3.0 Conclusions, Research and Projects

3.1 Conclusions

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 and probable explanations, and these need to be looked at in more detail in a revision of this website.

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.


1) Palaeolithic

  • 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.

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) 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.
  • 4) Maadi-Buto
  • 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

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) Overall

  • 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 Faiyum Neolithic, Cairo and the 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. 

3.2 Research

The research projects listed below are suggested by comparing the questions suggested by the synthesis made in Part 3 with the answers available in the published work.   They do not reflect the research interests of specific Universities or attempt any cost benefit analysis.

3.2.1 Research Projects

Top Priority

Predictive Modelling
A statistically-based Predictive Modelling project to determine the likely location of new sites in the Faiyum and Cairo areas.

Rescue Archaeology
There are a number of sites in the Faiyum and Cairo areas that are under imminent threat from land reclamation and urbanisation.  Survey and excavation of these areas might provide additional data for researchers, before they are destroyed forever.

Complete Review of Data using Modern Techniques
A complete review of the Qarunian and Neolithic Faiyum and Cairo data using new techniques would help to establish the origins of agriculture, the processes of domestication and detailed profiling of the area as a whole for purposes of comparison with other regions.

Review of Epipalaeolithic Assemblages in Faiyum
A complete review of all the known Epipalaeolithic assemblages from the Faiyum would help to clarify the Faiyum and supply information for comparison with other Epipalaeolithic industries.  In an ideal world this would require synthesis of all published data including the lithics, fauna and flora, with particular reference to settlement functionality and economic indicators.  As part of the project, a spatial analysis of settlements would be useful, together with a synthesis of Epipalaeolithic lithic technology with a view to establishing a new Epipalaeolithic series of typologies based on Egyptian material, using Forde-Johnson 1959, Tixier 1963 and Holmes 1969 as baselines.  The aim would be to improve our understanding of the Epipalaeolithic of Egypt in terms of its similarities and differences (functionally, typologically, geologically and geographically).  Additionally it would be useful to provide a tie-in to the Kharga, Dakhleh and Farafra Oasis projects with a view to clarifying Epipalaeolithic industries of the Western Desert in an oasis environment.

Comparison of Epipalaeolithic Faiyum (Qarunian) with other Egyptian and North African Late and Upper Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic
The late stages of the Palaeolithic in Egypt appear to share features, but the relationships between them are poorly understood.  The existence of a number of different late Palaeolithic sites with different cultural titles (Late Palaeolithic, Final Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic, Terminal Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic) further add a degree of confusion, as there seems to be little attempt to define what these terms, derived from European prehistory, mean in the context of Egyptian assemblages.  A complete review of all later Palaeolithic assemblages with a view to clarifying assemblage characters and the relationships between them would be considerably useful as a way of learning more about Egypt at this period.  A comparison of Qarunian and Sebilian assemblages would be most invaluable.

Clarification of Neolithic phases in Faiyum and Merimde against the ceramic evidence
Most of the analyses taking place in recent years have focused on the lithics.  Clarification of both the Faiyum Neolithic and the Moerian, and Merimde Ben Salama might be achieved by a comparison of the ceramics, and a comparison of these results against already completed lithic studies.

Consideration of Faiyum against Western Desert Oases
A number of exciting projects in the Western Desert are producing very useful information about prehistoric and early Predynastic Egypt.  Tying in Faiyum studies to the Western Desert Oases projects would help to elucidate both the profile of Egypt at this time, and the relationships between these areas.

Additional Excavation of Existing Sites / Rescue
It would be useful to re-excavate any partially excavated sites with a view to obtaining data which may not have been searched for in early excavations (like macroscopic botanical information).  However, see Appendix I for a status on the status of sites and their availability for additional investigation.

A comparative study of Bir Kiseiba/Nabta with Faiyum Neolithic
Wendorf, Schild and Close (1984) suggest that evidence from Bir Kiseiba and Nabta in SE Egypt, indicates that (possibly) domesticated animals, pottery and other cultural elements, usually associated with early agriculture, developed independently in NE Africa approximately as early as they did in SW Asia.  They also argue for at least a partially sedentary existence in this early Neolithic phase (c.8200-7900BP).  If this is true, then the Bir Kiseiba and Nabta areas are potentially interesting for research into early agricultural adopters who were not sedentary.  The Faiyum was occupied at around the same times at Bir Kiseiba and Nabta.  Together with evidence from Nubia they may provide an insight into how and why the initial and indigenous development of agriculture in Egypt occurred, and what relationship it had to N.E. African and Near Eastern industries.

Re-evaluation of all Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic Data in NE Africa against the Faiyum/Cairo Data
A number of writers have pointed to the need for a complete evaluation of the significance of the Faiyum data for understanding the origins of NE African agriculture.  Depending upon the ultimate origins of these cultures, the Egyptian material may be early or late in an African sequence, or have occurred independently of it.

The Cairo Museum – Faiyum Lithics and Merimden Artefacts
The way in which the Faiyum Neolithic and Merimden artifacts are displayed in the Cairo Museum, raises the question of whether they have received any formal treatment at all.  It is clear that if they have not yet been catalogued, photographed and drawn, this should be done.  The work could facilitate effective presentation in the new Cairo Museum.  At the same time, identifying Faiyum material in other museums and publishing them on the Internet would create a cost effective study resource.

Naqada II in Lower Egypt
A focus on Naqada II encroachment on Lower Egypt, with a view to understanding the process of change at this time throughout Egypt by comparing Maadian sites with levels dating to this time with Naqada II sites that appear in Lower Egypt. 

The Maadi-Buto sites include both settlement and cemetery sites, which could be immensely useful, potentially, for developing a coherent picture of both secular and non secular elements of the Maadi-Buto way of life.  One of the difficulties in comparative studies of Upper and Lower Egypt has been the dearth of settlement sites in Upper Egypt and of burial sites in Lower Egypt, and the absence of co-located burial and settlement sites in both.  The Maadi Buto sites could help to build a more complete picture.

Regional Studies to contrast settlement traditions in Upper and Lower Egypt
Although Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt look different on the surface, this may be due to the consistency of the funerary record in Upper Egypt and its absence in Lower Egypt.  Lower Egyptian and Upper Egyptian secular records, however, show far more regional variation and may show greater north/south similarities.  To understand the relationship between Upper and Lower Egypt it is important to clarify the precise nature of the settlement and economic profiles.

Additional Field Survey of Faiyum with a view to clarifying the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic phases and perhaps discovering later sites
Additional surveys of the Faiyum with the objective of obtaining more sites would help to clarify earlier Palaeolithic, Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic phases, and the relationship between the Qarunian and the Faiyum Neolithic (if any) and the Faiyum Neolithic and the Moerian.  It might also help to clarify links with different sites outside the Faiyum, particularly in the Western Desert and western Delta areas. Areas around fossil beaches and the channel of Bar Yussef in prehistoric times would be obvious places to search.  Additionally, it might help to identify any signs of sites following the Moerian in the Faiyum.  This would enable a much more reliable review of the Faiyum data:  “An analytical study of all the materials coming from the Fayum area will certainly suggest a complete reconstruction of the agricultural societies of the Fayum depression from Epipalaeolithic to Early Dynastic times and its evolution” (Casini p.203).  However, the risk is that the surveys already carried out have identified all or most of what is left to find.

Hollow-Based Arrowheads
Arrowheads, particularly of the hollow-based form, are found all over Egypt and Africa, as well as in the Near East.  A study focusing on these arrowheads, together with the assemblages in which they were found, might clarify the relationships between different industries and cultures in which they appear.

Prehistoric and Predynastic Religion and Symbolism
It is becoming clearer what some of the socio-political changes were and what sort of role the economy had.  Religious changes have not been studied in depth, in spite of the fact that cemeteries were the main form of information in Upper Egypt.  I believe that there is much more work that can be carried out about ritual and symbolic behaviour in early Egyptian contexts, particularly in Lower Egypt.

Revision of Lower, Middle and Late Palaeolithic Industries in and around the Faiyum
The Palaeolithic in the Faiyum and elsewhere in northern Egypt has been very poorly described and synthesised. However it is done, a more satisfactory synthesis is required before an understanding of the pre-Epipalaeolithic circumstances governing the development of the area can be achieved.  Sandford and Arkell found numerous artefacts in and around the Faiyum in their 1929 survey (Sandford and Arkell 1929, p34) but were hampered by antiquated understanding of different artefact types and assemblages, and used old interpretations (for example, in the Late Palaeolithic, Vignard’s version of the Sebilian and early interpretations of the Tardenoisian) to describe and compare the Palaeolithic artefacts that they found.  Because the Survey placed artefacts in a geological context, their interpretation becomes even more valuable to gain an understanding of this pre-Epipalaeolithic phase and its successors.  Caton-Thompson also found pre-Epipalaeolithic artefacts, which she interpreted as a late interpretation of the Levalloisian, but her sample was too small to be statistically valid and therefore no longer appears in descriptions of the Faiyum.  Reconsideration of the existing artefacts and work to locate more, would be immensely valuable for evaluating the extent and form of the Palaeolithic occupation of the Faiyum.

Clarification of the Helwan and the University of Rome Epipalaeolithic Assemblages
Debono’s 1948 excavation of Helwan has not yet been published in full, but it would be useful to study the material in order to clarify its relationship with other Epipalaeolithic industries within Egypt, and with Near Eastern and other industries.

Faunal assemblages of Faiyum Neolithic as represented at Koms K and W
No formal study of the faunal remains from the sites has been carried out, although top level identifications have been made, and analysis of the lacustrine component of the diet has been made (Brewer 1989).  Research in this area could provide information about the origins of domesticated species and the evolution of agriculture as a whole. This would probably require additional excavation at Kom W (Kom K is no longer available having been lost to agricultural activity).

Contact Mechanisms between the Faiyum and sites in the southern Cairo area and the Delta
There are clear links between Faiyum A sites and Western Delta sites like Merimda and El Omari.  Research into the connections between them may begin to explain the development of Lower Egypt’s agricultural economy, and its possibly early role in the eventual development of Predynastic Egypt following the spread of Naqada II material culture.

Contact Mechanisms between the Faiyum, southern Cairo and Western Delta with sites much further afield (e.g. Mediterranean, Red Sea, Sinai, Levant, and Africa) in the Neolithic period
Research into the sources of these materials and the mechanisms that account for their presence in the Faiyum, southern Cairo area and Western Delta may help to explain the development of Lower Egyptian economics and its role in the eventual spread of Naqada II material culture.  This would need to be done in conjunction with a consideration of the roles played Eastern Delta, Western Desert and possible Eastern Desert sites.

Analysis of Skeletal Remains, Lower Egypt
Burials containing preserved bodies have been found in a number of Lower Egyptian sites, but these have not been analysed.  Analysis of the human remains would give vital information about the physical characteristics of the Neolithic Egyptians of Lower Egypt, together with details about health, medical details, and lifestyle.  It is possible that analysis could also result in information about the genetic relationship of Lower Egyptian communities with Near Eastern, Upper Egyptian and other populations.  Again, this has been relegated to a low priority position due to the fragmentary nature of the remains surviving in museums, and the fact that provenances have often been poorly recorded, or have become jumbled in storage.

Dating Projects
Additional carbon 14 dates are needed to clarify the chronologies of Prdynastic Egypt.  In addition, Dendro dating may be of some use:  “Dendrochronology has some possibilities in Egypt, because wood preserves so well there, but the many logs and artefacts made of Levantine conifers have never been systematically analysed” (Wenke 1991, p.289)

Clearly, it would be of considerable value to excavate and publish the remaining areas of El-Omari that have not yet been touched, in order to clarify the nature and chronology of the site itself, and in order to establish its possible relationships with the Helwan Epipalaeolithic, Merimde and Maadi.  However, all that remains of El Omari is Gebel Hof, and this is under military control, so unavailable for analysis. 


3.2.2 Online Publication and Study Resources

While this paper was designed to prove prehistoric and Predynastic background to the current Faiyum interests of the University College London, it is part of an ongoing Online publication programme, providing study resources at the undergraduate level

Potential Projects

Online Database of Radiocarbon Dates
An online database of uncalibrated radiocarbon dates for Egypt (and North East Africa, if appropriate)

Online Gallery of Egyptian Prehistoric and Early Predynastic Images
There are far too images published for direct comparison, presumably because of the high costs of publication.  Most students are working without directly comparable images of artefacts, excavation plans and maps.  This means that learning about sites, industries, cultures and economies is based upon museum collections world wide and published information of variable quality and availability.  The Petrie Museum has made a start in this direction, but relies on its own collections which do not represent all Egyptian sites and industries.  This would be a massive project, but worth the effort.

Online Repository of Unpublished Works
Creation of a University-based and student-sponsored online “paper-lab” of good unpublished articles on particular subjects within the University’s areas of specialisation, divided by geographical area (e.g. Faiyum) by industry (e.g. comparative studies in N.E.Africa) and by subject matter (e.g. State Formation).

Could include unpublished excavation results, authorised personal communications, high quality student submissions (papers, dissertations), and unsolicited submissions etc.

My Other Websites:

My other related sites are at: (Prehistoric and Predynastic Egypt) (Egyptology Portal)  (Small gallery of photos of objects from the Predynastic) (Egyptology News - updated daily)  (Photos of Egypt - Nile, Faiyum, Western and Eastern Deserts) (A summary of the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic in the Levant)