Regional Differences

Appendix E:   Regional Variation in Egypt

The following summarises some of the main sources for regional variation in Upper and Lower Egypt.  Understanding the degree to which Egypt’s material culture was or was not homogenous is important in understanding the processes of state formation, consolidation and unification.

Kemp’s analysis of the Upper Egyptian cemetery sites Mahansa and el-Amra B (1982) provided evidence of considerable local variation.  Kemp focused on funerary ceramics.

Holmes (1989) studied lithics in Middle and Upper Egypt and concluded that there was considerable regional difference between assemblages.

Friedman (1994) studied settlement pottery from three Upper Egyptian sites and has demonstrated quite clearly that local variation is clearly visible.

Kohler (1993, 1995) has suggested that the appearance of a ceramic tradition connected with cemeteries in Upper Egypt has effectively masked the greater similarities of domestic ceramics throughout Egypt – a distortion leading to the identification of two cultures rather than one regionally-varied material culture.  This point is reinforced by Kemp’s suggestion (1989, p.37) that there is no evidence to indicate that the language used throughout Egypt was not the same one.

Schmidt (1996) studied lithics from the Delta and compared them with some Upper/Middle Egyptian sites.  He found that there were clear signs of regional differentiation in lithic groupings and that the presence of distincitive Lower Egyptian lithic types as far south as Mostagedda indicate the potential for a wider distribution of secular type tools and artefacts than previously considered.  This complements Kohler’s findings.

Wilkinson (1996) points out that because it is governed by tradition and belief, funerary pottery is likely to be more uniform that domestic ceramics.  Because most Upper Egyptian sites to be excavated have been cemeteries it is possible that this has led to a misleading view of Upper Egyptian culture as homogenous.  Wilkinson’s study of six different sites throughout Egypt has also suggested that chronologically, there is a need to develop regional sequences because a “one size fits all” scheme mis-represents the evidence.

Wilkinson (1999, 2001 p.45) also points out that the processes leading to consolidation and unification did not affect all regions within Egypt to the same extend and that local and regional factors would have had different impacts on different areas and at different sites.  He suggests that influential factors would have been economic resources, topography, communications and distance from the main centres of power.

Takamiya (2003) has identified variation between communities in the use of symbolic systems as represented by prestige goods in Naqada I-IIa/b.  He believes that the restriction of important symbols of power exclusively to large communities in Naqada IIc/d shows that prestige goods were now being monopolized by those communities with power.

Finally, some writers have worked backward from Early Dynastic times to try and understand the profile of Egypt during Late Predynastic times and have suggested that there is strong evidence for the predynastic existence of Nomes – clearly defined districts which in Dynastic times served as administrative zones but in Predynastic times might well have been regional polities or small states (e.g. Carneiro 1981, p.50; Trigger 1983, p.15; Butzer 1976).  In Dynastic times these were very regionally distinct, with their own deities and their own traditions, but at the same time they emphasise the underlying sameness of religious thought and expression.  In the concept of the Nome, both the overall similarities of Egypt and the regional differences can be clearly detected.  This may very well have been true of predynastic contexts as well.