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View the Printer Friendly Version of this Page KHD AND EGYPTIAN STATE FORMATION
Egyptian state formation, is often correlated with the unification of Upper (Nile Valley) and Lower Egypt (Delta), however, the process of state formation starts possibly as early as the Nagada I Period and continues into the Old Kingdom. The point at which Egypt changed from a prestate/chiefdom society to a state is usually regarded as being the change from the Predynastic to the Dynastic. However, the theoretical concept of prestate and state is not this simple, and there are many stages in statehood, from the developed chiefdom, through the proto-state and incipient state phases to the consolidated state. Also, the development is not a multilateral social development from on one stage to the other, rather an organic development, which is not necessarily contemporaneous in all regions of Egypt. Therefore, when there are proto-states in the Nagada and Hierakonpolis regions, there may have been developed chiefdoms in the Memphite region and areas of the Delta.

Many of the early theories pertaining to state formation were based on the royal and religious iconography occurring from the Nagada II Period onwards and also on later texts. Early studies regarding the biology of the First Egyptians focused on reducing physical descriptions of Nile Valley populations to a statistical number for use in classification criteria. These early works did not provide an adaptionist model of human behaviour but described the Nile Valley populations in terms of migration and superiority of ‘races’. In the early 20th Century, W.M.F. Petrie, Prehistoric Egypt (London, 1920) described how a ‘Dynastic-race’ invaded Upper Egypt and that these people became the driving force behind the conquest by Upper Egypt of Lower Egypt. He based his theory on Egyptian texts about the Unification of the Two Lands and later refined it with the war-like scenes on the ceremonial palettes. These texts, however, are not from the period in question but date from later times. This controversial theory remained in use until the 1960's with W.B. Emery Archaic Egypt (London, 1961); Excavations at Sakkara: Great Tombs of the First Dynasty (London, 1954) and E.J. Baumgartel The Cultures of Prehistoric Egypt (London, 1955) as its main advocates. From the 1960's onwards, the idea of an invading master-race being responsible for all cultural changes declined, being discredited by researchers like A.J. Arkell & P.J. Ucko ‘Review of Predynastic development in the Nile Valley’, Current Anthropology 6: 145-166, (1965). Archaeologists including M.A. Hoffman, Egypt Before the Pharaohs (New York, 1981), B. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation (London, 1989) and F.A. Hassan ‘The Predynastic of Egypt’, Journal of World Prehistory 2(2): 135-185, (1988), started looking at internal factors to explain early Egyptian state formation. However, many researchers still adhered to the text-based statement of Upper Egypt conquering Lower Egypt and being the main instigator of cultural change. This theory is often stimulated by the wealth of information from Upper Egypt and the paucity of information from Lower Egypt. Each of these researchers brought in or augmented specific aspects of interpretative archaeology, with M. Hoffman bringing in fieldwork based in a New Archaeology oriented approach and F.A. Hassan’s studies on the environment. The work of W. Kaiser ‘Zur inneren chronologies der Naqadakultur’, Archaeologia Geographica 6: 69-77, (1957), on early Egyptian chronology is still the backbone of current research, although this has recently been updated by S. Hendrickx ‘The relative chronology of the Naqada culture: problems and possibilities’, Aspects of Early Egypt (London, 1996): 32-69.

In the last twenty years, a steady flow of increasing information on Lower Egypt (surveys in the northeast Delta) and the surroundings deserts has broken the fixation on Upper Egypt and has allowed more inclusive interpretative theories. Recently a new generation of researchers have added their ideas to the study of early Egyptian state formation. Interestingly, researchers like E.C. Köhler ‘The state of research on Late Predynastic Egypt: new evidence for the development of the Pharaonic state’, Göttinger Miszellen 147: 79-92, (1995) and T.A.H. Wilkinson ‘Political Unification: towards a reconstruction’, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo (MDAIK) 56: 377-395 (2000), have started to question the text-based image of the state formation and tried to give a view more based on archaeological evidence (instead of the non-contemporary unification texts).

The heterogeneous environments of the Nile Valley, Delta and surrounding deserts and their various resources, such as water, alluvium, flora, fauna and stone, were all contributing factors in the formation of the first nation-state. Environmental change, population pressures, economic developments, as well as Egypt’s position at the juncture of Africa and Asia - absorbing some of the culture and commodities of both-regions - all helped in the transition from the Neolithic to the early state. The majority of research into this period has been conducted in the Nile Valley, with its more accessible and better-preserved remains; only recently has the Delta become the focus of concerted research, mainly through survey and also as a result of the new SCA directives urging more research into the region.

The role of Lower Egypt in the process of state formation has been a long-debated question, although it is now generally accepted that ‘cultural unification’ starts in Naqada IIC (c. 3650 BC), and there occurs a near homogenous pan Egyptian culture (Naqadian) and ideology by the start of Naqada III (c. 3,300 BC), with ‘political unification’ under the Upper Egyptian Thinite kings occurring during the Nagada IIIC Period (c. 3,150 BC). Several small polities, including the Upper Egyptian entities of Hierakonpolis, Nagada and Abydos (Thinis), arose during Nagada II (possibly even as early as mid-Nagada I), resulting in two large polities: Hierakonpolis and Abydos, crystallising in Nagada IIIA-B (c. 3300). The rulers of the southern Upper Egyptian polity (Abydos/Thinis) expanded their political control during the period preceding Dynasty I and this process resulted in a unified Egypt (or large parts of it) just before or under the reign of Narmer, the first king of the Dynasty I. This late Predynastic period, the later part of which is often termed the Protodynastic Period (Nagada IIIA–B), saw many of the major developments associated with the process of state formation. Regional development seems, on initial analysis, to be dependent on access to resources and lines of communication.

Kafr Hassan Dawood (KHD), a site in East Delta, consisting of the largest cemetery so far excavated in the region dating form the Protodynastic to Early Dynastic periods, has provided much factual data on the transformation of social relations and ideology at the critical period of the transition to the world’s first nation-state. KHD provides valuable insights into the lower ends of Egyptian society, as most research into state formation is directed at the royal, elite and high status evidence, thus leaving a gap where the larger part of the society is concerned, the non-royal, non-elite, low Status people and their way of life during the period of state formation. Very few sites providing insights in to the low status society have been investigated in Egypt, Adaïma in Upper Egypt is one of the few so far excavated.

By Hassan, Tassie & van Wetering
 All material © Copyright of Fekri A. Hassan 2003.
 Last Updated: 17th August 2003