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El Badari Region & El Hammamiya

On the east bank of the Nile at the edge of the eastern desert between Akhmim and Asyut, are a series of cemeteries which were investigated by Petrie between 1922 and 1931. These ancient burial grounds stretch fromQaw El Kebir in the south to Matmar in the north and served as burial grounds for the inhabitants of this region of Middle Egypt from Predynastic times right through to the Roman era. The whole area is generally known as the El Badari region and encompasses cemeteries at El Hammamiya, El Badari, Mostagedda, Deir Tasa and Matmar.

Many of the sites were excavated during the early part of the 20th century by Petrie, Guy Brunton, Gertrude Caton-Thompson and others under Petrie’s direction. The region’s main importance was that the finds from these areas form the original basis for dating the Badarian Period (c5500 to c4000BC) which at the time constituted the earliest phase of Egyptian Predynastic history. The area covers 35km from south to north at the edge of the valley plain and includes around 7000 recorded Tombs. Artifacts found during excavations were varied. A distinctive pottery type was identified – especially black-topped, polished red vessels which Petrie named Badarian ware. Terracotta vessels and stone vases, ivory figurines, slate palettes and large quantities of flint tools were also found around many of the graves.

From these excavated objects archaeologists have gained much information about the Badarian Culture. The people were early farmers in the Nile Valley, possibly originating from an area of Upper Sudan (suggested by pottery styles). Skeletal remains suggest that they were a tall people who wore their hair in plaits and garments woven from flax or grass fibres and animal skins. They were also hunters and fishermen, herded sheep and cattle and cultivated cereals such as emmer and barley as well as lentils and tubers to supplement their diet.

Although we do not have any remains of dwellings, post holes, pits and ash hearths have been found at the edge of the valley. They stored their food in large upright bins or jars placed in holes in the ground. The Badarian people were the first in Egypt to manufacture metal objects in the form of copper beads and pins but they used flint and stone tools to create the beautiful pottery we see today in museums. The best known pottery of this period is the black-topped and burnished wares which was carried on into the Naqada Periods. They were influenced by the world around them, producing textured pottery in the form of baskets and gourds and vessels in animal form.

Much of the knowledge we have of Predynastic burials comes from the cemeteries in Upper and Middle Egypt, while Lower Egypt has primarily revealed settlement sites from the period. In the early 1900s Flinders Petrie was instrumental in setting up a framework for dating the middle to late Predynastic Period, from pottery and flints found in graves in the Naqada region of Upper Egypt (sequence dating). He named these periods of chronology Naqada I and II, which are now more commonly known as the Amratian and Gerzean periods. When Guy Brunton and Gertrude Caton-Thompson excavated at El Hammamiya during the 1920s their main aim was to confirm the relationship between Badarian and Naqada culture, which they did when they found Badarian levels below that of the Naqada period level. In recent investigations at El Hammamiya, Diane Holmes has discovered a settlement containing small huts, thought to be animal shelters, dating from Badarian to Naqada II periods.

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