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Predynastic burial pit

Predynastic burial pit

Badari culture.
The Badari culture (4400 – 4000 BC but could be dated back as far as 5000 BC) is the first culture which is confirmed to be practicing agriculture in Upper Egypt. The Badari Culture was first identified in the el-Badari region, near Sohag.
Other sites where signs of this early Egyptian culture can be found are near the villages of: Qau el-Kebir, Hammamiya, Mostagedda and Matmar. Diggings in these areas resulted in the discovery of c.a. 600 graves. Although there several settlements  of the Badarian Culture have been found, most of the information that we have comes from the unearthing of the graves in the low desert. These graves consist of a small, shallow pit dug in the desert sand. In this small pit the body of the deceased was placed  loosely in a contracted position on its left side on a mat, with the head pointing south facing to the west.

Ginger (1) at The British Museum

Ginger (1) at The British Museum

Ginger (2) at The British Museum

Ginger (2) at The British Museum

Bodies of young children are never found in these cemeteries and there is proof that young children were buried in the settlements or at least within close range of these settlements. The grave goods existed mainly of handmade pottery made of Nile silts and most of the time have a very fine organic temper and are characteristic for the Badari Culture. The most characteristic element of Badari pottery is the rippled surface. This was created by combing the surface and after hardening polishing this surface. Carinated  vessels are also typical for the Badari Culture but decorated pottery is very rare. Apart from pottery, personal items like hairpins, combs, bracelets and beads in bone and ivory are also products of the Badari culture.
The grave goods  tell us there was a unequal distribution of wealth. Furthermore, the wealthier graves can be found in a separate part of the cemetery. This social stratification became even more important during the following Nagada Period.

Badarian glazed beads

Badarian glazed beads

The Ma’adi culture of Lower Egypt and the Nagada culture of Upper Egypt.
There are two cultures that developed during the fourth millennium BC, the Ma’adi culture and the Nagada culture.
The Ma’adi culture of Lower Egypt is named after a site located south of nowadays  Cairo, Ma’adi. The Ma’adi culture did most likely evolve from people originating Neolithic cultures. Ma’adi ceramics can be found in an area stretching from near the Mediterranean to south of Cairo and into the Fayum region. Apart from this there is very little known about Ma’adi settlements.
The Nagada culture of Upper Egypt is named after the largest known Predynastic site , Nagada.
Unlike people of the Ma’adi culture that mostly practiced agriculture, the origins of the Nagada culture can be found among indigenous hunter gatherers and fishermen who lived along the Nile.
And where we know most facts about the Ma’adi culture by unearthing their settlements (many of the Ma’ani burials do not contain grave goods) , we learned most about the Nagada culture by excavating the various burial sites.

Flinders Petrie

Flinders Petrie

Flinders Petrie, the first to do a systematic studie of the Predynastic did this by excavating at Nagada in the years 1894-1895. He did a relative dating of the Nagada culture based on a seriation of grave goods dividing the Predynastic in three separate periods: Amratian, Gerzean  and Semean . Petrie called this “Sequence Dating”.  This sequence has more recently been adapted and modified by Werner Kaiser, resulting in:
Amratian – Nagada I (4200 – 3700 BC)
Gerzean A – Nagada II (3700 – 3250 BC)
Gerzean B – Nagada III (3250 – 3050 BC)
During the Nagada I period, burial customs of the Nagada and Ma’adi culture were very much the same as those of the Badari culture. The body of the deceased was buried in a shallow pit with a few grave goods surrounding it (pottery, jewelry and personal items).
And while Ma’adi  burial customs did not really evolve from there you can see substantial changes in the burial customs of the Nagada culture during the Nagada II and Nagada III period.
During the Nagada II and Nagada III period the tombs become larger, especially the tombs for the elite.  The less wealthy people were still buried in the shallow pits, sometimes with wooden walls, the first examples of a burial case.
The tombs of the elite are devided in several separate rooms build out of bricks connected with each other by small doors believed to be meant for the spirit of the deceased to travel through. (It was thought the spirit needed a house in the afterlife)

Burial tomb

Burial tomb

All these chambers were coverd with wooden beams, a lair of matting on top of that, some mud bricks, plaster and after that it got covered with a heap of rubble and sand forming an artificial mount.  Later on these tombs evolved into mastabas and later on into the well known pyramids.

Sources used:
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt.
Enceyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt.

Documantary “Egypt Unwrapped, the Scorpion King”