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Michael Brass. 2002. Badarian government and religious evolution

Stretching between El-Matmir and El-Etmanieh are the cemeteries of one of the Predynastic's most remarkable cultures. Originally regarded as having lacked hierarchical structures, the Badarian remains (5500-4000 BC) exhibit characteristics of social complexity. In 1992 Wendy Anderson published the results of her investigation into the spatial distribution and temporality of grave goods from 18 cemeteries at Badari, Matmar and Mostagedda. Differential frequencies in goods distribution are evident between as well as within various age groups. These observations are not typical of an egalitarian society, whose structure is based upon age seniority and respect, but are indicative of economic and social inequalities. Whilst the Badarians had semi- or fully permanent community leaders, the extent of inherited prestige requires further investigation.

When originally described by Brunton and Caton-Thompson, the cemeteries also yielded valuable insights into the ideology of the Badarians. Cattle, dogs and sheep, amongst others, were found covered in graves in the cemeteries. Amulets with animal heads, like gazelle and hippopotami, were found with the human skeletal remains. These findings, together with the stone palettes on which cosmetic materials were grounded, form the essential components from which the Nagada and Dynastic ideologies would emerge and which are later manifested in the Narmer Palette. Another foreshadowing of the Nagada culture was the orientation of the human burials, with the body facing south and the face, west.

The pottery from the Badarian graves is very elequent, with their reddish-brown bodies and black-tipped rims. The combed features are those of geometric patterns, whose ideological significance is as yet undetermined. Pottery itself was not mass-produced by a community of craftsmen operating under the control of a hierarchical, city-state bureaucracy. Thus, although the Badarian leaders exerted sufficient control to appropriate large quantities of items for their graves, it had not yet reached the high degree of centralisation which is later seen. This would be due in part to the fact that whilst the descendent Nagada cultures were sedementary, the Badarians embarked upon seasonal rounds, moving with their livestock and conducting their agricultural practices.

It is also during the Badarian that the first evidence for copper working is found in Upper Egypt. Although items such as awls and pins could conceivably have their origin in Palestine, copper ores are present in the Eastern Desert. When it is considered that sites from the corresponding time range in Lower Egypt have a lack of such items, it is probably more feasible to theorise an independent centre of copper working in Upper Egypt.

Thus whilst the Badarian sites do not encompass the scale of its Nagada descendent, nevertheless the attributes which the Badarians developed internally and assimilated from other groups, such as the desert communities they would have been in contact with, helped lay the future ideological and societal differentials and structures. Although they were mobile, the Badarian society was unequal and its cemeteries reveal the essential fascination with and veneration of animals which would later play such a prominent role in the mural representation and mythology of the Nagada and Dynastic periods.



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