University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Egyptian Jar [Object of the Day #108]

November 15, 2012

Egypt’s Predynastic Period (ca. 5000-3000 BCE) was a formative time when many of the key features of the civilization of the pharaohs took shape. One of the characteristic types of pottery of the Predynastic of Upper (southern) Egypt is D-ware (short for Decorated-Ware) as we see in this example from the site of Ballas. During the Gerzean phase (today normally called the Nagada II, dating ca. 3600-3400 BCE) these beautiful painted jars were produced. Many people have studied the decoration of these D-ware jars with their geometric renditions of landscapes and images of curved hull banana-shaped boats. The boats are particularly interesting: often with oars extending below and cabins on the deck. Poles capped with divine emblems and human figures appear as well. Possibly the scenes express aspects of the journey to the afterlife – there are often figures of mourning ladies shown ? but the exact meaning remains obscure.  In this example we see a rare example with a bearded man standing atop the cabin. The most elaborate version of scenes of this type occur in the tomb of a Proto-Pharaoh at the site of Hierakonpolis (the Painted Tomb) dating to the end of the Gerzean/Nagada II Period. In the Painted Tomb we see a flotilla of boats of this same style. Archaeologists continue to debate the meanings behind these mysterious images from early Egypt.

Penn Museum Object #E1399

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