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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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Study of a Ceramic Ensemble from the End of the Naqada Period
and its Socio Economic Context

Nathalie BUCHEZ

Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives
UMR 8555 - Centre d'Anthropologie, Toulouse (France)



From 1997 onwards, the excavations of the settlement at Adaïma (Upper Egypt, 8 km south of Esna), have concentrated on a sector for which already during the 1989 survey the existence of a Naqada III occupation had been suspected. The sector is localised on an ancient alluvial terrace overlooking the present alluvial plain.

The entire Naqada sequence is represented on this terrace, but the residual material representing the periods anterior to the end of the Predynastic period differ in importance according to the excavated sector. In this manner, a particularly homogeneous ceramic ensemble, comporting only 2 % of Naqada II material, has been recovered from an area in which the structures where the least touched by successive disturbances.

The study of the material found in a 10 m by 10 m square within this area allowed, for the first time in Upper Egypt, to distinguish the characteristics of a domestic ceramic ensemble belonging to the end of the predynastic period. Characteristic chronological indicators such as seal impressions and fragments of cylindrical jars, allowed to attribute this phase of occupation to the Naqada IIIB-IIIC1 period.

The principal techno-morphological categories represented are (in order of importance):

Nile silt fabrics with coarse organic temper (Petrie's Rough ware)
    smoothed surface
- bread moulds
- different types of simple convex and concave shapes
- necked shapes
- large storage jars or vessels serving for domestic or workshop purposes
   dark red slip
        - a small ensemble consisting of different types of simple shapes

Fine and medium fine marl fabrics (Marl ware)

    smoothed surface
- open shapes with or without lip rim, also represented among the types with polished surface
- restricted shapes with lip rim extending from the vessel wall
- a few types of cylindrical jars (Wavy handled)
- necked shapes
   polished surface, bright red to orange
- open shapes with or without lip rim
- restricted shapes with lip rim extending from the vessel wall

   beige slip
        - a small ensemble consisting of different types of simple and complex (necked) shapes



Limestone tempered fabrics dominated by bioclastics (fabric with nummilites or fossils)
Fabrics with fine or medium fine organic temper and coarse mineral inclusions
Shale tempered fabrics

    smoothed or lightly polished surface
        - simple shapes (cooking pots)
    dark red slip (fabric with inclusion of fossils)
        - plates

Fine Nile silt fabrics  
 smoothed brown
       - a few necked types (wine jars)

The study of this ceramic ensemble allows the following socio-economic conclusions:
- An important diversity of productions can be observed, but at the same time there are well-defined techno-morphological series. The cooking vessels make up a functional group which can be used as an indicator of socio-economic changes to which it is probably more sensible than any other ceramic category. At the beginning of the Naqada II period, a single series of cooking vessels, made from shale tempered ware, has been distinguished. It was made in large amounts (40 % of the material) but not standardised and probably produced at household level. Towards the end of the predynastic period, vessels in shale tempered ware become very rare (1 %), but there appears another category, made from nummulithic tempered fabric, which shows recurring morphological characteristics (standardised chaîne opératoire) and a quality of surface treatment indicating that these vessels were produced beyond the household level. During the Naqada IIIB-IIIC1 period the settlement of Adaïma seems to be part of an economic system in which the importance of the household production seems minor. Local craftsmanship or specialised workshops have by then taken over.

- Nevertheless, the provincial character of the settlement is illustrated by the fact that it only marginally participates in some supply systems. The large jars which have been identified at other sites as wine jars are only very exceptionally represented both at the Naqada IIIB-IIIC1 settlement as at the subsequent Naqada IIIC2-IIID cemetery.

- It is generally accepted that there is a major break in the ceramic technology and shapes at the end of the Naqada IIID period, which coincides with the onset of the 3rd dynasty, which is often also considered the limit between the Early Dynastic period and the Old Kingdom. The study of the material from Adaïma shows that the first changes which will lead to the typical Old Kingdom ceramics already occur during the Naqada IIIB-IIIC1 period as documented by the ensemble under discussion.
*    The fine ware fabric with dark red polished surface which is still attested during the early stage of the Naqada III period, is gradually replaced by the fine ceramics with bright red polished surface, which is the most characteristic Old Kingdom technological group, of which the Maidum bowls are part.
*    One can also observe an increase in the number of functionally specialised types of pottery, which is a consequence of changes in the preparation manner of certain types of food.


This is obvious for the large storage jars or vessels for the preparation of food (crushing, kneading, brewing) and the bread moulds. The distribution of the different functional categories over the Naqada IIIB-IIIC1 section of the settlement at Adaïma shows the existence of sectors with different activities for which a higher percentage of bread moulds occurs at two spots of the site. In these areas, the bread moulds represent 60 % of the ceramics found. A few thick rims in coarse organic tempered Nile silt (Rough ware), which could be considered bread moulds, already occur from the beginning of the Naqada II period onwards as well at the settlement as at the cemetery. But it is nevertheless impossible to distinguish pottery which is explicitly designated for the production of bread. The production of such pottery was at that moment either very limited and/or completely integrated in a non-standardised household level. Bread moulds were most certainly not the traditional manner for making bread. For the end of the predynastic period, large amounts of specialised pottery were discovered, both at the settlement and the cemetery. Pottery for the fabrication of bread came first, followed a little later by vessels for the production of beer (Naqada IIIC2-IIID). This indicates an increase in scale of the production which can be related to the workshop economy that must have developed at settlements of secondary importance such as Adaïma.

- The most ancient sign marks recognised at Adaïma come from a vessel found in a Naqada IIIA1 tomb. From that moment on, the vessels no longer show images with ideological meaning as it was the case during the Naqada I and II periods. The indications are no longer part of the ideology but of the economy. The signs occur on different techno-morphological and functional categories of the Naqada IIIB-IIIC1 ensemble under discussion. They can be found on jars, which can circulate with their foodstuffs, but also on fine marl-ware bowls, certain cooking pots and bread moulds. The example of the external marks on bread moulds seems to indicate that at least part of these signs are part of an annotation system because it considers more or less complex associations of tracings that seem to follow a certain logic. For 50 % of the examples, one or two parallel vertical lines are associated to one, two or three perpendicularly crossing lines. These units of 2 to 5 lines can also be found as graffiti on other ceramic categories and could be part of a counting system (?).

All in all, the points which have been discussed through the study of the ceramic material of the Naqada IIIB-IIIC period indicate the changes which mark the process of the emergence of the centralised state.


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