A Hyksos royal name scarab from Kerma cemetery GiE 003

As announced last week, the first preliminary report about Kerma cemetery GiE 003 in Attab/Ginis East has just been published (Budka 2022).

Today, I would like to discuss one of the highlights from this cemetery which was published in the EVO paper: a glazed steatite royal scarab with the name of a Hyksos king.

Scarab MUAFS 005. Photos: Rennan Lemos, editing: Marion Devigne, ©DiverseNile Project.

Found in Feature 4, the name of Pharaoh Y’amu is given on the bottom of this piece, MUAFS 005. Already on the day of its discovery, Manfred Bietak kindly helped remotely with the initial reading of the royal name of this scarab – many thanks for this! I am also particularly grateful to Karin Kopetzky, who provided detailed information about the dating criteria of this piece. The design of its back, head, legs, and sides all directly correspond to other known attestations of Y’amu (Tufnell 1984, 32, 35, 37, pl. 61: 3416, 3417, 3418, 3419; Ward 1984, 164) whose exact position within the sequence of 15th Dynasty rulers is unfortunately not clear (see Ben-Tor 2007, 107-108).

Scarabs are in general rare in cemetery GiE 003 and only two pieces have been found in our excavations. The context of scarab MUAFS 005, Feature 4, appears to belong to the later part of the Classic Kerma period, possibly contemporaneous with the Theban 17th Dynasty. As is known from other marginal regions of the Kerma empire like the Fourth Cataract area, our Hyksos scarab might have been circulating in Nubia for some time before ending up in GiE 003’s Feature 4.

The Hyksos king Y’amu has not been attested to in Nubia before the discovery of his scarab MUAFS 005 in GiE 003. Interestingly, in Ward’s sequence he would postdate the other Hyksos rulers attested to at Sai and Kerma as well as at the northern sites. Ward (1984, 164) placed Y’amu in the second half of the 15th Dynasty, but this sequence has been discussed and is not archaeologically confirmed (Ben-Tor 2007, 108 with references).

The textual evidence for contact between Kerma rulers and Hyksos kings has already been addressed from a variety of perspectives. In this context, the appearance of Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware in Nubia and of Kerma wares in Egypt, especially at the Hyksos capital Avaris, were also noted as possible indicators of exchange. Alexander Ahrens and Karin Kopetzky recently examined the appearance of Hyksos scarabs in the context of Kerma burials (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021). Royal Hyksos scarabs are known from Ukma, Akasha, Sai, and Kerma, as well as several Lower Nubian sites (Aniba, Dakka, Sayala, Masmas, Faras, Mirgissa, Uronarti and Debeira). All of the kings mentioned on these sealings ruled during the early Hyksos period, and it is logical to assume that this was when the Hyksos engaged in direct trade with the Kerma kingdom (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021, 295 with references and discussion). During the early Second Intermediate Period, the fortresses in Lower Nubia were under Kerma control, and the Hyksos were probably keen to establish trade and direct contact to achieve “continued access to resources and particularly to the Nubian gold essential for trade in the Eastern Mediterranean” (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021, 295). The Lower Nubian fortresses have always been linked to gold mines and access to gold – recent work has stressed also the importance of Kerma gold working sites in Batn el-Haggar (Edwards 2020, 406-407; 415), and the same is likely for the Attab to Ferka region, especially for Ginis and Kosha. Could the Hyksos scarabs found at Ukma, Akasha, and Sai reflect not only international trade but also, indirectly, gold exploitation between the Second and Third Cataracts during Kerman rule? And could the same apply for the newly found scarab in Ginis?

It is tempting to assume that this new Hyksos scarab can be seen in connection to an intense period of Kerman exchange with the Hyksos kingdom, which sought gold from not only former Egyptian fortresses in Lower Nubia but also sites further south under Kerma rule. Sai’s importance during the Kerma Period might be linked to both the island’s strategic position and its location in a gold-rich region, making it ideal for supervising gold exploitation as we know it from the New Kingdom. Maybe the halting of trade with the Hyksos in the second part of the 15th Dynasty was one of the reasons why the character of Sai as a Kerman stronghold changed during Classic Kerma times (for this change see Gratien 2014; Manzo 2016). It remains to establish possible changes towards the end of the Classic Kerma period in marginal regions like Ginis – and cemetery GiE 003 with its use from Middle Kerma to Classic Kerma times and its close proximity to gold exploitation sites (as well as its connection to desert nomads presumably involved in the gold trade) has here lots of potential for future analysis.


Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021 = A. Ahrens, K. Kopetzky, “Difficult times and drastic solutions: the diffusion of looted Middle Kingdom objects found in the northern Levant, Egypt and Nubia”, in M. Bietak, S. Prell (eds), The enigma of the Hyksos, volume IV: Changing clusters and migration in the Near Eastern Bronze Age. Collected papers of a workshop held in Vienna 4th-6th of December 2019, Wiesbaden 2021, 253-313.

Ben-Tor 2007 = D. Ben-Tor, Scarabs, Chronology, and Interconnections: Egypt and Palestine in the Second Intermediate Period, Fribourg, Göttingen 2007.

Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45, 2022, 37-62.

Edwards 2020 = D.N. Edwards (ed.), The archaeological survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69: the pharaonic sites, Oxford 2020.

Gratien 2014 = B. Gratien, Saï I. La nécropole Kerma, Paris 1986.

Manzo 2016 = A. Manzo, “Weapons, ideology and identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC)”, Annali Sezione Orientale 76 (1-2) (2016), 3-29.

Tufnell 1984 = O. Tufnell, Scarab Seals and their Contribution to the History in the Early Second Millennium BC, Warminster 1984.

Ward 1984 = W.A. Ward, “Royal-name scarabs”, in O. Tufnell, Scarab Seals and their Contribution to the History in the Early Second Millennium BC, Warminster 1984, 151-192.

Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: the case study of GiE 003

I am delighted that Volume 45 of the journal Egitto e Vicino Oriente has been published, including my own contribution about Kerma cemetery GiE 003 in Attab/Ginis East (Budka 2022).

The aim of this paper was to present the preliminary excavation results of this large Kerma cemetery on the outskirts of Sai. Based on our excavation results from 2022, we know that it was continuously used from Middle Kerma to Classic Kerma times and has close parallels to cemeteries in Batn el-Haggar (especially at Ukma). Our excavations allow a better understanding of rural Kerman funerary practices and the types of imported objects that are present or missing within these communities (such as scarabs, pottery vessels), demonstrating local prosperity and the superregional interconnectedness of these groups.

The Kerma cemetery, which Vila documented as 2-T-39, was labelled GiE 003 by the MUAFS project. It comprises an estimated 150 tombs in an area of c. 200 x 100m. The actual extent of the cemetery requires further investigation; in the northern part, the site partially overlaps with the Medieval habitation 2-T-43.

Estimated outline of cemetery GiE 003 (Map: C. Geiger, courtesy of the DiverseNile project).

In March 2022, two trenches were opened in GiE 003 and are discussed in the EVO paper. Both trenches had eroded circular tumuli structures on their surfaces, which were covered with pottery sherds and human bones, clearly indicating ancient looting. Despite the age of the looting, some of the Kerma burials unearthed were well preserved and could be dated through the finds. The finds include fly pendants, a scarab with the name of a Hyksos king, a dagger, remains of funerary beds and plenty of beads as well as pottery.

A total of 27 pits were excavated in 2022. Through stratigraphic and pottery analysis it is also possible to make suggestions on the spatial and chronological development of the site. The EVO article is a preliminary assessment based on fieldwork results from 2022, including my detailed study of all the ceramics, but excluding bioarchaeological studies of human and animal bones, as well as the botanical remains.

The most important result of the 2022 excavation is the dating of the southern trench, Trench 2, to the Middle Kerma Period (c. 2000-1750 BCE) and of the northern trench, Trench 1, to the Classic Kerma Period (c. 1750-1500 BCE). This is especially significant, given that there were no notable differences in the surface structures.

Excavated features in Trench 1 in GiE 003, 2022. Colour coding: blue for interfaces; green for individual stratigraphic units (SU). Map: Max Bergner, ©DiverseNile Project.

In the EVO article, I proposed a possible relation of the Kerma community using GiE 003 to gold exploitation. First, in the MUAFS concession area, gold-rich quartz-veins have been found in Attab, Ginis, and Kosha, and some archaeological sites point to gold exploitation throughout the centuries, starting well before the Egyptian New Kingdom. Moreover, recent surveys in the Eastern Desert suggest that both control of gold mines and trade relationships with desert nomads played a major role in Kerman access to gold before Egyptian colonisation in the New Kingdom (see Cooper 2021). The affiliation of some of the pottery from GiE 003 with the Pan-Grave horizon seemed to illustrate in 2022 connections to nomadic people, possibly in relation to gold mining. This thesis could now be partly confirmed in 2023: in Trench 5 several Pan-Grave style burials were found (see my short summary of the 2023 season).

Here, I would like to follow Claudia Näser and her appeal for an “archaeology of interaction” (Näser 2012) – during the Kerma period, there were a number of Pan-Grave people present in the Nile Valley and for sure also in the Attab and Ginis area. They were community members (at least seasonally) interacting in various ways with other members – and our focus should be on understanding these interactions and reconstructing them as best we can. This is one of the core interests of the DiverseNile project and will keep us busy in the next years.

Our work in GiE 003 in the 2023 season resulted in many important new insights, supporting and strengthening ideas raised in the EVO article based on the 2022 season.

Coming back to cemetery GiE 003: one of the results of our excavation work is clearly that funerary practices reflecting social practices in the periphery of the Kerma kingdom must be considered in a more complex light than previously thought. Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile is well traceable during the Middle and Classic Kerma age in terms of architecture, location, burial types and grave goods. However, this requires further material assistance, with a focus on the social impact of cultural contact and the emerging patterns of globalisation during the Kerma kingdom’s heyday. The proximity of Kerma cemeteries (and thus also of possible settlements), especially also of dome grave assemblages well attested in the Attab to Ferka region, to potential gold working sites is clearly an interesting research question to be investigated in the future.

All in all, it seems likely that there was no single Kerman cultural input to interactions with the Hyksos, Egyptians and nomadic people like the Pan-Grave horizon. Rather, we must consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume, shaping what can be called marginal communities in the Kerma state (see also Walsh 2022).

To concluse, the rich finds in GiE 003 enable us to compare this newly excavated Kerma cemetery to the well-known cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha further north. There are very close parallels, as well as notable differences and what appears to be local variations (for details see Budka 2022). This opens new avenues for future research on Kerma communities outside of the Third Cataract region, shifting the focus away from cultural and chronological classification and toward aspects of the social relationships among Middle Nile groups (and their neighbours).


Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45, 2022, 37-62.

Cooper 2021 = J. Cooper, Between the Nile and the Red Sea: Medjay desert polities in the third to first millennium BCE. Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 1 (1), 2021, 1-22.

Näser 2012 = C. Näser, Nomads at the Nile: towards an archaeology of interaction, in: H. Barnard and K. Duistermaat (eds), The history of the peoples of the Eastern Desert, Los Angeles: University of California 2012, 80-89.

Walsh 2022 = C. Walsh, Marginal Communities and Cooperative Strategies in the Kerma Pastoral State. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History, 9/2, 2022, 195-220.