out of cut masonry and filled with sand and gravel. The C-Group graves also included a mud-brick chapel where deposits of sacrificed animals were found.

Most of the burials of the C-Group members were body positioned facing east. In the Middle kingdom the orientation of the diseased head was changed to west.

A cylindrical wall built of stones and dried-mud roofed and roofed with hay. During the Second Intermediate period a mud-brick chapel was sometimes added to the northern side of the structure.

C-Group Pottery was designed with incised and complex designs that share close similarities with the Khartoum Neolithic pottery. The C-Group period also shows strong influence from the southern culture of Kerma. Black topped and red polished C-Group pottery indicated influences from the earlier Kerma culture. Egyptian pottery was also found in C-Group graves and indicated trade. In 2000 BC Egypt conquered Lower Nubia, and therefore the C-Group. This explains the reason that no weapons were found in C-Group graves.

2. Middle Kingdom presence in Kush


With the reunification of Egypt under the pharoahs of Dynasties 11 and 12 (ca. 2040-1783 BC), the Egyptians aggressively reoccupied Lower Nubia, penetrated to the head of the Second Cataract, and built a series of eleven impregnable fortresses along its desolate reaches. Each fort was defended by a massive mud brick wall system; this was surrounded by dry moats and walls with bastions and loopholes for archers. These structures served a number of purposes. One was to facilitate a massive trading operation with Upper Nubia by assisting and protecting shippers moving up or down the rapids, by providing safe havens and hostels for caravans travelling along the river, and by keeping potentially threatening peoples away. One of the most important purposes, however, must have been to display a strong defensive posture to the rulers of Kush to discourage them from attempting any sort of military moves to the north. These forts were all within signalling distance and were permanently garrisoned and well-supplied. They were given names that revealed their purpose: "Warding off the Bows," "Subduer of the Nubians (Nehesy)," "Curbing the Foreign Lands." At the southern limit of the Second Cataract, at a place called Semna, the Egyptians set up their official southern boundary marker.

3. Kerma


Only one archaeological site in the Sudan fits all the criteria for having been the capital of the first kingdom of Kush. This is the site called Kerma, after the modern Sudanese village that occupies its site. Its ancient name remains unknown because no inscriptions have yet been found there that preserve it. The Nubians of this period still did not normally use writing, although some people, who did business with the Egyptians, may have learned hieroglyphic writing. Kerma lies just about 10 miles (16.5 km) south of the Third Cataract, on the east bank of the Nile, and about 170 miles (266 km) upstream from the nearest Egyptian fort. The first excavations were conducted by George A. Reisner and his team from Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, between 1913 and 1915. Since 1973, excavations have been continued annually by Charles Bonnet and his team from the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Kerma consisted of a central city, surrounded by a series of defensive walls and moats. This incorporated a palace and a religious sanctuary and about 200 houses. The palace itself evolved from a large round building, about 12 m (40 ft.) in diameter, to a rectangular structure over four times as large. Originally the houses were round, as in the "pre-Kerma" settlement; later, like the palace, they were rectangular, perhaps under Egytian influence. Outside the walls were other heavily populated areas, still poorly known, as well as an area of small temples apparently dedicated to the worship of deceased kings. Along the riverbank were dockyards and warehouses. An enormous cemetery lay about 2 mi (3 km) to the east.

The main feature of the town was a large solid brick platform which in its latest phase stood about 60 ft (18 m), high and measured about 170 x 85 ft (52 x 25.8 m). This building is known as the "Western Deffufa" (after an old Nubian word for a mud brick structure) in order to distinguish it from the "Eastern Deffufa," a similarly sized but lower brick building that rises in the cemetery. It is now known that these buildings were temples. The Western Deffufa was a huge brick platform on top of which there was probably a small shrine or object of worship. The "Eastern Deffufa" was associated with the worship or preparation for burial of the dead kings.

4. Kerma cemetery


East of Kerma, in what is now the desert, lies its cemetery, which at the end of its existence (about 1480 BC) had grown to be about a mile (1.6 km) long, north to south, and about half a mile (.8 km) wide at its greatest width. It is estimated to contain over 30,000 graves, the oldest located at its northern end and the latest at its southern. The graves take the form of low tumuli covered or ringed with hundreds or thousands of white or black desert pebbles.

The southern border of the cemetery is distinguished by dozens of enormous mounds, four of which are about 300 ft. (90 m) in diameter. These belonged to the most powerful kings of Kerma during the last century of the city's existence. They are clustered around the remains of the large brick building known as the "Eastern Deffufa," thought to have been a funerary chapel connected with the royal tombs. All across the cemetery smaller graves seem to cluster around larger graves, which undoubtedly belonged to those of the highest rank.

The Kerma burial customs are unique, and their features remain quite constant throughout the site's history, suggesting a strong cultural continuity and religious faith. The dead were always interred in round or oval pits, four to five feet (1.5 m) deep, with food offerings and their belongings. The bodies were always flexed, lying on their right sides, their hands in front of their faces, their feet toward the west and their heads toward the east, looking north. This position was unchanging. Initially, the dead were laid on cowhides, but later they were laid on wooden beds, as if sleeping. The body was then covered with a cowhide, and the grave filled in. In later periods the graves normally contain several other skeletons, which can only have been human sacrifices. Many people were also buried with their pet dogs (In Egyptian tomb scenes and in their grave stelae, Nubian soldiers are almost always shown with their dogs, suggesting their fondness for these animals). After filling, the graves were covered with low mounds often decoratively covered with smooth white or black desert pebbles

The Royal Burials at Kerma

The three largest royal tombs in the cemetery lie in a row at its southern end. They were mounds approximately 300 ft. (90 m) in diameter and 10 to 13 ft (3 to 4 m) high. Beneath the surface each had a complex internal structure of mud-brick rib walls, built to hold a sand fill and to prevent the sand - and the mound - from blowing away. On this foundation, in the center of the mound, they built a small vaulted chamber. Connected to it was a walled corridor that ran the full diameter of the tomb. The small chamber housed the king's body and his most treasured possessions. It had wooden doors and a vaulted roof; and its plastered walls preserved fragments of wall paintings. Unfortunately, all the kings' chambers had been badly looted in ancient times, but it is known that their bodies were laid on magnificent beds with stone legs and were accompanied by large stone models of ships, which were perhaps believed to carry them on the river of the afterlife.

Previously the dead kings at Kerma had been buried in sand, but the idea of a vaulted roofed burial chamber was new here and seems to have been an Egyptian inspiration. The vault was a novelty in Nubia, but it already had been in use in Egypt for over a thousand years. The corridor in each tomb, which always ran from east to west, contained the bodies of dozens or in one case hundreds sacrificed people- in one case over 300. Some were men, who had obviously comprised the king's personal bodyguard; others were adult women and adolescent girls, all dressed in their finest garments and jewels, and others were children. In each tomb the ruler's entire household of servants and subordinate wives seems to have been buried with him.

After the royal burials were completed and the huge mounds were heaped over them, they were covered with pavements made of millions of white or black pebbles. Up to a thousand cattle were slaughtered, and their skulls were arranged around the southern perimeters of the mounds. Then an enormous white marble monolith, weighing up to ten tons, was set on the top of the mound as a monument. But this did not end the ceremony: over the years to follow, numerous subsidiary tomb pits were sunk in the surface of each great mound. These burials, many quite rich and containing multiple human sacrifices, were obviously those of persons of high rank who had been close to the dead king. Their loyalty to their lord, and their desire to remain forever by his side, obviously dictated their choice to be buried beside him.