Pottery Contradiction

Yesterday during lecture Dr. Watrall showed us images of very beautiful and ornate ceramics from predynastic sites in Upper Egypt.  This pottery is extremely sophisticated with thin walls, burnished internal surfaces, and intricate designs.  This style of ceramics was used exclusively in mortuary contexts, which might explain the care and detail associated with these items.  This struck me as such a contrast to the ceramics we discussed from the Lower Egyptian predynastic sites, which as Dr. Watrall has noted, are very unsophisticated in their construction.

While Dr. Watrall did note that Upper Egyptian predynastic sites also contain rough ware ceramics (items made in or near houses and used in household contexts), I am wondering why there is such a distinct difference between the ceramic styles of Upper and Lower predynastic sites.  Why is the pottery construction in Lower Egypt during the predynastic so much less sophisticated than in Upper Egypt?

I cannot answer this question with any certainty because I am not an Egyptian archaeologist, but I can speculate as to the differences in ceramic aptitude.  Since Lower Egypt—particularly the sites of Ma‘adi and Buto—is known to have been in contact with the Levant during the predynastic, perhaps inhabitants of Lower Egypt outsourced their ceramic vessels.  If trade was taking place on a regular basis, maybe individuals in Lower Egypt spent time on other tasks rather than improving their pottery skills.  This hypothesis can certainly be tested; if there is archaeological evidence of more sophisticated pottery in Lower Egypt which originated in foreign regions, this might be a plausible explanation.

I think this contrast in ceramic sophistication is interesting and it provides important information about the different cultures in Upper and Lower Egypt during the predynastic period.  The settlement groups in Upper Egypt invested more time and energy into making delicate and detailed ceramics, while the groups in Lower Egypt did not.  The reasons behind these differences are intriguing.

1 thought on “Pottery Contradiction

  1. I was also wondering the same thing during the lecture. It is really interesting how there is so much of a difference between the pottery found in upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Like you said I am not and Egyptologist, but I think that one of the reasons there are such differences is because of the natural clay found in the regions. I think Professor Watrall mentioned that the clay was better in the south, which may have helped make the pottery in Upper Egypt so spectacular. I also wonder if the purpose of pottery may make a difference. In the north, agriculture is much more pronounced. Like you said, it may be that the Lower Egyptians were focusing more on other things than pottery because agriculture was much more of an income than pottery. Upper Egyptian pottery probably continued to become more sophisticated because it became one of their major exports.

    I think that it is interesting how the types of goods beyond pottery are different between Upper and Lower Egypt. I think that because Lower Egypt was part of a trade root, they received more exotic goods like beads whereas such items didn’t exist until later within Upper Egypt. I think that the differences between the two are really interesting, and very telling of the cultures of each place.

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