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Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

(Cracow, Poland: 28th August - 1st September 2002)
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Regional Settlement Patterns as Indicators of Cultural Change in the Predynastic Period

Diana Craig PATCH

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (U.S.A.)


Since Robert McCormick Adam's survey of Mesopotamia's Diyala plain in the late 1950's, Near Eastern and Egyptian archaeologists have acknowledged that the region surrounding a major ancient settlement is a significant source for information on how the settlement functioned and evolved. By 1980, however, Egyptologists had not yet applied regional survey of settlement patterns in the study of zones surrounding significant ancient Egyptian towns and cities. They did continue to use ancient Egyptian sources to enhance their understanding of the relationship between various localities and the hinterlands that surrounded those settlements.

In the early 1980's, I was investigating the rise of the state in Egypt, addressing the concept, already accepted in anthropology, that as a culture approached state-level society, it had to develop, by necessity, a hierarchical organizational structure in order to grow and survive. It had been demonstrated in the Near East that this hierarchical structure was reflected in a culture's settlement pattern. I intended to prove that if an archaeologist analyzed a regional settlement pattern, the evolution of the culture towards a state-level society could be traced. At that time, I hypothesized that if a state-level society had emerged by the Early Dynastic Period, a systematic regional survey would reveal a significant change in settlement pattern could be documented. I was drawn to the site of Abydos because of its widely recognized significance in the Early Dynastic Period, and its location in one of several areas where Predynastic material had already been documented.

During six months in 1983, as Field Director of the then University of Pennsylvania/Yale University Expedition to Abydos, I directed a team in identifying Predynastic, Early Dynastic, and Old Kingdom sites in the region around the site of Abydos, dating surface collections, and estimating size and length of occupations for each location. The area under study extended from Nag' ed Der in the north to Nag' Hammadi in the south, a zone some 40 km. in length. The focus of the work was in the low desert primarily where it abutted the floodplain in a zone about 300 m. wide. Earlier archeologists' work had indicated that most early sites occurred in this zone. Sampling strategy, however, included other sections of low desert. Both sides of the river were included to understand how a large region was exploited, one that covered three quarters of the Eighth or Thinite nome's area.

The results of this research provided the basis for my dissertation, which was released in 1991, and although not formally published, it is gratifying to see that other researchers have accepted its contents and conclusions. Those conclusions covered a number of topics, but the I have chosen to focus upon is the change in Abydos-Thinis regional settlement pattern that I documented between Naqada Ic-Naqada IIb and Naqada IIc-IId (then still known as Naqada IIc-d2) periods. At the time, I concluded that the significant alteration in the regional settlement pattern documented by the survey indicated that the culture of the mid-Naqada Period must have undergone crucial change in its organization.



In this paper, I will consider the data that archaeologists have collected in the subsequent twelve years since my work in the Abydos-Thinis region, reviewing those new results in light of the conclusion I drew from the settlement pattern study. Can we now better explain my observation about regional settlement patterns in the Naqada Period with data from other cultural data of the time?


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