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Work Beaker found in a cemetery on Sai Island

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Coupe et gobelets

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

This piece of pottery with its remarkable metallic sheen is typical of the ceramic ware of the peoples who lived south of the second cataract between 2500 and 1500 BC. This civilization, known as the Kerma Culture, was named after a great city, which was no doubt its capital during the final phase of its existence. The population derived its wealth from breeding livestock. There was no writing system, so archaeological vestiges are our only source of information.

Remarkable ceramics

Archaeologists refer to this bell-shaped vessel-typical of the pottery found in Nubian tombs-as the "Kerma tulip." It is easily recognizable, with its red and black slip and metallic sheen on the upper half. The black color was obtained through reduction of oxygen: after coating the whole surface with a red ocher slip (the soil was naturally rich in iron oxide), the vessel was turned upside down and its rim submerged in the ashes of the kiln. The sheen was produced by careful polishing and lustering of the surface before firing; the shine on the black surface then became metallic. This technique was no longer used in Egypt after the Naqada Period (4th millennium BC), but was long perpetuated south of the second cataract. The white ring beneath the black part dates this piece of pottery to the final, or Classic, Kerma period, between 1750 and 1500 BC.

The Kerma cultures

The Kerma population derived its wealth from animal husbandry. In the course of time, a hierarchical society evolved, with a distinct social differentiation. The rulers were buried under large tumuli, accompanied by many people who were sacrificed for the occasion. The Egyptian kings of the Middle Kingdom considered these rulers sufficiently threatening to construct a string of fortresses along the border (where urgent excavations were conducted between 1960 and 1970, before construction of the Aswan High Dam reservoir flooded a major part of Lower Nubia). The study of the city of Kerma has revealed a centralized organization capable of stocking consumer goods, as well as the existence of a religious center. For this reason, reference is often made to the "kingdom of Kerma" although, in the absence of written documents, the political and social organization of this people remain unclear.

Nubia's relations with Egypt

The Egyptians called their southern neighbor the "Land of Kush." During the Second Intermediate Period (1710-1550 BC), Egypt was gradually invaded from the northeast by a people called the Hyksos; a Kushite king was their ally when the Theban ruler Kamose undertook the reconquest of Egypt. His successors, the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, conquered Nubia as far as the fourth cataract in order to ensure peace and free circulation along their southern border. Nubia was colonized for three centuries. It recovered its political independence during the 1st millennium BC, but long remained imbued with elements of Egyptian culture.


catalogue de l'exposition Vingt ans d'acquisitions au musée du Louvre, 1947-1967, Paris, musée de l'Orangerie, 1967, notice n 96
Site de Saï : Catalogue de l'exposition Nubie, les Cultures antiques du Soudan, Marcq-en-Baroeul, Lille 1994, p. 161-164.

Technical description

  • Coupe et gobelets

    trouvés dans le cimetière de l'île de Saï

  • H. : 11,20 cm. ; D. : 14,60 cm.

  • E 25469, E 25470, E 27092, E 27093

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Nubia and Sudan
    Escalier du Midi
    Vitrine 1 : De la Préhistoire jusqu'au royaume de Napata

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