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The potsherds found for the first time embedded in the courtyard floor provided clear evidence to date this plastering of the floor to about 3200 B.C. (Nagada IID).

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The pottery stuck in the floor plaster was typical of what we call the Floor Deposit.

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Postholes to the east of the central axis of the courtyard were very different from those encountered earlier. They had pushed up and reinforced edges, suggesting that perhaps they were remnants of a temporary structure that had blown over in the wind.

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Not much of the mysterious mud brick platform (lump in foreground) remained, so we had to proceed with care.

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Joe Majer ponders the platform.

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Excitment mounted as we peeled back the melted mud of the platform to reveal the footprints and finger marks of the mason who built it 5,000 years ago.

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Recording a moment in time. Fran and Helena draw the preserved details of the mason's movements.

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Our investigations showed that the platform sat on a bedding of sand upon the Nagada IID floor.

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Let's do the time warp again!

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A miraculous vision: the impressions of a wall running up to the platform.

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With a trained eye, the wall on the west is also visible--the meter stick is aligned with one of the brick courses following a raised mortar line. In all there are seven courses of brick visible, honest!

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Post holes and flood deposit pottery were found beneath the mud-brick wall impressions, providing a relative date for its construction.

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It is subtle, but you can see the brick impressions beside the posthole, really you can!

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All details were recorded--depressions, mortar lines, potsherds, and postholes.

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The wall drawings were then taped to the house wall for photography.

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Everyone was excited to watch our progress on the web, even us!

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At the end of the excavations, the trenches were filled with a protective layer of sand.


All photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

Narmer's Temple: Week 4

With Ramadan in full swing, it was now time for the detailed work of uncovering the deposits over the courtyard floor. We began along the main processional way of the temple complex, which runs between the entrance to the courtyard on the north (marked by two large postholes) and the entrance to the shrine on the south (marked by a mud-brick threshold). We had hoped that, beneath the sand, clear evidence of the temple activities would still be preserved, but we found only wind-blown sand and re-deposited occupational debris (small bones, charcoal, and tiny potsherds) all the way down to just above the paved floor. At about 10 centimeters above the floor, we finally reached original deposits: a gray sand that contained the distinct, if not very beautiful, pottery of the Nagada IID (ca. 3200 B.C.) occupation of the temple, an assemblage we call the Floor Deposit. As the name suggests, we have found this type of pottery on and above the floor during earlier excavations, but never understood exactly what it meant. The pottery was so crude that we thought perhaps the temple had been taken over by squatters or been put to another use. Our new excavations finally solved this issue, when we found that same pottery actually embedded in the floor plaster. This not only proves that the temple was still in active use at this time (why repave 40 meters of floor if you are a squatter?), but it also provides us with clear evidence for the date of this plastering of the floor. Far from being abandoned and neglected, we also noted some localized patching of the floor plaster where it had worn away from heavy traffic on the processional way and in the right light were even able to see the repairman's handprints.

The newly uncovered floor also revealed some odd postholes that appear to have been gouged into the moist plaster, pushing up the edges all around. Others appear to have been reinforced with mud supports. No clear pattern could be discerned and the purpose of the posts once placed in these holes remains a subject of speculation. Was there a temporary structure here, on the eastern side of the processional route, that blew over in the wind (pushing up the edges) and later shored up with mud packing? Given the location, facing the large and mysterious mud-brick platform to the west, could these irregular postholes mark the resting location of the large standards and staffs that the courtiers carry in procession as shown on the Narmer macehead? Admittedly, it is easy to let one's imagination run wild when all you have is holes, but whatever these holes derive from, it is clear that they are oriented toward the platform.

The platform--an area of mud brick some 4 meters wide--is unfortunately only preserved to one course of brick in height. The majority of its bricks has been mined away at some point in the past, but the amount of rubble and melted brick all around it suggests that it was a tall structure, whatever its purpose may have been. Immediately to the northwest of it, the postholes of a small (robing?) room were discovered in 1986, and immediately to the west, the pit containing the First Dynasty pottery was found in 1989. Could this be the stepped platform upon which Narmer viewed the festivities? We launched new excavations in order to find out.

The south side of the platform had never been fully exposed, so we concentrated our efforts there. Removing over a half a meter of sand, we had just reached the top of the rubble and mud-brick melt of the platform when we found our first clue. Pit digging in modern times had disturbed the sandy deposits above and our careful excavations had revealed peanut shells and even a bar of soap, so when the men found a fragment of a gray cylindrical object with what looked like gear cogs, they simply thought they had found another piece of modern debris--a piece of an automobile clutch or a water-pipe fitting. Although we were all laughing when they handed it to me, once it was in my hands, I realized there was nothing funny about it. It wasn't made of plastic, but exquisitely carved out of graywacke, the same stone as used for the Narmer Palette, which is similar to slate but has a finer grain. Far from being a broken clutch, it was a fragment of an exquisite stone vessel.

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A fragment of an exquisitely carved graywacke vase proved there had been a royal presence--such stone vessels were products of royal workshops in the early First Dynasty.

In the early First Dynasty, the stone carvers of the royal workshops favored this stone and showed off their skill and virtuosity by carving a variety of fancy and exotic shapes, such as fig and grape leaves, click beetles, boats, and baskets with each fiber rendered in stone. These fantastic vessels have been found in the royal tombs of the First Dynasty at Abydos, but most are sadly broken and their pieces are now scattered in many museums throughout the world. An international effort orchestrated by Barbara Adams brought many of these fragments together, even if only virtually, and the full beauty of these extraordinary stone vessels can now be appreciated. Our example from the temple also must have been a stunning piece that took many hours of work by a skilled royal craftsman to make.

This stone vessel was strong evidence for a royal presence at the site, but what else could we find out? Having cleared away the sand, we were now down to the tumble of the platform. Peeling this away was a nail-biting job. So little of the platform's bricks remained, that it was hard to tell where the brick ended and the melt and rubble began. Working from the edge of the square back toward the platform, we stripped off the melted mud brick to reveal the courtyard floor on which the platform was built. We hoped that debris, a potsherd or two, trapped beneath it could tell us more about date of construction, but we certainly never expected to find the graphic evidence of its builders that we did.

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A wide variety of stone vessels (left) were found during the temple excavations, all of which had been smashed into small pieces. Some stone vessel fragments (right) were over 2 centimeters thick and made of extremely hard stone. Breaking them into such small pieces must have been a difficult and intentional job. This was no accident.

Just to the south of the platform edge, preserved under a thin layer of sand was a large puddle of hard mud mortar that bore in sharp detail the footprints and finger marks of a mason, as he gathered up the mortar into a bucket, the outline of this still visible in the center. Captured in time were actions--perhaps the construction or the clean up--that had taken place 5,000 years before. To record this remarkable snapshot, we covered the area with large sheets of plastic (the kind once used to make slip covers for your grandmother's good furniture) and drew all of the details with magic markers. Once all of the footprints and finger marks were outlined, it was easy to reconstruct each of the mason's movements. Of course, the temptation to act them out was irresistible and in so doing we appear to have created the latest dance craze--the Hierakonpolis Two-Step, or even better, the Time Warp.

Further investigations showed that the platform was built on a layer of sand that rested upon the ca. 3200 B.C. Nagada IID courtyard floor. The distinctive floor deposit pottery was again found embedded in the plaster around and beneath the platform, proving that the platform (or this phase of it) was built at some point after the Nagada IID replastering and usage of the courtyard, probably in the early First Dynasty given the concentration of early Dynastic pottery in the area. However, the First Dynasty additions of the complex were not limited to the platform, but their full and massive extent did not become clear until later, when we discovered the walls that weren't there....

While engaged in the detailed investigation of the platform, we put half of the crew to work on the southwest side of the complex to try and find the southern edge of the floor and thus complete the oval. Although it took us several tries, as the floor edge was not exactly where we expected it to be, we did eventually find the courtyard floor, but it was not simply a floor; it was also a wall. Clearly visible were the mortar lines and rectangular depressions of a brick wall, seven courses wide, but not one brick remained in place! This was a massive wall, some 1.75 meters wide, but where was it going? The trajectory was all wrong for it to be the perimeter wall of the courtyard. Having first discovered this shadow of a wall in a small test trench of 2.5 meters square, we opened up more area. Again we found the clear impressions of the wall, so we opened up more test probes, but were moving into areas covered by an increasingly deep overburden of sand. The men were as intrigued as I by this wall that wasn't, and didn't seem to mind the heavy additional workload. However once we had cleared over 7.5 meters of the wall and were looking at shifting over 1.3 meters of sand to uncover the next leg, I decided to call it quits and study the situation. What was going on? The wall appeared to be heading straight for the middle of the courtyard and that just couldn't be correct. Did it curve? Did it make a corner somewhere? I didn't want to clear more sand during Ramadan in an unusually hot November if it wasn't necessary. It was obvious that detailed plotting of the wall was required, but time was of the essence.

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On the southern side of the complex, a wall emerged (left), but not one brick was left in place! The impressions of 7 courses of brick (right), running for over 7 meters, were not hard to see, but they were hard to understand and even more difficult to draw.

Plotting a wall that isn't there isn't as easy as it may seem. While some of the mortar lines were sharp and clear, others were vague and required just the right light and just the right angle to see them. This made it extremely difficult to measure and create a scaled drawing. Since extreme accuracy was needed to determine its expected trajectory, we decided that we couldn't do better than life size, and we rolled out the plastic yet again.

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To record all of the details, we covered the wall in plastic and copied it full size. This method allowed us time to discuss a wall that wasn't there.

Early Friday morning, when no one was around to think us stranger than we already were, we made a plastic slip cover for 7.5 meters of wall. On a series of overlapping sheets we drew each brick, divot, depression, and mortar line with magic markers. Despite my initial anxiety, it worked brilliantly and allowed us time to make additions, corrections, and queries as the light changed throughout the morning. In under two hours, thanks to the efforts of the entire crew, we were done. Back at the house we taped the wall to the wall for photography and tied it all together on our computer in Photoshop. However it still didn't solve the problem. Where was the wall going? Why was it built upon the floor and where had all the bricks gone?

As pressing issues in the elite cemetery required our attention, excavations at the temple were closed down at the end of the week, and with regret it seemed that the question of the wall was going to have to remain unanswered. It would have stayed that way had it not been for one remarkable morning when we rose early to draw the balks. Helena Jaeschke, who had come out to help us with the elite cemetery excavation, agreed to assist me in this final bit of housecleaning at the temple. Maybe it was the light, or a fresh pair of eyes--who knows?--but while we were preparing the area by the platform for drawing, both she and I looked down at the plastered floor and said, "There was a wall here!" Grabbing rulers, sticks, and pencils we quickly marked the courses as we saw them, lest the vision disappear. We then quickly plotted this wall on the site plan and as if by magic, it ran perpendicular to the other wall. We had discovered the corner! The wall did turn! Rushing over to the western end of the floor, the vaguest ripple gave away the presence of mortar lines to our now experienced eyes. We could now see three sides of a massive structure over 15 meters long! Even better, here was the evidence for different phases of the temple. In every case, the postholes we had discovered previously lay under the wall and both followed the same trajectory. Clearly the brick walls and the platform connected to them had replaced earlier walls made of reeds and posts that dated to ca. 3200 B.C. (Nagada IID). When the complex was renovated yet again, it was on a massive scale, one fit for a king.

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A late revelation: The southwest corner of a structure that replaced an earlier structure of posts and mat was observed at the western end of the courtyard.

What this large structure on the western side of the courtyard was for, of course, remains a mystery that only further excavation can resolve. Yet, however regal and permanent it may have appeared, at some time after this final phase, the complex was demolished: the brick walls were dismantled and removed leaving not one brick behind. There is no rubble or melted mud brick, only windblown sand, suggesting that the walls were dismantled in antiquity. Only the platform was spared, but it may have been knocked down. Further evidence for the intentional demolition or "death" of the complex is provided by the condition of the stone vessels, fragments of which we found in large numbers. All had been smashed into small pieces and as some of the porphyry and basalt (extremely hard stones) jars were over 2 centimeters thick, their destruction could not have been easy or accidental.

Is the large brick structure in the western part of the complex Narmer's ceremonial palace? Is the platform his "window of appearances" from which he watched? When was the complex demolished, and why? As always, excavations at Hierakonpolis pose more questions than they answer, but we now know more about Egypt's first temple than ever before. Over its 300-year history it underwent at least three renovations, becoming more impressive with each event. But such is the transient nature of grandeur, for at its peak, it seems that the temple was cut down. Although now only preserved as negative features and faint trances, with a skilled hand, a sharp eye, and a lot of imagination, this imposing monument can rise from the ground again.

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