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Further south, upstream of the First Cataract of the Nile, the situation was rather different, and the cultural remains there can be distinguished from those of Egypt. From about 4000 BC to about 3200 BC the first settled food-producing societies, known as the ‘A Group’, were occupying the Nile banks between the First and the Second Cataracts, living in mud houses of some size. They had a distinctive pottery style. Wheat and barley were cultivated, while fishing and hunting added variety to the diet.

The ‘A Group’ were followed in the middle of third millennium by a different culture, known as the ‘C Group’. They are distinguished by quite different pottery styles and by evidence from buildings and tombs of a more advanced lifestyle. The presence of imported Egyptian goods in graves reveal contacts with Egypt, and the great number of graves implies an increase in population.


The Egyptians had entered Nubia and established a series of forts as far south as Semna from about 2000 BC, but withdrew a few hundred years later at the time of a spectacular development of an independent Sudanese culture based at Kerma, the first large town on the upper Nile. The Kerma culture is renowned for its new and spectacular developments in pottery styles, in weapons and in elaborate burials, as well as the building of very large mud-brick structures.

It is not clear what happened in the final stages of the Kerma civilization, but after c. 1500 BC the Egyptians once again entered and conquered the northern Sudan (Nubia) and eventually occupied it as far south as the Fourth Cataract, building temples and towns at many places. The furthest upriver they reached was Napata, where a prominent hill, Jebel Barkal, marked a site considered to be especially holy.


Near Jebel Barkal, an independent line of Sudanese rulers established the Napatan kingdom some time after 1100 BC. They built palaces and temples, as well as cemeteries of small pyramids. For a short time, from about the middle of the eighth century BC in the reign of Kashta, these Sudanese kings ruled Egypt as its 25th Dynasty. They were defeated and ejected from Egypt after the Assyrian invasion of 671 BC, when King Tanwetamani returned to his own territory, where the Napatan Kingdom continued to develop. After a move of the royal residence to Meroe, in the south, in the seventh century BC, the Napatan kingdom established a fascinating new civilization with Its own language and writing.

Meroitic towns, temples and other buildings took something from Egyptian styles, but they were sufficiently different to be clearly identifiable. By 500 BC Meroe was a well-established city with many manufactures and was the most highly developed society in Africa south of the Sahara. The many towns, temples and cemeteries of this period are all situated along the banks of the River Nile as the desert encroaches closely on both sides of the river and made agriculture and animal herding impossible. The one area where the Meroites were able to live away from the Nile valley was near Meroe itself- here in the vast plains between the rivers Nile and Atbara there was considerable activity, although much of it was only toward the close of the period covered in this section.

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