As elsewhere in Egypt during the predynastic period, food provisioning at Hierakonpolis relied heavily on domestic animals. Cattle, sheep, goat, and--to a lesser extent--pigs were the major providers of animal protein. Fishing was mainly carried out during particular seasons, but preserved fish may have been available almost throughout the year. Other food-procuring activities included harvesting of molluscs, fowling, and hunting. It appears that hunting was a minor activity at most predynastic sites and this pattern is also observed at Hierakonpolis at the domestic complex (designated HK11) where only 1% of the hoofed animals are wild. However, the fauna from the ongoing excavations at the temple (HK29A) is totally different from the pattern seen at HK11 and elsewhere in predynastic Egypt.
The identification of the animal bone is done by direct comparison with modern skeletons. For each bone, the species and the type of skeletal element is recorded and a number of other observations are made that allow inferences about the age, size, and sex of the animal to which the bone belonged. Cut marks, traces of fire, and gnawing marks are noted as well.
Analysis of a large sample collected during previous seasons had already shown that the material associated with the temple yielded a much higher percentage of wild animals. Up to 9% of the hoofed animals were wild, a ratio that is even higher in the current excavations (16%) when the remains recovered in the sieve are taken into consideration. Moreover, this area of the temple complex yielded species that thus far have not, or only rarely, been observed at Hierakonpolis. The refuse pit yielded remains of dama gazelle, a desert species that is larger than the more common, local dorcas gazelle and which may have been caught during special hunting parties farther away from the site. It also appears that the ratio of Barbary sheep is higher here than elsewhere. Larger wild creatures were also taken from the Nile: soft-shelled turtle, crocodile, and, occasionally, hippopotamus. The general species composition of the diet already indicates that the consumers at the temple must have had a higher status than the inhabitants of the domestic complex HK11 or that special activities were taking place in which a more elite group of people were participating.
The fish fauna from the temple is also special, not because of the numerous species that it contains, but because of the size of the Nile perch. This carnivorous species is, ecologically speaking, the equivalent of the pike in European waters or the perch in the U.S. The maximum size of this fish is about 2 meters, but such large specimens are hard to capture since they live in the deeper parts of the Nile. Animal bone research at other predynastic sites in Upper Egypt occasionally show specimens of over 1 meter in length, but the situation at the locus presently studied at HK29A is unique in the sense that the specimens smaller than 1 meter are a minority. The number of vertebrae from large fish in the range of 1.5 meters in length is truly remarkable. Because we have sieved the deposits, we know that this is not a result of selective sampling of the bigger bones and that it is not caused by the preservation conditions (larger bones have higher chances of survival than smaller ones). It seems therefore that special efforts were made to capture large Nile perch for the events happening at the temple. Thus far, it is not clear yet when these events took place.
The nature of the bone finds, the representation of the various skeletal elements within each species indicate that we are dealing with refuse that one would define as mainly kitchen and table refuse. Less meaty parts such as for instance cattle feet are lacking indicating that the butchering must have taken place elsewhere. Similarly, fins and gills of the fish are underrepresented. The bone refuse seems too heterogenous however to consider it as a result of a single event. It rather suggests a recurrent event that possibly may have taken place at a particular season of the year. Maybe the fauna can give a clue? Large Nile perch can be captured most easily when the waters of the Nile are low: the water is less turbulent then and it may have been easier to access the deeper parts where the large fish were hiding. Nile oyster was found as well, a bivalve that lives only in the main part of the river and that can also be harvested easier when the waters are low. This may suggest that the festivities that took place were related to the anticipated arrival of the new flood of the Nile which took place at the end of June in ancient times. Wild animals may have been easier to catch at this time as well, having been forced closer to the river valley by the summer heat.
In dynastic times, the inundation by the life-giving Nile was the mark of the New Year. It was a time of festivals and ceremony as a good flood meant a good harvest, a low flood meant famine and an excessive flood meant disaster. Although people tend to think of the Nile as a benign river, one flood in six was either too high or too low. Thus the coming of the flood each year was met with apprehension. The good will of the gods would certainly have been sought to insure a good result and to stave off the chaos of caused by a bad flood. From pharaonic temple scenes we know that wild animals were symbols of uncontrollable nature. They were sacrificed in temple rituals to show that chaos had been subdued. Could this explain the high number of wild animals in the temple refuse? The number of large and often dangerous fauna certainly suggests that something very different was going on here than elsewhere at the site.