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.

Sub Pluvial is Groovial

It is interesting to consider how much of an effect that weather and environmental conditions can have on a society and its way of life. The Neolithic Sub Pluvial (or Wet Holocene) was an extended period of time characterized by a wet and rainy climate. Because of this, Neolithic populations were able to inhabit areas of the Western Desert that today are as dry as bones. However, near the end of this period the rains began to move southward leaving the desert dessicated. As a result, the existing populations left and began to inhabit the Nile Valley which laid the basis for Upper Egypt. The basis for Lower Egypt came from Fayum Neolithic populations.

This period of time formed the foundation for the separation between Upper and Lower Egypt. But to think, what if the rains had not shifted until much later,or if the populations had followed the rains south instead of moving toward the Nile? The entire timeline of ancient Egyptian culture would have been completely different. This transition was obviously not quick but happened over a period of time, but it is a small section of time that was absolutely crucial to that portion of the world as it is known today.

Even though on a larger scale, it makes me think of the Ice Age. That was also a period of time that was characterized by the climactic conditions and shaped the way in which our world existed thereafter.

There is this idea known as North African climate cycles which is dependent on the North African Monsoon. “When the North African Monsoon is at its strongest annual precipitation and subsequent vegetation in the Sahara region increase, resulting in conditions commonly referred to as the green Sahara. For a relatively weak North African Monsoon the opposite is true, with decreased annual precipitation and less vegetation resulting in a phase of the Sahara climate cycle known as the desert Sahara.”