Origines 2, Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt: Origin of the State
G. J. Tassie Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
Three years on from the inaugural Krakow international conference (Origines 1), which produced a splendid book dedicated to the much missed Barbara Adams (Hendrickx et al. 2004) the premier conference for showcasing research into Egyptian state formation moved to Toulouse. This idyllic city located in the Midi-Pyrenees region in the South of France was chosen to host the conference due to the fact that this year's president - Béatrix Midant-Reynes' institute the Cnrs, Centre d'anthropologie is located there. The conference was held in the Conseil Régionale Midi-Pyrénées, which had a highly technical lecture theatre with individual screens and microphones for the participants. This conference was bigger than the first and reflects a growing trend within Egyptology for specialist meetings. Unlike the International Congress of Egyptologists (ICE) that covers the whole gambit of current issues and is attend by over a 1000 delegates (see Tassie et al. 2000) this conference had around 200 delegates delivering 53 lectures and 23 poster, the latter which were presented in the breaks, all focusing on issue relating to state formation. However, although smaller than ICE, the sheer size of the event makes it impossible to review every lecture and presentation.
The opening ceremony was followed by a special lecture by Renée Friedman (British Museum) - 'Excavating Egypt's Early Kings: Recent Discoveries in the Elite Cemetery at Hierakonpolis'. This lecture focused on the team's recent work in the HK6 locale and in particular the full excavation of Tomb 23 and the associated complex. This tomb complex dating to Naqada IIB (c. 3700 BC) was first investigated by Barbara Adams in 2000. The funerary enclosure of this local ruler appears to have had a large entrance, two burial pits with superstructures over them, a surrounding perimeter fence, and an offering chapel to the east of the main burial pit with the remains of a colossal statue located nearby. Also associated with this complex is the adult elephant burial found in 2003 in T24. This is the most elaborate and largest mortuary complex (16 m E-W x 9 m N-S) so far found in Egypt from this early date and appears to have been deliberately destroyed by smashing the statue and burning the structures. Friedman also stressed the rescue nature of the work at Hierakonpolis, a site which deserves World Heritage status, and is seriously threatened by encroaching agriculture.
The Lingua Franca of the conference was English, which was adhered to by all except one lecturer. The sessions were split into a fascinating array of subjects: Craft and Craft Specialisation chaired by Christiana Köhler (Macquarie University, Sydney); Environmental Sciences chaired by Morgan De Dapper (Ghent University, Ghent); Bioanthropology and Human Ecology of Predynastic Times chaired by Jerome Rose (University of Arkansas, Arkansas); Foreign Relations chaired by Edwin van den Brink (Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv); Interactions between the Desert and the Nile Valley chaired by Heiko Riemer (University of Köln, Köln); Interactions between Upper and Lower Egypt chaired by Ulrich Hartung (German Archaeological Institute, Cairo); Birth of Writing and Kingship chaired by John Baines (Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford); and Cult, Ideology and Social Complexity chaired by Krzysztof Cialowicz (Jagiellonian University, Krakow). The standard of the lectures within these categories was generally very high; with PowerPoint displays de rigour in all but one case. The lectures generally ran to time with the chairperson being quite ruthless in their application of the 20 minutes allotted per lecture. However, if as happened in about three instances the lecturer could not be present, the following lectures were brought forward, so to make sure you saw a particular lecture you had to attend the start of the session.
A chance for the delegates to meet and discuss the issues raised was given at the breakfast and lunch breaks, the latter of which had a magnificent spread of regional French food. However, much of the networking was done on the steps outside the conference centre where not only the smokers met but also the non-smokers that had come out for a breath of fresh air gathered. At the end of each day groups of delegates would go off together for dinner in the centre of the old town to continue the discussions, leading to a productive mixture of the world's greatest minds on Egyptian state formation. A champagne reception was held on the 6th September to celebrate the opening of the conference and a special excursion to Figeac and the Champollion Museum (the final decipherer of hieroglyphics) and a wine tasting in a nearby vineyard was held on the 9th September to finish the conference.
The Craft and Craft Specialisation section opened with some sparkling and informative lectures, such as the one by K. Cichowski and L. Kubiak-Martens - 'Brewery from Tell el-Farkha', detailing the Polish team's finding at this East Delta site of a brewery structure with multiple rebuilds, built over deposits of the indigenous Lower Egyptian cultural complex (c. 3650 BC). This structure measuring 3.6 x 4 m resembles a three-leaf clover (resulting from a tight merger of three oval parts of the structure) and was built mainly from mud-bricks. In the centre of each of the three main components of the structure was a circular base of flatly laid bricks and remains of huge, thick walled pottery brewing vats with smaller vessels inside. Archaeobotanical analysis of residues found in the structure indicated that they conformed to the practice of brewing beer and showed it to be primarily made from emmer with the addition of some barley. Tubers of chufa (Cyperus esculentis) may have been added to the beer to make the beer sweeter, but no fruits seem to have been added. J. Jones presented her study on 'Pre- and Early Dynastic Textiles: Technology, Specialisation and Administration during the Process of State Formation'. This presentation demonstrated how the change from "Z" to "S" spinning, resulting in finer, stronger, more evenly woven textiles from late Naqada I to early II (c. 3750 BC) created specialist workshops. Most of the world still retained the "Z" spinning method until much later, thus Egyptian textiles became a desired commodity. Centralised control of some of these workshops is indicated by Naqada IIIA2 (3300 BC) and aide our understanding of the early economy.
During the Environmental Sciences section C. Newton presented 'Environmental Change and Settlement Shifts during the Predynastic: New Data from Upper Egypt'. Examining wood charcoal from fuel used in the domestic sphere predominately from Adaïma to understand if the shift indicated by geological and archaeological data of a contraction of settlements near the floodplain and a move nearer the river during the Naqada III Period (3300 BC) was due ecological or/and economic reasons. There seems to be no significant change in the vegetation during this period and the move nearer the river may have been to take advantage of riverine travel.
A lively debate ensued in the Bioanthropology and Human Ecology of Predynastic Times session after S. P. Dougherty presented his and R. Friedman's paper - 'Sacred or Mundane: Scalping and Decapitation at Predynastic Hierakonpolis'. This paper presented evidence of 22 individuals from HK43 with signs of cuts on their vertebrae, suggestive of decapitation. The skulls were placed in the anatomically correct position in the grave. Five males with cuts on their skulls, indicative of scalping were also observed. The low percentage of the individuals (5.8 %) exhibiting these lesions at Hierakonpolis and a limited amount of other Upper Egyptian cemeteries indicates that only certain individuals were subjected to this ritual and indicates that it was not common practice in the funerary ritual. This dismemberment and scalping may in fact have been punitive, rather than ritualistic, or possibly a combination of the two. M. Zabecki presented a paper - 'Work Levels of a Predynastic Egyptian Population from Hierakonpolis', which examined skeletal material from HK43 to show how musculoskeletal markers (MSM) can illuminate differences in activity patterns. Males showed higher scores than females, supporting previous results that the two genders were responsible for different types of activities. However, the skeletal remains from this cemetery designated as being for workers, did not show signs of heavy workloads, which was an unexpected result.
In the session Foreign Relations E. Braun 'Appraising South Levantine-Egyptian Interactions based on New Evidence from Tel Lod', examined the evidence not only from the named site but other sites in the southern Levant that show signs of Egyptian influence, such as Tel Erani, Tel es-Sakan and Tel Halif. Many scholarly theories suggest that extensive Egyptian involvement and even colonisation of the southern Levant existed during the Early Bronze Age I/Protodynastic - Dynasty I period, however, this study showed that there was differential influence indicated at the sites of the southern Levant, varying from direct or indirect, maximal, minimal, non-extant or varying between the extremes. The greatest contact was in the reigns of Kings Ka and Narmer, with only minimal contact indicated from EBII, the reign of King Aha. J. Lovell in her paper 'New finds of Egyptian Origin at Chalcolithic Wadi Rayyan, Jordan' provided evidence that suggests early olive production was much more common in the Chalcolithic of the southern Levant than previously thought. Excavations at Wadi Rayyan have revealed Egyptian artefacts of Nagada I date (3900-3750 BC), such as diorite convex topped disc-shaped maceheads and unifacial knives. This type of macehead was most common in Lower Nubian, their occurrence in the oases and at Maadi indicates greater contact between the upper Nile and Lower Egypt. The Wadi Rayyan area was probably producing produce for both the local and extended elite, transporting goods between Jordan and the Nile Delta by donkey.
H. Reimer presented an excellent paper 'Contacts between the Oases and the Nile: A Resume of the Abu Muhariq Plateau Survey 1995-2002', in the session on Interactions between the Desert and Nile Valley. During the last two decades the view has been held that the Predynastic cultures of the Nile Valley were influenced by desert traditions, based primarily on parallels in cultural traits between the oases and Valley (Friedman 2002; Hassan 1988). The deterioration/aridification of the climate between 4750 and 3050 BC (6.7 to 5.2 kyr cal BP) has been postulated as the cause for desert dwellers coming into the Nile Valley and mixing with the Nilotes (see Hassan 2002: 323). The huge desert tracts between the oases, however, were hardly investigated; this survey aimed to rectify this situation and provide evidence of the prehistory of the Egyptian Limestone Plateau that separates the Valley from the oases. During the final Holocene Wet Phase c. 5300 BC there were frequent episodic occupations on the Plateau during the rainy seasons, but as occupational sites in the Valley are generally lacking, little contemporaneous contact between the two regions can be made. With the rapid aridification of the desert around 5000 BC the amount of occupational sites decreases in the Western Desert but the finding of black-topped potsherds and Tasian-like beakers among the local traditions may indicate that the Predynastic dwellers were the followers of desert groups. From 4500 BC to 3050 BC the desert was abandoned due to hyper-arid conditions and the desert dwellers moved into the Valley. In the Early Dynastic Period (3050-2613 BC) potsherds of the Sheikh Muftah tradition are found in the desert near Dakhla Oasis, indicating the re-population of the desert and Clayton rings may indicate a specialised group of desert nomads. Frequent contacts only increased between the desert and Valley dwellers in the Old Kingdom (2613-2181 BC) when donkey tracks were established through the desert to connect with the oases.
One of the most stimulating and original lectures of the conference was delivered during the session Interactions between Upper and Lower Egypt by C. Köhler - 'The Interaction between and the Roles of Upper and Lower Egypt in the Formation of the Egyptian State - Another Review'. In this paper Köhler outlined the Maadian Lower Egyptian culture, relating how pits, post-holes and mud-brick architectural elements were all present in the Naqada IC-IIB phase settlements, whereas mud-brick is not recognised in Upper Egypt until the Naqada IIC period. Evidence of Levantine structures indicates interregional relationships. The presence of basalt vessels (from the Faiyum), copper tools, including axes, as well as copper ingots (Sinai or Levant), rhomboid and ps-kf knives from Upper Egypt, indicate long distance trade and full-time workshops. That the Maadians were consuming some of these prestige goods indicate that the Maadian people were not just agriculturalists but also had an elite segment of society. During the Chalcolithic, both Upper and Lower Egypt had a chieftain society, the earliest large elite tombs appearing in Upper Egypt (Hierakonpolis T16 & T23) only in Naqada IIB. Both areas of Egypt had the same weapons technology, although there is at present no evidence of violence between the two regions. The cultural unification that has been suggested as having taken place in the Naqada IIC period (3650 BC) was not simply Upper Egyptian pottery being taken up by the Lower Egyptians, but saw serious changes in material culture, craft specialisation, and social organisation throughout Egypt. Lower Egyptian material culture did not simply vanish and at sites such as Kom el-Khilgan, Minshat Abu Omar and Tell el-Iswid, Lower Egyptian pottery types remained prominent until at least Naqada IID. During the Naqada IID-IIIA period the existence of proto-kingdoms and kinglets in Upper Egypt in large permanent settlements is well documented at places such as Abydos, Hierakonpolis and Naqada. Although large royal cemeteries have so far not been found in Lower Egypt, the presence of serekhs with the names of two Lower Egyptian kings - Horus Crocodile and Ny-Neith seems to indicate the existence of a monarchy and possible polities. The neighbouring regions maintained a trade network, exchanged elite goods and engaged in peer polity competition, which led to dissemination of cultural values and religious beliefs. In both regions there was increasing social complexity c. 3300 BC. Köhler posited that unification was a complex, multi-liner process, and that the final stage of Thinite expansionism c. 3100-3050 BC was secondary state formation on a territorial scale, after the state mechanism had been installed in both regions. Lower Egypt was not subsumed and was kept in the ideology of a unified Egypt.
The section on the Birth of Writing and Kingship saw a proliferation of ideas expounded on the origins of two of the most renowned aspects of Pharaonic Egypt. I. Regulski presented an innovative paper 'Early Dynastic Palaeography' examining the earliest attested writing from Naqada IIIA (3350 BC) until the beginning of Dynasty III (2686 BC). In this study she proposed that there were two writing systems - the preformal and the formal. The formal she suggested grew out of the preformal, which is why some preformal signs appear similar to later formal hieroglyphs. The formal was created by centralised scribes working with the royal workshops, whereas the preformal was created in the agricultural community who need to account their produce - beer, wine, bread, oil, etc. The categories of objects that early writing is found on include: sealings, engraved inscriptions or cursive annotations in ink on pottery or stone vessels, and bone or wooden tags originally attached to grave goods. Other examples of written documents include royal and elite tomb stelae. L. McNamara in his paper 'The Revetted Mound at Hierakonpolis and Early Kingship: a Re-interpretation', suggested a new meaning for the Nekhen mound. Instead of an Early Dynastic temple or shrine being located on the Nekhen mound beneath the later temple and that the main deposit was a votive offering (Quibell & Green 1902), he suggested stood a royal ritual precinct, such as the court of royal appearance as shown on the Narmer Macehead and that the objects in the Main Deposit, such as the Narmer Palette, were centred on the institution of kingship. This was a compelling argument based on sound archaeological interpretation of the available material. However, as most of the remains of the early building were found ex situ over 100 years ago, only the use of geophysical surveying techniques and a re-excavation of this famous mound using single context excavation methodology and the more advanced analytical techniques currently available may illuminate its true nature.
On the second to last day of the Conference, Mohammed Abdel Maksoud (Director General of the Antiquities of the Nile Delta, SCA) led the Egyptian delegation in making an appeal for more rescue archaeology to be practiced in the Nile Delta. Maksoud highlighted the need for the creation of a risk map so that the sites most under threat from pressures of modern agriculture, fish farming, pollutions, general development and looting may be targeted for further evaluation and if need be full excavation. The need for closer cooperation between the Egyptian authorities and the international community was stressed and it was suggested that CultNat could help in the creation of this risk map. Maksoud praised the advances made in the area of state formation by the assembled scholars and hoped that the current methods, practices and theories being used by the international community could be disseminated to young Egyptian archaeologists and indicated that he would like more on-site fieldschools to be instigated to facilitate this (see www.e-c-h-o.org/khd for information on the IoA, UCL UNESCO fieldschool at Kafr Hassan Dawood, one of the first in the Nile Delta). G. J. Tassie responded to this call by detailing the previous calls for rescue archaeology in the Delta, starting with Habachi in 1954, Posner 1962 the resolution made at ICE 2 in 1979 and the most recent by Hawass at ICE 8 in 2000 (Habachi 1954: 443-562; Posner 1962: 639; Bietak 1979: 60; Adam 1981: 165-7; Hawass 2003; Tassie in press; Tassie, van Wetering & Rowland forthcoming). Tassie also detailed the 11 surveys already conducted in the Delta, the majority being conducted since the mid-1970s and how they have and still are adding to our knowledge of the region but that much more work is still required if the archaeology of the Delta is to survive the next 50 years. The importance of collating this information into a central database linked to a Geographic Information System, such as is being done by the Egypt Exploration Society and the need for a scientific committee to be established to assess this data and guide investigation into the Nile Delta was also emphasised. S. Zakrzewski noted that if the new technological advances were to be employed on Egyptian material, such as stable isotope analysis, then, it is imperative that the samples be allowed out of the country more frequently and easily than at present. Zakrzewski also stressed the need for more curatorial facilities for human remains to be established in Egypt. Maksoud responded by thanking the two respondents and indicated that there may be a change in the heritage law 117 to allow more scientific samples to leave the country for analysis. The Egyptian delegation and their offer of closer cooperation with the international community must lead to immediate action, and a steering committee should be appointed to co-ordinate the effort and guide research in the Delta. The French archaeological institute announced the opening of a radiocarbon laboratory early next year in Cairo at the Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire (IFAO).
The last session on Cult, Ideology and Social Complexity brought an illuminating account of the recent American excavations at Abydos: L. Bestock - 'The Evolution of Royal Ideology: New Discoveries from the Reign of Aha'. This presentation focused on the finding of a further two 'funerary enclosures' dating to the reign of King Aha in the north Cemetery at Abydos. These mortuary temples (as Bestock terms them), and those associated with the other Dynasty I rulers are associated with the royal tombs at Umm el-Qa'ab, 2 km away. In the reign of Aha there was an enormous expansion of mortuary architecture associated with the king as compared with his predecessor Narmer and other forerunners in Cemetery U. In the 2001-2 season the first mortuary temple associated with Aha was discovered; although smaller than later Dynasty I mortuary temples it was in the same architectural genre - a large rectangular structure surrounded by subsidiary graves. During the last season of excavation a further two smaller mortuary temples were found dated to the reign of Aha by inscribed objects in the subsidiary tombs, which all belonged to adult females. No other known Early Dynastic ruler has more than one mortuary temple, suggesting possible experimentation and innovation in Aha's reign. Bestock proposed that these two smaller mortuary temples may have been for Aha's queens, particularly Benerib who may have been buried in the two large subsidiary tombs next to Aha's at Umm el-Qa'ab - B13 and B14. B. Andelkovic in his presentation 'Parameters of Statehood in Predynastic Egypt' tried to establish a new classification for Egyptian societies. This paper rather than conforming to recognised anthropological definitions of classifying societies (Claessen & Shalnik 1978; Claessen & van de Velde 1987; Earle 1987, 2002; Feinman & Marcus 1998; Fried 1960; Johnson & Earle 2000; Kristiansen 1991; Service 1962, 1975) invents new unwarranted classifications. The classifications given are 1 Proto-nomes (Naqada IA-B), 2. Nome pre-states (Naqada IC-IIB), 3. Upper Egyptian commonwealth (Naqada IIC-D), 4. All-Egyptian early state (Naqada IID2-IIIB/IIIC1), and 5. The established state or Egyptian empire (Naqada IIIC2). Within Egyptology many authors have already applied the accepted classifications of state formation (Campagno 2000, 2002; Endesfelder 1984; Guksch 1991; Köhler 1995; Trigger 2003) and adding layers of classification only confuses the situation, not clarifies it as should be the aim of scholarly research. Claiming that by the reign of King Aha Egypt already had an established state goes against all the accepted literature on the subject, for the phrase could be equated to mature state, which Egypt certainly was not at this period and is more accurately described as an insipient state evolving by the Old Kingdom into an early state
On the last day the president of the next Origins conference was chosen - Renée Friedman, who will host the conference in the British Museum, London in 2008 (pending approval from the BM Board). Edwin van den Brink proposed that within this conference a special workshop on potmarks and early writing be included. This is a growing area within state formation that promises to illuminate the workings of trade relations, economics and settlement patterning.
The success of this conference, indeed, its very existence along with that of the Poznan conferences are a testament to growth of interest and research into this important area of archaeology. For a full list of the papers presented at the conference look at the website (http://origines2.free.fr/projet_ENG.html). The amount of young lecturers presenting papers was refreshing, particularly their standard of presentation and content, which in many cases was exceptional. The camaraderie and willingness to share information, as well as willingness to embrace new methods and theory by these scholars promises a bright future for Egyptology. However, there were wide-ranging opinions on when Egypt became a state and also in many papers this implicit acknowledgement that in the process of state formation Upper Egypt took over Lower Egypt in one swift movement. There could have been more questioning of these long held beliefs and some papers needed to embrace more modern theory. The information coming from recent excavations, particularly in the Delta and Memphite area, is showing that there was a great deal of regionalism and that state formation was not fully completed until the Old Kingdom. A synthesising of ideas and classifications would be a welcome step forward, possibly with focused workshops on state formation and regionalism in the next meeting.
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