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Chapter 3 Chapter 6

Egyptian Origins (4)
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Neolithic Upper Egypt: Badari and Naqada

In the north, the marshy delta lands of Lower Egypt, with the deposit of silt and the high water table, are not conducive to the preservation of archaeological materials. These features also make it difficult to find and excavate sites even when they do remain. For modern archaeologists the situation has been made even less promising by the military sensitivity of the Delta region during much of our era. Although sites like Merimde and Maadi are immensely useful to understanding Neolithic (and later) Egypt, we know much more about Upper Egypt, where conditions for archaeology have been far more favorable.

Until late in the XXth century one of the most important Neolithic sites in Upper Egypt was Badari, perched on the border between the fertile Black Land (the part flooded each year and farmed) and the dreaded Red Land (the edge of the desert). Badari is located slightly south of the half-way point between modern Cairo and Luxor.

Because Badari and Merimde have been so important in our initial understanding of the Neolithic in Egypt, the terms "Badarian" and "Merimden" have been adopted by archaeologists to refer to the earliest clearly recognized Neolithic adaptations in Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, respectively. Of the two, however, archaeologists know far more about the Upper Egyptian Badarian adaptation than about the Lower Egyptian Merimden one.

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Egyptian Origins (5)
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Badarian Neolithic Settlements of Upper Egypt
(5000-4000 BC)

Badari Graves & Social Class. Excavations at Badari itself revealed a cemetery. Other "Badarian" sites contained more cemeteries. Archaeologists often analyze cemeteries by comparing the variation in graves and interpreting the differences as potential pointers to differences in wealth or status in the community.

The graves at Badari were simple, in their way, but included a far wider range of artifacts than Delta graves of the same period, artifacts presumably intended for use by the dead in an afterlife: tools, weapons, jewelry, and ceramic vessels sometimes originally containing offerings of food, drink, or skin cream. [Note 8] Domesticated wheat and barley, staples of the later Egyptian diet, were found, as well as flax, used in making linen for clothing. Small model boats in the tombs suggest an expectation that the dead may travel along a postmortal Nile. They more clearly show us that the Badarians already knew how to travel in boats along the this-worldly Nile. The presence of beads and other ornaments made of such materials as shell, rare stones, and the ivory of wild animals allowed archaeologists to conclude that a few materials came from the Mediterranean coast or other distant locales. A few were even made of copper. Other materials, although local, were worked by methods that earlier had been known only in other regions. The people of Badari, in other words, were engaged in at least some material and intellectual exchange with other areas.

Not all Badarian graves were equally rich. On the contrary, the variations in the opulence of the grave goods makes archaeologists feel confident that there were already substantial differences in wealth among the Badarians: the dawn of social class. We shall see this trend growing in subsequent periods.

Badarian sites sometimes include tombs for animals, animals that would later be associated with particular gods in the Egyptian pantheon. The later goddess Hathor was associated with cows, for example, the god Khnum with rams, the god Anubis with jackals. Apparently even in pre-Badarian times, these animals were totems representing various local populations (tribes?) living along the Upper Egyptian Nile. Making tombs for some of them suggests that their special symbolic significance was already great by Badarian times, just as it was centuries later.

The eastern Sahara was again partly habitable in 5000 BC, but it was no longer very inviting by 4000, and, as happened during earlier drying periods in the Sahara, wave after wave of Saharan people gradually moved to the already occupied Nile Valley. Archaeologists are still looking for evidence to hint at the forerunners of Badarian traditions in the Valley itself, for there surely were some. But the admixture of new knowledge and understandings from new Saharan immigrants was constantly and gradually transforming the Badarian cultural repertoire. By 3800 BC the Badarian configuration of artifacts had been displaced by something else, something that becomes vividly evident at a site called Naqada and at several sites similar to it, and so it is called by the name Naqada.

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