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Kathryn Bard. 1994. The Egyptian Predynastic: A review of the evidence. Journal of Field Archaeology. Reproduced with the permission of the Trustees of Boston University and the Journal of Field Archaeology

In the 4th millenium B.C. two different Predynastic cultures, both of which practiced agriculture, evolved in Egypt: the Nagada culture in the south and the Maadi culture in the north. settlement sites of the latter are much better preserved, but in the south, where most of the archaeological evidence is from cemeteries, there is much greater evidence for the evolution of social hierarchies and complex societies. A review of the archaeological evidence for the Predynastic suggests that the early state had its cultural origins in the south, although the processes involved in the emergence of the state in Egypt can only be hypothesized at this time.


The Neolithic phenomenon, in which gathering and, later, hunting were gradually replaced by the cultivation of domesticated plants and animal husbandry, began in the ancient Near East perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago. the most recent hypothesis of Neolithic origins is that agriculture was first practiced in the southern Levant at late Natufian sites, and is only found later in other regions of the Near East (McCorriston and Hole 1991: 58). What is unusual about this and earlier models, however, is the still later development of the Neolithic in Egypt, where the transition to an agrarian way of life occurred only after ca. 5550 B.C. (Wenke 1989: 136).

One explanation of this is that the Nile was an area of such great resource concentration (Clark 1971: 74) that there was no need to cultivate cereals. Another explanation is that the preserved evidence for subsequent agriculture obscures processes and experiments in farming that were occurring millennia earlier (Butzer 1990: 112-113). Evidence of grinding stones at Late Paleolithic sites in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia dating to the end of the Pleistocene (see Wendorf and Schild 1976, 1989: 792-793; Wendorf, Said, and Schild 1970) may be related to early experiments that might have led to farming. The archaeological evidence for the early Holocene, however, suggests a greater exploitation of riverine resources in the Nile Valley coinciding with greatly increased (and "wild") Nile floods (Butzer 1982: 274).

Evidence of the earliest settlements in Egypt where agriculture was practiced is in the north (Fayum A and Merimda), where the domesticates are thought to have been introduced from SW Asia (Trigger 1983: 17); the Fayum A sites may represent one of the oldest Neolithic economies in Egypt, and one that was partially based on cereal cultivation (Wenke, Long, and Buck 1988: 48). There is no evidence in that area of villages that became increasingly complex, as in Upper Egypt, however; it is possible that aquatic resources were sufficiently concentrated in the Fayum that agricultural intensification was not required. in addition, the environment was not sufficiently productive for a sedentary agricultural economy (Wenke, Long, and Buck 1988: 48).

The spread of farming technology from north to south in the Nile Valley may possibly explain the early Neolithic sites in the north, and Hassan (1986b: 134) states that ca. 6500-6000 b.p. there were transmissions first from the Sinai westward and then southward, as perhaps reflected by the Badarian agricultural communities in Middle Egypt - agricultural communities possibly predating those of the Nagada culture in upper Egypt (Holmes 1989: 15). Evidence for farming communities in middle and Upper Egypt, however, may be biased in what is preserved and visible on the edge of the floodplain at the desert margins, while more dense occupation at the river banks is covered by deep alluvial deposits or modern villages, and is thus not excavatable. According to Butzer (1976: 14-15), "the great bulk of all Paleolithic materials" in Egypt comes from Nile sediments, having been derived from settlements situated next to the river, and the Predynastic sites that are located along the low desert may simply represent seasonal pastoral activity (but not major settlements).

There is also evidence in southern Egypt, in both the Nile Valley and the Western Desert, suggesting early experiments in domestication and agriculture (Wendorf and Schild 1980: 273-280). Hassan (1984b: 222, 1986a: 498-499) proposes that agriculture was introduced into the Nile Valley from the neighboring desert regions, and some questionable evidence of barley and wheat from Wadi Kubbaniya (Stemler and Falk 1980: 397-398; Wendorf and Schild 1984) may support such a view. A more recent study of the plant remains from Wadi Kubbaniya, however, has dismissed the claim that domesticated crops were already under cultivation in the Late Paleolithic (Hillman, Madeyska, and Hather 1989: 162-163). The mechanisms by which agriculture spread and was adapted by peoples living in the Nile Valley cannot be specified from present evidence, and diffusion of agriculture is not a very satisfactory explanation. But in the late 5th millennium B.C. there must have been a need in Egypt to adopt agriculture as part of the subsistence base, perhaps due to increasing populations of hunter-gatherers in the Nile Valley, and greater competition for resources in a mid-Holocene environment that was becoming more arid.

Recent studies suggest that in northern Egypt the Predynastic Maadi culture evolved from indigenous Neolithic cultures. According to Rizkana and Seeher (1987: 78), the Maadi culture

represents a continuation of the Lower Egypt cultural tradition, which since Neolithic times at the earliest bore a strong character of its own, only distantly related to the cultures of Upper Egypt.

Sites with Maadi ceramics extend from Buto near the Mediterranean to south of Cairo, and in the Fayum region as far south as Sedment (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 63). The full distribution of Maadi sites and their dates, however, have yet to be established.

In Upper Egypt the origins of the Predynastic Nagada culture are probably to be found among indigenous hunter-gatherers and fisherman living along the Nile. As arid conditions developed in the Eastern and Western Deserts ca. 6000-5000 B.C., cattle pastoralists (?) were increasingly forced into the Nile Valley where they eventually "merged" with indigenous groups (Hassan 1985a: 327). At the site of el-Tarif in western Thebes, in an earlier stratum than those of a Nagada culture settlement, were artifacts that have been identified as belonging to the Tarifian (Ginter and Kozlowski 1984: 257, 259), a very different culture with distinctive ceramics. According to the excavators, the Tarifian level at El-Tarif suggests a settlement more like Paleolithic camps (Ginter and Kozlowski 1984: 257), but possibly belonging to a transitional Epipaleolithic/Neolithic culture in Upper Egypt that evolved into the more complex Nagada culture as the economy became increasingly dependent on farming.

With the rise of the Nagada culture in Upper Egypt in the early 4th millennium B.C., simple farming communities evolved into more complex societies. Archaeological evidence, mainly from cemeteries, suggests a core area of the Nagada culture that extended from Abydos in the north to Hierakonpolis in the south; but Nagada sites also exist on the east bank in the Badari region and in the Fayum. Major centers developed at Abydos, Nagada, Hierakonpolis (Nekton), and possibly at Uh (Dispels Parka). In Lower Nub there are numerous A-Group burials which contain many Nagada craft goods probably obtained through trade, but the nature of Egyptian Predynastic/A-Group relations (see Nordstroom 1972: 24; smith 1991: 108; Trigger 1976: 33) is beyond the scope of the present study.

By ca. 3050 B.C. the Early Dynastic state had emerged in Egypt, controlling much of Nile Valley from the Delta to the First Cataract at Aswan. The beginning of the First Dynasty was only about 1000 years after the earliest farming villages appeared on the Nile, so the Predynastic period, during the 4th millennium B.C., was one of fairly rapid social and political evolution.

The reason why there is relatively little settlement evidence from Upper Egypt is probably due in part to earlier excavators' priorities. Located on the low desert, Predynastic cemeteries with well preserved burials, some of which contained many grave goods in sometimes exotic materials, were simply of greater interest to excavate than settlements which had been disturbed by digging for sebbakh (organic remains used for fertlizer) or destroyed by expanding cultivation on the floodplain. Unless permanent architecture was detected, such as mud-brick walls excavated by Petrie at Nagada's South Town, more ephemeral Predynastic settlements, which left mainly dense scatters of sherds, such as Petrie describes at Abadiyeh, were interpreted as having been destroyed (Petrie 1901a: 32). In any case, archaeologists did not have the excavation techniques to understand such site and their formation processes.

Only more recently has interest in Upper Egypt shifted to the detailed excavation of Predynastic settlements. But such settlements, located on spurs above the floodplain, are deflated, with little or no evidence of permanent architecture. Missing, or perhaps deposited under alluvium, are large (fortified?) sites on higher ground of the floodplain, such as Kemp (1989: 33) posits; an exception is Nekhen, probably founded on a Nile levee, as shown by coring and sondage in 1984 (Hoffman, Hamroush, and Allen 1986: 181). Because of alluviation, continuous cultivation, geological conditions in Upper Egypt, and the present dense occupation along the river we may never know much about settlement patterns except from sites preserved above the floodplain.

In northern Egypt, where Predynastic burials of the Maadi culture are relatively unspectacular, with only a few pots, or no burial goods at all, earlier excavations focused equally on settlements. But settlements in the north focused may also have been better preserved than in the south. Evidence at Maadi of rectangular buildings and subterranean structures suggests good preservation of architecture constructed mainly of wattle and matting (Rizkana and Seeher 1989: 75). Conditions for preservation of stratified remains in the Delta and its margins may be the best in Egypt, if reports of recent excavations there are correct (Chlodnicki, Fattovich, and Salvatori 1991; Eiwanger 1988; van den Brink 1988; von der Way 1987, 1988, 1989).


Dating of the Upper Egyptian (Nagadan) Predynastic has been based on a seriation system devised by Petrie and based on grave goods (1901a: 4-12) that he called Sequence Dating (S.D.). Petrie recognised three periods of the Predynastic: Amratian, Gerzean, and Semainean, the last being followed by the First Dynasty (Petrie 1939: 9). More recently, grave goods as well as settlement pottery have been placed in three (slightly different) periods, Nagada I, II, and III, using a modification of Petrie's system devised by Kaiser (1956, 1957). Other revisions of Petrie's Sequence Dating, cased on ceramics, include a typological one by Federn (Needler 1984: 69), and one by Kemp (1982) using a multidimensional scaling program at the university of Cambridge. Recently Payne (1990, 1992) has published a new chronology of "Decorated Ware" pots from Nagada. Since Petrie's initial work, the Predynastic has continued to be mainly defined in periods formed by a seriation of grave goods (see Arkell and Ucko 1965: 150-155; Trigger 1968: 62-67).

Petrie's Sequence Dating was based primarily on the seriation of Nagada "classes" of pottery in burials (see Adams 1988: 20-30; Midant-Reynes 1992: 240-242). These "classes" of pottery are not true wares, a term not used in Petrie's time, but represent his typological divisions of different types or classes of Predynastic pottery. The earliest Nagada types were the black-topped Red class and the White Cross-lined class (see Adams 1988: fig. 7). Two new classes were introduced in the Gerzean period: a Wavy-handled class, and a Decorated class; the Black-topped Red class was less frequently made as the Rough (straw-tempered) class became most common (see Adams 1988: figs. 10,13). In the Semainean period the Late class replaced some of the earlier classes (see Adams 1988: fig. 15). Maadi sites have different wares (see below).

Although many Predynastic sites were excavated long before the advent of radiocarbon dating, some results from recent excavations in the Nagada region are available. Hassan (1984a: 683) concludes that dates from three early Nagada sites provide a midpoint estimate of 3760 +/- 40 B.C., and dates of the Nagada II zone of south Town provide a range of 3600-3300 B.C. A calibrated radiocarbon date from a Nagada III tomb at Hierakonpolis of 3025 +/- 80 B.C. (WIS-1180) has been published by Hoffman (1982: 42). Chronologies based on king lists place the beginning of the First dynasty at ca. 3050 B.C.


Study of the Predynastic began with Petrie's excavation of the Nagada cemeteries in 1894-1895. In one field season he and Quibell excavated two settlements as well as about 3000 Predynastic burials in three areas: Cemeteries B and T, and the "Great New Race" cemetery (Petrie and Quibell 1896:9). Even though these excavations were carried out rapidly by modern standards, they were conducted by local workmen under the supervision of specialists from the town of Qift who were trained by Petrie, an usual practice for the time. Since his excavations for the Egypt Research Account were supported in part by contributions from museums, artifacts from Predynastic burials were shipped to subscribing institutions, which would have had much less interest in collections of fragmented artifacts obtained from the excavation of settlements.

Petrie at least recorded data from individual burials at Nagada in his field notebooks, which were later published by Baumgartel (1970). In Petrie's publications, however, specific details were given for only the more interesting burials, such as ones with unusual artifacts, or large quantities of grave goods. Most of the Predynastic burials were simply not published. Jacques de Morgan's fieldwork at Nagada in 1897 concentrated on the excavation of the niched mud-brick "Royal Tomb" (early First dynasty); the small graves which surrounded it were virtually ignored. It is likely, too, that few such excavations had workmen as carefully trained as Petrie's.

Since cemeteries in Egypt, both Predynastic and Dynastic, are located in the low desert above the floodplain, unlike the location of many early settlements, the cemetery evidence has been much better preserved, and therefore was of much more interest to excavators. Hence, much of Egyptian archaeology has been concerned with the clearance, recording, and conservation of tombs and mortuary monuments, and their artifacts, as well as stone temples located beyond the floodplain. Many of the early scholars who worked in Egypt were philologists whose interests lay in recording texts, or who were trained in fine arts and were attracted to the great art and monumental architecture of pharaonic Egypt. Unequivocally, Petrie can be considered the first archaeologist working in Egypt: he developed specific methods for excavating and was concerned with recording the context and period of the excavated materials. Not only was his Sequence Dating system a major contribution to archaeological method, but at the time it represented a way of thinking about artifacts other than simply as art objects.

It is fortunate, too, that Predynastic cemeteries were excavated by Petrie earlier in the century, however rapidly and inadequately: at least there is some record of excavated burials. Given the booming tourist industry in Egypt and the market demand for antiquities in the latter part of the 20th century, any remaining large Predynastic cemeteries probably have been looted by now. Cemetery data, such as Petrie's from Nagada, have been useful for studying the rise of hierarchical society in Egypt (Bard 1989a), as well as for interpretations of symbolic systems (Bard 1992).

While Petrie certainly had an influence on other English archaeologists working in Egypt in the early 20th century, such as Guy Bunton, Gertrude Caton Thompson, Reginald Engelbach, and Frederick W. Green, Egyptology continued to be dominated by philologists, historians, and art historians interested in the monuments, art, and inscriptions of pharaonic civilization. It was not until the Nubian salvage campaign in the 1960s that anthropologically trained archaeologists began to work in southern Egypt. More recently such research has concentrated on the settlement archaeology of prehistoric periods, within a regional framework. Research, such as Hassan's in the Nagada region and Hoffman's long-term project at Hierakonpolis, has focused less on the mortuary evidence, as Petrie did, and more on subsistence strategies in the transition from early farming communities to the formation of a state. Ecological paradigms have been suggested (Hassan 1988: 165-166) and settlement data have been interpreted in terms of socio-political evolution (Hoffman, Hamroush, and Allen 1986: 178-185).

Missing in the Predynastic evidence, however, are settlement patterns and changes in these through time. Unlike much of southern Mesopotamia, which is now sparsely populated, in part because of soil depletion in earlier periods (Adams and Nissen 1972: 1), the Egyptian Nile Valley is one of the world's most densely populated regions, and has been intensively cultivated for 5000 years. The Nile river has shifted eastward since Predynastic times (Butzer 1976: 34-35), with consequences for the preservation of sites on both banks. Modern development and settlements in Egypt also have greatly limited survey and excavation of earlier settlements. Given that there are so few Predynastic settlement data, factors of population increase and population pressure have only been hypothesized. There are relatively few data on subsistence during the Predynastic, except from recent fieldwork, and it is unknown when, why, and where agricultural intensification (via irrigation) occurred.

Although there is important evidence at Hierakonpolis, Predynastic craft production and distribution are mostly know indirectly - from grave goods - as are various technologies (pottery production, metal working, stone carving, and glazing and faience). There is little archaeological evidence to demonstrate the rise of political elites, regional integration, and the formation of the earliest state(s). Likewise, the process of unification leading to the Early Dynastic state is uncertain, and the role of warfare in this is only suggested by scenes that appear on late Predynastic palettes.



One of the earliest archaeological surveys in southern Egypt was conducted by Henri de Morgan for the Brooklyn Museum in 1906-1907 and 1907-1908. While surveying between Gebel es Silsila (65km north of Aswan) and Esna, de Morgan excavated seven sites with Predynastic (Nagada I, II, and III) and Early Dynastic remains, including settlements as well as cemeteries; 14 additional sites of the Nagada culture in this region were reported by him (Needler 1984: 49). Recent investigations at one of de Morgan's sites, Adaima, suggest a site occupied mainly during the Nagada II period and abandoned by the beginning of the Early Dynastic period (Midant-Reynes et al. 1991: 233).

From Needler's (1984) catalogue of de Morgan's finds, now in the Brooklyn museum, a picture of extensive Predynastic occupation in southern Egypt emerges. According to Needler (1984: 68), the nuclear region of the Nagada culture extended further south to Hierakonpolis, which was certainly not a marginal settlement.


J. E. Quibell and F. W. Green preceded de Morgan at Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) in 1897-1899, and John Garstang worked there in 1905-1906. Quibell and Green's excavations concentrated on the remains of the walled town in the floodplain, with its walled temple precinct of Tuthmosis III in the southern corner (Quibell and Green 1902: pl. 73). Within the temple area, Quibell found what he termed the "Main Deposit", which included the maceheads of kings Scorpion and Narmer, and other artifacts stylistically dating to the late Predynastic/Early Dynastic periods (Quibell and Green 1902: 40-41); see also Adams 1974a). Stratigraphy for the Main Deposit was not recorded in much detail, and it is difficult to determine its exact context.

A large, elaborately niched, mudbrick structure SW of the Kom el Ahmar, possibly built in the Second Dynasty during the reign of Kasekhemuwy, was also surveyed by Somers Clarke. Within and beneath the walls of the "Fort", Garstang excavated numerous Predynastic graves (Garstang 1907: 136-137), which Kemp dates mainly to Nagada III, though there were also some Nagada II burials (Kemp 1963: 28; see also Adams and Hoffman 1987: 180-186). Other Predynastic graves in this cemetery NE of the Fort were excavated by de Morgan (Needler 1984: 110).

The other major Predynastic cemetery at Hierakonpolis is in the area of the Decorated Tomb, on the edge of the Dune Wadi, south of the Predynastic town, excavated by Green (Quibell and Green 1902: 20-21). Consisting of a mudbrick-lined pit with painted plaster walls, the tomb dates to the Nagada II period (Case and Payne 1962: 10; Payne 1973: 31). Green's papers at the University of Cambridge indicate that this was in a small Predynastic cemetery (Adams 1974b: 84-111; Payne 1973: 31). Sequence dates of pottery from this cemetery are distributed throughout the Nagada II period, and Kaiser (1958: 189-191) has suggested that the graves surrounding the Decorated Tomb formed a royal cemetery. At least five of these graves were large rectangular ones (Adams 1974b).

More recently Hierakonpolis has been the site of extensive archaeological investigations by Walter Fairevis and Michael Hoffman. With over 50 Predynastic occupation, industrial, and burial sites (Hoffman 1982: 123-127), Hierakonpolis and its environs comprised a major Predynastic center. According to Hoffman's model (Hoffman, Hamroush, and Allen 1986: 178-185), Predynastic occupation at Hierakonpolis was early-beginning in the Badarian and Nagada Ia-b periods, ca. 4000-3800/3700 B.C., with small scattered farming villages. The Nagada Ic to Ia (ca. 3800-3700-3500/3400 B.C.) was one of regional expansion. Rectangular houses were found in agglomerated settlements, and Hierakonpolis was becoming a center of pottery production. In later Nagada II (b-d) times, ca. 3500/3400-3200 B.C., there was a settlement shift from the desert to the edge of areas under cultivation. Basin irrigation may have begun at this time. A large oval courtyard may be the earliest evidence for a Nagada II temple complex. The Nagada III period, ca. 3200-3100 B.C., was a time of political unification, when floods were low and most desert sites were abandoned. The city of Nekhen continued to grow, with "large palace and temple complexes" (Hoffman, Hamroush, and Allen 1986: 184).

The well-preserved settlements at Hierakonpolis are remarkable for Upper Egypt. Both circular and rectangular houses have been excavated, some with fences and outbuildings (Hoffman 1982: 137). A rectangular, semi-subterranean house with postholes representing roof supports was excavated at Locality 29 (Hoffman 1980: 130). Elsewhere, beneath the Early Dynastic levels, about 4m of stratified Predynastic settlement deposits have been found by coring and auguring (Hoffman 1989: 320). Stratified cultural deposits have also been found via coring under the modern floodplain.

Evidence of specialized production, including the production of basalt and diorite vases and microlithic drill bits for bead-making, is also seen in the Nagada II ritual complex at Hierakonpolis (Hoffman 1982: 130). Pottery kilns have been excavated in the low desert where utilitarian (straw-tempered) wares and Plum Red ware (black-topped Red class and Polished Red class) were fired (Hoffman, Hamroush, and Allen 1986: 183). Vats from two sites at Hierakonpolis suggest the brewing of a wheat-based beer (Geller 1989: 52, 1992: 21-23).

Nine more cemetery areas, dating from Nagada I through Nagada III, have also been located elsewhere in the Hierakonpolis region, and Adams and Hoffman (1987: 196, 198) estimate there were several thousand Predynastic graves in the region. One cemetery area (Locality 6), located 2.5km up the Great Wadi, contained more than 2000 Nagada I-II burials, and large Nagada "Protodynastic" tombs, up to 22.75 sq m. in floor area (Adams and Hoffman 1987: 196, 202). Burials of elephants, hippopotami, crocodiles, baboons, cattle, sheep, goats, and dogs have also been excavated SW of a stone-cut tomb in the western part of this cemetery (Hoffman 1983: 50). One of the largest tombs, tomb 11, though looted, retained fragments of beads in carnelian, garnet, turquoise, faience, gold, and silver. Also in this tomb were artifacts carved in lapis lazuli and ivory, obsidian and crystal blades, "Protodynastic" pottery, and a wooden bed with carved bulls' feet (Adams and Hoffman 1987: 178). Evidence of postholes demonstrates that superstructures once covered some of the large tombs in Locality 6, and these tombs were surrounded by fences (Hoffman 1983: 49). Possibly a kind of perishable structure was built over some of the tombs, similar to the house structures Hoffman excavated. If so, then this may be the earliest association of large elite tombs with a superstructure that symbolized a house/shrine for the deceased. Hoffman (1983: 49) states that the Locality 6 tombs belonged to the Protodynastic rulers of Hierakonpolis, and speculates that the largest tomb there was that of King Scorpion. Hence, the Locality 6 tombs suggest that in the Nagada III period at Hierakonpolis there was a new location for the highest status burials, replacing the earlier elite cemetery where the Decorated Tomb (Nagada II) was located.

As the Locality 6 cemetery is only partially excavated, it is not known yet if the perceived Nagada IIb-IId "gap" here is genuine (Barbara Adams, personal communication, 1992; see also Adams and Friedman 1992: 328-338).


Across the river from Hierankonpolis on the east bank is the site of el Kab where a cemetery with "New Race" (i.e., Predynastic) graves was excavated in 1897 by Quibell (1898), along with cemeteries of Dynastic date. More recently Predynastic burials have been excavated by Hendrickx within the Great Enclosure (built in the 1st millennium B.C.) at El Kab. Only 25 of these burials were undisturbed, and grave goods from them can be dated typologically to the Nagada III period (Hendrickx 1984: 225). two types of graves are found in this cemetery: most were simple pits, but some were lined with slabs of unworked sandstone, and niches for grave goods were separated from the human remains by a sandstone slab (Hendrickx 1984: 226). The graves with slabs were those of old adult males, with the exception of the richest burial in the cemetery, a young adult male (Hendrickx 1984: 228), indicating age/sex and possibly rank differentiation.

Downriver from El Kab and Hierakonpolis, on the west bank 9km SW of Luxor, is the Predynastic site of Armant. Myers excavated a Predynastic village in are 1000 (Mond and Myers 1937: 163), 2 km from Predynastic Cemetery 1400-1500, with graves ranging in age from Nagada Ic to IIIa. A few scattered Predynastic graves were also found in Areas 1200 and 1300, and two large, brick-lined tombs (1207, 1208_ dating to Nagada IIIb, were excavated in Area 1200.

A Predynastic settlement (MA 21/83) near Cemetery 1400-1500 was recently excavated by Ginter, Kozlowski, and Pawlikowski (1987: 52-66). Various features were uncovered during these excavations: postholes for a rectangular structure, a series of pits (for ovens, storage, and unknown purposes), hearths, and circular structures built of large limestone slabs (Ginter, Kozlowski, and Pawlikowski 1987: 59-61). Most of the ceramics at this site were of the straw-tempered (Rough) class (Ginter, Kozlowski, and Pawlikowski 1987: 61, 65)

In conjunction with the excavation of site MA 21/83, an archaeological survey was conducted between western Thebes and Armant. Signs of dense Predynastic occupation were found in this region, and 11 "Nagadian" sites were located. these sites were greatly deflated, and consisted mainly of lithics and ceramics, and occasionally hearths. Lithics show parallels with those from Armant published by Mond and Myers (1937: 201-232) and with those from El Khattara sites in the Nagada region. Ceramics are of Predynastic types (excluding any decorated classes), but have a paucity of forms compared to those found in Predynastic graves (Ginter, Kozlowski, and Pawlikowski 1985: 30-40).

While Thebes/Karnak was a major cultural center during pharaonic times, prehistoric sites there are less well known. At El Tarif, located on gravel deposits at the foot of the Theban gebel (the limestone cliffs at the edge of the Nile Valley), are Epipaleolithic stone tools in association with ceramics (see above), as well as later "Nagadian" levels, with Predynastic ceramics, lithics (particularly sickle blades), and traces of stone structures (Ginter and Kozlowski 1984: 256-259). A calibrated radiocarbon date (3105 +/- 60 B.C. [Gd-689]) was obtained from the Nagadian level, and above this level was an "Archaic" (Early dynastic?) level dated to 2665 +/- 55 B.C. (Gd-1127) (Ginter and Kozlowski 1984: 255).


Located 28 km NW of Luxor, on the west bank, the three Predynastic cemeteries at Nagada ("Great New Race Cemetery," and Cemeteries B and T) were excavated by Petrie in 1894-95. With over 2200 graves, the three Nagada cemeteries, along with the estimated 1000 burials excavated by Quibell at Ballas, just north of Nagada, form the largest mortuary area in Predynastic Egypt. Two Predynastic settlements, "north Town" and "South Town," were also investigated in this region. Layers of occupation at North Town were very thin, and some flexed burials of children were excavated there (Petrie and Quibell 1896: 2). In the northern part of South Town Petrie found the remains of a thick mudbrick wall, which appeared to be a "fortification with divisions in it" (Petrie and Quibell 1896: 54). Test excavations conducted in 1979-1983 at south Town by the Oriental Institute of Naples revealed Predynastic, Early Dynastic, and later Dynastic occupations based on a ceramic chronology. Features consisting of postholes, notches, and grooves cut in the sediment, piles of mudbrick from collapsed walls, and a rounded ditch to the north of the site were identified (Barocas, Fattovich, and Tosi 1989: 300-301).

The small Cemetery T that Petrie excavated at Nagada has been considered the burial place of Predynastic chieftains (Case and Payne 1962: 15), or kings (Kemp 1973: 42). Burials in this cemetery date to Nagada II and III (Davis 1983: 21-24; Bard 1989a: 240). One pit contained bones of about 20 dogs (Petrie and Quibell 1896: 26). Three brick-lined tombs (T15, T29, T23) were excavated by Petrie in this cemetery, and one undisturbed grave, T5, contained 42 pots and a number of sumptuary grave goods, in gold foil, lapis lazuli, carnelian, garnet, and glazed steatite (Baumgartel 1970: 67). Some human bones were found together around the sides of the tomb, and a "mass of bones" lay together in a heap about 2ft (61cm) in diameter in the center of the tomb (Petrie and Quibell 1896: 32); there wee also six crania.

Before Petrie was at Nagada, Jacques de Morgan excavated two "royal" tombs there and a necropolis for "common people" with tombs containing Early Dynastic grave goods (de Morgan 1897: 159).The one well-preserved "royal" tomb, with an elaborate niched mud-brick superstructure, was thought to belong to King Aha, dating to the beginning of the First dynasty; mud sealings with his name were found in it (de Morgan 1897: 164-168). The two royal tombs and the necropolis are located about 6.8km south of the main Predynastic cemetery at Nagada (Fekri Hassan, personal communication, 1985).

While Petrie's excavations at Nagada were extensive, Hassan has located and excavated a number of smaller Predynastic sites in the Nagada region near the village of El Khattara. Full excavation reports are forthcoming, but Hays (1976: 552) reports previously unknown Predynastic sites consisting of several mounds of midden deposits. Remains of domesticated sheep/goats, cattle, and pigs were present, and emmer wheat and barley were cultivated (Hassan et al. 1980: 29). On the basis of the lithics and ceramic assemblages, Hays attributes the El Khattara sites to the Badarian period (Hays 1984: 72). Hassan and Matson's (1989: 314) multidimensional scaling of ceramics from Predynastic settlements in the Nagada region, however, indicate an early Nagada group at the El Khatara sites, and a later Nagada II group at South Town and North Town.

The El Khattara sites are located in a linear pattern west of the floodplain. sites are spaced about 2km apart (Fekri Hassan, personal communication, 1985). Although there is no evidence of permanent architecture in mudbrick or with stone foundations, domestic features, such as small mud-lined pits, hearths, whole pots, and small wooden posts, have been excavated. At site KH3 lighter-colored, sandy deposits of habitation areas have been differentiated from darker deposits containing dung where animals were penned. An infant burial was excavated in one household unit at KH3 (Holmes 1989: 191-194).


Predynastic evidence is known in the Qift (Coptos) region, on the river opposite Nagada, and in the Wadi Hammamat. A Predynastic village and graves were identified by Fernand Debono near Lakeita, 33km SE of Qift, during a survey along the Wadi Hammamat (Debono 1951: 88). Debono also found some Early Dynastic villages in this region but his report is not very detailed. In 1988, Henry Wright visited the region, which is still covered with land mines following the 1967 war, and further investigations were not possible (Henry Wright, personal communication, 1989).

Predynastic evidence is also known from Petrie's excavations of the temple of Isis and Min at Qift. Fragments of coarse ceramic figurines of humans and animals were found in a deposit 4ft (1.2m) deep beneath the temple pavement, but these are probably Old Kingdom (Adams 1986: 9). Also in the deposit were Predynastic potsherds: "red polished with black tops, and the red polished with white lines" (Petrie 1896: 5). The three large stone figures of the deity Min, which Petrie also excavated there, are no later than the early First Dynasty (Kemp 1989: 79-82), or from the reign of Narmer (end of Dynasty 0, immediately preceding the beginning of the First Dynasty) (Williams 1988: 36-37), but there clearly was an earlier feature at Qift. Neolithic stone tools, maceheads, and sherds of Predynastic/Early Dynastic date, now in the Petrie collection, University College London, were found in the temple (Barbara Adams, personal communication, 1992).


About 10km south of Qena on the west bank, a Predynastic settlement called Maghara 2 has recently been excavated by Leuven University. the site is situated on the low desert about 500m from the river. Features consisted of postholes (which could not be reconstructed into arrangements as houses), storage pits, and more than 20 hearths. No remains of grain were found in the storage pits, and only one grindstone was found. As the floodplain is very narrow here, "agriculture must be excluded" (Hendrickx 1988: 10). The fauna consisted mainly of fish remains, mostly Nile perch and catfish (Hendrickx 1988: 9), suggesting that the site was a fishing camp. Pottery comprises mainly the Straw-tempered class, but the Black-topped Red class and a Ripple-face class, associated with the earliest known Predynastic sites ("Badarian") in Middle Egypt, were also found. One ceramic lip-stud excavated at Maghara 2 is also of a Badarian style, and a calibrated date of 4130-3665 B.C. (Lv-1312) suggests an early occupation here ca. 4000 B.C. (Hendrickx 1988: 9).

About 45km NW of Nagada, below the Qena bend of the Nile, a major Predynastic center was located at Hu, known as Diospolis Parva in Graeco-Roman times. In 1898-1899, Petrie excavated six "prehistoric" cemeteries (U, R, B, C, A, H) in the Hu region, and he noted the remains of prehistoric villages east of the Dynastic cemetery, N, and in the area he called F (Petrie 1901a: 31-32). The most significant contribution of Petrie's publication of the Hu cemeteries is the seriation system (Sequence Dating) he worked out for the grave goods in accordance with his finds from other Predynastic cemeteries.

During a reconnaissance survey in 1989 Bard (1989b: 476) rediscovered a Predynastic settlement (HG) near the modern village of Abadiyeh with Predynastic sherds, but no visible architecture, scattered over an area of more than 3ha. Petrie (1901a: 32) had recorded this site as "entirely plundered".

Another smaller settlement (SH) was located by Bard next to the late Predynastic cemetery at Semaineh. this had thin cultural deposits and no visible architecture except a mud-brick feature, which probably dates to the Old Kingdom. Excavations at SH in 1991 revealed a site with a great mixture of ceramics, predominantly from the Old Kingdom, but mixed with a few Predynastic and New Kingdom sherds. One radiocarbon date was obtained from charcoal in a test pit, with a calibrated date of 3780-3530 B.C. (OxA-2184) (Bard 1991: 130).

Also in the Hu region, about 5km SW of Nag Hammadi, is a Predynastic cemetery of unknown size at Abu 'Umuri, excavated in 1936 by M. Hamza. Grave goods from this cemetery are now in Room 53 of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, but the Egyptian Antiquities Organization has no records from the excavation.


The Predynastic 7000 cemetery at Naga ed-Der, on the eats bank opposite Girga, was excavated in 1903-1904, when George Reisner held a concession to work in this region. In 1910, excavations were resumed in the region by the Boston-Harvard Expedition. Unpublished results from this fieldwork include a cemetery at Mesaeed (south of Naga ed-Der) excavated by Reisner and Fischer, and later by L.C. West, with graves ranging in date from Nagada I through the First Dynasty, but mainly of Nagada II date (Ehrlich n.d.; Friedman 1981). At Naga el-Hai, south of Qena, a large Predynastic cemetery with ca. 1450 graves was excavated in 1913 by West; Freed (n.d.: 41) states that only 172 of these graves were datable (mainly Nagada III and Nagada IIc-d) because the cemetery had been heavily plundered.

The Predynastic cemetery at Naga ed-Der was published by Dunham using Lythgoe's field notes (Lythgoe and Dunham 1965: ix), but no reference is made to nay settlement near it. The cemetery measured approximately 90m x 80m, and there were over 600 burials (Lythgoe and Dunham 1965: insert plan). Castillos' analysis of this cemetery suggests that it was of "less prosperity" than other Predynastic cemeteries in his study (Castillos 1979: 36). At least one high status burial - Grave 7304 - is from this cemetery, however. This large grave was originally roofed, and though disturbed, contained 42 objects, including 5 stone vessels, 8 pots, beads of turquoise and lapis Lazuli, and a seal with a Jemdet Nasr-style design (Kantor 1952: 240, 246).


Abydos, a major center of Predynastic culture in Upper Egypt, and better known for its Early Dynastic remains excavated by Petrie early in this century, has been investigated more recently by Kaiser and Dreyer, and O'Connor. A study of settlements in the region, dating from the Predynastic through the Old Kingdom, has been conducted by Patch (1984: 17), who located seven new Predynastic sites during an archaeological survey in 1982-1983. Patch's investigations show a change in settlement patterns through time, with some nucleation within the region by the end of the Nagada II period (Patch 1991: 307).

Predynastic cemeteries recorded in the Abydos region are in three areas: one near the Osiris temple, the others near the villages of El Amra and El Mahasna. Cemetery E, 300m north of the Osiris temple, was excavated in 1909-1910 by Naville and Peet, and contained Predynastic graves along with pharaonic and Roman shaft tombs (Naville 1914: 1).

In 1901, Randall-MacIver and Mace excavated (or estimated the presence of) more than 1000 Predynastic and Early dynastic burials near the village of El Amra, from which the term Amration ( = Nagada I) is derived. About 8.9km SE of the First Dynasty royal cemetery at Abydos are two Predynastic cemeteries A and B, which had both been heavily plundered (Randall MacIver and Mace 1902: 50). Cemetery B seems to have had more later Predynastic graves than Cemetery A, as well as some from the First Dynasty. Two other Predynastic cemeteries at Abydos were also noted by the excavators: Cemetery O, S.D. 30-50 (early and middle Predynastic), and Cemetery X, S.D. 60-80 (late Predynastic; Randall-MacIver and Mace 1902: 53-55). The El Amra excavations yielded a unique clay model of a rectangular Predynastic house (Randall-MacIver and Mace 1902: 42).

Also in the Abydos region is the Predynastic cemetery at El Mahasna, 1.3km north of Abydos. Although many of the burials had been disturbed, the remainder range in date from early to late Predynastic, and there are some brick-lined tombs of the early First Dynasty. Some of the later, more rectangular graves were roofed or lined with wood or mud-brick (Ayrton and Loat 1911: 3-8).

In addition to burials, eight Predynastic kilns, which the excavators thought were for parching grain, were excavated in the Cemetery D area of the Osiris temple (Peet and Loat 1913: 1-7). The kilns consisted of two parallel rows of large jars of Rough class sunk into the ground and containing carbonized organic matter; Geller (1989: 47), as noted previously, has evidence from Hierakonpolis that such facilities were for brewing. Predynastic sherds were also found in the Osiris temple by Petrie (1902: pl. 50).

The Umm el-Qa-ab at Abydos is where the kings of the First Dynasty built there tombs and "funerary palaces", walled constructions located along the edge of the cultivation. To the NE of the identified First Dynasty royal tombs are smaller and less elaborate tombs (B group) excavated by Petrie (1901b: 3-5), which have been more recently investigated by Kaiser and Dreyer. Several of these tombs have been identified as belonging to kings immediately preceding, or belonging to the beginning of, the First Dynasty (Iri-Hor, Ka, Narmer, Aha) (Kaiser and Dreyer 1982: 241-242). A tomb (U-j) dating to Nagada IIIa2 has also been excavated on the Umm el-Qa'ab, with over 400 pots imported from Canaan (Dreyer 1992: 297). Many bone labels with the earliest known hieroglyphs, probably connected with the delivery of goods, were also found in Tomb U-j (Kaiser 1990: 298-299). At Abyos, then, there is evidence of a royal cemetery dating to the end of the Predynastic (Nagada IIIa-c), possibly of kings whose descendants reigned in the First Dynasty.



In Middle Egypt, Predynastic sites are found in the Badari district, on the east bank of the Nile opposite, and to the south of, Assuit. The earliest class of pottery ("Badarian", a black-topped brown ware with a rippled surface created by pebble burnishing) from prehistoric settlements and cemeteries in this region is thought to be earlier than Petrie's Predynastic classes from Upper Egypt, a chronology demonstrated by Caton Thompson's excavation of the stratified midden at Hemamieh (Brunton and Caton Thompson 1928: 73-75). Brunton also thought that the graves he excavated at Deir Tasa, yielding stone celts and black incised pottery, represent an early phase of the Badarian (Brunton 1937: 32).

At El Badari, the remains of Predynastic settlements were located on Spurs 2-12, with cemeteries occurring on Spurs 14-19. The small settlement on the north spur at Hemamieh was only 40 x 50 yds (37 x 46m) n area, with some hut (and/or storage) circles, and a midden 6.5ft (2m) deep (Brunton and Caton Thompson 1928: 69-79).

At Mostagedda, Brunton excavated several small Predynastic villages consisting of hut circles and middens. Cemeteries range in date from the Badarian and Predynastic to Dynastic and Pan-grave (Second Intermediate Period, following the Middle Kingdom; Brunton 1937: 3-4). North of Mostagedda at Matmar more Predynastic graves were excavated, mainly in Cemetery 2600-2700. Scattered in different areas at Matmar were graves with Sequence Dates of 74-81 (late Predynastic, early Dynastic; Brunton 1948: pl. 8-10, 20).

A recent archaeological survey in the Badari district by Holmes and Friedman has led to the discovery of two Predynastic sites (BD-1 and BD-2), and they noted another at Minshat El Kom El Ahmar; the last cemetery was excavated, but not published, by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. The investigators report that very few surveyed Predynastic localities had any finds dating exclusively to the Amatrian period (Nagada I) (Holmes and Friedman 1989: 17). This suggests that in the Badari district, the "Badarian" is not a cultural period which entirely preceded the Amratian, but perhaps one that chronologically overlaps the Amatrian known farther south (Holmes and Friedman 1989: 18).

Archaeological evidence in the Badari district is mainly of small settlements, scattered along spurs from Matmar in the north to Qau el Kebir in the south. None of these sites represents Predynastic culture on the scale of that seen at several other major sites in Upper Egypt.


North of the Badari district, no Predynastic sites are known south of the Fayum region, over 300km farther downriver (Middle Egypt is the least archaeologically surveyed area in the Egyptian Nile Valley, which may in part account for the lack of evidence, but it is also possible that early sites are less well preserved there). Although the major Predynastic sites are found in upper Egypt, it would be surprising if such settlement suddenly stopped at El Badari. While the Fayum is better known for Neolithic sites on the strandlines representing earlier lake levels, Caton Thompson and Gardner (1934: 69-71) excavated a Predynastic site near Qasr Qarun in the SW Fayum. More recently this site was investigated by Wenke, who located two other Predynastic sites to the east. The three sites appear to be "only temporary, seasonally occupied encampments" (Wenke et al 1983: 39). Although the ceramics were badly eroded, sherds from one of these sites (FS-3) "are similar to unpolished Red-ware ceramics found at Maadi and nearby sites" (Robert Wenke and Douglas Brewer, personal communication, 1991; see also Wenke and Brewer 1992: 175). Samples of charcoal from hearths obtained in the northern Fayum by the Institute of Archaeology, Jagiellonian University, have yielded (uncalibrated) radiocarbon dates of "the times directly preceding the so-called archaic [Early Dynastic] period" (Dagnon-Ginter et al. 1984: 65).

The best known Predynastic site in the Fayum region is the cemetery at Gerza, from which the term Gerzean (Nagada II) is derived. The site is located on the west bank, about 7 km NE of Medum. compared to the major cemeteries in Upper Egypt this was a small cemetery, with only 288 burials, a high percentage of them undisturbed; 198 of these were of adults and 51 were of infants or children (Petrie, Wainwright and MacKay 1912: 5). The ceramics listed for these burials are typical of the Nagada II period and include the Wavy-handled and Decorated classes. Beads, stone vases, zoomorphic slate palettes, flint knives, and other Nagada II artifacts, some of which were elite goods probably imported from the south, were also found in these graves. (No mention is made by Petrie of a Predynastic settlement at Gerza)

At Abusir El-Meleq, about 10km west f the present Nile, several hundred Predynastic burials were excavated by Moller (Scharff 1926). The graves range from Nagada II to III, and early First Dynasty. this seems to have been one of the larger Predynastic cemeteries in the north.

Harageh, SE of the village of Lahun, was excavated in 1913-1914 by Reginald Engelbach, and consists of two Predynastic cemeteries, G and H. Engelbach (1923: 2) places the date for both cemeteries between S.D. 50-60, based on the pottery in the burials, which includes the Decorated class. Many of the graves were robbed, and there were no slate palettes and very few beads. Wavy-handled class pottery was found only in Cemetery H (Engelbach 1923: 7). Given its low number of burials and relatively few high status grave goods, Harageh was probably only a small Predynastic community with little social differentiation.

In two areas of Sedment, SW of Harageh (Cemetery J, and between Cemetery K and the floodplain), circular pits were excavated which (rarely) contained some pottery but no burials (Petrie and Brunton 1924: 9). Though different in form from pottery usually found in burials, small Black-topped Red jars were found in Cemetery J. Most of the pottery found in the circular pits, however, was of types typical of Lower Egyptian Predynastic sites (El Omari, Maadi; Williams 1982: 219). Williams (1982: 221) interprets these pits and their contents as storage caches for a nearby (deflated) settlement of Lower Egypt culture before the northern expansion of Upper Egyptian (Nagada) culture into the Fayum region during Nagada II (Gerzean) times.

Some pottery from Harageh Cemetery H, which Engelbach thought was much later (Pan Graves?), resembles Lower Egyptian Predynastic pottery found at Sedment (Kaiser 1987: 121-122; Williams 1982: 220). The presence of pottery of Lower Egyptian origin at a site in this region is also attested at the cemetery of es-Saff on the east bank opposite Gerza (Habachi and Kaiser 1985: 46). From this evidence it seems likely that the Fayum region was where the two Predynastic cultures of Upper and Lower Egypt first came into contact.



South of Cairo on the east bank, Predynastic evidence of a material culture different from that of Upper Egypt has been found at the two major sites of El-Omari and Maadi. Elsewhere, at Tarkhan, south of Helwan, Nagada III/First Dynasty graves (S.D. 77-82) were excavated, including a very large, "palace-facade" tomb, but no earlier burials were found (Petrie, Wainwright, and Gardiner 1913: 1-31).

At Heliopolis, a small Predynastic cemetery excavated earlier in this century has recently been published (Debono and Mortensen 1988). Dating to the Nagada I and early Nagada II, the burials were orientated with the heads to the south and faces to the east (unlike burial orientation in Upper Egypt where the skulls usually lie toward the west). Pots were the most common grave goods, and ceramics "are typical for the north in the Maadian Period" but also show "traits from the Palestinian tradition" (Debono and Mortensen 1988: 33). A few grave goods are of types found in Upper Egyptian burials (carved stone vases in basalt and limestone) but the flat flint palettes are unlike Upper Egyptian ones (Debono and Mortensen 1988: 39-40).

At Giza on the west bank, four jars of Predynastic types known from Heliopolis and Maadi were found at the foot of the Great Pyramid. Mortensen interprets these and other isolated Predynastic finds at Giza as evidence for a settlement of the Maadi period which was destroyed when the Fourth Dynasty pyramids were built (Mortensen 1985: 147).

At Tura, 2km south of Maadi, 12 pots thought to come from Predynastic graves were found during construction of a road (Junker 1912: fig. 1). These are of types known from Maadi (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 60). A large Nagada III/Early First Dynasty (?) cemetery was excavated by Junker at Tura, and Kasier (1964: 117) suggests that the southern, and earliest, section of the cemetery dates to a period of 100-150 years before the reign of Ka (Dynasty 0). Grave goods include cylindrical jars, Late class pottery, and a few rectangular palettes, which are typical of the Nagada III culture of Upper Egypt, but there was no early Nagada II pottery such as the Black-topped Red, Decorated, or Wavy-handled classes.

One of the major settlements excavated in the Cairo region is that of El-Omari (3km NE of Helwan), which Debono dates from early Nagada I to the beginning of Nagada II. On the west was a village where the dead were interred in houses, and there was a second village with a separate cemetery, where each grave was covered with a mound of stones (Debono 1956: 330-331). The western village ("Omari A") extended over a large area and included oval structures of postholes and round, semi-subterranean structures (Debono 1948: 562-563). Pottery at El-Omari is unlike that of the Predynastic Nagada culture, but is related to that of Maadi. Almost all of the pottery (99%) was made of local clay, which was not a Nile clay, and the ceramic technology "could have been brought from Palestine" (Debono and Mortensen 1990: 36, 40). Five calibrated radiocarbon dates on charcoal samples from pits in the "later phases of the settlement" range from 4620 +/-220 B.C. to 4110 +/- 260 B.C.; a sixth sample gives an anomalous date almost one thousand years younger (Mortensen 1992: 173).


Maadi, the other major prehistoric site in the Cairo region, is located on a Pleistocene terrace between mouths of two wadis south of modern Cairo. From 1930 to 1953, Cairo University archaeologists excavated four sets: a large settlement (over 40,000 sq. m) on the terrace, a cemetery and a settlement at the foot of the terrace, and another Predynastic cemetery 1km south in the Wadi Digla (Rizkana and Seeher 1984: 237). The initial reports are very cursory; a more comprehensive interpretation of the early fieldwork at Maadi is found in Hayes (1965: 122-133). Final reports of the Cairo University excavations at Maadi have been published in four volumes by the German Institute of Archaeology at Cairo (Rizkana and Seeher 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990). More recently, excavations at Maadi have also been conducted in the eastern part of the settlement, which was not excavated earlier (Caneva, Frangipani, and Palmieri 1989: 287).

The economy at Maadi was based on farming (emmer wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs). with considerably less evidence for hunting and fishing. Domesticated dogs and asses were also kept. the presence of many large grinding stones, some weighing more than 50kg, and hundreds of storage pits and storage jars strongly suggests a permanent settlement subsisting mainly by farming (Rizkana and Seeher 1989: 74-75).

Settlement debris at Maadi was found in an area 1300m long and 100-130m wide. Evidence from the recent Maadi excavations suggests shifting occupation within the settlement (Caneva, Frangipane, and Palmieri 1989: 287), with earlier occupation in the eastern part and later occupation to the west (Caneva, Frangipane, and Palmieri 1987: 113). There is no evidence of a planned settlement, nor are there any known areas of specialized activity. houses consisted mainly of wattle and matting, sometimes covered with mud. Some rectangular buildings were noted, and four subterranean structures were found in the NW part of the site. Interpretations of the excavated settlement data are hampered by earlier digging for sebakh, and by problems with understanding the earlier excavations (Rizkana and Seeher 1989: 74-75).

Pottery from Maadi has datable parallels in Upper Egypt from the Nagada I and II periods, and Rizkana and Seeher (1987: 78) propose an end to occupation at Maadi by late Nagada II times (the end of Nagada IIc). Four radiocarbon dates from the recent excavations at Maadi are "grouped around 3650 B.C. (MASCA calibrated)" (Caneva, Frangipane, and Palmieri 1987: 106).

Over 80% of the pottery excavated at Maadi is of a local ware not found in Upper Egypt, which "clearly underlines the difference between Lower and Upper Egypt in Predynastic times" (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 78). This ware is tempered with grit (sand and sometimes crushed stone) and organic matter, and is mainly black or reddish-born (the latter is slightly burnished) (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 23-26). Much less frequent are painted designs on this ware, or imitations of the Upper Egyptian Black-topped Red class (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 26-28). According to Caneva, Frangipane, and Palmieri (1987: 107), the red jars "show such uniformity of shape, size, and colour that they seem to document the first standardized, non-domestic production".

Two other local wares are also found at Maadi: a red-burnished ware with less organic temper, and a yellowish burnished ware with no organic temper. Twelve sherds of the imported Upper Egyptian Black-topped Red class were also recovered. Imported from Palestine, a coarse-tempered ware with ledge-handles or lug-handles accounted for less than 3% of the settlement pottery (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 31-32).

Among the artifacts from Maadi are a few goods that most likely were imports from Upper Egypt, where they are much more numerous: rhomboid slate palettes, six disk-shaped maceheads, and wide-brimmed jars of diorite (Rizkana and Seeher 1989: 77). Much more frequent, however, are palettes of limestone in different sizes and shapes, probably locally made (Rizkana and Seeher 1984: 244). The numerous black basalt vases at Maadi in shapes similar to locally produced pottery suggest a Lower Egyptian source (Rizkana and Seeher 1989: 77). Some typical Nagada II artifacts, such as zoomorphic palettes, pear-shaped maceheads, and Decorated class pottery, are lacking at Maadi, and the material culture shows "a strong and self-subsistent local tradition" (Rizkana and Seeher 1984: 251).

Maadi has been regarded as a center of copper production, as Hayes (9165: 128) suggests:

The site has yielded copious evidence that copper ore was imported and worked in some bulk and that locally a knowledge of smelting, casting, and other metallurgical processes had advanced sufficiently for the production of a variety of metal implements.

Rizkana and Seeher (1984: 239), however, think that this is an exaggerated view, given the actual finds: two copper axes, a few small objects (pins, chisels, wires, and fish-hooks). three large pieces of copper, which may have been ingots, were also found at Maadi, and a site of copper smelting has only been tentatively identified (Rizkana and Seeher 1984: 239).

There are no grave goods in any of the 76 graves in the cemetery next to the Maadi settlement, with the exception of a flint flake in one grave (Rizkana and Seeher 1985: 249). In the cemetery at the mouth of the Wadi Digla ("Maadi South") 468 human burials and 14 animal burials were excavated (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 19). These graves were simple oval pits, with either a few pots or entirely without grave goods (Rizkana and Seeher 1989: 74).

Although archaeological evidence at Maadi and Maadi-related sites is mainly from settlements, unlike most of the surviving evidence for the Nagada culture in Upper Egypt, what is known about Maadi suggests a material culture very different from that in the south. the cemetery at Maadi, with its very simple human burials, is also very different from Predynastic cemeteries in Upper Egypt. Some contact with SW Asia is demonstrated by the imported coarse-tempered ware at Maadi, which may have been a northern Egyptian center for trade with Palestine (see Seeher 1990: 153-154).


On the western fringe of the Delta, about 60km NW of Cairo, is the large prehistoric site of Merimda. Junker dug here from 1928-1939, but most of the excavation notes were lost during World War II (Baumgartel 1965: 503). Junker thought that the ca. 160,000 sq m of living debris was occupied continuously, but Kemp (1968: 27) states that, given the almost complete absence of anything suggesting communal organization , there probably was horizontal displacement of the settlement through time. Average age estimates of radiocarbon dates for Merimda are ca. 4800 B.C. (early Neolithic), and >4400 B.C. (late Neolithic) (Hassan 1985b: 95), which are considerably earlier than the recent radiocarbon dates reported for Maadi. Given horizontal displacement of the Merimda settlement through time, Kemp (1968: 26) thinks it questionable as to what extent the intra-settlement burials and houses were contemporary. Unlike Predynastic burials, the Merimda ones were without grave goods, and many were of children (Kemp 1968: 23, 26).

More recent excavations have been conducted by Eiwanger at Merimda, between and to the north of the eastern and western areas excavated by Junker (Eiwanger 1984: 11). Although Junker identified three phases of occupation at Merimda, Eiwanger has identified five, with a discernible change in the lithics and ceramics between the first and subsequent phases (Eiwanger 1988: 51-54). Postholes of small oval houses were found in all five phases (Eiwanger 1982: 67-68). Fish bones along with numerous artifacts used in fishing, such as net weights, harpoons, and fish hooks, suggest one important subsistence activity (Eiwanger 1982: 80). Storage pits are known from Phases II-V, and emmer wheat and barley were the most abundant plant remains (Wetterstrom 1993).


Finally in the northern Delta, remarkable evidence has recently been excavated below the water table at Tell e-Fara'in/Buto by von der Way. Below levels dating to the third millennium B.C. was a settlement of "Lower Egyptian culture" of the second half of the 4th millennium B.C. (von der Way 1988: 247). Most of the wares at Tell el Fara'in were also found at Maadi, and the same type of black basalt jars were found at both sites. At two sites about 3km SW of Tell el-Fara'in, Ezbet el-Qerdahi East and West, more ceramics of the same wares as found a Maadi and Tell el-Fara'in have also been excavated (Wunderlich, von der Way, and Schmidt 1989: 313).

Pottery of Upper Egyptian classes was also found in "one small place" at Tell el-Fara'in, which von der Way (1988: 248) thinks may be a kind of trade depot. Pottery of the 'Amuq F period from northern Syria was also imported to the site. Two types of mosaic clay cones or nails, used for temple decoration, and a clay cylinder for strengthening temple steps - an object known to date to the Uruk period - have also been excavated in the earliest levels at Tell el-Fara'in (von der Way 1987: 257, 1992b: 220-221). How the site of Tell el-Far'in/Buto realtes to the Uruk culture of SW Asia, however, has yet to be demonstrated by data from the on-going investigations.

Above the two layers at Buto with ceramics of Lower Egyptian tradition is a transitional layer with decreasing amounts of these ceramics and, for the first time, Upper Egyptian (Nagada IId) style pottery (von der Way 1991: 420-422, 1992a: 3). In this transitional layer (IIIa) forms "suddenly occur" which are typical of the Lower Egyptian tradition but are manufactured in the "Nagada manner" (Kohler 992b: 17-18). Von der Way (1992a: 4) interprets this as evidence of "cultural superposition by assimilation", which was followed in the Nagada IIIa period by "the final struggle" for political unification. Kohler (1992a: 5), however, suggests that there were not different two cultures in upper and Lower Egypt during the Nagada II period, but that "style" separated these two regions, and by late Nagada II times both regions had nearly the same utilitarian pottery and lithics.


Ancient Egypt is one of the earliest examples of (primary) state formation, and Predynastic data should elucidate general processes which may be applicable to other cases of state formation. but we only have a partial understanding of the Predynastic, based on different types of data in the north and south. Possibly new and forthcoming evidence from the Delta will provide information on the processes of state formation and unification there, but in the south there is the problem of so many missing settlement data, which are needed in order to make theoretical generalizations.

Despite the problem of poorer settlement evidence in Upper Egypt, the emerging picture of Egypt in the 4th millennium B.C. is of two different material cultures with different belief systems: the Predynastic Naqada culture of Upper Egypt and the Maadi culture of Lower Egypt. Archaeological evidence in Lower Egypt consists mainly of settlements, with very simple burials in cemeteries, and suggests a culture different from that of Upper Egypt, where cemeteries with elaborate burials are found. While the rich grave goods in several major cemeteries in Upper Egypt represent the acquired wealth of higher social strata, the economic sources of this wealth cannot be satisfactorily determined because there are so few settlement data, though the larger cemeteries were probably associated with centers of craft production. Trade and exchange of finished goods and luxury materials from the Eastern and Western Deserts and Nubia would also have taken place in such centers. In Lower Egypt, however, settlement data permit a broader reconstruction of the prehistoric economy, which at present does not suggest any great socio-economic complexity.

Differentiation in the Predynastic cemeteries of Upper Egypt (but not Lower Egypt) is symbolic of status display and rivalry (Trigger 1987: 60), which probably represent the earliest processes of competition and the aggrandizement of local polities in Egypt. The importation of exotic materials for craft goods found in burials may have become a political strategy, and the control of prestige goods would have reinforced the position of a chief among his supporters.

Evidence of extensive contact between Upper Egypt and Nubia in later Predynastic times is indicative f the increasing interest in prestige goods. Numerous Nagada culture trade goods have been found at most A-Group sites in Nubia between Kubania in the north and Saras in the south. These include jars that may have contained beer or wine, and Wavy-handled jars. Other Nagada pottery classes are found at A-Group sites, as are Naqada craft goods: copper tools, stone vessels and palettes, linen, and beads of stone and faience (Nordstrom 1972: 24; Smith 1991: 108).

A-group burials are very similar to graves of the Nagada culture, but inspite of similar burials and grave goods Trigger (1976: 33) thinks that the A-Group developed from an indigenous population that was in contact with Upper Egypt and much influenced by Nagada culture. A-Group wares are distinctive, and few A-Group artifacts have been found in Upper Egyptian graves, suggesting that the A-Group acted as middlemen in a trading network with Upper Egypt (Trigger 1976: 39). Luxury materials, such as ivory, ebony, incense, and exotic animal skins, all greatly desired in Dynastic times as well, came from father south and passed through Nubia. Kaiser (1957: 74, fig. 26), however, interprets the A-Group evidence as a "colonial" penetration into Lower Nubia to exploit trade and raw materials (Needler 1984: 29).

In his analysis of the Classic A-Group (contemporaneous with Nagada III) "royal" Cemetery L at Qustal, Williams (1986: 177) proposes another theory: that this cemetery represents Nubian rulers who were responsible for unifying Egypt and founding the early Egyptian state. The A-Group n Nubia, though, appears to have been a separate culture from that of Predynastic Upper Egypt, and the model that may best explain the archaeological evidence is one of accelerated contact between the two regions in later Predynastic times. That the material culture of the Nagada culture was later found in northern Egypt (with no Nubian elements) would seem to argue against William's theory of a Nubian origin for the Early Dynastic state in Egypt.

The unification of Egypt took place in late Predynastic times, but the processes involved in this major transition to the Dynastic state are poorly understood. What is truly unique about this state is the integration of rule over an extensive geographic region, in contrast to the other contemporaneous Near Eastern polities in Nubia, Mesopotamia, Palestine and the Levant. Present evidence suggests that the state which emerged by the First Dynasty had its roots in the Nagada culture of Upper Egypt, where grave types, pottery, and artifacts demonstrate an evolution of form from the Predynastic to the First Dynasty. This cannot be demonstrated in Upper Egypt. Hierarchical society with much social and economic differentiation, as symbolized in the Nagada II cemeteries of Upper Egypt, does not seem to have been present, then, in Lower Egypt, a fact which also supports an Upper Egyptian origin for the unified state. thus archaeological evidence cannot support the earlier theories that the founders of Egyptian civilization were an invading Dynastic race, from the East (Petrie 1920: 49, 1939: 77; Emery 1967: 38), or from the south, in Nubia (Williams 1986: 177).

How this transformation was accomplished and the amount of time involved are points of disagreement. Based on an analysis of archaeological evidence, the earliest writing in Egypt, and later king lists, Kaiser (1964: 118, 105-114) proposes that the Nagada culture expanded north in Nagada IIc-d times to sites in the Fayum region (such as the cemetery at Gerza), and then later to the Cairo area and the Delta. The unification, therefore, was much earlier than the period immediately preceding the beginning of the First Dynasty (Kaiser 1964: 114, 1985: 61-62, 1990: 288-289). Trigger (1987: 61), however, states that if the unification occurred at an early date there would be archaeological evidence from Nagada III burials of a court-centered high culture. Instead, Trigger proposes that the northward expansion of the Nagada culture during Nagada II-III was the result of refugees emigrating from the developing states in the south, or the presence of Nagada traders involved in commerce with SW Asia. While the unification may have been achieved through conquest in the north, an earlier unification of southern polities (Nagada, Hierakonpolis, and Abydos), may have been achieved by a series of alliances (Trigger 1987: 61).

Based on evidence from his excavations at Minshat Abu Omar, Wildung (1984: 269) states that there is no indication of conflict in this region of the Delta. The site was occupied ca. 3300-2900 B.C., which Wildung interprets as showing continuous cultural evolution in Egypt from south to north. He suggests that there never was a military conquest of the Delta by kings from Upper Egypt, such as may be presented on the Narmer Palette (Wildung 1984: 269). Likewise at other recently investigated sites in the Delta (Tell Ibrahim Awad, Tell el-Fara'in/Buto, and Tell el'Iswid) there is no evidence of destruction layers (van den Brink 1989: 80). According to Kohler's (1992a: 6) interpretation of the ceramics at Tell el-Fara'in/Buto, Upper and Lower Egypt "grew together" by trade and increasing cultural exchange very early so that Upper Egyptian commercial expansion and conquests in Lower Egypt were not necessary.

Wildung's explanation, however, fails to account for the abandonment of Maadi during Nagada IIc (Rizkana and Seeher 1987: 78). A motivating factor for Nagada culture expansion into northern Egypt would have been to directly control the lucrative trade with other regions in the eastern Mediterranean. but more importantly, large boats were the key to control and communication on the Nile and large-scale economic exchange, and timber for the construction of such boats (cedars) did not grow in Egypt, but came from the Levant. Gold was an Upper Egyptian resource (Trigger 1983: 39), along with various kinds of rock used for stone vessels and beads - highly desired goods and materials in long-distance trade exchange. Groups in Lower Egypt did not have such resources, and in a configuration of trading partners in the eastern Mediterranean, would only have been (expendable) middlemen.

The eventual replacement of Maadi artifacts in the north by a material culture originating in the south may represent military exploits, while colonization by southerner may have occurred in northern regions where there were less well-developed local polities, as at Gerza or Minshat Abu Omar. Guksch (1991: 41) suggests that the Nagada IId ceramic horizon in Lower Egypt represents expanded Upper Egyptian trade into the NE Delta in late Nagada II times, with a (later) militarily-achieved political unification in Nagada III/dynasty 0 times. Possibly there was first a more or less peaceful (?) movement or migration(s) of Nagada culture peoples from south to north that may have been formalized by a later, or concurrent, military presence. A shift in settlement patterns is seen, and by the First Dynasty the north was much more densely inhabited than the south (Mortensen 1991: 24).

Archaeological evidence suggests a system much too complex for the southern expansion to be explained by military conquest alone, and the northern culture may have made important contributions to the unified polity which emerged (Seeher 1991: 318). One result of this expansion throughout northern Egypt would have been a greatly elaborated (state) administration, and by the beginning of the First Dynasty this was managed in part by the invention of writing, used on seals and tags affixed to state goods.

Egyptian contact in the 4th millennium B.C. with SW Asia is undeniable, but the effect of this contact on state formation in Egypt is less clear (Wenke 1991: 301). There is the archaeological evidence of Palestinian wares at Maadi and later Abydos (Tomb U0j), and also Nagada classes of pottery and stone vessels in forms resembling Palestinian prototypes (wavy-handles and ledge-handles). Cylinder seals of Egyptian manufacture, which undeniably originated in Mesopotamia, are found in a few late Predynastic graves (see Kantor 1952: 246), and Uruk culture architectural elements have recently been excavated at Tell el-Fara'in/Buto (see von der Way 1992b: 220-223). The unified state which emerged in Egypt in the 3rd millennium B.C., however, is unlike the polities in Mesopotamia, the Levant, northern Syria, or Early Bronze Age Palestine - in sociopolitical organization, material culture, and belief system. There was undoubtedly heightened commercial contact with SW Asia in the late 4th millennium B.C., but the Early Dynastic state which emerged in Egypt was unique and indigenous in character.

Given the quality of earlier excavations and publications, and the poor preservation of many settlement data, we still cannot specify how a centralized state emerged in Egypt by 3050 B.C., and explanations for the origin of the early Egyptian state remain hypothetical. Nonetheless, the roots of the major transition from autonomous villages to an early state in Egypt from simple to complex society - are to be found in Upper Egypt at large centers such as Nagada, where Predynastic cemeteries provide the main evidence for this culture.


The author would like to thank Douglas Brewer, Christina Kohler, Robert Wenke, and Wilma Wetterstrom for generously providing information from unpublished manuscripts. Useful comments on an earlier version of this paper were given by Barbara Adams, Karl Butzer, Christian Guksch, Bruce Trigger and an anonymous reviewer. David Clayton drew the map of Predynastic sites in Egypt.

Information from analyses conducted during the 1991 excavations at Halfiah Gibli and Semaineh were provided by Abdel Moneim A. Mahmoud, Sally Swain, and Wilma Wetterstrom, whose tireless and cheerless hard work with me in Upper Egypt during two grueling summer months is gratefully acknowledged.


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