British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: Kerma pottery


Marie Millet

Earlier this season, we discovered a Kerma grave (G308) in cemetery D. Being accustomed to finding New Kingdom (or post New Kingdom) pottery in this cemetery, it was surprising to find four pottery vessels typical of the Kerma civilization, especially a bowl with incised decoration on the rim.

Fragment of a Kerma vessel (C8075), with incised rim decoration, from Grave 308

Example of a black-topped red ware vessel (C8077) from Grave 308.

Classic Kerma beaker, British Museum EA 55424, from Kerma. C. 1750-1650 BC

The pottery in the grave can be dated, by looking at parallels from other sites, to the middle of the third millenium BC or early second millenium BC, so many centuries before the Egyptian town was founded in the reign of Seti I (1290-1279 BC).

During the Kerma civilization, pottery is the most abundant artefact in graves. All hand-made from Nile clay mixed with fine straw, the pots were made by building up coils of clay. Despite being aware of the Egyptian technique of making vessels on a potter’s wheel, the coil technique was retained, and very fine vessels were produced.

Most Kerma culture pots are known as “black-topped redware”, as the interior and rim is black and the exterior surface is red. This type of pottery is common in Egypt during the Predynastic Period only, but continues in Nubia through later periods.

To achieve the black-topped appearance, the unfired vessels are placed in an open area, then covered with sand, and sometimes earth, sand and ash. Placed upside down, the parts exposed to the air are turned red through oxidisation, whereas the rims turn black through carbonisation. In addition to polishing, some are incised with decoration near the rim, as with one example from this grave.

The discovery of an early Kerma burial suggests a Nubian community lived nearby, long before the Egyptian town was built … In the town, we have so far found only one sherd from a Classic Kerma beaker (C4382), with a distinctive blue-grey band between the black and red.

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  1. Nick says:

    The pottery is fascinating — thank you for sharing.

    Like

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