I visited the Nubia museum when I visited Aswan. Nubia was known on the Nile for its vast resources, such as ebony, ivory, copper, minerals, carnelian and most importantly gold. In the first dynasty Nubia was known to the Egyptians as “Ta Sety,” the “Land of the Bow,” because of the fame of Nubian archers. It was later called Kush/Cush until the fourth century AD when the name Nubia came into general use due to the Noba people, nomads who settled the area in the 4th century, with the collapse of the Kingdom of Meroë. Nubia stretched over 1,000 miles along the Nile River, beginning at the first cataract, and like Egypt it was a land defined by the river. Surrounded by a harsh desert environment, the river supported Nubian culture and economy. Nubia formed a trade corridor along the River Nile, linking continental Africa through Egypt to the Mediterranean. It has been suggested that the origin of the word 'Nubia' might be nbw, the Egyptian word for gold. The relationship between Nubia and Egypt was complex, involving military raids, expeditions and conquest by the Egyptians, subjugation in turn of Egypt by Nubia based kings, pharaohs of Nubian origin, trade interactions and cultural influence both ways from the earliest times and down through the centuries. In the words of Osama Abdel Meguid, Director of the Nubia Museum, “They dealt like Egyptians, they dressed like Egyptians, but they were still proud of their black faces.”
The Nubia Museum in Aswan houses finds made during excavations carried out as part of UNESCO’s International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. Besides showcasing many of the more than 3,000 objects found during the excavations, the Museum serves as a focal point for Nubian history and culture, its collections presenting the history of Nubia from prehistory to the present day. The building received the 2001 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. This statue of Ramses II, about 8 meters (26 feet) high, was standing in the entrance of the Nubia Museum. It was taken from the covered colonnade of the temple of Garf Hussein, now submerged from the Aswan dam. Setau, the Viceroy of Kush, built this temple for Ramses II during the 19th dynasty and he planned the interior design on the famous temple of Abu Simble. Ramses II built six temples in Nubia during his reign of 67 years.
Kerma was an advanced society and archaeological evidence shows that ceramics were being produced by 8,000 BC, earlier than in Egypt. Group-A were primarily hunter gatherers while Group-C were more sedentary pastoralists. By about 1700 BC, the capital of Kush, the city Kerma had grown into a town of 10,000 people with a complex hierarchical society. Although influenced by the Egyptian state gods, such as Amun, Nubians developed their own forms of religious worship. The most important regional deity was the Lion God, Apedemek – often portrayed with a lion's head on a human body. In addition, they had developed their own language, both written and spoken, although the Nubian hieroglyphs have not yet been deciphered.
They had a collection of Nubian stone vessels created between 4000-2800 BC, including the stone spoon shown above. The workmanship on these was exceptional, particularly since they were presumably created without a lathe. The availability of copper/bronze around this time in Nubia may have facilitated their construction. Copper artifacts recovered from Nubia are the earliest evidence of metal smelting in sub-Saharan Africa, dating back sometime after 4000 BC and they were possibly imports from Egypt. Emory for smoothing the stone may well have come from ancient Greece.
The red wares were made without a potter's wheel like all pre-dynastic pottery. After giving them their form, which was sometimes unconventional, they were dried in the sun, sometimes covered with red ochre, and burnished with a stone. Thus a smooth shiny surface was achieved, which showed off better the native reddish color of the clay. They were fired either in open fires or very simple kilns.The black decorative upper rim and inside of the black-topped pottery possibly stem from smouldering chaff or other organic materials the pots were placed in upside down before or after firing. During the Badarian and Amratian periods (3800-3400 BCE) they were often left without further decoration. Later on (Naqada II, ca 3300-3000 BCE) line drawings were sometimes scratched into the polished surface. These were mostly geometric patterns (as seen above) or hunting scenes.
Nubian Group-A pottery had such thin walls it was sometimes referred to as eggshell pottery. Eggshell thin, handmade, polished ware of Nubian A-Group, often had a black interior and buff exterior painted with red painted geometric patterns imitating basketry. The oldest pottery technique consisted in hollowing out a lump of clay by hand and pinching it to give it the final form. Later a flat tool was used to press the clay against the other hand. This simple procedure brought forth the elegant and astonishingly thin-walled vessels of the Naqada II period (2nd half of the 4th millennium BCE). By the Early Dynastic Period (3000 to 2600 BCE), cores were used to produce bowls, plates, platters and similar completely convex pottery. A sheet of clay was spread over a core of wood, trimmed and let to dry, when the core could be removed. This resulted in an efficient production of crockery, a drawback was that bottles and jugs could not be produced this way. It was also relatively easy to add designs to the exterior of the bowl. Incised designs and dark burnished finishes are features of Nubian hand-made pottery even today. The A-Group disappeared with the Old Kingdom (in Egypt) from Upper Nubia. The whole area seems to have largely uninhabited for about 750 years, though A-Group pottery at Buhen indicates continuing population on a least a small scale.
The early C-group people, while practicing agriculture and hunting, were more strongly oriented towards cattle herding than their predecessors. Though this has to be deduced from relatively isolated circumstances, the carving of longhorn cows on stella or gravemarkers, on pottery and rocks and the burying of ox-skulls in cemeteries. They were true pastoralists raising cattle while sheep and goats were also kept. While occupying much the same area as the A-group, they enjoyed a more settled life, centered on the capital, Kerma. Important C-group sites like Aniba, Faras and Dakka show long term occupation over many generations. Huts and tents, seasonally occupied, were gradually replaced by houses consisting partly of stone walls, with upper parts of wattle and the roof supported by beams. Their pottery continued the traditions of Group-A but in a more refined and sophisticated execution.
The cultures of Kerma, the capital of Nubia, flourished between about 2500 and 1500 BC. Their most distinctive products were ceramics. The potters were able to produce incredibly fine vessels by hand, without using a wheel. The potter's wheel, which came into use during the Old Kingdom (27th to 22nd century BCE) was rotated by hand, and it was not until two millennia later that the kick wheel was introduced which at last freed both hands. The pots shown here belong to the so-called “Classic Kerma” phase, from around 1750 to around 1550 BC. Classic Kerma pottery is characterized by a black top and a rich red-brown base, separated by an irregular purple-grey band. The black tops and interiors are usually extremely fine and have a distinctive metallic lustrous appearance. I personally find these pieces some of the most beautiful ceramics I have ever seen.
The “pilgrim flasks” entered the Egyptian pottery repertoire in the early 18th Dynasty (1543–1292 BC) as a result of the growing contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean. The technology of manufacture, the fabric used and the association with wine amphorae suggest that the earliest Egyptian/Nubian examples were produced under the influence of Levantine prototypes to supply the growing needs of the developing wine making centers in the Delta at the beginning of the New Kingdom. Once fully absorbed into the repertoire the shape remained in use, evolving and adapting, for the following two thousand years. The name, “Pilgrim Flask”, came into common use during the Coptic period because they were produced in large quantities for pilgrims, particularly since Nubia remained Christian until the collapse of the last Nubian kingdom in 1504.
I am going to stop here, there will be additional posts in the future on Nubia, particularly pre-historic Nubia/Kush since the first humans coming out of Ethiopia likely traveled along the Nile through Kush.
Nubian Villages: http://www.oeai.at/index.php/421.html
Elephantine in the Third Millenium BC: https://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/Raue.pdf