Trade at Maadi

Maadi is a very unique site as it was one of the largest trade centers in Lower Egypt. It’s location on a ridge in the mouth of the Nile delta, combined with its proximity to the copper mines of the Sinai, and its connection to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Near East, made it an ideal place for early trade and foreign contact. Between 3600 and 3000 BC, trade dominated the Maadi culture more than any other comparable site.

There is evidence to suggest that the origin of Maadi may be attributed directly to its location and use as a trade hub. As copper moved out of the mines, a nearby, central area would have been useful to smelt and forge the copper. This is evidenced by the presence of copper bars, unprocessed copper, a smelting area, and copper artifacts including ax heads. Metallurgy originated in the Mediterranean and the Near East, and the presence of foreign housing structures and pottery suggests that this important skill was brought to Maadi where the settlement could be used for the creation, transportation, and storage of copper goods. The findings of large-scale storage facilities combined with one of the first appearances of domesticated donkeys shows how important both storage and transportation was to this community.

One type of structure in particular gives us the most obvious evidence of contact from the Near East. While most structures in Lower Egypt were oval shaped, with wood post support structures framed with wicker-wood and mud, there were also underground structures which are not found in this time period anywhere else in Egypt. These houses do however exist at the same time in Beersheba, or South Palestine. These subterranean structures were dug two to three meters down, and were three to five meters in diameter. They contained a slanted, or stone-lined stepped opening, and contained posts to support a light roof, and a centrally located hearth.

The presence of two large storage areas at each end of the site also contribute to the evidence of Maadi as a large trading hub. Here, giant storage jars, up to 2 meters tall, called “Pithoi” lined up in rows and contained emmer wheat, barley, mutton, and fish and shellfish remains as food items, as well as flints, small pottery items, spindle whorls, and other luxury goods, indicating a comprehensive and well organized trading system. Among smaller jars, trade items including carnelian beads were present, which may have been used as an early currency. Maadi also contains the earliest evidence of stone grinding, including basalt, granite, diorite, limestone, and alabaster, showing yet another import of a skill. Evidence for trade with Upper Egypt was also present including red wares and slate pigment palettes.

Burials in Maadi are less impressive than in other sites in Lower Egypt. Perhaps because Maadi spent most of its resources on trade and less on creating decorative tombs and burial goods. There is evidence, however, of a few prestigious tombs, and there is a clear evolution towards similar tombs in Egypt throughout its occupancy, showing how they were eventually influenced by other Egyptian sites.