3.0 Conclusions, Research and Projects
What conclusions can be made from this study? My hope when starting out was that some form of continuity or identifiable process could be observed – not for mere convenience but with a view to constructing models of Egyptian socio-economic development and relationships.
This has not happened. What I actually found was that the area displays conspicuous fragmentation in terms of settlement patterns and subsistence strategies, with discontinuities and abandonment featuring more than once. There are a number of possible reasons for this, including the climate at one stage to the economy at another, but the picture we are left with is one of three main zones (Faiyum, southern Cairo and Western Delta) with shifting occupation patterns.
The main conclusions that I have made on the basis of my research are as follows. They are presented in chronological order and, like the material they deal with, they are somewhat fragmentary as a result.
- The Palaeolithic of the Faiyum and elsewhere in northern Egypt appears to have been described in passing in a number of works, but I have found nothing that brings this information together, and the descriptive information itself appears to be of very variable quality. I have been unable to form any firm conclusions about the Palaeolithic of Lower Egypt so far.
3.1.2) The Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic
- In the Faiyum, both the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic are each of considerable interest. However, they are divided from each other by 1000 years. The Faiyum Neolithic and later Neolithic Moerian are also divided by a significant time gap. In all cases I have become convinced that there is no clearly observable local succession taking place, and do not, for example, see the Faiyum Neolithic evolving from the Qarunian. I do believe that shared cultural features from Egypt, Africa and the Levant find their ways into the different industries and economies. It becomes important, therefore, to consider the Faiyum not in isolation as a regional identity, but to compare and contrast it with other Egyptian regions and nearby African and Levantine cultures with a view to developing a much better understanding – not just of one area but of the dynamics governing social and economic activities within Egypt.
3.1.3) Merimda Beni Salama and the Omarian
- These two important sites in the Cairo area are both isolated and unique. They are isolated in the sense that neither site has any directly comparable and contemporary parallels in the area, although they both have layers that may correspond to each other and to Maadi. They are both unique in that nothing quite like either of them has ever been found, probably due to differential survival. Their almost unique position means that it is irresponsible to draw broad conclusions on the basis of information found at the sites because it is impossible to know whether or not they are typical of their era. Their temporal context is therefore at best very poorly understood.
3.1.4) Faiyum Predynastic
- There are still too few artefacts and no actual sites within the Faiyum that are clearly dated to the “Predynastic” or Naqadan phases to draw any firm conclusions. However, it is clear that some form of occupation continued after the Neolithic and before the Old Kingdom.
- The Maadi-Buto sites include both settlement and cemetery sites, which is potentially immensely useful for developing a coherent picture of both secular and non secular elements of the Maadi-Buto way of life. However, it seems to me that many rather optimistic conclusions have been drawn on the basis of these sites. For example, although it is possible that the donkey could have enabled direct trade with the Levant, it is more likely that foreign materials filtered through via local trade mechanisms with the Eastern Delta or by a sea route to northern Syria. Similarly, although some writers put much credence on the view that there may have been palace-fašade architecture at Buto, even though sign of it exists, it seems far more likely that there are other explanations for the tiny number of so-called mosaic nails found. Finally, the Maadi-Buto sites are still only small in number – and are therefore a poor basis for statistically significant conclusions about their nature, or their involvement in the impact of state formation on Lower Egypt
3.1.6) State Formation, Consolidation and Unification
- The impacts of state formation and unification are archaeologically interpreted from Maadi-Buto sites and the Naqadan features at the sites which replaced them. Sites like Buto, Minshat Abu Omar, Gerzeh and Memphis make up the bulk of the discourse. However, other information is brought to bear on the issues from outside direct archaeological contexts. I am by no means confident of their value or the reliability of their interpretation. The unprovenanced palettes, for example, are a controversial contribution, as are the dynastic historical accounts. I also believe that the processes of unification have until recently often been over-simplified by some writers and that the dynamics of state formation in the south and its impact on the north are very poorly understood even prior to the appearance of Naqadan elements in Lower Egyptian.
3.1.7) Top Level Methodology
- The three areas discussed (Faiyum, Cairo and the western Delta) demonstrate the value of regional studies which reveal precise local conditions and human adaptation to them. I believe that by comparing detailed regional studies across Egypt we can begin to develop a satisfactory understanding of prehistoric Egypt. There is a strong case for comparative regional studies to form a major part of future research into the prehistory of Egypt.
- The Faiyum, southern Cairo and the Western Delta share a long past, which is visible in the archaeological record. Overall it is perfectly obvious from these remains that the area a) represents a discontinuous and rather fragmented material record marked by temporal gaps and changes in assemblages b) does not lend itself to simple interpretation or the establishment of simple models. Depending on your viewpoint this is either good or bad:
- Bad: It is not possible to create a narrative account of the area’s occupation, which leaves appearing very fragmented
- Good: It suggests numerous areas of research to answer questions not just about this region but about all the regions of Egypt with a view to understand their relationships, and consequently of how Egypt developed culturally and economically at different periods of time
Clarification of the Faiyumian, southern Cairo and Western Delta data would help to build a picture of how Egyptian societies responded at different periods, what sort of relationships existed between different areas and countries, and how the Egyptian state was formed.
I have tried to bring together information from many of the important texts that have been published on these subjects, but the real task for archaeologists operating in Egypt will be to identify key areas required for further investigation that will help to cast light on these themes, to ensure that research takes place, and to constantly review and revise existing proposals in the light of new information.