Protodynastic and Unification

**This post is double-length to make up for a missed post due 10/4/12** It was also supposed to go out on 10/11 but didn’t make it in on time!**

The past few lecture have built towards the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The cultural differences between the delta (Buto-Ma’adi) and Nile Valley (Naqada) remained through unification and reappeared at every intermediate period. When Egypt split, it always split along these lines of ethnicity.

Lower Egyptian culture was characterized by lower-quality pottery, extensive trade with the Levant, and some interactions with their neighbors to the south. Although the link was not explicitly made in the lecture or the readings, I wonder if the extensive and skilled basketwork made pottery a less-needed commodity and therefore the industry did not develop in the same way as in Upper Egypt. Not knowing much of anything about basketwork, I am not sure whether waterproof containers are possible, but if predynastic Lower Egyptians were lining large semi-subterranean storage pits with basketware, they likely had a whole bag of tricks, and reeds for basketweaving would have been in surplus along the Nile. The Fayum basin, although not contiguous with the Delta, is usually included in this culture group. The two phases of predynastic Fayum represent both a transitional phase (between nomadic pastoralism and settled agriculture) and a “true” predynastic phase, which defines the predynastic for all of Lower Egypt.

In contrast, Upper Egypt exhibits high-quality pottery and relationships with its neighbors to the north and south, Lower Egypt and Nubia. There are few, if any, connections between Upper Egypt and the Levant, but Lower Egyptian pottery does sometimes seem to mimick the higher-quality wares coming from the south. Well made rough-ware pottery, found in residential settings, is common in Upper Egyptian settings, while black-top redware (of higher quality) is found in mortuary settings. Cosmetic palettes, sometimes carved into the shapes of animals, make their first appearance, allowing for 21st century archaeologists to investigate the archaeology of the body and how individuals choose to represent themselves, including alteration of their appearance and manipulation of the bodyscape.

The predynastic Upper Egypt is defined almost exclusively by cemetery sites (Watrall, class 9.27.11). There is a distinct difference between mortuary sites and residential or workplace sites that has been mentioned in passing, but which should also be made explicit for those of us who have not dealt with these two types of sites before. The quality of preservation and artifacts and the nature of the site are completely different in mortuary settings than in residential settings. Whereas midden heaps and the remains of structures are preserved by happenstance, mortuary deposits are placed in the ground (with a higher chance of preservation than on the surface) purposefully by the survivors of the decedent.

Human beliefs about life, death, and an afterlife affect their choices in where, how, and with what an individual should be buried. In some cultures, this may include artifacts representative of daily life – perhaps a well-known textile worker is buried with her favorite spindle, so she can continue her work in the afterlife. However, ritual artifacts such as the rippled-flaked (Naqada II) blades seen in class, are representative of a class of artifacts (blade/weapon) while not actually being the same type as one that would have been used in life. Rippled-flaked blades are never found used by the living, only placed within a burial for use by the dead.

A superficial glance at the assemblages of artifacts from Upper and Lower Egypt might indicate that everything was higher quality in Upper Egypt. It is important, however, to clarify that comparable items are of differing qualities. Everyday roughware, for instance, is a comparable artifact class between the two cultures, and this particular item is found to be of higher quality in Upper Egypt. Unification entailed a spread of predynastic Upper Egyptian (Naqada) culture to Lower Egypt. This does not necessarily equate a total military takeover, nor one population spreading to the detriment of another. Unification is not a single event indicating the spontaneous creation of state-level society from a loose gathering of settled agriculturalists. All of the complex social structure was already in place – the unification of Egypt is significant because the many smaller kingdoms (later politically designated “nomes”) were unified under a single pharaonic ruler.