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International Conference
Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

(Cracow, Poland: 28th August - 1st September 2002)
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Excavations at Hierakonpolis


Dept. of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum, London (England)

Since 1996, Predynastic research at Hierakonpolis has focused on three discrete localities: 1) the cemetery of the elite population at HK6, excavated under the direction of Barbara Adams; 2) the cemetery of the working class population at HK43, excavated under the direction of Renee Friedman; and 3) the domestic occupation at HK11, excavated by Ethan Watrall. The three localities are roughly contemporary, with remains spanning from Naqada IC -IIB and into Naqada IIC, and excavations and analyses by a range of specialists have produced a range of complementary information.

Located in the Great Wadi that bisects the site, Locality HK11 makes up one of the largest concentrations of Predynastic cultural activity at Hierakonpolis. The locality itself covers an excess of 68,0002 m and is made up of several distinct zones of cultural activity. In 2000 and 2001, excavations undertaken by Ethan Watrall uncovered a large domestic compound with a variety of storage pits and other features bounded by a well-preserved fence composed of wood posts and mud-coated reed matting.

Based on detailed excavation following visible strata, six discreet episodes were identified within approximately 30 to 60cm of deposition and these combine to form an overall picture of a relatively continuous cycle of habitation spanning from the Naqada IC to IIB period, with later incidents of trash disposal in the Naqada IIC period. This is the first time within the desert portion of Hierakonpolis that the stratification and phases of a house structure has been so clearly defined. Although detailed analysis of the variety of materials recovered is still in progress, preliminary observations indicate that the stratified remains of the HK11 structure bridge a period of significant technological and social change in Predynastic society. The work so far suggests that the transition from Naqada IC to IIA was one of profound importance.
      The stratified sample revealed how the ceramic inventory and production methods changed over time from home-made production of cooking wares in a range of shale and pottery/grog tempered fabrics to the mass production of straw tempered domestic pots by specialists. A similar transition has also been observed within the evidence of textile manufacture at HK11 and other localities.

Hierakonpolis is one of the few sites at which widely separated and distinct cemeteries for the different segments of society have been found. Investigation of the HK43 cemetery in conjunction with the on-going excavations under the direction of Barbara Adams at elite cemetery HK6, located in the great Wadi provides a unique opportunity to study the remains of individuals of different social status dating to the same time period and all from the same site.

Five seasons of excavation at Locality HK43 has resulted in the excavation of 260 graves representing nearly 300 individuals. Almost all are robust individuals with extensive muscle attachments, buried mat lined pits with very few, if any, grave goods, suggesting that this cemetery is that of the working class inhabitants of ancient Hierakonpolis in the Naqada IIa-c period. The high level of organic preservation at HK43 has revealed, among other things, evidence for early mummification and other ritual practices, which involve the laceration of the neck area.



To date we have found seven individuals with injuries to the 1st-2nd cervical vertebrae always delivered from the front, including in 2 cases which provide evidence of full decapitation. Given the general status of the inhabitants of the cemetery, it is unlikely that human sacrifice to honor a more elite burial is the reason for these injuries. More likely, it is to be associated with a funerary ritual of real or ritual dismemberment and then the re articulation or re"creation" of body. This is especially suggested by Burial 85, the intact burial of a young woman, whose neck was cut, and then this area and the hands were padded with thick layers of textile. To date, three wrapped burials have been discovered, all of which belonged to women. Unlike the other grave goods, there is no evidence of the reuse of old household material and it would appear that these textiles were specifically produced for this purpose. In addition, there is evidence for the removal and wrapping of internal organs and before returning them to body.

The elite cemetery at HK6 is located in the Great Wadi, 2km from HK43. Barbara Adams' excavations here have revealed a number of graves of comparable to those at HK43 and also afford a view of artistic and architectural developments at this formative time.

The wealth of these elite burials is evident in from objects still to be found within these highly plundered graves, which include exotic materials like obsidian and fine ceramics. Five ceramic masks, curved to fit over the human head, suggest that ritual interest in the head took on a different form here than in HK43. In addition the size of the graves differentiates the two cemeteries. Tomb 23, partially uncovered 2000, is possibly the largest grave of the Naqada IIb period known. It was surrounded by a large, rectangular, wooden post and matting fence enclosure that presages the architecture later constructed in mud brick and may be the earliest evidence of a funerary enclosure in Egypt. The enclosure also produced the earliest Predynastic human stone sculpture. Although badly and deliberately fragmented, the well-carved nose and reconstructed ear of this limestone statue was recovered and mending pieces suggest it was a near lifesize seated statue.

The prevalence of animal burials at HK6 also serves to differentiate the cemeteries and suggests that wealth was expressed at Hierakonpolis is ways perhaps not known or not noticed at other sites.



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