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The Origins of the Ancient Egyptian State: from Predynastic to Early Dynastic

Lectures by F. Raffaele in Faenza (Sede del Rione Giallo) and Imola (CISE), February 25-26, 2004

[Lectures sketch]

         **Italian Version: HERE

1. Map of Egypt

Introduction. outlining the scheme and development of my discussion:

- SPACE (Upper and Lower Egypt);
- TIME (Temporal boundaries of Prehistory, Predynastic and Dynastic periods)
- PURPOSE: Showing the millenary continuity in various aspects of the ancient Egyptian cultural tradition within the context of State formation (a durable process which developed along the end of Predynastic and the beginning of Dynastic period) through the description of some of the most important remains of the material culture and their interpretations.

Stress on environmental archaeology since the 1970s (K. Butzer).
Natural barriers in Predynastic Egypt (Northern sea, Eastern and Western 'deserts', Southern Nile cataracts)

- Stones, timber, gold, minerals, semiprecious stones. Plants and animals.
- Foundation of important predynastic settlements in strategic locations controlling trade (Maadi, Buto, Thinis, Elephantine) or access routes to the Eastern Desert quarries (Koptos, Naqada, Hierakonpolis).

- Benefìts of annual flood (wide valley, agriculture)
- Comfortable and fast navigation (N-S communication)
- Effects of these factors in mythology, religion, rituals: the boats (from rock-art to the funerary "Solar barks" buried beside mastabas and pyramids, to the bark as a synonym of 'feast' in early writing, to the ceremonies involving boats processions, the boats as a means of communication with the Netherworld. Analogies between Nile River and Milky Way.

- Pleistocene earliest dry phases (+50000 BP). Modern palaeoclimatological studies.
- Dry Middle-Holocene (c. VIth Millennium BC) and moister Subpluvial Neolithic (c. Vth Millennium BC)
- CONSEQUENCES of the climatic changes and of their increasing incidence during the Predynastic:
Melting of cultures since Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic as a result of peoples migrations caused by the sudden climatic changes.
   Common cultural features in Nile Valley, Sudanese and Sahara Neolithic:
      - Lithic industries: concave base arrowheads
      - Wavy line pottery decorations

- Egypt as a crossover of cultures (Western and Eastern Desert populations moved towards the Nile Valley mixing with local peoples settled since Palaeolithic. Influxes from Near East -animals and plants domestication-, and the Southern Africa).
- This ethno-cultural dynamism is also reflected in the field of linguistics:
   The Afro-Asiatic (Libyco-Berber, Chadic, Ancient Egyptian, Kushitic, Omotic and North/South Western and Eastern Semitic languages families).

VIIIth-IVth Millennium BC in the Western Desert: Nabta Playa
Second half of the VIth millennium -Vth millennium Fayyum (Fayum A, c. 5300-4200 BC)
- Aftermath of "Neolithic Revolution" (agriculture): villages, more and more socially stratified societies, emerging elites, specialization.
- BADARIAN (c. 4600-3900 BC): General features:
   Settlements, cemeteries, material culture, sustenance, trade; beginning of main socio-cultural transformations.
   Types of objects of daily and funerary use, contacts and relationships with Fayum, Upper Egypt (Naqada I) and Sudan (Khartoum Neolithic); social stratification evidenced through tombs and gravegoods analysis.



Old excavations and past theories: late XIXth and early XXth Century
- Different methods, aims and needs in past archaeological excavations
   Influence of 'large and medium range theories' and of politics (colonialism) on the philosophical and scientific thought
- Evolution(ism) (Darwinism)
- Diffusionism and "Dynastic Race"
- The "quest for museum masterpieces" archaeology

New theories and researches; modern and more specific fields of investigation, objectives, technologies.
Live interest for Predynastic and Protodynastic Egypt; increasing studies and publications.


2. Chronological table
Naqada I-II-III & subphases
(aft. K. Cialowicz, 2001, 38, fig. 3)

3. W-ware evolution
(aft. B. Adams, 1988, 27, fig. 13)

4. Naqada I-III
tombs and gravegoods
(aft. B. Adams, 1988, 16, fig. 4 with some modifications)


The three phases of Naqada Culture. How was this subdivision achieved?
- W.M.F. Petrie: Amratian, Gerzean and Semainean. Contexts' seriation (1899, 1901, 1920).
Sequence dating and the bases of relative chronology. The units groupings SD: 30-39, 40-62, 63-80.
- Typologies and artefacts corpora (influence of the Evolutionism)
- Wavy-handled ware development

- W. Kaiser: Armant cem. 1400-1500 and the Naqadakulturstufen (1957, 1990).
- S. Hendrickx: further improvement to the system (1989, 1994, 1996, 1999).

- Terminology: "Late Predynastic", "Protodynastic", "Archaic Period" and dynasties.


5.- 6. Palettes


7. - 8. C-ware vessels

9. Gebelein textile





NAQADA I (c. 3900-3600BC) Matmar - Kubbaniyeh area with its core in the Qena bend (Diospolis, Naqada)

- Upper Egyptian culture
(links with Badarian and Sudanese facies; differences with Lower Egyptian culture)
- Increasingly marked social stratification (particul. in Naqada Ic-IIa). Tribal societies and simple chiefdoms
- Few traces of semi-permanent settlements. Sustenance activities and interregional contacts.
- Rock art of Western and Eastern Desert. Interpretation and stylistical analogies.
- Grave-goods and their typological evolution; their practical, and magic-symbolical purpose
   B, C, P ware and stone vessels
   Cosmetic schist palettes ('slate'): practical and ritual use
         rhomboidal palettes with rare incised motifs (elephant, hippopotamus hunt, symbols)
         zoomorphic palettes (fishes, amphibious, mammals) and early pelta shapes
   Magical/apotropaic amulets
   Pottery figurines and statuettes (praying women, wild/domestic animals, barks...)
   Mace-heads (disk shaped)
- Interpretation of C-ware decorations (types of motifs and scenes; regional styles)
   Representations of human beings (Brussels E3002, London UC15339, Abydos t. U-239)
        (earliest violent rituals and high-sized portraits of chiefs/gods)
- The Gebelein textile in Museo Egizio, Turin (suppl. 17138).
   Date (late Naqada I- early Naqada II [Naqada Ic-IIa(b), c. 3550BC]
   Resemblance with scenes and motifs painted on C (and D) pottery and incised in Desert rock art.
   The Heb Sed (anthropology of regicide; purpose, phases/ceremonies, periodicity of historical Heb-Sed)
- The oldest traits of sacred/divine kingship begin to emerge:
   The king as a champion/hero/annihilator of foe/chaos and partisan of Maat:
         Hippopotamus and other wild beasts hunt
   Royal attributes:
         Crowns, feathers/horns on the head, bull/lion tail, penis sheath, sticks and scepters
- Elites and chiefs:
   Cemeteries: separation of nuclei of tombs belonging to the ruling classes. Statistical analysis and other data
              (wider, better built, more and better furnished tombs)
        global synthesis and comparison of Naqadan cemeteries: J.J. Castillos, B. Kemp, K. Bard, T. Wilkinson
   Some 'Amratian' tombs:     
         Hierakonpolis, Locality 6, t. 14, (c. 10 years old elephant, Naqada Ic period)
         Naqada, t. 1610 (red crown relief on a B-ware sherd)
         Abadiya, tombs 101, 102
         Abydos, earliest tombs in U-cemetery: tomb U-239.

10. Nile Valley

(aft. B. Williams, 1994, 277)

11. Cultural and political regional units during Naqada II
(aft. B. Kemp, 1989, 34, fig. 8)


12. - 13. D-ware vessels

14: Hierakonpolis painted tomb 100 and Naqada tomb T5

15. Tomb 100 painting

16. Detail of the painting

NAQADA II (c. 3600-3350/3300BC) Northward and southward expansion of the 'Gerzean' cultural area'.

- Higher structural complexity of society: ruling élites and developed chiefdoms. Coercive strategies.
- Central and peripheric settlements
         Alluvial settlements on ancient Nile islands in strategic locations for the control of wadis and/or trade
         Fortifications (mud walls or palisades): permanent settlements and sedentarization
- Propensity for cultural-territorial encroachment towards Lower Egypt and Lower Nubia
- All-levels specialization (ideological, technological, artistic, political-organizative, commercial)

- Material culture
   'Bearded men' statuettes (ivory, stone)
   Stone vessels fashioned in several shapes
   Mace-heads (pear-shaped)
   Knife handles (extreme skill in working and retouching the ripple flake flint), flint animals figurines
   Palettes (zoomorphic, scutiform/shield-shaped)
   Amulets (Bull head, small palettes)
   Pottery: R-, D-, W-ware
   Objects of personal and domestic use
- The sense of D-ware paintings (more standardized than the previous phase ones):
         (representations of the Underworld, of ceremonies/rites/funerary processions, legends/folklore, divinities...)

- Cemeteries and tombs of regional leaders (Hierakonpolis loc. 33, loc. 6; Naqada T)
   Crude mud brick, large rectangular tombs, funerary gravegoods and exotic materials ('powerfacts').
         Hierakonpolis tomb 100 (size: 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.5m; date: Naqada IIC, c. 3450BC)
               Main motifs of the wall painting:
               Boats procession. Mace armed chief smashing the enemies' heads. The "lord of the animals".
               Conflicts. Hunt. Trapping.
               Early prototypes of base-lines (registers).
               (Analogies with the Gebelein textile and the D-ware decorations). Interpretations proposed.
- Mesopotamic/Elamite influences (Uruk V-IV, Susa II)
         Statuettes, iconographic features, imported seals.

17. Gerzeh palette
18. - 19. Hierakonpolis palette

20. Gebel Arak knife handle
21. Abu Zeidan knife handle
22. Carnarvon knife handle
23. Gebel Tarif knife handle

24. Seyala mace handle

25. Qustul incense burners
(aft. K. Cialowicz, 2001, 61, fig. 2)


- Cultural expansion to the area East of the Fayum (Gerzeh, Harageh, Abusir el Meleq) and into Lower Nubia
- Earliest seal-impressions from Abydos U-cemetery (implications for the administration development)
- Earliest relief decorations on the surface of palettes (Manchester/Ostriches, Gerzeh, El-Amrah/Min)
       Proposed interpretations and implications for the formation and development of ruling classes' ideology
- Knife handles (attached to the most beautiful ripple-flake flint blades ever worked out)
      - Interpretations proposed for the carved scenes and motifs
              (ordered animals rows; processions of soldiers, prisoners, offering bearers, boats; battles)
      - Ritual-symbolical use/purpose of these prestige objects.
      - Relative and absolute datation:
         New ivory handles from Abydos (cemetery U, t. 503, 127); recently cleared one from Hierakonpolis (Ashmolean E4975)
      - Examples of ivory knife-handles:
      - Gebel el-Arak (Louvre Museum)
      - Abu Zeidan (Brooklyn Museum)
      - Carnarvon (Metropolitan Museum)
      - Gebel Tarif (Cairo Museum) gold handle
- Mace-heads (pear-shaped) with carved ivory handles or with incised/hammered gold-leaf handle cover
         Seyala mace (cemetery 137, tomb 1)
         Ideological background and ritual use. Stylistical resemblance to the Gebel Tarif handle decoration
         Origin (Egyptian manufacture and gift of an UE chief Nekhen or Nubian origin?).

- Digression on Lower Nubia 'proto-states' (Ta-Seti) early in Naqada III (Qustul, Seyala, Afieh).
   A-Group (classical and terminal). General features.
   The great 'royal' tombs of cemetery L at Qustul and prestige objects (incense burners, seals, stone vases...)
   Relationships with Egypt and Palestine. Long distance trade.
   B.B. Williams' hypothesis on Ta-Seti and the origin of Egyptian tradition (bias and confutation).


26. Model landscape and stages of formation of ruling centres from small hamlets and villages: political expansion
(aft. B. Kemp, 1989, 33, fig. 7)


27. Naqada III:
the 'Proto-kingdoms'




28. Chronological table





NAQADA III: GENESIS OF A STATE (from 3320/3300BC to Early Dynastic period):

The cradle of State Formation
- Macroregional "proto-states" in Upper Egypt.
   Enlargement of political-territorial units which absorb the closer ones
         Anthropological theories on the origin of ancient states:
            - Mono-causal hypotheses (environment, population pressure, trade/resources monopoly, low resources competition, hydraulic technology, war, personal authority and decisions)
            - Multi-causal theories (more factors at work, their interaction and feedback)
   Biases, limits and possible evaluation/interpretative mistakes in reconstructing the relevancy of old politics from the archaeological data (more or less known and documented cemeteries).
   Towns in (pre-)dynastic Egypt
        - Causes of the scanty archaeological evidence of urban sites
               (modern cities, deep stratification of alluvial deposit, sebakkhin)
        - Nile Valley archaeology: an unbalanced knowledge
           (much better known, with but few exceptions, for/from cemeteries than for settlement sites)
        - The picture from the Delta according to the two recent decades of archaeological campaigns

- Lower Egypt: General features of ancient Maadi-Buto culture late in Naqada I up to early Naqada II
         (less social inequalities emerging from funerary contexts, emphasis on trade with Southern Canaan)
- Naqadization of Northern Egypt (apparently non-traumatic cultural superimposition)
         Gerzeh, Harageh, Abusir el-Meleq area during Naqada IID
         Nile Delta: Tell Fara'in-Buto, Minshat Abu Omar, Tell Ibrahim Awad, Tell el-Farkha (Naqada IID-IIIC)
              (the "Transitional layer"; scarce traces of destruction and struggles)
- Reasons of the spreading of the Naqada culture
         (population pressure, monopoly of trade with the Southern Levant)

Formation and canonisation of divine kingship
   Rulers start to appropriate symbols, objects and attributes proper of the previous periods' leaders
         (iconography of powerful individuals portrayed on rock-art and artifacts decorations during the first half of IVth millennium BC)

29. Abydos.
Plan of Cemetey U
(aft. G. Dreyer, 1998, fig. 1)

30. Abydos, tomb U-j (photo)
31. Abydos, tomb U-j (plan)

32. - 33. Some inscribed tags from tomb U-j




34. Scorpions
(ink inscribed on cylinder jars)

35. Seal impressions from Abydos cemetery U

36. Koptos colossi

37. Predynastic kings list (as reconstructed by G. Dreyer)

38. Gebel Tjauti graffito


- Abydos Cemetery U. Tomb U-j
   Absolute and relative datation: c. 3300±50 BC, Naqada IIIA1
   The constructional features: 2 crude mud-brick courses; size 9.10 x 7.5m, 12 rooms, 2 building phases
      Reconstruction of the tomb as a model royal palace (slits between the chambers). The southern Opferplatz.
      Principal findings from tomb U-j:
         ivory heka scepter,
         c. 2000 vessels (about 1/3 of which were Palestinese imports)
         carved ivory knife-handles fragments
         small obsidian vase decorated in the shape of two hands
         bone and ivory tags (150+) with incised hieroglyphic indications
         ink inscriptions on cylinder (W) vessels (scorpion, shells, bucranium, fish...)
              - The Egypt most ancient true writing attestations:
                 Administration and royal propaganda; morphological characteristics
                 Examples of reading/epigraphy of some tags' signs
                       - phonetic reading of places where the labelled containers and their contents came from
                             (Bubastis, Buto, Abydos districts, Elephantine, some nomos; cf. Kahl, in: CdE 2003)
                       - ideographical, logographical, phonetic signs; numerals.
- The alleged "King Scorpion" and the predynastic kings list proposed by G. Dreyer:
   Dreyer's hypothesis and recent critics to his reading of the royal names (including Scorpion's own one)
             (Kemp, Kahl, Breyer)
- Political status of the owner of tomb U-j of Abydos: Thinite chief or king of an already unified Egypt?

- Seal impressions from cemetery U: the meaning of scenes/motifs and socio-administrative implications
             The earliest Egyptian seal impressions:
                   Naqada (tombs and South Town), Naga ed-Der, Mahasna, Matmar, Abusir el-Meleq...
- Religion and (monumental) statuary: the Min Colossi from Koptos:
   stylistical analogies (Mac Gregor statuette in Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)
   inscriptions/reliefs and their possible meaning (kings names; gods and/or localities emblems/names)
     - B. Williams' identification of Narmer's name on the Cairo Museum colossus, and its relevancy for Dreyer's kings' names hypothesis: critics to both the reconstructions
     - parallels between the signs on the Colossi and those found on other objects
- War and submission: Gebel Tjauti tableau 1
     - description and interpretations (both in political and in symbolical key)
      (T. Wilkinson, R. Friedman/S. Hendrickx, J. Kahl)

39. - 41. Both sides of the Battlefield palette and detail of the lion

42. Towns (Tehenu) palette

43. Early anonymous serekhs

44. Gebel Sheikh Suleiman


45. King Scorpion mace-head


46. Naqada IIIB: serekh signs


- Hypotheses on the modalities of Egyptian political Unification
    (Kaiser, Von der Way, Trigger, Kemp, Köhler, Campagno)
- Conflicts with neighbouring peoples (Libya, Delta, Asiatics, Nubians, Bedouins) or internal conflicts?
   Violence as a magical-symbolical-apotropaic need or as a mirror of real socio-political tensions?
       Palettes with violent scenes (Battlefield, Tehenu, Bull palettes), brief description and interpretations
- The oldest anonymous serekhs from the southern part of U-cemetery at Abydos. What is a serekh?
- Royal ideology propaganda or real events chronicles? Decorated objects and rock-art:
      The main graffito at Gebel Sheikh Suleiman and the beginning of the A-Group decadence
            (global sense of the scene and some fresh notes on the anonymous serekh)
- King Scorpion (II) at Hierakonpolis: his mace-head in Oxford, Ashmolean Museum (E3632)
      The rosettes in Late Predynastic Egypt.
      King Scorpion: a Thinite or a Hierakonpolite ruler?
      The site, Horus temple, 'main deposit', Locality 29A ceremonial centre, Locality 6 élite and animal tombs
      Which role did Hierakonpolis play in the Late Predynastic political panorama?

- "Dynasty 0": Thinis/Abydos, Hierakonpolis and other regions' kings ('Crocodile': a Fayum Gegenkönig?)



47. Narmer mace-head
48. - 49. Narmer palette







50. Abydos: subsidiary tombs B16 (Horus Aha)



51. Djet comb (Louvre)

52. Ivory statuette of a king wrapped in the Heb Sed garment (from Abydos)



53. - 54. Saqqara mastabas
(First Dynasty)


55. Hemaka/Den label

56. Merka stela
(Saqqara tomb S3505)

57. The royal necropolis at
Abydos, Umm el-Qaab:
tomba Q
(Horus Qaa)


58. S3507, S3038 and
Djoser complex/pyramid

59. Saqqara, tomb A


The definitive "Political Unification" (?)
- Narmer's mace-head and palette: description and interpretations offered
         (again, chronicle of real events or symbolic representations?)
          The identity of the defeated ones (theories) and the meaning of the single acts and motifs shown
- Narmer reign (the apex of southern Palestine contacts):
         Digression on the relations between Egypt and Levant all through the Early Bronze I (EB I, c. 3500-3000BC)
               - the nature of contacts with the 'colonies' in Palestine (Lebanon, Syria) (wine, oils, timber)
                    ('En Besor, Arad, Tel Erani, Smal Tel Malhata, Halif Terrace, Palmahim, Tel Lod, N. Sinai...)
         New (and last) Mesopotamic influx: the palace façade
         Richer information on single sovereigns and their reigns
         Some significant finds from Narmer period:
                    (earliest serekh signs incised/in relief on stone vases; labels; seals; Hierakonpolis Main Deposit)
- Later "historical" sources
                    (Den and Qa'a necropolis sealings; annals; New Kingdom royal lists; Herodotus; Manetho)
         The Egyptian chronology (sothic cycle, Egyptian calendar, C-14 and the Near East chronologies)
- "Menes" (theories and debates on his identity)
- The ideology of dynastic state: continuity of some traditions, rejection and rielaboration of other ones
         Conspicuous consumption
                  - Mass human sacrifices (ethnographical comparison with other incipient-state societies)
                  - Monumental architecture (tombs, temples). Abydos royal necropolis B.
                  - Arts (time and efforts taken to fashion some objects and to procure rare/exotic materials)
         Cosmology, religion, divine kingship and the concept of Maat
                  - Fighting the enemy and eliminating or ruling chaos and the unruled
                         (symbolic meaning of the motif of smashing enemies' heads with a mace; ritual hunt)
                  - Djet ivory comb from Abydos (Louvre)
                  - Serekh and 'palace façade' (royal names, administrative inscriptions, artifacts, stelae...)
                  - The royal jubilee (Heb Sed)

The foundation of a new capital in northern Egypt (reasons). Ancient Memphis (underneath modern Abu-Sir)
- The administrative élite cemetery at North Saqqara
          Some tombs of the 1st Dynasty (Hemaka/S3035, Herneith/S3507, Nebitka/S3038, Merka/S3505)
                 - Hints at the structures and their developments
                 - Quibell, Firth, Emery excavations: the finds
                 - Debates on the ownership of the mastabas? The "Abydos vs. Saqqara" question.
- The state administration subsystem in the Early Dynastic period
         A label of Hemaka (Den)
                 - Epigraphy, practical use and 'year events' (ceremonies, sieges and else)
                 - Parallel with tomb U-j tags: the evolution of the writing system
         Multiplying titles, officials and offices, both administrative and religious: Merka stela (from t. S3505)
                 - Epigraphic explanation, function and evolution of private stelae
- Foreign politics: Lower Nubia, Libya, Eastern Desert, Sinai and Palestine (labels of Aha, Den, Qaa)

- First (and Second) Dynasty royal tombs
- Funerary enclosures at Kom es-Sultan (North Abydos)
- Architectural and ideological progress: palace façade enclosure walls, inner tumuli, step pyramids

- The shift of the royal necropolis to Saqqara early in the Second Dynasty
   Saqqara royal tombs south of Djoser complex: A (Hotepsekhemui), B (Nineter) e C.
        - Evolution of the underground chambers, function and reference model (royal palace)
        - Hypothesis on the superstructures
- Hints to the history of the Second Dynasty: old theories and new evidence:
        Civil war (?). Horus and Seth conflict. Khasekhemwy's re-unification. Buto and Elephantine excavations
        The great achievement in the reign of Horus-Seth Khasekhemwy (stone masonry, relief and statuary, military raids, bureaucracy, foreign relations).


60. Djoser statue

61. Hesyra wooden panel


The state on the threshold of the full maturity. Hints at the Third Dynasty history.
   - Monuments and art.
   - Central organization. Taxation. Provinces. Resources exploitation.Long distance trade management.
   - Technological specialisation. Cities. Administration. Writing (progress as against previous periods).
   - The institution of divine kingship and the refined ideology.
   - Conclusions. The fruits of the pharaonic civilisation's formative tree: the classic period of the great pyramids.

Total time should be 190-200 minutes; the effettive time of the lecture has been c.100 minutes

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