The ancient town of Kerma, located a little upstream of the Third Cataract, was occupied continuously from about 2500 to 1500 BC, and was one of the earliest urbanized communities in tropical Africa. The local economy was based on agriculture and animal husbandry, but it is likely that the special importance of the rulers of the area developed because of their ability to control the important north-south trade on the Nile. There is little doubt that Kerma was the capital of the kingdom of Kush, which features prominently in the records of the Eighteenth Dynasty (about 1550-1295 BC).
The site has been (and continues to be) extensively excavated. The most prominent landmark is a massive mud-brick structure known as the 'Western Defuffa', which was probably the main religious building at Kerma. Around this structure were grouped workshops, public buildings and houses. These buildings ranged from simple huts to houses with two or three rooms and a walled courtyard with animal pens and granaries.
Extensive cemeteries have been located at Kerma and other sites in Kush. The richest graves uncovered were those of the last rulers of Kush of the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC. These took the form of large tumuli, with the main burial on a bed in a small chamber beneath the mound. From the remains of several hundred persons found in a broad central corridor, it appears that they were buried simultaneously as sacrificial victims.