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Chapter 7 Chapter 9

Egyptian Origins (8)
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Early Naqada II Settlements (3500-3300 BC)

Our views of late Naqada I life may be based on inference, but by 3500 BC chiefdoms, some of them quite large, clearly existed. This adaptation, Naqada II, emerged sometime between 3500 and 3400 BC. A sudden acceleration in the drying of the climate seems to have moved people from more distant areas closer to the river, as well as reducing the supplies of fuel to run the pottery kilns at Nekhen. Humans may even have had a hand in creating this environmental destruction, particularly around Nekhen. [Note 11]

Displaced from their position as pottery barons, the lords of Nekhen, Hoffman argues, may have invested their wealth in new ways closer to the river. Whether or not financed from Nekhen, the archaeological record shows even more elite facilities (such as fancy tombs) emerging in the early Naqada II way of life.

Early Naqada II sites (or levels in multi-level sites) differ radically from Naqada I. Further, Naqada II was not limited to Upper Egypt, but is found in Lower Egyptian sites as well, especially those located astride probable trade routes into Palestine. Indeed, Lower Egyptian towns may have been dominating trade routes, possibly angering trading partners up the river in the homeland of Naqada II. Excavators have found that between the Naqada I and the Late Naqada II periods, there is a dramatic increase in the proportion of southern and southern-style pottery in Lower Egyptian sites, eventually reaching 99% in some cases.

Local Chiefs, Local Symbols, and Trade in Naqada II. Thousands of Naqada II tombs have been plundered or excavated over the last century. It is clear that the pottery types associated with the earlier Naqada I adaptation (the famed Plum Red Ware, fancy in its day, or the "cross-lined" ware depicting boats) had fallen from fashion, and new styles had displaced them. The new styles still often included depictions of river commerce.

The boats as painted have a new element in Naqada II: odd poles with various lumps and bumps on their tops. They seem very much like later representations of territorial symbols or "standards" carried to symbolize each boat's place of affiliation. In later periods, local districts, referred to as "nomes," each had just such an emblem, at least in art. If the poles represented in Naqada II drawings are in fact such standards, this implies that Naqada II society was composed of a series of similar, very localized chiefdoms arranged along the river like beads on a string, engaged in vigorous trade (and probably squabbling and warfare) with each other. That is, of course, exactly what we should expect. The pottery painting provides the evidence available.

There may even have been kings, or at least powerful chiefs. A temple complex from the Naqada II period at Nekhen includes tombs and a temple, but also what appears to be a "royal" residence, a combination that one sees later in Egyptian history. At Nekhen, as elsewhere, rich tombs were in a separate section from poor ones, suggesting a clear class differentiation between upper and lower strata of society. Both at Naqada and at Nekhen there are large, rectangular tombs with brick linings. But one tomb at Nekhen even had wall paintings, somewhat similar to those in royal tombs of much later periods.

Further excavations at Nekhen have revealed traces of vast complexes of mud buildings, some identified as religious, and pieces of what must have been a 10-foot thick "city wall" around some portion of the whole area. Pottery decoration also changed very rapidly, and there was a substantial increase in the range of luxury goods — carved ivory inlay pieces for furniture, for example, or elaborately carved palettes for grinding the coloring matter for eye shadow. A few inscriptions appear, seldom more than a glyph or two, but clearly part of the same tradition that was to become a full-blown writing system in the dynastic period. Were the scratches already writing? Proto-writing? Without longer inscriptions we cannot know. In hindsight, Naqada II was looking very Egyptian already.

What was still missing was unifying government. The Nekhen "city wall" of late Naqada II times suggests local warfare So does the production of weapons and their abstracted reproduction as works of art. Naqada II stoneworkers produced some of the most skillfully flaked flint knives ever known, clearly intended for display and not for use. [A.J. Spencer 1993: 41] Like the carved mace heads, they were "powerfactual" elaborations of weapons, apparently intended to show that the bearer had power, rather than to be used in actually bashing heads. But it is hard to believe that the celebration of the ability to smash heads was not accompanied by some amount of actual head-smashing. Warfare comes with warlords. When warfare between warlords becomes intense, history shows us that usually one or more of them prevail, ushering in a broader level of political unification. This, in fact, is precisely what happened in the Egyptian case.

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