Narmer's Temple: Week 3
The identification of the structure we are excavating as a temple doesn't rest only on its remarkable architectural remains, like the large oval courtyard and four enormous posts used to created the imposing façade. Previous seasons at this site have produced a large number and wide array of faunal remains (animal bones) that marked it as distinct from other domestic areas of Hierakonpolis. One of the tasks of the archaeozoologists, Wim van Neer and Veerle Linseele, was to re-examine the faunal assemblage from the temple to confirm its unique character. This work was carried out in conjunction with an examination of the equally unique animal remains from the cemetery of the elite inhabitants at a locality called HK6 (see Veerle's report on weird animals from the cemetery). Excavations in this cemetery by Michael Hoffman and later by Barbara Adams, of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, revealed a number of burials containing exotic animals--an elephant, baboons, a wild cat, and a wild cow (aurochs)--that were possibly sacrificed at the burials of ancient Hierakonpolis' early rulers. Standard food animals (cattle and sheep or goat) were also included in the graves, perhaps as choice cuts or from special animals.
The type of animals sacrificed or used in a ritual way was of specific interest, so we embarked on excavation in a part of the temple rich in faunal remains, an area we call the "wall trench." This trench, about 40 cm deep, runs for 35 meters along the northeast side of the courtyard. Cut into the underlying silts, it held a wooden post-and-reed-mat fence that formed the perimeter wall on this side of the courtyard. During what we believe to be the main period of temple usage ca. 3400 B.C. (in a phase called Nagada IIC), the refuse from activities in the temple was apparently gathered up and dumped outside of this fence in various pits placed at intervals. This may have occurred after each event, although the density and consistency of the deposit all along the wall trench area may also suggest that the debris represents a general clearing up that took place perhaps in conjunction with a major refurbishment of the complex. In more recent times, these refuse deposits have been disturbed by trenches, probably from fertilizer diggers, and the material has been distributed all along the northern boundary and over and within the wall trench itself. Nevertheless it remains an incredibly dense and coherent collection of pottery and faunal material that gives us our best indication that something very special was going on in this complex.
|The wall trench deposits produced a number of fine objects, including this beautiful ripple-flake knife (left), a ceremonial blade used in temple rituals. Obsidian (right) was a rare and highly prized material in predynastic Egypt. Analysis has shown that it was imported from Ethiopia|
We resumed excavations along the wall trench to recover and examine the faunal assemblage in fine detail. All the sediments were sieved through a set of specially constructed screens with graduated mesh sizes--4mm, 3mm, and 2mm--in order to catch the smallest elements. And indeed we did. A huge amount of animals bone was recovered: over 4,000 identifiable specimens from one 5x5m square in under 40cm of deposits. This kept the archaeozoologists busy, while the amount of pottery was truly phenomenal, even by Hierakonpolis standards. Yet the range of pottery shapes was limited to a small number of specific forms. There were also some special finds, part of a beautiful ripple-flaked knife, flakes of exotic obsidian, and a potsherd with very strange decoration that kept everyone intrigued. These strikingly distinct faunal and ceramic assemblages certainly seem to reconfirm the unusual nature of the site. However, when excavating something that has no parallel, one does on occasion have a crisis of faith: is it a temple or a restaurant (gourmet, of course)?
At this point in the season either proposition seems equally plausible. Of course, the ancient Egyptians themselves may not have made the distinction in the first place!
Review the evidence and see what you think.
A report on the animal bones from the wall trench
Assessing the pottery from the wall trench