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 from Qaw 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. Artefacts 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.
1 Fine pottery vase from el-Badari which was repaired in antiquity. (British Museum EA59691)
2 Ivory figure of a woman with incised features, from el-Badari. (British Museum EA 59648)
3 Black repousee vase with handles, from el-Badari. (Petrie Museum UC9577)
4 Rough human figure of pottery, from Mostagedda. (British Museum EA62211)
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.
1 Pottery bowl with hippopotamus figures decorating the rim from Matmar. (British Museum EA63408)
2 Hippopotamus-shaped vessel carved from elephant ivory and probably used as a cosmetic container, from Mostagedda. (British Museum EA63057)
At Mostagedda, Deir Tasa and Matmar there are small cemetery sites dating to the Amratian phase (Naqada I) of Predynastic culture.
There are also many Old Kingdom tombs at el-Hammamiya. A new flight of stone steps lead up the slope to three decorated tombs, belonging to the reign of Khufu, which were originally recorded by Steindorff in 1913-1914.
The first tomb, facing the top of the steps belongs to Kakhent, who held the titles ‘Chief of the Tens of Upper Egypt’ and ‘Overseer of works in the nomes of Upper Egypt’. Kakhent’s wife was Ify who is named as ‘King’s daughter, Prophetess of Neith North of the Wall’. The tomb contains an entrance passage decorated with marsh scenes as well as Kakhent with his wife, son and daughter seated at a table. The main hall of the tomb is decorated with scenes on both left and right side walls. There are reliefs of boats containing the deceased and his wife, scribes writing accounts, offering bringers and cattle. Some scenes still have good colour. The hall also contains several statues.
The second tomb on an upper level also belongs to another Kakhent, ‘Chief of the Tens of Upper Egypt’ and ‘Overseer of the Guilds of Upper Egypt’. His wife is named as Khentkaus, ‘Prophetess of Hathor and Seth?’. The entrance passage contains the usual Old Kingdom offering scenes and a statue of the deceased. Inside the main hall are several funerary scenes and although badly damaged, it is still possible to read some of the texts.
Below the tomb of Kakhent and Ify there is another unfinished tomb belonging to Nemu. The entrance hall shows the deceased as a priest wearing a leopard skin, a wig and holding a Sekhem sceptre, with his wife and three children. A statue niche containing his statue can be seen on the back wall.