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The Use of Egyptian and Egyptianizing Material Culture in Nubian Burials of the Classic Kerma Period


The ancient Nubian Classic Kerma culture remains understudied despite the excavation of the burials of the main community at the Kingdom's capital at Kerma almost one-hundred years ago. The finds and associated archive from this historical excavation remain as the primary resource for reconstructing the political and social changes of the Classic Kerma Period (1700-1550 BCE). The Kerman king is implicated in military conflicts of the Second Intermediate Period (1700-1550 BCE), as recorded in several ancient Egyptian texts. As the Egyptian pharaoh lost control of northern territory to the Hyksos of Dynasty 15, southern territory appears to have fallen into Kerman control. Both the royal and private mortuary complexes of the Classic Kerma cemetery contain Egyptian imports in increasing concentrations, demonstrating that increased interregional interaction had repercussions for the Nubian community. This dissertation argues that the nature, scope, and larger implications of the interregional interaction between Kermans and Egypt during the Classic Kerma / Second Intermediate Periods can be reconstructed by analyzing the use of Egyptian and Egyptianizing material culture contained in Classic Kerma burials.

Chapter 2 argues that previous studies of the Classic Kerma culture have included misguided or incomplete discussions of the evidence for Egyptian "influence" on this Nubian culture. The first publications on the site of Kerma by George Reisner were heavily skewed by his Egypto-centric and colonialist perspectives. The result of his interpretation of the site as an Egyptian colonial outpost was a legacy of reliance on the process of diffusion of Egyptian cultural advances to explain changes in Nubian cultures. Recent scholarship on ancient Nubia instead focuses on continuities over the long history of indigenous cultural developments. This dissertation argues for a nuanced and balanced discussion of Kerman interaction with Egypt, in which it is the relationship between them that creates social changes in the Kerman community.

Chapters 3 and 4 on royal Classic Kerma contexts argue for the use of Egyptian and Egyptianizing material culture in programs of kingship ideology. Egyptian sculpture was interred in royal tumuli burials in the same loci as sacrificed Kermans, demonstrating the Kerman king's control over symbolic resources and his subjects. These Egyptian imports can be used to reconstruct the geographic scope and chronological progression of successive Nubian raids into southern Egyptian territory. The motivation for obtaining these imports may have been to stand as material evidence of Kerman military achievements. As conflict with Egypt increased over time, Kerman kings also integrated Egyptian visual elements into their programs of decoration in their monumental mortuary complexes. Wall paintings from the early part of the Classic Kerma Period may have included such Egyptianizing elements as part of a visual presentation of narratives of north - south conflict, speaking to the political events of the time. Faience tile decorations from the close of the Classic Kerma Period demonstrate how Kerman workshops developed previously Egyptian technologies for the design and creation of royal iconography. The use of the Egyptian winged sun disc motif in the form of Egyptian and Egyptianizing material culture concentrated in the last Classic Kerma king's mortuary complex illustrates how material and visual references to Egypt worked in combination to construct a royal Kerman persona. At the same time, a singular use of the same Egyptian winged sun disc motif in a private Classic Kerman burial argues for the connection of royal and private expressions of status and identity.

Chapters 5 and 6 on private Classic Kerman contexts argue that the political events of the Second Intermediate Period, and the resulting changes in Kerman kingship also affected social relationships within the rest of the Kerman community. The use of Egyptian imports increases over the four generations of private Classic Kerma subsidiary burials, which are constructed directly into the four main Classic Kerma royal tumuli. Control of Egyptian imports is concentrated in private graves with the most complex burial equipment, suggesting there was a link between the acquisition of exotic material culture and the construction of social status. Additionally, closely Egyptianizing object types were produced at Kerma to provide more accessible alternatives to `authentic' Egyptian imports. The continued use of Nubian burial goods within the same system of social negotiation argues against the use of Egyptian material culture as a process of acculturation. In fact, most Egyptian object types are placed in Kerman burials in ways that diverge significantly from their use in Egyptian funerary practices. The use of Egyptianizing animal motifs in combination with traditional Nubian and fantastical forms in the personalized funerary equipment of the highest-status private Classic Kerman burials also argues against acculturation. Instead, exotic and fantastical motifs were sought out for use in individual distinction in the increasingly restrictive highest-status social faction of the Classic Kerma community. The adaptation of the Egyptian Taweret hippopotamus goddess to represent high-status women demonstrates that they were active participants in the religious - economic exchange of material resources at Kerma.

The use of Egyptian and Egyptianizing material culture in Classic Kerma burials demonstrates that this ancient Nubian culture was affected by its changing relationship with Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period. The Kerman king grew in his command of local and foreign material resources, as conflict with Egypt increased over time. As the nature of royal power changed, the internal relationships of the Classic Kerma community increased in social stratification, and Egyptian objects and visual references were used in strategies of status negotiation. Overall, the cultural practices and strategies of interaction of the Classic Kermans remained essentially Nubian, as part of a long history of development of this ancient African culture.

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