The region of present-day Kerma, at the southern end of the Third Cataract, is one of the most fertile stretches of the Middle Nile valley. The alluvial plain is several kilometres wide, and access to the hinterlands is easy. Today Kerma is a bustling village and the most important market place of the area. In the past, it was the centre of the major Bronze Age culture in the Middle Nile region, to which it also gave its name.
While recent research has discovered earlier Mesolithic and Neolithic remains, including a so-called urban agglomeration, the origins of the city of Kerma date back to about 2500 BC. They comprise palace-like structures, elite houses as well as specialised workshops and a fortified city wall. The centre of the site is marked by the so-called Western Deffufa, a monumental mudbrick building which seems to represent the main Kerma temple.
The main cemetery of Kerma is located four kilometres east of the town. With more than 30,000 tombs, it is thought to be the largest burial ground in the Middle Nile valley. Its largest structures are several tumuli of up to 90 metres diameter which held the burials of the kings and queens of the later Kerma period. Two enigmatic structures near these tumuli – one of which is called the Eastern Deffufa – seem to represent mortuary chapels.
At the onset of the New Kingdom, about 1500 BC, the Egyptian pharaohs set out to destroy Kerma which they perceived as a threat to their empire. They founded a large fortified settlement with a temple about one kilometre north of the Bronze Age town. This temple continued in use into the later Kushite period of the first millennium BC. A surprise find from it was a deposit holding seven large-scale statues of several Napatan rulers, called the 'Black Pharaohs', which can now be seen in the nearby museum.