Chalcolithic (Maadi-Buto)

Page Contents


3.5 Faiyum Predynastic

Identified by Caton-Thompson and Gardner, a phase described as “of Nile Valley predynastic type” by was identified in the Faiyum (Caton Thompson and Gardner 1934, p.69) sporadically distributed over the northern and western desert areas, though in relatively small numbers – we collected under fifty in all”.  It is characterized by lithics which are much later in type from those of the Faiyum Neolithic and the Moerian, which include a fish tale lance, oval scrapers and some tall narrow twisted blades.  There was also some predynastic pottery which conformed to Nile types.  Although too few to enable any firm conclusions to be drawn, these finds do argue for some form of continued occupation after the Moerian and before the Old Kingdom occupations.


3.6 The Maadian (or Maadi-Buto)

The term Maadi-Buto or Maadian describes around twelve sites, named after the type site of Maadi in the western Delta.   The sites include:  Maadi, Wadi Digla (one of Maadi’s cemeteries), Heliopolis, Buto, Tura Station (Junker 1912), Giza, Merimda Beni Salama, es-Saff, Sedment (Williams 1982), Ezbet el-Qerdahi and Harageh (Engleback 1923).  Both cemetery and settlement sites have been identified.



Cairo / W.Delta

Upper Egypt

Eastern Delta






Main Sites



Period Name

Main Sites


Late Chalcolithic – EBA1a


Maadi, Buto, Sais,


Last half of Naqada I


Tell el-Farkha,

Minshat Abu Omar


Naqada IIa-IIc

NB – the Faiyum is excluded from the above table because no Chalcolithic sites have been found in the Faiyum.

Maadi-Buto sites dated to the first half of Naqada I and all of Naqada IIa-c.  They are also contemporary with the Palestinian Late Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age (EBA) 1a.  It was largely contemporary with the Ghassulian and Beersheba Chaloclithic and seems to have ended at the end of Palestine’s EBA1.

A useful chronological framework has been formed for Maadi, Wadi Digla and Heliopolis.  The earliest phase includes the last two sub-phases of Naqada I and is represented by Maadi and the earliest phase at Wadi Digla.  The intermediate phase corresponds to Naqada IIab-IIcd is represented by Heliopolis, the later Wadi Digla phase and the earliest phase at Buto.  The final phase is represented by Buto alone.  Studies at Sais may add to this picture (Wilson and Gilbert 2002).

Schmidt, on the basis of the twisted blade industry, suggests an earlier Maadi-Buto phase represented only at Maadi, and a later at Buto Layers I and II, and sites in the eastern Delta at el-Tell el-Iswid Phase A and Tell el-Farkha (Schmidt 1996 p.279).  Studies at Sais may add to this picture (Wilson and Gilbert 2002). 

On the basis of the existence of a copper industry, Midant-Reynes (1992/2000, p.214) suggests that there must have been a “Pre-Maadian” phase prior to the Maadi-Buto sites. Seeher also points to a hiatus between the occupations at El-Omari and Maadi: “We still have no indications of human activities in Northern Egypt during several centuries after the assumed end of El-Omari at about 4400BC . . . . Only by the beginning of the 4th Millennium BC does fresh evidence come with the various sites of the Maadi culture” (Seeher 1992, p.226).

Based on similarities between the main Maadian sites “There seems to be little reason to doubt that the cemeteries of Wadi Digla and Heliopolis were contemporaneous with one another and, in part at least, with the settlement at Maadi  . . . . Together the five sites – the settlement and four cemeteries – seem to represent the known remains of a north eastern Egyptian sub-culture of late Prehistoric and early historic times, for which for want of a better name, we may tentatively apply the designation ‘Maadian’” (Hayes 1964, 1965,p.134).

The Maadian was renamed the “Maadi-Buto” complex by von der Way (1992) on the basis of pottery that appears in the Maadian assemblages in Buto, but which does not appear in Maadi.

The Maadi-Buto phase was not exclusive to the Cairo/western Delta area.  Schmidt (1996) identifies some elements at Mostagedda and, more importantly, there were several sites in the Eastern Delta.  Tassie and Van Wettering (2003, p.124) list the Maadi-Buto eleven sites in Lower Egypt as follows:

  • Maadi
  • Ezbet el-Qerdahi
  • Il Kulga’an (multi period, location unclear)
  • Kom el-Kanaater
  • Konayiset es-Saradusi
  • Merimde Beni Salama (multi period)
  • Sais
  • Tell Fara’on/el-Huseiniya (multi period)
  • Tell el-Farkha (multi period)
  • Tell Ibrahim Awad (multi period)
  • Tall el-Masha’la (multip period)

Tell el-Niweiri (location uncertain)This list suggests that although some sites do die out at the end of Naqada II, some survive to become multi-period sites with stratigraphies reflecting different adaptations.  For example, Maadi dies out, Minshat survives uninterrupted, and at Tell el-Farkha, there is apparently a brief period of abandonment at the end of the Maadi-Buto period followed by resumed occupation.  Only some of the above-mentioned sites are discussed here.

It is important to realise with the Maadi-Buto sites that many sites may remain undiscovered due to a number of natural and economic factors.  Changing waterways, heavy deposition of silt burying sites at flood times, a rising water table, modern settlements and heavy agricultural exploitation are all factors which could have led to sites being hidden and unfound.  At Buto, the predynastic levels were found because the site survived well into the Dynastic period and the predynastic levels were located when the entire site was excavated.  In effect, Buto’s predynastic levels were preserved by the fact it evolved into a later town.  Even so, the predynastic levels were flooded by the high water table and a sophisticated pumping process had to be set up to enable excavation.

The Maadi-Buto sites are central to understanding what took place just before unification.


3.6.1 Maadi


Maadi is the type-site of a number of sites which are designated as “Maadian” by association.  It is located on a narrow rocky ridge on the outskirts of Cairo in the mouth of the Wadi al-Tih, its remains spread over an area approximately 1300m long by 130m wide.

Maadi consists of a main settlement site (Maadi) and a cemetery with 76 graves, together with a secondary settlement, and a second cemetery site containing over 450 human graves and 14 animal burials (Wadi Digla, also known as Maadi South). 

Excavation and Survey

The site of Maadi was first excavated in 1918 but it was more extensively excavated between the 1930s and 1950s by Menghin and Amer, but these excavations were quite poorly published and a full excavation report was never released: “Our knowledge of the ancient town at Maadi suffers from erratic and inadequate publication of the work conducted there, including a lack of even preliminary reports on the last six seasons of excavation” (Hayes 1964, 1965 P.129).  Excavations in the 1950s helped to fill in some of the gaps left by earlier excavations and publications (Rizkaner and Seeher 1952).  In the 1980s the University of Rome carried out a research programme at Maadi focusing on improving an understanding of the local economy (Caneva et al 1987).  The site is currently under excavation by the German Institute of Archaeology in Cairo.

Maadi has been important since its discovery, “not only because it is one of the few known settlements in Lower Egypt, but also because of its possible importance in the process of Egyptian unification and in the foundation of the Pharaonic state” (Perez-Lagarcha 1995b, p.41).  Because of its decline at the time when Naqadan elements started to be widespread in Egypt its role has been a matter of considerable discussion.


Four dates derived from the 1980s excavations by the Italian Mission (Caneva et al 1984) were calibrated to an average of c.3650BC.  However, the lack of more carbon 14 dates means that the dating of Maadi has been achieved largely on typological grounds.  This puts it at roughly 3900-3200BC.

The basis for this thinking is as follows.  The presence of Upper Egyptian Naqada I and II forms of pottery suggests that Maadi was contemporary with the Naqadan I and II periods.  Rizkaner and Seeher (1987: 78) propose an end to occupation at Maadi by late Naqada II times. Seeher (1992, p.226) has created a relative chronology for this period in the Western Delta, based on all of the gravegood types found in burials, contrasting with Petrie’s approach for Upper Egypt which used exclusively pottery.  Originally based on the Wadi Digla cemetery it has been successfully tested and confirmed by comparison with material at Maadi and Heliopolis.  He identifies two phases – Digla I, represented by Heliopolis and Digla II, the more recent phase, represented by Maadi.

On the basis of differences in the assemblages at different parts of the site, Caneva et al (1987) have identified that the earliest occupation was based in the eastern part of the site and that late occupation moved to the west.  This is based on the rarity of imported raw materials, Palestinian pottery and Cananean blades in the Eastern part of the site, and the high number of foreign products and indications of cultural complexity in the form of specialised areas and underground buildings in the Western part of the site.


The community was fully sedentary with people living in oval huts, with hearths and for the first time underground rooms.  The settlement of Maadi consists of refuse dumps in two mounds over abandoned settlement layers “presumably at the outskirts of the areas successfully inhabited” (Caneva et al 1987, p.106). 

The site was carefully located.  It borders the floodplain and so was located near fertile Nile alluvium, but was situated away from any danger of flooding.  It was also near to two wadis which stretch east into the desert nearly as far as the Red Sea.

The settlement site covers a forty five acre area and is located approximately four miles north west of El-Omari. It consists of “The remains of a sprawling town of oval huts, rectangular houses and subterranean shelters and magazines”.  (Hayes 1964, 1965, p.122).

The main settlement does not appear to have been built to an organised plan but there is a recognizable pattern in its development, as outlined by Hayes:  “The houses and shelters of Maadi are concentrated chiefly in the central section of the 45-acre site, with the silos, provision cellars, and huge, buried stone-jars distributed for the most part around its periphery, the arrangement calling to mind the segregated granary areas associated with the Fayum A group settlements” (Hayes 1965, 1965 p.123).

There are four types of settlement structure: oval huts, horseshoe shaped windbreak-type structures, subterranean houses and light rectangular structures which were probably animal pens.  A hearth is usually central or just inside the doorway and is surrounded by stones and sometimes clay-lined. They also contained, often, big storage jars buried to the neck, and clay-lined holes. Remains of two rectangular buildings were found, one made of reeds and straw supported on a framework of wooden posts, the other apparently made of logs.  The most remarkable features of the site are the subterranean dwellings which contained hearths, jars buried to their necks, and domestic items.

Storage pits were also a by now familiar feature, but unlike the Faiyum where they were centrally located, or Merimde, where they were scattered throughout the settlement, at Maadi they were located around the edges of the settlement.


The Maadi-Buto industry has moved far beyond the Merimden.  There are huge quantities pottery sherds from all over Maadi, which has been very informative.  Some of it is local and some of it is derived from outside Egypt.  Although, Bard observes that “over 80% of the pottery excavated at Maadi is of a local ware not found in Upper Egypt” (Bard 1994).  

Local pottery is of a number of types most of which are usually tempered with sand and other mineral content, as well as organic temper and included the following types:

  • Black ware, often polished, usually small globular jars and usually found in situ on the floors of huts in the settlement
  • Reddish-brown, burnished, usually ovoid with a base ring and most often found in the dumped layers
  • Black-topped red ware (imitating Upper Egyptian types)
  • Red-burnished ware (with minimal organic temper)
  • Yellow burnished ware with no organic temper

Local pottery was hand made “but seems to have been refined with the help of a rotating device” (Caneva et al 1987, p.107).  Caneva et al (1987) suggest the red jars were probably made on an assembly-line basis, with different pots made separately and joined later.  They also suggest that “the examples show such a uniformity of shape, size, colour, that they seem to document the first standardized, non-domestic production probably intended for a specific product and related to an internal exchange” (1987, p.107).

Some of the pottery was decorated with a variety of incised ornamentation, and painted decoration appears on some which appear to be mostly geometric designs.  There are also some unusual vessels which appear to be anthropomorphic in form:  “Crude sculpture in pottery is represented by the heads of animas in red-on-white painted war, perhaps broken away from vases and variously identified as camels, donkeys, and birds, and by rough T-shaped figures of burnt clay . . . Also found were a fragment of a boat model in red pottery and the head of a human statuette of the same material” (Hayes 1964, 1965, p.125).

Huge pottery storage jars were another type of vessel found at Maadi.  They were usually made of red, brown, grey or black fabric, and are usually burnished or covered with wash of red or white.  Contents include grain, animal and fish bones, shells, cooked mutton, flint tools, small vessels, spindle whorls and jar-stoppers. 

Imports (or vessels made under the influence of foreign contacts) include types known from Palestine and Syria including “wavy-handled” types, lug-handled jars, cups and flat-bottomed vessels which were decorated around the neck.  Rare vessels on cylindrical feet, spouted vases and bowls, tiny vases, vases in the form of birds and carinated cosmetic pots containing ochre are also known.  Sherds of black-topped red and brown fabric suggest contacts with Upper Egypt. 

Lithics are represented by 1000s of tools – the Maadi flint toolkit was mainly a flake and blade industry with few bifacially worked implements (some containing the peculiarity of having the bulb of percussion located at the thin narrow end of the tool) including:

  • Scrapers
  • Knives with retouched edges
  • Awls
  • Punches
  • Unifacial sickle flints
  • Burins and microburins
  • Wedges
  • Choppers
  • Borers
  • Few cores
  • Only one stone axehead (replaced by copper)
  • Two maceheads
  • Fishtail lancehead
  • Twisted blades
  • Tanged arrowheads

Raw materials:

  • Nile-gravel flint pebbles and slabs of mined tabular flint
  • Quartzite
  • Rock crystal

One of the most important aspects of Maadi is the presence of copper which was clearly imported, and was then worked locally:  “The site has yielded copious evidence that copper ore was imported and worked in some bulk and that locally a knowledge of smelting, casting and other metallurgical processes had advanced sufficiently for the production of a variety of metal implements” (Hayes 1964, 1965 p.128).  However, this may be an inflated view of the situation given the rather minimal examples of copper working that were excavated from the site.  Artefacts in copper replace many formerly made in stone: “The stone versions of such artefacts had characterized the Faiyum and Merimda cultures, but now they were being recreated in metal” (Midant-Reynes 1992/2000 p.214). They include:

  • Axeheads with fine cutting edges (rectangular or trapezoidal)
  • Chisels with rectangular cross-sections
  • Copper punches
  • Awls
  • A fish-hook
  • Needles and pins
  • Copper wire

These items appear to have been manufactured at Maadi itself:  “A copper axehead spoiled in casting and a number of copper ingots and masses of copper ore found on the site indicate that the metal was processed and the tools manufactured in Maadi itself” (Hayes 1964, 1965 p.129).  Sinai, exploited for copper in Dynastic times, was a probable location for the copper ores and the Eastern Desert was another possible source.  Kemp (1989, p.44) describes the copper ore as of “poor quality.”

Implements made of bone, horn and wood are less common at Maadi than elsewhere, but include awls, punches and those modified to make beads (bone), throwing stick, a jar cover, handles and a beaded staff (wood), an ox-horn comb, and river shells. 

Other items include stone palettes (a Naqadan import) and maceheads which are disc shaped (characteristic of Naqada I and earliest Naqada II, but not of later Naqada II when maceheads were pear-shaped).

Flora and Fauna

Over 15,00000 bones were found as well as horn, skin and hair, all from animals.  They indicate a high proportion of domestic species supplemented to a small degree by fishing and low levels of hunting (see Appendix J for a full listing of the animal bones).  The faunal remains represent the following species:

  • Domestic
    • Pigs (the highest quantity of faunal remains)
    • Cattle
    • Sheep
    • Goats
    • Donkey
    • Dog
  • Wild
    • Hippo
    • Ibex
    • Beaver
    • Turtles
    • Fish
    • Shellfish

Domesticated plant remains include:

  • Wheat
    • Triticum monococcum
    • Triticum dicoccum
    • Triticum aestivum
    • Triticum spelta
  • Barley (Hordeum vulgare)
  • Lentils
  • Peas

Pits and jars were used to store grain, and pestles, mortars, grinding stones and polished axes were an integral part of the grain processing toolkit.

Child burials were found deposited in storage vessels within the settlement.  No other types of burial were found in the settlement – all other depositions were confined to the cemeteries themselves


There were three main cemetery sites. 

The first is at Wadi el-Tih, two miles to the northeast of the settlement, near the foot of Gebel Moqattam.   The graves are shallow, oval pits with skeletons in contracted position.  Grave goods confined to burial with a single pottery jar, if anything. Many are surmounted by limestone structures.  Larger examples are rectangular and usually face east-west.  More modest tombs were marked with flat lines of stones.

Maadi Settlement Cemetery

A second cemetery was found to the southwest of the town.

A third cemetery, Wadi Digla, is half a mile southeast of the settlement in the estuary of Wadi Digla and covers more than an acre.  Excavated 1952 and 1953 by Amer and Rizkana it contained 471 human burials, 13 goats (previously identified as gazelles) and a dog. 

Part of the site was destroyed by a road which runs through the middle of it, dividing the cemetery into an east and west part. Circular or oval hollow graves contained dead humans, wrapped in a papyrus mat or animal skin. Burials were contracted, head usually to the south, face to the east. Some of the richer graves were rimmed with limestone blocks, and burnt hearth-stones were placed under the heads of the deceased.  There are much richer grave goods at Wadi Digla than at the other cemeteries including numerous pottery vessels (of the same types found in the settlement), an alabaster vase, stone palettes, combs, shell bracelets and necklaces, beads, pigments and flint items which are the same as those found in the settlement.  Three of the graves contained animal remains which appear to represent food.  Men, women and children were buried in the cemetery.

There is some sign that there was either social or temporal differentiation at the cemetery:  “In the western sector of the Wadi Digla cemetery lie the more poorly equipped of the human burials and the fourteen animal burials” (Hayes 1964, 1965 p.133).  Animals were provided with pottery jars.  Seeher describes two phases at the Wadi Digla cemetery:  “during the older phase there was only a slight preponderance of burials lying on the right side with the head pointing south, facing east . . . . During the Digla II phase, however, it became quite a strict rule to bury the deceased lying on the right side with the head pointing south” (Seeher 1992, p.228).  This is echoed at Maadi and Heliopolis.  At these sites the child burials are differentiated:  at Maadi they were often buried within the settlement in vessels, at Heliopolis, Maadi cemetery and Wadi Digla, they were usually restricted to a single part of the cemetery.  Limestone blocks mark the eastern edge of the cemetery.

Although there is not much information available from the burials at Maadi there are some generalisations that can be made about them.  The main feature is the introduction of burials external to the main settlement:  “the introduction of extramural cemeteries forms the main innovation of the Maadi cultural complex in Lower Egypt, although it is by no means clear that intramural burials were the rule at all Neolithic sites” (Seeher 1992, p.231).  There are other general features:

  • Simple pit graves with no constructions
  • Contracted burials with scarce grave goods
  • A tendency for younger graves to be better equipped than older

There was also apparently some degree of social differentiation: “In the variability of their contents, Maadi’s hundreds of graves indicate at least some social ranking, but it is the functional changes in the community that are the most important.  Many hundreds of Syro-Palestinian pots have been found at Maadi, reflecting strong connections to Syro-Palestine and, probably to the evolving Uruk-Jemdet Nasr states of Greater Mesopotamia.  Caneva and her co-workers report that Maadi’s lithics also tie it ‘in a wide network of communication, including the Levant and reaching northern Syria’ (1989, p.291)” (Wenke 1991, p.300).  There were no burial structures visible: “As far as can be ascertained, a proper grave architecture was still unknown during the time of the Maadi Culture.  The deceased were put singly into simple oval pits” (Seeher 1992, p.228).  However, Midant-Reynes highlights a number of inconsistencies: “There is a clear separation between Maadian settlements and cemeteries, but the presence of human bones in the disturbed remains of the Maadi settlement as well as the discovery of an unburnt human skull in a hearth suggests that there may have been certain aspects of their funerary practices that we do not yet fully understand (Midant-Reynes 1992/2000 p.215).

Of the goods going into graves, pottery was the most common although it is not a special type of pottery, but exactly the same type that is found in the settlement.  There were never large numbers of vessels – one vessel is common, more are exceptional and the richest of the graves had only eight vessels. It is rare to find other objects, which however include bracelets of seashells, a palette, an ivory comb, a calcite jar, and occasionally flint tools.  The site represents a change from previous sites: “The main difference between the burials of the Maadi culture and those unearthed in the Neolithic sites at Merimda Beni-Salame and El Omari is the shifting from intramural to extramural interment” (Seeher 1992, p.227).  Maadi burials were situated in well-defined cemeteries at a distance from the settlement site, whereas the only known Merimden and El Omarian burials were located within the settlement itself (even if, as at el-Omari, there were sections of the settlement no longer in use).

Animal Graves

Animals appear in all two of the cemeteries:

  • Maadi
    • 1 Dog (to around 77 human burials) at the western end of the main part of the cemetery, to the north of a group of human graves.
  • Wadi Digla
    • 14 animals including 1 dog and 7 goat, formerly identified as gazelle (to around 471 human burials).

The practise of animal burial appears to have been associated with a late stage of the Maadi-Buto occupation: “The custom of burying animals in the cemeteries is indicative of the later stage of the Maadi culture” (Seeher 1992, p.230).  All of the animals at Wadi Digla have been assigned to the cemetery’s second phase on the basis to similarities to those at Heliopolis (Flores 2003, p.34).

The distribution of goat burials at Wadi Digla seems to indicate an association with clusters of human graves:  “they appear not to have been the result of a single funerary event, a specific human burial, but more generally associated with the burials that surrounded them and thus apparently an aspect of locally observed funerary customs” (Flores 2003, p.37).  Flores also suggests that they may represent a post-interment sacrifice for the provision of the dead (p.64).  Not all of the goat burials were accompanied by grave goods, but where grave goods were included they were all ceramics except for one example where the dead goat was accompanied by a carnelian bead and possibly a copper object.

The animals at the Maadi cemeteries were deliberately slaughtered before burial, a fact which is visible in marks on bones:  “the motivation for the burials was most likely species-specific, and at least in the case of the dogs, possibly a reflection on the role this species played in the economic life of the community” (Flores 2003, p.64).


The location of Maadi on the edge of the floodplain allowed inhabitants to “exploit a range of different biotopes, consistent with their wide range of subsistence activities” (Caneva et al 1987 p.106) including agriculture (cultivation and herding), fishing, fowling and hunting.  On the basis of artefacts and faunal finds (and the absence of arrowheads, fish-hooks and other fishing tackle), the economy was sedentary:  “The economy at Maadi was based on farming (emmer wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs) with considerably less evidence for hunting and fishing. . . . the presence of many large grinding stones, some weighing more than 50kg, and hundreds of storage pits and storage jars strongly suggests a permanent settlement subsisting mainly by farming” (Bard 1994). 

Analysis of the faunal remains from Maadi indicates that domesticated animals account for around 86% of the fauna.  Wild species, excluding birds and fish account for only 3%.  Hunting was evidently a very marginal activity.  Flores (2003) suggests that dogs may have been used in relation to animal husbandry because their remains were found, a number were buried in graves, and there is no sign that they were eaten (p.25-26).

Fish bones account for only 10% of the faunal remains, which is in direct contrast to earlier sites at Faiyum and Merimda.  Caneva et al believe that cattle and goats were kept for milk production “the by-products utilization fits in well in the new multi-functional type of animal exploitation which spread in the Near East during the second half of the first millennium” (1987, p.107).

The techniques of cultivation were clearly accomplished:  “crop purity was indicated by the presence of clay-lined pits containing highly homogenous grains” (Caneva et al p.106).

There are some signs of specialisation with areas devoted to storage and metallurgy, lithics (particularly tabular flint tools), pottery manufacture and stone vase production. Linen fragments and spindle whorls found in the settlement debris attest to knowledge of spinning and weaving.

Maadi’s location at the western end of two wadis would have been ideal for communication and economic relationships with the Red Sea coast and beyond.  Maadi provides the first “unequivocal evidence of trade as distinct from informal, occasional individual transactions of goods or gifts” (Hassan 1980, p.160) and was clearly involved in trade both on its own account (for copper) and perhaps as a staging post for Upper Egypt, with many Levantine artefacts: “On the basis of this evidence, Maadi is regarded as something of a commercial centre” (Midant-Reynes 1992/2000 p.214).  Some of these products found their way probably by a similar mechanism into Upper Egypt, where, in the case of the ceramics, they were copied.  Perez Lagarcha (1996b, p.43) believes that Maadi’s comparative wealth at this time was probably due to the development of a ruling class in Upper Egypt who demanded prestige goods, and that Maadi fulfilled a function for Upper Egypt by obtaining them.

The presence of the domesticated donkey, amongst the earliest found in Egypt “goes a long way to explaining how these containers might have been brought to Egypt from southern Palestine” (Hoffman 1979, p.205).  It is likely that the donkey, found at this and earlier sites was used for transportation:  “A donkey covers a distance of about 15-20km/day, so it would not take long for even bulky items to be transported over very long distances  through successive exchanges between communities (a donkey carries an average of 200-300kg). He estimates that a donkey journey from Maadi to Naqada, for example, could be covered in two months (Hassan 1988, p.158).

Contacts with other areas are implied by a number of artefact materials and types which must have been imported:

  • Upper Egypt
    • Combs in bone and ivory
    • Stone palettes
    • Maceheads
    • Fine black-topped vessels
    • Basalt vessels
    • Ivory
    • Specific stones
  • Levant
    • Copper-working skills, ores and artefacts
    • Edged, ribbed blades known as “Canaanite” blades
    • Distinctive footed, ledge-handled, V-shaped bowls and other ceramics
    • Large circular endscrapers
    • Basalt vessels
    • Copper
    • Flint nodules and blades
    • Resins
    • Oils
    • Cedar wood
    • Subterranean structures similar to those at the chalcolithic site Beersheba
    • Asphalt

The large Palestinian vessels were probably used as containers for oils and resins “rather than for any intrinsic value, as there was no attempt by the Maadians to copy them” (Marks 1997, p.17).   The source of copper was possibly Timna, according to findings at En Besor (Perez-Lagarcha 1995b).

Maadian exports back to Palestine include Lower Egyptian products (Marks 1997, p.17):

  • Black ware
  • Flints
  • Pectoral fin spikes from Nile Catfish
  • Shells (Aspatharia)

Other artefacts clearly moved from Lower Egypt into the south, including copper, certain types of ceramic and basalt vessels.  The Upper Egyptian goods present at Maadi may be connected to a Maadian trade network supplying Upper Egypt with Levantine goods:  Perez-Lagarcha (1995a) believes that “The most logical explanation for these goods is that they constitute payment for Palestinian goods” (p.45) .  He suggests that the lack of the ubiquitous Upper Egyptian decorated pottery was due to its role in funerary contexts (which were not applicable in Lower Egypt), and points out that the Palestinian pottery form at Maadi were storage types indicated that the value lay not in the vessel but in the contents.  He believes that the four subterranean houses are probably associated with “Palestinian traders living in Maadi” (Perez-Lagarcha 1995, p.46).


Watson and Blin (2003) believe that they have identified an evolutionary trend in the architecture at Maadi which corresponds to examples in Palestine.  Simple semi-subterranean structures were found at Maadi and may have been the prototype of another more advanced type of structure at Maadi found by Menghin and Amer, which was smaller, ovoid and accessible by steps, and these may in turn have lead to a very distinctive type of subterranean building found first found by Badawi in 1997.  Badawi’s structure took the form of a rectangle with rounded edges, an entrance corridor with postholes in the middle, and depressions around the outside.  It looks like a little like a prehistoric French “souterrain”.  Witran and Blin point out similarities between this and Palestinian sites like Meser, Yitah’el II and Afridar in North Palestine and the typologically similar Sidon-Dakeman in South Lebanon:  “By all evidence it is possible to link the Badawi structure to the Palestinian structures that we have presented as belonging to the tradition of Meser II, Sidon-Dakeman and more precisely the one of Afrider” (561).  Watrin and Blin object to the popular theory that the semi-subterranean structures of Maadi were related to Safadi and Beersheeba sites for the following reasons

  • Architecture
    • Safadi structures are wholly subterranean
    • Building method is different
  • Chronologically
    • There is a gap of 500 years between the two suggested both by ceramics and, more importantly, radiocarbon dates
    • Maadi is probably more comparable with EBA Ia1.
  • Correspondence of artefacts
    • There are no ceramics from Chalcolithic Palestine, specifically Beersheba, from Maadi. 

Watrin and Blin see an evolutionary path in Palestinian architecture of the Bronze Age:  “an evolution from a rectangular surface shape of buildings (succeeding the subterranean dwellings) to an ovoid sub-surface structure . . . . Around the same period, the site of Maadi appears to present an evolution from semi-underground storage spaces of elliptical shape dug into the ground to semi-underground constructions of roughly sub-rectangular shape with walls built of rubble and mud bricks, and finally to subterranean architecture of oval shape in stone. They conclude from the architectural evidence that “Maadian architecture underwent both direct/indirect internal evolutions and internal/external evolution, and that the Maadian structures evolved into a hybrid architecture featuring elements of both Egyptian and Palestinian ancestry” (Olin and Blin 2003, p.564).

Culture and Social Organization

The site represents a number of advances over Merimda, but still appears relatively culturally simple when compared with Upper Egypt:  “It was an extensive settlement with a history that spans at least part of the period equivalent to the Naqada I and II cultures of Upper Egypt.  It contained houses built more substantially than those at Merimda.  Yet even so, neither by structures nor by artefacts can we detect any significant accumulation of wealth or prestige” (Kemp 1989, p.44).  However, as Flores points out (Flores 2003) “there is no reason to assume offhand a lower level of prosperity than that enjoyed by the population of Upper Egypt.  The only legitimate point seems to be the possibility of differences int eh level of social complexity” (Flores 2003, p.2).

It is clear from Naqada I and II pottery found at the site that, it was contemporary with Naqada I and II, but that it was very different from the cultures of Upper Egypt, even without burial evidence.  “Although archaeological evidence at Maadi and Maadi-related sites is mainly from settlements, unlike most of the surviving evidence for the Nagada culture in Upper Egypt, what is known about Maadi suggests a material culture very different from that in the south” (Bard 1994). 

Although the Maadian stratigraphy is confused, there is some indication from one layer that Lower Egypt may not have been universally peaceful at this time:  “The remains of stout post fences, or palisades, and of long narrow ditches may have formed part of the town’s primitive defences against enemy attack – defences which apparently proved futile, for layers of ashes, scattered human bones, and the scarcity on the site of copper tools and weapons and other articles of value suggest that the town was sacked and burned at least once in the course of its history” (Hayes 1964, 1965 p.123). 

A significant change in organization and perception may be implied by the separation of burials from the settlement site, and the increasingly formalised process of deposition attested to in the later phase at Wadi Digla.  As Hoffman says “It is possible that the shift in burial customs represents a major social change.”  However, the lifestyle was still essentially Neolithic, advancing much more slowly than in the south of Egypt, featuring (Seeher 1992, p.231):

  • Simple communities
  • No visible social stratification
  • No craft specialisation
  • Farming and animal tending
  • Possible overseas trade or exchange contacts

The rising importance of animals in the Maadi cemeteries is also a change from previous sites in the area.  There was very little animal imagery in Lower Egypt at this time, unlike Upper Egypt, but what exists comes from Maadi cemetery contexts:  fragments of bird-shaped vessels and possible quadrupedal figurines.  Unlike Upper Egyptian sites, no animals were found in human burials, except in the form of food.

The occupation at Maadi died out altogether following the emergence of new cultural traditions of the type known in Upper Egypt.

Religion at Maadi

Although it is not possible to detect specific deities, iconographies or religious affiliations at Maadi, the inclusion of a large cemetery incorporating both human and animal burials strongly suggests  the presence of a belief in an afterlife, be that in another place (a netherworld/heaven) or on the earth as spirits.  The beginning of religious thought is not dependent upon a sedentary lifestyle, and nor is the practise of burial.  However, organised cemeteries and items of prestige are usually associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Hassan takes this a step further when he suggests that “Agriculture perpetuated a state of potential conflict and heightened anxiety.  In such a world the demands for a cosmogony that restored order and sacralized roles was essential for the formation of a sense of self that was capable of withstanding conflicts in coping with adversities” (Hassan 1992, p.308).  We appear to be seeing something of this at Maadi. 

The occupation at Maadi died out altogether at the end of Naqada IIc/d (Midant-Reynes 2002), following the emergence of new cultural traditions of the type known in Upper Egypt.


3.6.2 Heliopolis


Heliopolis is a cemetery site near the mouth of the Faiyum.  No associated settlement has ever been found, possibly due to the modern urban development in the area.  It is situated in a desertic plain 20km east of the present Nile, at around 30m above sea level (11m above the level of the Nile), a height shared with other Lower Egyptian sites which may have something to do with the annual inundation.  Roots inside pots and vessel fillings indicate that the area was once vegetated.  Estimates that the cemetery housed a maximum of 200 burials would suggest that “it was the cemetery of a relatively small settlement and that it had been in use for a comparatively short span of time, perhaps 30-50 years for the excavated area (Mortensen 1988, p.40).

Excavation and Survey

Heliopolis was partially excavated by Debono between March and September of 1950 (Debono and Mortensen 1988) and later by Amer, Rizkana and Mitwalwy (1952).  The cemetery was similar in all ways to the Wadi Digla cemetery, the excavation revealing sixty three graves (which represent only a small proportion of the entire cemetery).  However, there were new types of pottery some of which were found in seven caches of pottery. 

There was a big gap between Mortensen’s excavation in the 1950s and the publication of the full report in 1988.  In order to complete the report Mortensen visited the Desert Institute where the finds were stored but found that they were largely broken or lost.

Dating and Chronology

Heliopolis cemetery was originally dated on the basis of similarities with Tura ceramics to a date later than the Maadian. Mortensen (1988) suggests on the basis of similarities with Maadi and Wadi Digla pottery and the few parallels with Upper Egyptian pottery that a relative date for Heliopolis should be assigned to the beginning of the Gerzean, or Naqada IIa/b (p.34). The Palestinian pots that were found also point to an early date because they are of Ghassulian/Beersheeba types and Early Bronze Age 1A and B.  This again corresponds to Naqada I or II (Mortensen 1988 p.49).

Information that Mortensen provides about the orientation of the graves also suggests that a date that is equivalent to Maadi:  “It can be demonstrated that the general pattern in prehistoric times in the north was that the dead lie on their right side with the head to the south, facing east.  This pattern changes through the Naqada II and III period and in the beginning of the dynastic period, the dead lie on their left side with their head to the south and face to the west.  Not until the third Dynasty does this pattern change to reclining on the left side with the head to the north, facing east” (Mortensen 1988, p.46).

Seeher’s chronological division of the Delta (on typological grounds) links Heliopolis with his Digla II phase which he identified as the second (later) phase at the Wadi Digla cemetery near Maadi.  Rizkana (1952) has suggested that Heliopolis belonged to “an independent cultural stage, and perhaps in a later period” (p.7) later than Maadi, (on the basis of differences between the two) but he agrees with Seeher that it was probably contemporary with Wadi Digla.

The Site of Heliopolis

Because this is a cemetery site the industrial components are limited to ceramics, stone vases and two flint tools, and cannot be considered to reflect the industry of the as yet unlocated settlement site. There were 63 excavated graves, although it has been estimated that there may be up to 200 burials in total (Mortensen 1988). The burials are mainly human but there are also animal burials:

  • 45 human
    • 36 adults
    • 2 adolescents
    • 7 children
  • 11 animals
    • 6 goat
    • 5 dog
  • 7 pottery groups with no traces of burials

Human Graves at Heliopolis

The human graves are all simple, usually round or oval and with different sizes and depths (both of which increase with the amount of pottery in the grave).  In a few cases they were lined with matting or wood.  Wood was additionally found covering bodies in four graves, which may indicate a collapsed roof or other structure. The graves contained contracted burials (some fully some half contracted) which were usually orientated with heads to the south, face to the easy, lying on their right hand sides with their hands in front of their faces – only six of the graves deviated from this formula.  Mortensen (1988, p.38) groups them into four types:

  • children without mat or skin
  • adults without matting or skin and with few or no grave goods
  • adults with matting, skins and wood and a few grave goods
  • adults with matting and/or skins and a large number of grave goods

Grave goods other than pottery were rare.  Vessels were found in most graves, although children either had none or just one.  There seems to have been a system of pottery types with some being normal and others only rarely represented.  In graves with more than one vessel there is always at least one red pot of a different type which is placed close to the head.  There are an unusual number of sherds in the site, perhaps dug in from the surface when the graves were dug, because they are generally very weathered.

Few other artefact types are represented. Basic cosmetic palettes were found at the site, mainly rhomboid and made of flint (not slate), some stained with ochre or malachite, and Ancillaria shells from the Red Sea were used to make jewellery.  Only two flint blades were found.  The flint blades were made of a transparent flint but are not described in the excavation report.  In one grave there were copper fragments.  There were two types of stone vases:  basalt and limestone, and only one example of each exists.  Although similar examples exist in Lower Egypt, there are no identical forms.  The limestone vessel is similar to later Upper Egyptian types.

Three graves contained the remains of animals, probably representing food.

Animal Graves

The goat burials are all very small and are orientated in the same way as the human burials.  One had certainly been wrapped in matting and all had many pottery vessels – generally placed in front of the animal, although the type and number vary.  As with the human burials, there was sometimes a red pot in front of the head.  One was buried with plant remains in front of its mouth.  The goats were originally identified as gazelle but have since been re-designated as goats.

The dog burials were very small and shallow, were not orientated in any particular way and were not buried with any gravegoods.  They are all located on the north edge of the eastern end of the cemetery, and at least one of the dogs was probably killed deliberately.  There were two types of dog – four were of a long skulled type and one had a shorter rounded skull. 

Animal burials are also found in other area of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt, including several at Wadi Digla and one at Maadi Cemetery.


The ceramics are not represented in their entirety due to poor care of the artefacts following excavation.  Originally there were 81 complete pots, 27 broken ones and an unknown number of sherds.  A proper analysis could not be attempted, but some conclusions could be drawn from the surviving pottery, photographs of excavated items, and 23 drawings.  Pottery in the excavation report (Mortensen 1988) was described according to types allocated by the excavators for these vessels.

All the pottery is handmade  although “some of the pots show marks indicating that they have been turned” (Mortnesen 1990, p.23).  The pots appear to have been built up in a number of pieces, perhaps in coils.  “It is possible that, in some cases, the upper and lower parts were made separately and joined together. The finger impressions can be seen on some pots were the two halves were pressed together” (Mortensen 1990, p.23).  A few of the vessels had lids.  In three cases a bowl had been used as a lid.  Some of these lids appear to have been sealed, and the contents of one sealed jar appears to have been plant. Clay was tempered with straw, and coarser straw temper appears to have been associated with the bowls, finer temper with other types of pottery.  They were generally also tempered with differing amounts of sand, and some were tempered with calcite (CaCO3). The pottery was generally fired at comparatively low temperatures (600-650) and most are black to brown, some varying in colour.  Most have a grey-black core.  Surfaces were soothed with a wet hand to create an even surface (called self-slip) but no real slip was found on any of the vessels.

There are three jars which may be Palestinian in origin or may be copies of Palestinian forms.  Mortensen (1988) makes frequent comparisons with other western Delta sites, particularly Maadi and Wadi Digla, but also Merimde. 

  • Merimde Levels IV-V
    • Straw temper
    • Wet-smoothing
    • Colours (and probably firing temperatures)
    • Polishing technique
  • Maadi
    • Three types of vessel
      • Straw-tempered
      • Sand-tempered
      • Palestinian types

As Mortensen says “The pottery tradition at Heliopolis is clearly related to the earlier tradition in the north, found at Merimde, Fayum and El Omari but also shows traits from the Palestinian tradition:  temper with crushed limestone, use of a lime wash” (1988, p.33).  It would be distinctly useful to attempt some sort of clarification of the relationship between these three sites.

Seven of the vessels had pot-marks taking the form of vertical lines or simple plant motifs, incised into the surface of the vessels before they were fired, in some cases into inside of the the rim of the vessel.  They do not appear to have been confined to any particular type of vessel.  Potmarks are not known from Merimda or El Omari but they do occur at Maadi, where the types of vessel with potmarks are similar, and rims also occur on the inside of rims.

Origins or Affinities

Looking at the cemetery as a whole, Mortensen (1988) considered the site to be most similar to Wadi Digla, although he highlights differences which indicate that Heliopolis was by no means the same as Wadi Digla:


Similarities to Wadi Digla


Differences from Wadi Digla


  • Clustering of animal burials and graves without offerings
  • Pottery types and fabrics
  • Concept of lining graves
  • Simple oval grave forms
  • Contracted position of body
  • Animal burials
  • Pottery gravegoods
  • Body wrappings


  • Limestone lining of some graves at Wadi Digla
  • Double wrapping of body in mat and skin at Heliopolis
  • Goat burials much richer at Heliopolis than at Wadi Digla
  • More varied grave goods at Wadi Digla including slate palettes and combs.

However it is clear that they both belong to the same tradition, even with differences – which could be accounted for by local preferences or by a slight difference in date.

Orientation of bodies in graves also suggests a northern tradition:  “It can be demonstrated that the general pattern in prehistoric times in the north was that the dead lie on their right side with the head to the south, facing east.  This pattern changes through the Naqada II and III period and in the beginning of the dynastic period, the dead lie on their left side with their head to the south and face to the west.”

Heliopolis conomy

The settlement site for the cemetery has never been found, so economic information about the economy of those represented in the graveyard is very sparse.  No anthropological work has been carried out on the remains of the skeletons found, so no subsistence information has been gleaned from this source either. 

Apart from the presence of domesticated animals in graves, and the present of imports (Ancillaria shells, basalt, copper and malachite) there is no indication of what sort of economy existed at Heliopolis.  The imports could have been obtained relatively locally – from Maadi, for example, and are not necessarily indicators of long-distance trade.

Social Organization and Change

Mortensen estimates that the settlement appears to have been organized according to age and sex rather than social differentiation, although as no anthropological examinations have been made this is not certain.  No newborns or foetuses were found which may mean that they were buried within the settlement as at Merimda, but this may indicate that status was not acquired at birth, and children are not buried with a protective wrapping but appear to have been segregated in the south-east corner of the cemetery without gravegoods.  “This evidence could point to  a society with a simple social structure” (Mortensen 1988, p.51).

The cemetery of Heliopolis was abandoned possibly at around the same time as Wadi Digla.  Reasons for abandonment could have been environmental or social – increased wadi deposition is indicated although it is unknown when these deposits were laid down.  However, the abandonment of the cemetery also coincides with notable changes visible in the northern material record, and the beginning of new cemeteries at el Gerzeh, Tura and Abusir el Meleq.  “If the cemetery at Heliopolis can be dated as late as Naqada IIb it is possible that the shift of its cemetery area was related to a change in society” (Mortensen 1988 p.51).


3.6.3 Tell Fara’in (Buto)


Tell Fara’in is the Predynastic site beneath the town of Buto, which became so important in later times:  “According to the written tradition of ancient Egypt, Buto, located in the northern Delta, appears to have been the Lower Egyptian counterpart of Hierakonpolis, that capital of Upper Egypt.  Thus, the settlement tradition of these two cities should go back to the fourth millennium at least” (Von der Way 1992, p.217).  It is clear that Tell el Fara’in will become very important in studies of early Egypt.

Excavation and Survey

Work on the predynastic levels was initiated by the German Institute of Archaeology in 1983 with the objective of acquiring material to compare Upper Egypt with Lower Egypt during the period of change at the end of the Maadi-Buto period. Von der Way excavated the predynastic levels with considerable difficulty, because they were beneath the water table (Von der Way 1987, 1988).

The Site

There were seven layers at Buto which contained a clear stratigraphic record of the history of the site from the predynastic to the Protodynastic, offering the opportunity to analyse how the site changed during the northern advance of the Naqada II culture.

The earliest two layers contain the remains of a settlement site, of which there are almost no structural remains surviving:  “Structures we explain as postholes and remains of mats give the impression that the settlers of Buto used stems of papyrus or reed to build up their dwellings” (Von der Way 1992, p.220).  Both layers produced Lower Egyptian pottery types that show a clear relationship with the Maadian:  “Most of the wares at Tell el Fara’in were also found at Maadi, and the same type of black basalt jars were found at both sites” (Bard 1994).  It is “rich in ceramic and lithic material comparable with that of Maadi, Wadi Digla and Heliopolis” (Midant-Reynes 1992/2000 p.218).  As well as local pottery forms, examples from Buto also imitate Naqadan wavy-handled forms, Gerzean and other Upper Egyptian types.  However “No examples of black-topped vessels have yet been excavated, suggesting that the earliest phase at Buto corresponds to the Naqada II phase, and, more precisely, to phases IIc-d in Kaiser’s chronology, with the later stratigraphy stretching on, without a break, through the Late Predynastic and Early Dynastic to the Old Kingdom (Midant-Reynes 1992-2000 p.218). 

Nearby sites appear to date to the same period as well, and may have been related to Tell el-Fara’in: “At two sites about 3km south west of Tell el-Fara’in, Ezbet el-Qerdahi East and West, more ceramics of the same wares as found at Maadi and Tell el-Fara’in have also been excavated” (Bard 1994).  Sais is also geographically close to Buto and, has recently been shown to have contemporary and probably related archaeological levels (Wilson and Gilbert 2002).

Above the layers at Tell el-Fara’in containing the Lower Egyptian pottery forms, there was a ‘transition layer’ which contained fewer Lower Egyptian types of pottery and included Upper Egyptian pottery dating to Naqada IId (Bard 1994), marking a time when “pottery manufactured in the indigenous, Lower Egyptian tradition was superseded by pottery made accruing to the more advanced ceramic technology of Upper Egypt” (Wilkinson 1999, 2001).  Unlike the occupation at Maadi, there is a continuity of occupation from Maadian through to Dynastic times.

This so-called transition layer has been interpreted in different ways by different archaeologists.  While some see the change in pottery types a simple matter of replacement of one culture by another, there is also a more subtle explanation put forward by Kohler (1995).  Kohler suggests that two ceramic traditions actually existed in Egypt simultaneously – one for use in settlements (a coarser ware) and one for use in graves (a finer ware with symbolic value).  She suggests that while the domestic tradition could be common to both Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, the grave ceramic tradition was exclusive to Upper Egypt and that this would have lead to the development of specialised grave ceramic production.  She suggests that as new markets for specialised funerary vessels were identified Upper Egyptian fine ware came to Lower Egypt, together with stone vessels.  Instead of a migration, invasion or cultural diffusion, the ceramic record could therefore simply indicate new economic demands which were best fulfilled by Lower Egyptian sites.  Wilkinson says that “there is little doubt that the new pottery was made locally, albeit increasingly by specialist potters.  In short, the cultural phenomenon attested at Buto may better be described as the expansion of Upper Egyptian ceramic technology rather than the expansion of the Naqada Culture (Kohler 1993: 254)” (Wilkinson 1996, p.7).

Kohler’s idea is given some support by Holmes’s examination of ceramics from Badari which identified that some forms of pottery correspond to Lower Egyptian types.  Not many settlements have been excavated or identified in Upper Egypt, which may have led to a failure to identify Lower Egyptian types in Upper Egypt.  Until further excavations of both types of site are excavated, it will be difficult to clarify this issue.

Outside contacts

Artefacts from Tell Fara’in include clay cones and pottery and other items which show contact with Southwest Asia “specifically the Amuq F period settlements in northern Syria, and probably by way of trade connections through that area to settlements in the Tigris, Balikh, Khabur and Upper Euphrates region” (Wenke 1991, p.304).  “How the site of Tell el-Fara’in /Buto relates to  the Uruk culture of SW Asia, however, has yet to be demonstrated by data from the on-going investigations” (Bard 1994).  Pottery from Upper Egypt is also present, and Buto IA was the only site that showed a clear connection with Palestine.

Buto shows clear signs of contact, either direct or indirect, with Upper Egypt (pottery), northern Syria (spiral reserved slipware) Palestine (large tabular flint scrapers) and possibly Mesopotamia (fired clay cones of a sort that in Mesopotamia were inserted into plaster-covered walls to form mosaics) and may have had a similar role to that of Maadi: “Von der Way concludes that Maadi, which contained many Southwest Asian pottery vessels of this same approximate time period [as the earliest levels at Buto] was only a way station on overland routes to the east, but that Buto was a port – perhaps the most important Delta port – for ships carrying commodities to and from Palestine and the Uruk state (1987, p.257)” (Wenke 1991, p.304). Watrin and Blin suggest that of Merimda, Maadi and Buto, “only the most recent of these three cultures, that of Buto IA showed a clear connection with the Palestinian cultures of the Late Chalcolithic.  Notably the artefacts point to at least a temporary presence of culturally Palestinian groups (2003 p.560).

3.6.4  Sais (Sa el-Hagar)

Sais, like Buto, is more famous for its Dynastic role, but drill augering and subsequent excavations (a trial trench and then an area of 5m x 5m) ongoing since 1997 have revealed levels which belong to this period of Egypt.  The predynastic levels of Buto and Sais are considered to be important for understanding the later history of these sites, and the origins of religion in this area:  “Considerations on the history of religion carried out by Kurt Sethe already at the beginning of our century succeeded to disclose that the great religious centres of the Delta in historical times, Buto and Sais, should have gained their overregional significance already in the prehistoric period” (Wildung 1984, p. 265).  Research into this and later dynastic and early dynastic times needs to be pursued to clarify the situation.  It is possible that early layers will be found under other Dynastic sites in the area, if accessible in spite of the water table.

The sample derived from preliminary work was small, however there was enough to conclude that most of the pottery found was locally made and that no foreign imports appeared among the 5000 pottery sherds recovered.  The lithic industry included blade tools in small numbers. 

In an initial analysis the excavators commented that “there seem to have been two distinct occupations of this area, with a complicated ‘transition layer’ between them” (Wilson and Gilbert, 2002 p.12) and suggested that the upper layer of the site “probably dates to the Buto-Maadi culture and later Merimda phase, around 3500BC”.  The lower level contained ceramics which suggested a date corresponding to Neolithic levels at Merimda dating to around 4800BC, and analysis of the bones and organic components of the layer suggest extensive burning which could have had a number of causes but might indicate the presence of cooking hearths.  Wilson and Gilbert (2002) interpreted the two main layers as probable settlement deposits.  More recent work (Wilson and Gilbert 2003) has expanded this picture, and three main phases of the Predynastic have now been identified which they term Early Predynastic/Buto-Maadi, Transitional layers and Neolithic Phases. 

The Early Dynastic/Maadi-Buto phase is defined by a number of layers containing rim sherds and polished sherds including

  • Burnished bowls with straight sites
  • Large bread trays
  • Closed storage jars
  • Closed jars with pointed bases
  • Closed burnished ovoid vessels
  • Upto 81% of the sherds were straw-tempered, upto 7% with coarse straw temper, and 15% were untempered wares.  Some were decorated and several were considered to be diagnostic.  Parallels included impressed V patterns from Buto Ia/b, half-moon fingernail impressions from Buto IIa/b, Closed far rims from Maadi jar type 1-4, El Omari Group II 1c, 2 and Merimde phase V. Other objects included brown-fired bricks, a model bovid horn, some lithics and bone fragments.  Parallels for the model bull horn come from later levels at Merimde.

The Transitional level consists of two main layers, the upper of which contained Predynastic materials including numerous pot sherds, some fine, and a level below which contained less sherds but a number of faunal remains including bovine scapula and skull and pig jaw and skull bones.  A pit apparently contemporary with this phase contained charcoal, fish bones, pottery fragments, charred emmer glumes and a few pieces of wheat and Tamarix charcoal.  The authors suggest that this could have been domestic waste or fuel burning (Wilson and Gilbert 2003, p.70).  They suggest that this may have been an abandonment phase.

The Neolithic levels contained rich deposits of pottery and bone but no charcoal or seed samples, although fish bones are well represented.  The pottery “seemed to suggest a phase distinct from those above” (Wilson and Gilbert 2003 p. 70). Vessels were most open forms:

  • Large straight-sided bowls and basins
  • Slightly flared howls and basins
  • Bowls with red and black burnished sides

Up to 11% was straw tempered, up to 6% was coarse straw tempered and up to 86% was untempered.  Parallels for pottery exists particularly at Merimde – one diagnostic sherd with a leaf or tree motif is similar to Schist I, and the red and grey polished wares show similarities, although the grey wares are only represented in Merimde Schist II.  Faunal remains were mainly pig (Sus scrofa) with ages represented from under a year old to 4-5 years old, suggesting a stock for consumption and a breeding stock.  Cattle were the second most substantial bone presence, with age variations between animals under 2.5 years and others over five years, which suggests a similar strategy to animal management as with pigs (Wilson and Gilbert 2002 p.13).  Very few sheep or goat were found.  A few fish bones (catfish and Synodontis), and donkey remains were found.  There was also a single antelope bone found (Wilson and Gilbert 2003, p.71).  On the basis of pottery, Wilson and Gilbert suggest that “it is possible that this context dates to the Early Neolithic Period around the early 5th Millennium BC (c.4800BC). 

The dietary profile assembled from the remains at the site equates to others from the same broad time period:  “A sample of the environmental material from lower layer contained examples of almost all the cereals one might expect to find here, including a good proportion of emmer-wheat, barley, grasses, weed seeds and also tamarisk wood fragments, which were almost certainly used for charcoal.  Another sample from the upper layer contained a flax seed to complete the Delta plant repertoire” (Wilson and Gilbert 2002, p.13).

The presence of catfish and Synodontis suggests an environment that supported slow moving water in shallow channels or marshes.

The authors warn that the size of the sample, which is very small, is not sufficient to make any extensive conclusions about the predynastic.  Hopefully the ongoing excavations will reveal more information.


4.1.5 Harageh

Harageh, in the Western Faiyum area, add to the picture of pre-Naqada III influence in Upper Egypt: “A few of the cemetery sites in the northern part of the Middle East of the Fayum basin, such as Harageh and Sedment produced limited quantities of pottery which is now known to be part of a Lower Egyptian traction which predates the spread of Upper Egyptian culture into the north from Naqada IIC” (Adams and Cialowicz 1997, p.19). 

Harageh is southeast of Lahun and was excavated in 1913-14 (published 1923) by Regnald Engelback.  There were two Predynastic cemeteries, G and H.  Most of the tombs were robbed but the remaining grave goods still provide some information.  Pottery falls into SD50-60 in Petrie’s typological sequence.  There were no late palettes, and few beads.  Wavy handled pottery only appears in Cemetery H.


4.1.6 Sedment

Sedment is located not far from Herakleopolis, to the south of the entrance to the Faiyum, south west of Harageh and 70 miles south of Cairo.  It is the most southerly of the Maadi-Buto sites.

The cemeteries at Sedment were used throughout the Dynastic period.  There are two areas of Sedment which are relevant to the Predynastic, Cemeteries J, and K.  In both cemeteries circular pits contained some infrequent pottery items but no burials (Petrie and Brunton 1924, p.9). Although the samples retrieved were different in form from pottery usually found in burials, there were small black-topped red jars found in Cemetery J.  However, most of the pottery found in the circular pits was consistent with types found at other Lower Egyptian sites including El Omari and Maadi.  Flores (2003) suggests that even though these pits were found in a funerary context they were storage pits.

Williams (1982, p. 221) interprets these pits and their contents as storage caches for a nearby (deflated) settlement of Lower Egypt culture before the northern expansion of Upper Egyptian (Nagada) culture into the Fayum region during Nagada II (Gerzean) times.


3.6.6 es-Saff

es-Saff is located 40km south of Cairo.  Burials were made with pottery of Maadi-Buto type, although they are generally believed to have been a later type than those at either Maadi or Wadi Digla.  The es-Saff site stopped being used at exactly the time that el-Gerzeh, 15km away from es-Saff, started to be used as a cemetery.

3.6.7 Giza

Although only fragmentary remains have been found, it is thought that there was a cemetery dating to the Maadi-Buto phase which has since been largely destroyed by Old Kingdom activity.  Ceramic vessel forms are certainly very similar (el-Sanussi and Jones 1997).


3.6.8 Maadi-Buto Summary

The Maadian represents a more organized and developed society than that represented by either El Omari or Merimde.  The size of the sites involved implies a stability not previously visible in the archaeological record (El Omari, for example, may represent two different settlements, the first  broken up by heavy rain and floods).  A sedentary agricultural economy, based on animal herding and cultivation of cereals and pulses, was supported by hunting and fishing.  Pottery manufacture is distinctive but not in any way special – vessels conform to a number of types, but are very basic and often coarse, undecorated and simple in both form and concept.  Lithics are unremarkable and reflect a lifestyle based on processing plant and animal foods.

Although some of the sites were large there is no sign of specialised or decorative crafts or the elaborate burials of the south.  It seems that these northern sites were loosely associated centres but without the highly structured social organisation and status-promotion of the south.

Industrial features include a relatively homogenous pottery and lithic industry, although Schmidt (1996) has used lithics to build up a picture of some regional differentiation in Lower Egypt.

The Maadian graves provide some top-level information about the ritual behaviour of the inhabitants of the Maadian settlements, and give a small hint at some of the beliefs that these rituals indicate.  To begin with, there is no variation in the overall type of cemetery – the cemeteries contained individual depositions of flexed human bodies and a small number of animals - with or without artefacts.  There are no collective burials.  This implies that the emphasis is on the individual rather than on the family, but, given that cemeteries were centralised deposits of the dead, that they are individual representatives of the larger community.  The implication at the most basic level is that society was concerned with the individual as a member (or as a gap in) the living community. 

Any organization of the cemeteries is loose, and although some excavators have observed that some groupings occur in specific areas of the cemetery, these are hardly reflections of a structured approach – there is no definitive evidence, for example of linear arrangements or discrete groupings.  It should be noted, however, that Flores (2003) believes that there may be family groupings in Lower Egyptian sites, observable by the relationship between grave groupings and goat burials.  The fairly informal patterning of the graves suggests that although burials were important to the community, the arrangement of the dead post-death as an expression of their relationship to other individuals, alive or dead, is less important than the act of deposition itself.  This lack of systematic approach to  deposition of the dead means that it is impossible to suggest a chronological development for these phases of the cemeteries.

Artefacts in the Maadi-Buto graves are not manufactured specially for deposition with the dead, which is quite different from the situation in Upper Egypt where high quality specialised items were deposited in graves.  The pottery in Maadi-Buto graves was of the same type used in the settlements.  There are few other types of artefact deposited with the dead, and there is certainly no sign of the prestige items that were deposited in Upper Egyptian graves. 

There is no evidence of symbolic representation, and the only evidence of symbolic behaviour, represented at Heliopolis, is ambiguous – where more than one pottery vessel was interred with the dead, a red vessel was always placed by the head of the deceased (in both human and goat burials).  Apart from this there is no real variability or expressive behaviour implied by the gravegoods.  Gravegoods consist mostly of pottery, and rarely anything else.  Even where other items are present there is nothing else to indicate that there is anything to distinguish the dead from any other member of society.  The presence of vessels, which are sometimes sealed with lids or bowls, certainly suggest some sort of provision for the dead, which implies a belief in an afterlife, but beyond that it is impossible to draw conclusions.  Differences in grave goods may have been due to any number of reasons – importance of the individual may have been one reason, but equally the variability could have reflected chronological differences rather than social differences.

Orientation of the dead is never 100% consistent (for example, at Heliopolis 15% of the graves excavated were orientated in a different way from the standard arrangement) but the general consistency of orientation and arrangement of the dead does suggest that the way in which the dead were deposited was important and was tied in with an unknown consideration.  Cemeteries all over Egypt vary in terms of how the dead were orientated (see Appendix K) but it is clear that once a system was fixed on it was usually adhered to.  Mortensen (1988) suggests that this could have been anything from the orientation of the Nile, or the setting of the sun to a particular aspect of the village – in other words, it is not known why in certain cemeteries graves were orientated in a particular way.

There is insufficient anthropological evidence to build up a picture of age, gender, health and other information regarding the individuals buried.  However, on the basis of the distribution of sub-adult burials Flores suggests that grave clusters may have been family burial plots and that “the provisioning of these burials suggests that children were not differentiated from the adult population in terms of burial goods” (2003, p.33).  She also points out that the lack of evidence for a hierarchical structure is not proof that no hierarchical structure existed, and in fact it seems quite unlikely that this sort of society would have evolved without a leadership structure.

Animal burials featured at  Maadi, Wadi Digla and Heliopolis cemeteries as follows:









Wadi Digla








It is notable that there are no cattle burials (there are 2 known Badarian cattle burials and 7 known Nubian A-Group cattle burials). 

Flores has analysed the animal graves (2003) and concludes that the different approach to grave goods between the goats at Wadi Digla and Heliopolis suggest that the animals had a different status at each location.  At Wadi Digla seven of the thirteen goat burials were unaccompanied by grave goods, but at Heliopolis all of the goats were accompanied by pottery.

A number of writers (e.g. Hornung 1971) have suggested that the animal burials may indicate an early reverence for animals as divine entities.  However, there is no evidence to support this view.  Neither domesticated dogs or goats are not represented in any early dynastic religious imagery;  the gods Khentimentou and Anubis were wild jackals, not domesticated dogs:  “There appears to be no unequivocal evidence in support of an interpretation of the independent animal burials as concrete manifestations of a contemporary attitude of reverence for the animals that occur either individually, or as representatives of their species” (Flores 2003, p.64).  Debono and Mortensen (1990, p.47) suggest that dogs were buried as guardians of the cemeteries.  Their role in cemeteries was evidently different to that of goats, because they were buried without particular orientation and without gravegoods.  Flores suggests that the role of guardian of the cemetery could have been an extension of their role in rounding up and protecting domesticated herds “thus, although the burials may be considered, in a sense, a funerary sacrifice, they appear to have been a magical or symbolic means of meeting a specific need of this life, not the pressured needs of the afterlife” (Flores 2003, p. 64).

Pottery caches without burials appear at Maadi, Wadi Digla and Heliopolis cemeteries.  Flores suggests that these may have been “post-interment offerings” (Flores 2003, p.64).  Some anthropomorphic pottery from Maadi shows more of an interest in animal forms and self-expression than anywhere else in Lower Egypt at that time.

Other sites which may have phases that may belong to the Maadi-Buto complex from elsewhere in the Delta are:  Ezbet el-Qerdahi, il-Khuga’an, Kom el-Kanater, Konayiset es-Saradusi, Mendes, Telll Fara’on, Tell el-Farkha, Tell Ibrahim Awad, Tell el-Masha’la and Tell el-Niweiri.


4.2 The Eastern Delta Sites

The contemporary Eastern Delta sites are, strictly speaking, outside the scope of this paper.  However, they are mentioned briefly because they shares with Maadi a number of common features, including apparent contacts with Upper Egypt and the Levant.  Importantly, Minshat Abu Omar also has an unbroken stratification spanning the Predynastic to the Early Dynastic. 

4.2.1 Sites

Minshat Abu Omar

Minshat Abu Omar, also known as Tell es-Sabana Banat, is located at around 15km southeast of Tanis and 30km northeast of modern Faqus in the eastern Delta and consists of both settlement and cemetery over two tells, A and B, dating to Predynastic, Protodynastic and early Dynastic periods, as well as Saite-Roman (Van Wettering and Tassie 2003).  When it was occupied it was located on the former Pelusian arm of the Nile, south of its outlet into the Mensaleh lake.

The cemetery site began with simple shallow pit graves with very few grave goods, in the south of the cemetery corresponding in time to Naqada II (including pottery of types R, W and D).  The middle levels contain Naqada III pottery, with copper items and an increasing number of grave goods.  The latest level was in the northern, damaged part of the site and contained Protodynastic graves with fine stone vessels and pottery types in tombs which were made of mudbrick and were rooved (Wildung 1984).

The cemetery was comparatively wealthy, and the site probably gained its wealth operating as a trading settlement, lying near the edge of the Delta, near Sinai and routes leading into Palestine. Up until publication in 1984, 205 burials were found from different levels.  They tend to be contracted skeletons, heads facing to the north or north east, mainly on their right sides, faces to the west.  Grave goods consisted of pottery and stone vessels and some models, including one of a papyrus boat made of calcite in grave 322. 

Over two thousand pottery vessels were found at Minshat, 20 of which are certainly Palestinian imports, and a proportion of which date to Naqada IIa to Naqada III and the First Dynasty.  These included Petrie’s R-Ware, P-Ware, D-Ware and W-Ware.  Stone vessels include a number of different forms in hard-stone and calcite. (Wildung 1984).   

Early levels at the site have Maadi type assemblages but were replaced by Upper Egyptian pottery types: “The earliest have been dated to Stufe IIc or IId1 (e.g. early-middle Naqada II) making Minshat the earliest site of the Naqada Culture yet discovered in the Delta” (Wilkinson 1996, p.5).

The site is consistent with the evolving Neolithic farming and trading culture that was developing in Lower Egypt. Wilkinson believes that its location on the ancient Pelusiac branch of the Nile, close to the Mediterranean and on a later principal trade route to southern Palestine indicates that it was probably strategically located to exploit natural trade routes. Wildung sees the sites as “a reloading port between Egypt and Palestine” (1984, p.269).  Wildung believes that the site was occupied by an Egyptian population, on the basis of comparative pottery studies with other Egyptian sites (1984, p.269)

Tell el Farkha

Tell el-Farkha is of particular interest because its stratigraphic sequence spans the Preynastic to the Old Kingdom and it represents a clear break between Predynastic and Protodynastic traditions.  There is an aeolian bed representing settlement abandonment, but occupation is resumed with new pottery fabrics.

Maczynska (2003) has suggested that, on the basis of pottery studies, there are two Lower Egyptian phases represented.  Phase 1 is a characteristic Lower Egyptian Maadi-Buto type assemblage, and Phase 2 has this assemblage but with additional Naqadan types.

Signs of settlement structures have survived.  The most well represented structure were round and oval storage pits, some intersecting with each other, containing black fill and some pottery sherds.  There were also concentrations of small round pits, possibly post holes.  The remains of a round shelter was found, named “Pit 16” which contained a hearth lined with mud-bricks.  There were also furrows outlining rectangular ground plans which may have been structures built of perishable material.  The structures have been divided between the two phases.  Phase 1 has two sub-phases of buildings.  The first is the oldest, containing small round shelters with a hearth inside, made out of organic materials with pits located around them, probably for storage. These storage areas are similar to those at El Omari and Merimde.  The second was more recent and contained rectangular buildings, also made out of organic fabric, which may have been mud-covered with a light roof held on posts set into the floor, with numerous storage pits in the vicinity.  Barley seeds were found at the site. Phase 2 saw the construction of mudbrick buildings with thin walls, and post holes and storage pits.  The excavators have not been able to reproduce the plans (Maczynska 2003).

Pottery from both phases 1 and 2 was similar.  It was hand-made of Nile alluvium with sand or sand and straw temper (mainly marl and sand temper in Phase 2), and was fired in uncontrolled conditions which led to fluctuating colours and uneven walls.  There were three different local types.  The first was made of paste with fine to coarse sand and conspicuous temper.  The second was paste with fine to medium sand and a fine temper.  The third was marl that was sometimes sand-tempered.  It was fairly crude and produced for local use, not trade.  There were no signs of special production techniques.  Forms were varied including small globular jars and D-ware (both exclusive to Phase 1), jars with vertical/concave necks, hole-mouth jars, and rough ware bowls.  New in Phase 2 were jars with wide mouths and rolled or everted rims, with flat or pointed bases similar to Upper Egyptian types known at Hierakonpolis and Lower Egyptian types known from Buto.  Non-local pottery in Phase 2 was similar to Minshat Group I and Buto.  The oldest pottery in Phase 1 was similar to that at Tell el Fara’in (Buto) Phase II, Tell el Iswid Phase A and Tell Ibrahim Awad Phase 7, and has been dated on the basis of comparison to Naqada IIc- IId1. (Maczynska 2003).

Tell Ibrahim Awad

Pottery from Phase A is comparable to that of Tell el-Fara’in (Buto) and is generally labelled Maadi-Buto.  However, the Maadi-Buto tradition vanishes and is replaced by Naqada III types of assemblage.


4.3  Later Neolithic and Chalcolithic: Conclusions

Merimda, el-Omari and the Maadian sites were all sedentary agricultural sites, based on the production of cereal and pulses, and the use of domesticated animals.  All supplemented their diet by hunting and fishing to some extent, although there is much less sign of hunting at el-Omari and fishing at Maadi than at other sites. Burial of the dead took place at all sites, but at Merimda and el-Omari it took place within the settlement with very few grave goods (either during use or when sections of the settlement had been abandoned) and at Maadi a separate burial area was designated, perhaps as a result of influence from Upper Egypt, and increasing numbers of grave goods were included.  Animal burials (particularly dog, sheep/goat) also became a feature of Lower Egyptian cemeteries.  In the entire of Lower Egypt “a total of 600 Maadian tombs has been recovered as opposed to more than 15,000 Predynastic graves in the south” (Midant Reynes 2000, p.53).

4.3.2 Similarities and Differences

The sites all show similarities but all are also clearly different from each other:  “Despite the facts that they almost certainly overlapped each other in time, were not widely separated geographically, and belonged to a recognizably ‘northern Egyptian’ culture circle, the settlements of the Fayum, Merimda, El Omari and Maadi display in every case pronounced individual characteristics which distinguish them shortly from one another and lead inevitably to the conclusion that each was politically, economically and to a great extent culturally and religiously independent of its neighbours” (Hayes 1964, 1965 p.137).  Hayes sees them as townships, each with its own areas under pasture or pastoral use with its own internal management systems.  Hoffman (1979, p.170) makes the point that Egyptian towns and villages were not bound by geographical pressures that might have imposed a certain form on settlement distribution and character in the Cairo and Delta areas:  “Unlike their Upper Egyptian neighbours whose towns, villages and hamlets were strung out like evenly spaced beads on a necklace, parallel to the Nile or along the main desert water courses, the people of Lower Egypt grew up in a world where boundaries were, of necessity, drawn more by social and political convention than by nature”.

All the settlements were located on land that was suitable for construction with wooden posts and reeds:  “With the exception of the somewhat stony surface at Badari, each Predynastic settlement was located on soft or fine-textured semi- or non-consolidated deposits:  Merimda, Hierakonpolis, Armant and Maadi on silts . . . . Nowhere was coarse gravel or bedrock used.  The reason for this apparently deliberate choice was the type of house construction” (Butzer 1966, p.215).

Throughout the Post-Faiyum Neolithic phase, all the sites are marked by increasing complexity, larger and more organized storage facilities, a growing reliance on cultivated plants and domesticated animals, the building of larger settlements which became permanent and ecologically well adapted, the first burials and the first cemeteries, and contact with a wide variety of other sites and areas:  “the mode of interactions among the peoples of the Nile Valley was intensified.  There is a strong suggestion from Maadi, in the form of unusually high purity of the grain stored, that the efficiency of agricultural activities improved (Hassan 1988). There is also “good evidence from several sites for a change from what might have been an inter-village barter system to a more formalised trade.  This change was linked to socio-political developments and was associated with the emergence of craft specialisation” (Hassan 1988, p.159).

4.3.3 Economics

Settlement data in Lower Egypt enables a degree of economic reconstruction not possible in Upper Egypt where the greatest percentage of evidence comes from cemeteries.  A stable economic lifestyle combining agricultural activities with trade or exchange are implied by the organisation of the settlement itself and by the artefactual evidence of increasing links with foreign communities.  

Perez-Lagarcha (1995a, 1995b) suggests that Maadi operated as a trading post, filtering goods from Palestine and the Levant to Upper Egypt, where a demand for prestige goods existed amongst an elite who required the items to reinforce status and position.  In other words, he believes that the wealth of Maadi was based on the wealth and growing elitism of Upper Egypt.

Trade or exchange links are strongly implied by the presence of imports and imitations, from the las follows. 

  • Upper Egypt, Naqada I/IIa,b
    • Rhombic slate palettes
    • Disc-shaped maceheads
    • Diorite jars
    • Black-topped pottery
    • Attempts to copy Naqada pottery
  • Palestine
    • Jars
    • V-shaped bowls
    • Basalt rings
    • Tabular scrapers
    • Flint blades
    • Asphalt
  • Exports appear to include items that are found in Palestine:
  • Lower Egyptian Black Ware
  • Flints
  • Pectoral fin spikes of catfish
  • Asparthia shells

4.3.4 Political Organization and Social Complexity

It is not known what sort of political organisation existed.  There may well have been elites in existence at sites like Sais and Buto, given their importance in late Predynastic times, but there is little evidence to provide any details due to the lack of funerary evidence.

In Lower Egypt, data at present, particularly from funerary contexts, does not suggest any great social complexity, unlike Upper Egyptian data which suggests “status display and rivalry” (Bard 1994) together with political activity and trade/exchange mechanisms particularly for prestige goods.  The Lower Egyptian large sites exploited the Delta ecology very effectively, and were vastly different from the more urban and culturally expressive sites of Naqada I and early Naqada II, perhaps as a result of ecological factors and a lack of competition for land.  Hoffman describes these differences in socio-economic terms: “From a materialistic point of view, the closest contrast between Upper and Lower Egypt at this time lay between a growing mercantilism in the north and a conspicuously consuming, politically orientated society to the south.  In Lower Egypt, trade and metallurgy set the tone at strategically located sites like Maadi, while in Upper Egypt social status, burial, public ritual, and display dominated the Naqadan world view” (Hoffman 1979, p.212). Luxury goods, grave good and decoration were almost completely absent in Lower Egypt until Maadi, where they were still very pale by comparison with material produced by Upper Egypt.

The spread of the Maadian material culture across the Delta suggests a greater uniformity of connections and co-operation across the Delta, which if Schmidt (1996) is right about the twisted blade industry appearing in Mostaggeda may have extended out of the Delta.  Holmes (1989)has identified a number of regional traditions in lithic assemblages in Upper Egypt, and Schmidt (1996)has similarly found regional trends in Lower Egypt, so the degree of uniformity observed should not be exhagerated.

4.3.5 Religion

Increasing interest in religious or spiritual matters is indicated by a growing sophistication in burial practise. Although by no means as vividly expressed as in the south, burial did slowly assume increasing importance in the north, moving out of the settlement into dedicated areas and shifting from graves with no or minimal gravegoods, to graves with increasing quantities and variability of items deposited.  Except in rare cases, the grave goods were no different to artefacts found in the settlement – no special items were manufactured for use as gravegoods.  Some of the ceramics had apparently been used previously and may indicate that the contents of the vessels rather than the vessels themselves were important.

In a consideration of early religion, Hornung (1971) suggests that although lack of symbolism, indicating belief in divine power, cannot be used to indicate a lack of belief in divine power, the lack of animal burials in the Faiyum Neolithic sites, El Omari and Merimde Beni Salama are significant.  Hornung suggests that animal worship became important in later times and its beginnings are visible for the first time in the North in Maadian sites, for example at Maadi and Heliopolis: “the care with which these animals were buried and provided with gravegoods is evidence for a cult of sacred animals or of divine powers in animal form” (Hornung 1971, p.100).  This happened at a time when palettes assumed animal shapes in Upper Egypt and animal burials were also taking place at Badari and Naqada, and a number of writers have suggested that the animal burials and symbolic representations evolved directly into the early Dynastic religions which had a conspicuous animal component.  However, in a recent study of animal burials in predynastic contexts, Flores has challenged this view:  “In the absence of any evidence for predynastic cemeteries dedicated exclusively to the burial of sacred animals, the assumption of reverence for some scholars is based simply on the occurrence of the burials within the confines of human cemeteries and for others on the fact that the animal burials appear to resemble the human burials among which they lay” (Flores 2003, p.2).  Overall, there are some difficulties with an analysis of the Maadi-Buto animal remains because a) the sites are all only partially excavated, b) small samples are involved at each site and c) some of the sites have disturbed stratigraphy, particularly at Heliopolis.  Only Wadi Digla has been excavated to an extent that has provided a representative sample. 

4.3.6 Replacement

Lower Egypt was evolving, albeit slowly, in social terms and possibly, given the rising trade evident with south west Asian countries, in economic terms as well.  However, compared to Upper Egypt its material culture was plain. 

The Maadi-Buto culture did not survive the spread of Naqada II into the north.  The Maadian was the last of the Lower Egyptian Neolithic cultures: “the northward expansion brought the people of the Naqada culture into contact with the Maadian agriculturalists in the north, who formed a buffer zone between Egypt and the Oriental trade networks.” (Midant-Reynes 1992/2000 p.237).  It died out, to be replaced by material culture appearing elsewhere in Egypt:  “At the turning point of Naqada IIc/d, the material appeared at el-Gerza, Haraga, Abusir el-Melek and Minshat Abu Omar, all totally devoid of Maadian elements” (Midant-Reynes 1992/2000 p.220). “Buto, Maadi and other early Egyptian sites may indicate the first stages of changes in which Lower and upper Egyptian communities began to participate in the same ideological systems, and this process seems to have occurred in the context of increasing functional differentiation, even if the level of this differentiation, and the growing functional interdependence of which it is a part, remains at a comparatively low level” (Wenke 1991, p.304). 

Based on evidence at Maadi, it was once generally assumed that occupation at Lower Maadian sites had died out entirely, while at the same time new sites were established all over Lower Egypt.  However, more recent evidence has modified that view:  “at the exceptional site of Buto, there are seven successive archaeological strata in which the transition between the Maadian phases and the overlapping Protodynastic can be observed.  During this transition, there is a perceptible increase in Naqada pottery styles, while the Maadian pottery progressively disappears.  Thus the end of the Maadian culture was not an abrupt phenomenon, as the site of Maadi would suggest, but was instead a process of cultural assimilation” (Midant Reynes 2000, p.60).  This is born out by other sites that appear to have survived the transition from Maadi-Buto to Naqada II components – including Tell el Farkha.

It is also possible that there had already been a greater amount of contact between Upper and Lower Egypt than previously thought.  Diane Holmes’s study of Egyptian ceramics from Badari identified Lower Egyptian types, and it may be that a similar domestic ceramic tradition was shared by both Upper and Lower Egypt.  It is certainly the case that Upper Egyptian vessels do occur at Maadi and other Maadian sites from an early stage.  The picture of Egypt as a culturally bipartite country may not be as clear as it has seemed:  “Thus a picture seems to be emerging in which there was a greater degree of contact then previously supposed between the regions of Egypt, even during Naqada I” (Wilkinson 1996, p.6).

Perez Lagarcha (1995a, 1995b) argues that the appearance of Naqadan elements at the same time as Maadi’s decline was as a direct result of an increased demand for Levantine products – to the extent that Upper Egyptian trading posts were set up in the Eastern Delta, for example at Minshat Abu Omar, to build direct trade relationships with the Levant rather than relying on Maadi and Buto to supply the items.  He suggests that Buto could have survived because of its location near to the coast (in Predynastic times), but that Maadi would not have survived because it was not located in a sufficiently strategic position.  Mark (1997) points to the increased influence of Egypt in Palestine at the end of Naqada IIc/Maadi-Buto, visible at Ain Besor, Tel Erani and Azor, probably due to increasing trading requirements – for copper, perhaps, or for items from Mesopotamia who appear to have traded via a sea and land trade routes that included Northern Syria and Palestine (p.126).

This process of replacement will be discussed in more detail in the next section, but it is quite clear that it was one of the processes that eventually led, deliberately or fortuitously depending on your point of view, to the situation that permitted unification at the end of, or during, Naqada III.