What Kerma implies for the remains of Sai


In order to attempt a reconstruction of the site at Sai, it is important to contextualize the city. During the middle bronze age, Kerma was considered the capital city of the Kerman culture, which occupied the region which is now Sudan. Sai, meanwhile, is a settlement from the same time period separated from Kerma by approximately 200 km (Thorne 2019). Using the transportation of the day, they were separated by approximately 7-10 days. This relatively far distance implies that Sai was a separate and significant component of the settlements occupied by the Kerman culture.

Map displaying position of Kerma and Sai. The separation between the cities is less than 200km (Thorne 2019).

Architectural remains at the sites of Kerma provide insight into their societal hierarchy. For example, rulers were often buried with difficult to create possessions in addition to people which may have served under them — possessions for the afterlife. The tombs at Kerma and palatial multi-story architecture imply a high use of labor (Maillot 2015, 82). This complexity in the architectural remains of the classical palaces and audience hut at Kerma imply that the monarchs of the Kerman culture had harnessed labor to a degree where ornate construction was possible. The infrastructure of this labor is unclear, however, it is clear that its completion was incentivized. This provides a feel for the amount of complexity that construction in the Sai region may have had.

The burial practices of ancient Kerma are somewhat reminiscent of the practices of Egypt. The belief in afterlife caused people to carefully see to their material needs during this afterlife. This similarity in culture is interesting, though perhaps not surprising as the Kerma Culture and Egypt were strongly interacting during this time. In fact, Kerma nearly conquered Egypt. This type of militarization could have implications for the architecture of Sai. Animosity between Egypt and the Kerman culture may be signaled through additional fortification of palatial structures and entire settlements. Fortification which would make a palatial structure defensible could be incorporated into a reconstruction of Sai. 

Example of burial site found at Kerma. Material culture indicates similarity between Kerma Culture and Egyptian burial practices (Alamy).

The Kerman culture also placed a strong emphasis on agriculture. This appears to have been a major component of the economy. The possession of livestock and grain may have transcended a practical practice and become a status symbol. For example, the grain silos and livestock pens of the Kerman classical palace (Walsh 2019, 1-4). The Kerman audience hut, in fact, demonstrates strong evidence of being a space which housed agricultural transactions (Fagen 2016, 317-318). It is possible then, that the settlement at Sai also had such a public trading space.

One interesting and prevalent component of the Kerman remains is that of faience. This blue stone was used for decoration through inlays, small objects building components. It is therefore quite likely that any palatial construction at Sai also made use of the stone. Interestingly, the inlays below appear to have already been engraved. This may indicate some sort of recycling, implying that the remanent below was made from material that was precious enough to reuse. Here, the material has clearly been hand cut and placed into its inlay indicating a high labor process.

Close up of faience inlay. There appears to be some engraving on the petals, but it is inconsistent (Walsh 2019, 31).

Sai seems like it could be like a mini-Kerma (making the assumption that this capital city would be the largest) complete with hierarchical housing and centralized spaces. Ritual burials likely similar to Kerma. There is likely a high emphasis on agriculture and no written language.

— Shaunak

Paul Joseph De Mola. “Interrelations of Kerma and Pharaonic Egypt.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed April 6, 2019. https://www.ancient.eu/article/487/interrelations-of-kerma-and-pharaonic-egypt/.

Chris Scarre, and Brian M. Fagan. “Ancient Civilizations.” Routledge, March 2016, 41-45. Google Books.

Walsh, Carl. “Out of Africa.” ARCH0760: Palaces, 2019.

Walsh, Carl. “Comparing Palaces.” ARCH0760: Palaces, 2019.

Maillot, Marc. The Meroitic Palace and Royal City. Technical paper no. Bulletin No. 19. The Sudan Archaeological Research Society. All.

Thorne, Claire. “Map of the Sudan.” The Trustees of the British Museum.

“England, London, British Museum, Reconstruction of a Kerma Culture Burial from Nubia Dated 2050-1750 BC.” Alamy. Accessed April 6, 2019.