a modern town 27 kilometers (18 miles) north of Luxor on the western bank of the Nile River, midway between Qurna and Dendara, and opposite Qena. Site surveys near this town during the last decade of the nineteenth century by Jacques J. M. de Morgan, W. M. Flinders Petrie, and J. E. Quibell led to the discovery of several sites. They were from the time that predated the emergence of the first Egyptian dynasties, near a first dynasty mastaba, a small pyramid, two tumuli, and a number of Predynastic cemeteries. The region also included some twelfth dynasty tombs and the Nubt temple.

The large mastaba (54 × 27 meters/165 × 85 feet) is 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) south of Naqada, on the edge of the desert. It has a niched, palace-façade and includes many subsidiary rooms with numerous grave offerings. Small ivory and wood labels, as well as seal impressions, bear the names of Hor-Aha and Queen Neithhotep. This first dynasty mastaba is associated with a cemetery of the same period; however, the majority of the nearby cemeteries in an area that extends from Danfiq in the south to Ballas in the north belong to the Predynastic period. Various types of pottery from those cemeteries were identified on the basis of surface finish, form, and decoration (e.g., rough, polished red, black-topped red, white cross-lined, wavy-handled, decorated). Petrie developed an ingenious scheme, called seriation, to arrange the tombs in chronological order (by sequence dating). His approach was then widely employed by archaeologists for the relative dating of ceramics. In seriation, Petrie used a sequence of pottery types to establish two ceramic assemblage zones (which are often referred to as “cultures”). The earliest culture, called Naqada I (the Amratian) generally lacks wavy handled and decorated pottery but has a high frequency of black-topped red ware with characteristic white cross-lined bodies. This culture was succeeded by Naqada II (the Gerzean), which has a relatively high rate of rough pottery, but is marked by the presence of decorated and wavy-handled pots. A third culture (Naqada III), with characteristic “Late” pottery (a melange of pottery types that includes hard “orange,” buff, or pink ware) was also recognized in the region. The sequence, modified by Werner Kaiser and others, is still widely used. Radiocarbon age determinations have shown that Naqada I ceramics from settlement sites in the region date from 3800 to 3650 BCE. Naqada II followed with a time span from 3600 to 3300 BCE. Elsewhere in the Nile Valley, Naqada III ceramics dated from 3300 to 3000 BCE. Near Assyut, north of Qena, sites associated with a ceramic assemblage zone called the Badarian revealed the presence of much earlier Predynastic sites, which dated to c.4400 or 4200 BCE. At Naqada, some Badarian potsherds were included in an early occupation of the Naqada I zone, confirming continuities with the earlier Badarian style.

In addition to cemeteries, in the nineteenth century de Morgan examined the remains of Predynastic settlements at Tukh (north of Naqada), which he referred to as kitchen middens. A new survey of the region has revealed numerous settlements, some with clearly stratified sequences. Excavations of settlement areas by Hassan (1984, 1985) provided not only the first coherent radiocarbon chronology of the Naqada cultures but also systematic information on settlement patterns, lithic artifacts, ceramics, and, most significantly, the subsistence and economy of Predynastic times.

The majority of Predynastic sites in the Naqada region belong to Naqada I. The sites range in area from a few thousand square meters to 3 hectares. They represent the overlapping occupations of scores of huts in small villages and hamlets lining the edge of the former floodplain. The settlements probably housed between 50 and 250 persons. Small postholes and the wooden stub of a post suggested flimsy wickerwork around a frame of wooden posts. The abundance of rubble and mud clumps indicated that many dwellings were constructed from the local Nile mud and desert surface rubble. The houses contained hearths and storage pits. In some cases, graves were dug into the floor of houses. Trash areas were interspersed with domestic dwellings. The houses included animal enclosures (zeribas), as was indicated by thick layers of dung. The faunal remains, studied by Achilles Gautier, indicated that the Naqadans herded and ate cattle, sheep/goats, and pigs. By Naqada I, hunting had become a minor subsistence activity; however, fishing and fowling, which were previously practiced in the Nile Valley, were still important. The meat supplemented a cereal diet that was based on the cultivation of barley and wheat, as was revealed by the paleobotanical investigations of Wilma Wetter-strom. The lithic artifacts from Early Naqada sites, studied by Diane Holmes, showed a high frequency of burins, scrapers, notchers, and some perforators. They also included grand perçoirs, planes, bifacial tools, concave-based projectiles, and axes. The axes are distinctive.

Naqada II ceramics were found in only two sites: South Town and North Town. The ceramic assemblage zone Naqada mostly belonged to Kaiser's (1957) Naqada IIcd. With the exception of sickle blades, the lithic assemblage was very similar to that of the earlier Naqada sites. The pottery, however, was markedly different. South Town and North Town also showed a high density of artifacts that indicated very small early towns. A systemic survey of South Town, which contained evidence of rectangular mud-brick houses and fortifications, as identified by Petrie and Quibell, revealed that the settlement began closer to the edge of the desert, in the southwestern corner of the site, and that Nile floods destroyed the eastern sector of the site that overlooked the floodplain. North Town also grew from an initial small settlement—first to the south and then to the north—where Naqada III ceramics were recognized. The rarity of Naqada II sites, as compared with the earlier sites, may be related to a shift of settlement location away from the desert margin, where the early Nagada sites were located, and closer to the inner part of the Nile floodplain. The reasons for that shift were presumably due to the decline in Nile flood levels at that time.

The Predynastic peoples of the Naqada region buried their dead in cemeteries in the low desert, adjacent to their settlements. Mortuary analyses showed evidence of a gradual, increasing social hierarchy and a shift in sociopolitical organization from a “chiefdom” to a provincial state society. The tombs yielded a rich variety of grave goods, including copper objects, flint knives, amulets, stone vessels, pendants, hairpins, combs, and slate palettes. Only a few graves contained large numbers of special goods, suggesting a segment of a rising elite (administrative/religious). By Naqada II, the elite were buried in a separate cemetery. The frequency of grave goods also suggested a group of well-to-do townspeople. As revealed by seal impressions from an Early Dynastic cemetery, a part of the prosperity of Naqada was perhaps due to trade in gold, a material recovered from the mines of the Wadi Hamammat across the river.

The rise of the local Naqada elite was associated with the emergence of a religious ideology linked with mortuary rituals, as was indicated by the standard placement of the dead; they were buried with their heads to the south, facing west. The iconography of the Gerzean pottery (Naqada II) and a variety of figurines from mud and vegetable substances suggested that the incipient ideology included notions of female-male duality, associated with concepts of life, death, and resurrection.


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Fekri Hassan