Diet and Water
Agriculture along the narrow strip of the
Nile valley provided the people of Kush with their necessary food supply.
Each year the Nile
flooded Upper Nubia providing silt for the fertile agricultural lands. The
Kushites used the Shaduf (i.e. a traditional device operated manually
for raising water from a lower depression that is connected to a
source of water, to a higher depression where the water is distributed
to farther depressions to irrigate the field/s) for watering their
farms.1 Sometime in the late Meroitic period, Kushite farmers began to use the Saquia (i.e. a water wheel), which was brought to
Sudan from Southwest Asia.2
There are numerous hafirs (i.e. a depression dug on flat ground
to collect rain water) discovered in Sudan including many at Musawwarat
es Sufra.3 However hafirs would not have provided
enough water for watering the farms. The only known Kushite dam used for
water storage was found at Shaq el Ahmar.4
The main food crop seems to have been sorghum; evidence for this is found
in Kushite pottery. Date is a sweet fruit that grows in palm trees. Dates are one of the most available fruits along
the Nile, especially in Upper Nubia. A realistic
description was provided by the Roman Geographer Strabo
in the second century CE:
"The Aethiopians [Kushites] live on millet and barley,
from which they also make a drink; but instead of olive-oil they
have butter and tallow. Neither do they have fruit trees, except
a few date-palms in the royal gardens." (Strabo xvii Ch.
In the sixth century AD, the
Nubians were well known by the Arabs for their good date-wine production.6
Date-wine is a common traditional drink in North Sudan today.
The extensive production of a different palm fruit called doam is also evident
from New kingdom Egyptian relieves in which Nubians are depicted
carrying as gifts to the Egyptian pharaohs.
A concern for food might have triggered the Kushite control for
other regions like the Buttana in the east, where sorghum was easily
grown depending on rain. As a matter of fact, it is evident from
the haffirs dug there in the Meroitic period that Kush had
certainly practiced considerable powers over the Buttana during
Relief from Jebel Qeili in Nubia (modern day Egypt near the Sudanese
border), depicts Nubian king Shorkaror as being offered a hand full
of sorghum by an unknown Nubian god.
One non-dietary crop that is widely grown in Nubia was cotton.
Just like today, cotton was used for domestic cloth making and was possibly transported
to other locations. Cotton clothes were found abundantly in Kushite
graves, including the cemeteries at Kerma.
In the first century CE, a Roman geographer wrote that the Nubians,
"use meats, blood, milk, and cheese"(Strabo xvii Ch. 2:
2) for food. Unlike the Egyptians and beside agriculture, the Nubians
heavily domesticate cattle and sheep for their food and other sources.
Extensive left over of sheep bones were found at the offering chapels
and temple kitchens in Kerma.7 Cattle were also sacrificed
in great numbers in the Kerma graves, indicating the importance
of their presence in the Nubian life.
Nomads wondered the semi-arid regions on both sides of the Nile valley
with their flocks in search of good pastures. The Kushites were
in almost constant warfare with these hostile nomads. However, both the
nomads and the farmers have in many cases benefited from each other, i.e. exchanging animal products for agricultural produce and the vise versa. The farmers of Kush allowed the nomads to herd their
flocks on harvested farms so that the dung of the animals
would fertilized the farms.8
A wall painting at Kerma dating to 1600 BC depicts a well in profile
with a robe pulling a buck of water. Hafirs have been discovered
in various locations in Sudan. At every excavated Kushite settlement,
hafirs were present. At Kawa and Musawwarat es Sufra there were
large numbers of hafirs. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the
Kushite main source of water was from wells. Wells would be shallow
if the settlements were close to the Nile river, and deeper the farther from the river.
Tracing of a wall painting from Kerma dating to 1600 BC . Shown,
is a well in profile with a robe pulling a buck of water while two
cows, each stands by either side of the well.
Since the people of Kush had domesticated animals, milk would
have been a common drink. Strabo, a Roman geographer who lived in
the first century BC writes that Kushites live on the "meats,
blood, milk, and cheese.”(Strabo xvii Ch. 2: 2) Traces for
milk have also been found on the teeth of Kushite mummies and pots.9
Wine was one the most popular products in Kush. Pottery containing
wine was found in almost every grave. At Kerma, dating to about
1600 BC, 250 jars of wine were found deposited in a ground depression.10 The jars were turned upside down to prevent the odor
of alcohol from spreading. About fourteen vine presses for producing
wine were discovered in Sudan. Although vines were not apt for growth
in arid and semi-arid environments like that of North Sudan,
a limited production is possible.
Other types of diet:
One prominent diet was ostrich eggs. An ostrich egg was found in
almost every grave at Kerma. Fruits may have included oranges and
grape-fruits which are extensively grown in Sudan today. Pigs may
have been eaten in limited amounts. (Like that of the Egyptian and other
Near Eastern religions, Kushite religion is likely to have forbidden
the eating of pigs).
Edited: Marc. 2009.