Egypt: Naqada, A Feature Tour Egypt Story


By Marie Parsons

Map of the area of Naqada

Map of the area of Naqada

Naqada was the necropolis of the town of Nubt, the town of gold, known in Greek as Ombos. It had been devoted to the god Set, or Set of Nubt, Nubty, as he is called in the Pyramid Texts, and as evidenced by inscribed blocks found at Naqada.

Seth was thought to have been born in the Naqada region and had been connected with the kingship from Early Dynastic times at least, appearing on the macehead of King Scorpion. Along with Horus, Set was embodied in the person of the king. First Dynasty queens held the title "she who sees Horus and Set," and the Second Dynasty king Peribsen emphasized Set as his protector. There are ruins of the temple dedicated to Set which dates to the 18th Dynasty in New Kingdom times.

Map of the region around Naqada

Map of the region around Naqada

Naqada lies on the west bank of the Nile, downstream from Luxor (ancient Thebes), midway between Qurna and Dendara, and opposite Qena where the Nile bends. It stood opposite the entrance to the Wadi Hammamat, one of the relatively few direct accesses to the Red Sea coast and the gold reserves of the eastern desert. Naqada and Koptos on the opposite bank were thus in good position to be the centers of Predynastic gold trade in the region.

The majority of Predynastic sites in Naqada region belong to this culture. The sites range in area from a few thousand square meters to 3 hectares. The settlements probably housed 50 to 250 persons. Small postholes and the wooden stub of a post suggest flimsy wickerwork around a frame of wooden posts. Many dwellings were probably constructed from Nile mud and desert surface rubble.

The houses contained hearths and storage pits. Graves in some cases were dug right into the floor of the houses. Trash areas were interspersed with domestic dwellings. The houses included animal enclosures.

A portion of the site was termed "South Town" which was a walled town built of brick connected to a series of cemeteries. One of these, called cemetery T, seems to have been a rulers cemetery, as the graves were lined with brick and were large and well-furnished.

A staggering total of 2,149 graves were discovered, packed into approximately 17 acres on the low desert overlooking the Nile Valley. Graves had been placed side by side, virtually saturating the area with tombs.

The study of the burials and their goods indicate the early stages of the Egyptian belief in an afterlife. Most of the inhabitants were buried in simple rectangular pits three to four feet deep, which were roofed with crude ceilings of interwoven branches and brush and capes of low mounds of dirt. The dead were laid on reed mats in a contracted, fetal position, reclining on their left side with legs flexed and arms bent, hands in front of the face or neck. With few exceptions, the head lay at the southern end of the tomb with the face pointing to the west. The deceased were accompanied by grave offerings reflecting their relative wealth and aspects of their daily life: tools like flint knives, scrapers and arrowheads; green slate grinding palettes with pigment stones; copper punches, awls and adzes, ornaments (some imported) such as shell and stone beads, containers crafted from stone, and a variety of fine, handmade polished red ware and black-topped red-ware jars, baked clay figurines, amulets and carved ivory plaques.

Mummification was not yet practiced at this time, but the hot dry desert sands preserved flesh and organic parts. Both men and women had long hair which they braided. Men were beardless and both men and women short in stature by modern Western standards.

Several graves were robbed of valuable objects like personal ornaments long before the first King ever took the throne. The looters thus had to be familiar with the funerary customs and burials.

Tombs varied from humble pits just large enough to accommodate a single body plus a few pots, to large brick-lined sepulchers 13 feet by 9 feet. One grave contained more than 80 pottery storage jars, placed in a very specific manner as opposed to being haphazard. The northern end of the grave contained polished red or black-topped red ware, filled with gray ashes. In some cases a layer of some vegetable paste, perhaps a libation of thick beer, was poured on top of the ashes.

The southern end of the grave contained the wavy-handled jars. These were filled with a scented vegetable fat in the earliest burials, and gradually toward the end of the Predynastic period, these jars were filled with mud alone. Perhaps this indicated a social stratification of the "rich getting richer and poor getting poorer" type. Body ornaments such as necklaces or bracelets were placed around the necks and arms of the deceased, while slate palettes, baked clay figurines, stone vases and knives, also appear but are not as carefully placed as were the storage jars.

One last connection to the development of Egyptian kingship that comes from Naqada should be mentioned here, especially with the current fascination for the Scorpion King and the continuing study of the earliest periods of Egyptian history. A sherd fragment, now on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, shows what is interpreted to be a representation of the distinctive red crown of the king. The sherd was found at Naqada itself, and formed part of a large black-topped red-ware vase dated from late Naqada I, Red was a color associated with Set. The drawing closely resembles the representations of the red crown Narmer wears as shown on his macehead and his palette.

The Red crown had later been considered the crown associated with Lower Egypt and the Delta. Yet here it was, in Predynastic times, linked with an Upper Egypt center. Could Narmer have completed a transfer expansion of power over Egypt which involved the Red Crown becoming associated with the Delta? There is more history to be found as work continues in Egypt.

See also:


- Egypt before the Pharaohs by Michael A. Hoffman

- Flinders Petrie: A life in Archaeology by Margaret S. Drower

- Early Dynastic Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

- Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization by Barry Kemp

- Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses by George