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Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

(Cracow, Poland: 28th August - 1st September 2002)
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Development of Specialization in the Nile Valley during the 4th Millennium B.C.


Kinki University, Osaka (Japan)


The development of specialization in relation to progress of complex societies is one of the major topics in current archaeological discussions. The subject has been mentioned also in a number of works on the Predynastic period in the Nile valley, but a general view of the development has not been obtained yet. This presentation is an attempt to review previous studies and provided a working hypothesis for understanding the nature and characteristics of the development of specialization in the Nile valley during the 4th millennium B.C.

According to recent studies, there are a wide variety of types of specialization, which can be classified and described multidimansionally in terms of, for example, intensity (part-time or full-time), relationship between the producers and the consumers (independent or attached), kind of products (utilitarian goods or wealth), scale of production (household production, workshop, or large factory).

Scholars have also suggested several models of development process of specialization: a commercial model, an adaptationist model, and a political model. E. Brumfiel and T.K. Earle, who proposed the last model, argued that in the political model, local rulers play an important role in organizing specialization and exchange, and that political elites consciously and strategically employ specialization and exchange to create and maintain social inequality, and to strengthen political coalition.

The development process of specialization in the Nile valley may be deduced from analyses of production sites, as well as of products themselves. Excavations of the settlement at Hierakonpolis uncovered several production sites, which provided important information about specialized production systems during the Naqada period. Pottery kilns accompanied with relating structures and debris were studies by R. Friedman. A temple workshop at HK29A, its products and by-products were analyzed by D. Holmes. A brewery was identified at HK24A by J. Geller. B. Ginter, J.K. Kozlowski and M. Pawlikowski, on the other hand, analyzed lithic artifacts from settlements and frint mines in the Thebes-Armant area, and proposed a long-term development process of specialization. Products themselves often yield clues to identify specialized production when they show a high level of manufacturing technology and/or standardization, which are generally believed to be markers of specialization.

The specialization of lithic production was inferred from analyses of production sites in the Thebes-Armant area and Hierakonpolis, as well as of artifacts such as utilitarian blades and elaborately worked bifacial knives. Ginter and his colleagues suggested that some kinds of blades were manufactured in workshops near the mine, and only the products were taken to settlements during the early Naqada II, at the same time when Holmes inferred from lithic themselves the emergence of a specialized system in the blade production. A "temple work-shop" in Hierakonpolis indicates the existence of attached full-time specialists for lithic production during the Naqada IIb-d period. Ripple-flaking knives, usually dated to the late Naqada II - early Naqada III, are believed to have been manufactured by a limited number of specialists because of their sophisticated and time-consuming technique.



The specialization of pottery production was assumed on the basis of data from kiln sites excavated in Hierakonpolis and of artifacts including untempered polished wares and "Decorated pottery" vessels. Friedman suggested that untempered polished wares in the Naqada I - early II period was produced by specialists. Many scholars have supposed that pottery vessels decorated with characteristic boat motifs, dated to the Naqada IIc-d period, were manufactured in the small number of workshops, because of their extraordinarily uniform styles of decorations.

Although archaeological research for specialization has tended to focus on craft specialization, specialization occurred in categories other than craft production. For example, Geller identified a specialized production system of brewing in the settlement of Hierakonpolis. The specialization appears to have emerged in exchange systems during the Naqada III period when long-distance trade networks were established between Naqada societies and those in Lower Nubia and in Palestine. The introduction of a writing system during the Naqada III period may indicate the existence of specialists for administration.

On the basis of the published samples mentioned above, though they are quite limited in the number and qualities, a general process of the development of specialization may be supposed as follows. During the Naqada I period or even much earlier, specialization on a part-time level emerged in production of lithic and pottery, as well as of some other kinds. In the early Naqada II period, full-time specialists are firstly identified archaeologically in the lithic production attached to a temple in Hierakonpolis. Then, in the middle Naqada II period, specialists producing "Decorated pottery" vessels and ripple-flaking knives were organized probably on a full-time base. It is worthwhile to note that the items manufactured by the full-time specialists were luxury goods, which could be used for political purposes and controlled by elites of the time. It seems that specialized systems characterized by mass-production were introduced around the threshold of the Naqada III period, when remarkable standardization appeared in pottery vessels and long-distance trade networks enabled to distribute a large amount of pottery vessels to the areas outside the Nile valley.

The most distinct characteristics of the development of specialization in the Nile valley is, therefore, that the attached specialization of luxury goods developed at first, probably in some large centers such as Hierakonpolis and Naqada, and, that, then, the specialization accompanied by mass-production emerged later. It means that a development process of the political model corresponds to the case in the Nile valley, at least in the first stage. The attached specialization further developed during the Naqada III period, as was indicated by large-scale trade networks, a writing system, and elaborate relief decorations on palettes and knife handles. A relatively low population density and a slow pace of urbanization in the Nile valley may have affected the characteristics.

Since evidences of specialization are still limited, further information should be required to testify this working hypothesis.


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