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.

…on the traces of Nubian goldsmithing: Gold bezels and goldsmiths

Still on the traces of Nubian goldsmiths, I would like to share some thoughts about a fascinating type and a goldsmith technique common in modern jewellery but already used and widespread in Kerma time: the gold bezel.

Fig. 1: String of carnelian and amethyst beads with a blue-glazed steatite scarab pendant set in gold bezel (K1053) (photo: Markowitz, Doxey, 2014).

Significant for the study of local gold working in Nubia is a scarab necklace with gold bezel from tomb K1053 at Kerma (Fig. 1), dating to the Classic Kerma Period (c. 1700-1550 BCE). This string is composed of carnelian and amethyst beads of different shapes and typologies and a beautiful blue-glazed steatite scarab pendant set in an accurate gold bezel. According to Markowitz, the gold bezel was added and created by Nubian goldsmiths to emphasize the high rank and role of its owner (Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). The elite individual (Body D) of the Classic Kerman subsidiary grave K1053 was a Kerman woman buried with typical personal adornments, such as a silver headdress, a leather skirt with silver beaded drawstring, a necklace of blue-glazed crystal ball beads, a double set of gold armlets and bracelets on her upper and lower arms and this fascinating gold bezel scarab necklace held in her hand (Minor, 2018) (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Line drawing of placement of K1053 body D, associated burial goods and the gold bezel scarab string (Su. 1094) (photo: Minor, 2018).

Other interesting gold bezel scarabs are attested from Kerma: a blue-glazed steatite scarab back covered with gold plate (K X B, western part, Body XK); a scarab with gold back-cover and two carnelian sphinxes amulets (K 439, Body B); an uninscribed amethyst scarab uninscribed with a gold mounting (K IV B, Body J) (Reisner, 1923, pp. 198-228-305).

Really fascinating traces of a specific typology of gold bezel come from the heart scarab (SAC5 349) of the goldsmith Khnummose, found with his body in the Tomb 26 (Chamber 6) at Sai Island (New Kingdom, mid-18th Dynasty) (Budka, 2021). This inscribed serpentinite heart scarab, discovered by our PI Julia Budka and her AcrossBorders’ Team (read here more on this extraordinary discovery!), was found in situ with gold foil remains. During the process of cleaning, fragile strips of gold were found close to the head of the scarab and only one piece was clearly attached around the base, suggesting the presence of a bezel, most likely made with a very fine gold leaf. Indeed, the largest gold fragment has a large hole pierced through it, probably connected to the holes of the scarab (Budka, 2021) (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Heart Scarab of Khnummose (SAC5 349) in situ with gold foil remains (photo: courtesy J. Budka).

…and if you missed Kate’s post on the 3D reproduction of this heart scarab, hurry up and read it! https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/index.php/2022/12/06/diverseniles-explorations-in-3d-printing-ancient-nubian-objects/

The heart scarabs were occasionally enclosed in gold mountings in Egyptian jewellery during the New Kingdom, manufactured through the use of two main techniques: the lost wax or the welding of two separate pieces of a gold sheet (Andrews, 1994; Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910). Both are still used in modern jewellery; the second technique allows the creation of a particular type of bezel exclusively used for heart scarabs. It’s a gold bezel that not only holds the base of the scarab but is characterized by a T-cage that supports the funerary amulet along the part of the scarab body called elytra (the closed wings), following their shape (Fig. 4). These gold bezel heart scarabs were hung from a gold chain or tourques through a suspension loop welded on the upper part of the bezel or the perforated scarab and bezel. Excellent examples are dated to the 18th Dynasty: the serpentinite and gold heart scarab of Neferkhawet (MMA 729), early 18th Dynasty, Thebes, Asasif (Fig. 5); the green schist and gold heart scarab of Maruta (Tomb of the Three Foreign Wives of Thutmose III), 18th Dynasty, Thebes, Wadi Gabbanat el-Qurud (Fig. 6); the green jasper and gold heart scarab of Djehuty, 18th Dynasty, Saqqara (Andrews, 1994; Budka, 2021).

Fig. 4: Scarab drawing (photo: Andrews, 1994).
Fig. 5: Heart scarab of Neferkhawet (photo: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/545166).
Fig. 6: Heart scarab of Maruta (photo: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548642).

Coming back to Tomb 26, the family tomb of goldsmith Khnummose, there was also an exceptional steatite scarab ring in gold and silver (SAC5 388) of the 18th Dynasty (Budka, 2021) (Fig. 7). It was discovered with the female Individual 324. Among her bodily adornment, there was also an interesting necklace with carnelian and bone crocodile pendants and beads in different materials, such as gold (exactly 180 beads!). The finger ring has a heavy gold setting, most likely made by wax carving and lost wax techniques. The shank of the ring is in silver, while its small domed caps are gilded. The thin gold wire threads through the scarab, the gold bezel and the gilded caps twisting on both sides of the ring and finally fixed in small holes drilled in the silver shank (for an accurate description of these and other beautiful finds from the Tomb 26 do not forget you can find the complete book here https://www.sidestone.com/books/tomb-26-on-sai-island).

Fig. 7: Gold and silver scarab ring (SAC5 388), Tomb 26, Sai Island (photo: Budka, 2021).

The gold bezel seems to be a distinctive feature of the Nubian jewellery, but additionally, these bezels from Sai come from the tomb of a local goldsmith and his family. Khnummose held two titles: “goldworker/goldsmith” and “overseer of goldworkers” (Auenmüller, 2020; Budka, 2021).

Even if with a less sophisticated mounting than the typology of the gold and silver ring from the Tomb 26, another intriguing comparison comes from Aniba and two scarab rings (n.34, n.36; see Budka, 2021, 212). The moving bezel is fixed to the ring by a thin metal wire that passes through the scarab, twisting on both sides of the ring. The ring n.34 is in silver, while the n.36 is in bronze (Steindorff, 1937, 111, pl. 57, nos. 34 and 36).

During the New Kingdom, the scarab mounted in gold remained the most common design for finger rings (Wilkinson, 1971). This technique, the mounting of the gold bezel, characterized by different methods (Maryon, 1971), appears already among the “innovations” of the Middle Kingdom goldsmithing. The first scarab rings were made from a single wire. From the 13th Dynasty the ends of the ring were equipped with grommets through which passed the wire that held the perforated stone. However, friction between the stone and the metal frequently led to shredding, therefore goldsmiths started to create “a metal protection” for the stone: the bezel (Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910).

It has been suggested that the Egyptians adopted this goldsmithing typology and technique from a foreign people, perhaps from the Mycenaean culture where these rings were used (Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910). However, the gold bezels found at Kerma, used as pendants/amulets rather than rings, but also the later examples from Sai, could attest to a local Nubian typology and manufacturing, the possible influence or technology transfer between Egypt and Nubia and the use of different techniques and specific tools already during Kerma times and through the New Kingdom.


Andrews C., 1994, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London.

Auenmüller J., 2020, Nubisches Gold und ägyptische Präsenz: Pharaonische Goldgewinnung in der Nubischen Wüste, in: M. Kasper, R. Rollinger, A. Rudigier& K. Ruffing (eds.), Wirtschaften in den Bergen. Von Bergleuten, Hirten, Bauern, Künstlern, Händlern und Unternehmern, Montafoner Gipfeltreffen 4, Wien, 37–54.

Budka J., 2021, Tomb 26 on Sai Island. A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and Beyond, Sidestone Press, Leiden.

Markowitz Y., Doxey D. M., 2014, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, MFA Publications, Boston.

Maryon H., 1971, Metalwork & Enamelling, Dover Publications Inc, New York.

Minor E., 2018, Decolonizing Reisner: a case study of a Classic Kerma female burial for reinterpreting Early Nubian archaeological collections through digital archival resources, Nubian Archaeology in the XXIST century, Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Conferencefor Nubian Studies, Neuchâtel, 1st-6th September 2014, PEETERS, LEUVEN – PARIS – BRISTOL, CT, 251–262.

Reisner G.A., 1923, Excavations at Kerma, Parts I-III,Joint Egyptian Expedition of Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard African Studies 5, Cambridge.

Schäfer H., Möller G., Schubart W., 1910, Äegyptische Goldschmiedearbeiten, Verlag Von Karl Curtius, Berlin.

Steindorff G., 1937, Aniba. Zweiter Band. Service des Antiquites de l’Egypte. Mission archeologique de Nubie 1929-1934. Glückstadt: Augustin.

Wilkinson A., 1971, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery, London.