Although steles, dating to 1600 BC, are abundantly found at Kerma,
traces of writing on their surfaces did not survive. Thus, we don't
know if the Kushites had a writing system at that time or not. However,
inscriptions and graffiti in Nubia date back to predynastic Egypt.1
Evidence for writing in the Kerma kingdom, would have most
likely been destroyed during the Egyptian invasions of Kerma in
the sixteenth century BC, or later. After all, it was a habit of
the Egyptian kings to erase writings and evidence that pertain to
their enemies. Hence, it wouldn't be appropriate to make solid conclusions
on the literacy of the Kerma people.
Stela of Queen Tabiry. Napatan. From Kurru. Source: Wildung, Dietrich.
Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Most of the evidence, we have for literacy in Kush date for the
period after the sixth century BC; these were found in Napatan constructions
built of durable materials, such as backed bricks and sandstone.
The durable-material built walls, as well as steles that were kept
safe in temples and palaces were carved and painted extensively
with inscriptions. The Kushites writing was the same as that of
the ancient Egyptians; the written language consisted of hieroglyphs,
and hieratic and demotic scripts. However, due to lack of archeological
work, we can not say for sure what language was written before the
sixth century BC.
Phonology was frequently used in Nubia to represent consonants.
The writing was used mainly to communicate between the royal and
the religious institutions as well as commemorate big events. Kushite
writings were mostly sacred as they were related to funerary practices
like books of the dead and pyramid texts . Starting from the second
century CE, the Kushites language was written, which became known
as Meroitic (i.e., named after the city of Meroe).
Edited: Jan. 2009.