At the edge of the low desert, in the center of the densest accumulation of settlement remains is what we believe is a ceremonial/administrative center. Here a palisade wall of large logs (HK29B), traced by Thomas Hikade and his team for over 50 meters, possibly enclosed an area of over 2.5 acres (1 hectare), which included administrative or palace structures (the mysterious stone mound at HK34), workshops for the fabrication of fine flint tools, semiprecious beads and stone vessels painstaking drilled from a variety of exotic and decorative stones, and an impressive ceremonial structure (HK29A).
First explored in 1985-1989 by Michael Hoffman, further excavations at HK29A were undertaken in 2002 and 2009 leading to new interpretations of its features and appearance. The structure was composed in part of a walled, oval courtyard 45m long and 13m wide, on the south side of which was a monumental gateway framed by four enormous wooden pillars of acacia wood. It is important to note that earlier reconstructions of this area as a shrine were shown by the 2009 excavations to be incorrect. The four enormous posts and the eight smaller ones (arranged in 2 rows) in this area do not form a shrine as envisioned, but instead are now believed to be part of an impressive entrance onto the court. Furthermore, analysis of the wood remaining of the massive pillars shows them to be native acacia trees rather than cedar as initially suggested based on their size.
In use for over 500 year (Naqada IIA-Dynasty 1), the center at HK29A underwent several renovations, and its appearance in each of these phases is still unclear, but there is no doubt about what went on here. This is because its caretakers were fastidious housekeepers and the trash pits they dug around the peripheries have provided us with unique glimpses of actual cultic practices in the Predynastic age.
These pits contained thousands (37,500) of animal bones deriving from domestic livestock and fish as well as a diverse array of wild animals. The volume of bones, the presence of all elements of the skeletons and the debris from the sharpening of flint knives combine to suggest that large numbers of animals were butchered at this site. The high quality cattle, young sheep and goats and the large fish, many over 1 m in length, indicate feasting formed a large part of the festivities; however, the wild animals, including crocodile, soft-shell turtle, hippopotamus, gazelle, barbary sheep and various carnivores imply something more than just fine dining. Making up nearly 17% of the faunal assemblage (compared to 1.5% in the general settlement), this collection of wild and often dangerous game had a much more important purpose – the control of chaos (Linseele et al. 2009). One of the fundamental themes of predynastic iconography, the imposition of order over chaos, especially as embodied in the diversity of nature continued to be the most important role of Egyptian kingship. Bringing this concept to life, the wrestling of these animals into submission and their ultimate sacrifice by ceremonial knives in this open court must have been a vivid demonstration of the containment of the chaotic and the victory of (human) order necessary to keep the cosmos in balance.
An incised potsherd also found amongst the temple debris further illustrates that domination was not limited to the animal sphere. On one side is the distinctive emblem of the cow goddess Bat, whose image also graces the Narmer palette, while the reverse shows a stylized female held captive by an early symbol of royal authority, the bull.
The seasonal availability of desert and aquatic fauna suggests that the rituals were associated with the coming of the Nile flood, an especially chaotic moment in the cosmic cycle of renewal that required extraordinary powers to negotiate. This mastery was such an important aspect of royal ideology, it may well be this specific time (or its corollary, the jubilee or renewal of the king) and possibly even this actual place that is depicted on the Narmer Macehead, as the king presides over wild animals corralled in an oval court while large numbers of livestock and human captives are amassed for inspection.
The excavations and evidence from HK29A have recently been reviewed and discussed in a series of article in the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45 (2009), while the work at HK29B and HK25 ( a pillared structure), have been published in preliminary fashion by Thomas Hikade and his team (see below). Exactly how these localities fit together is still being worked out as we review the architectural and artefactual record.
Coming soon, we will share with you the results of our inquiries, and provide a fuller picture of this important and fascinating area at the edge of the low desert.
In the meantime, to follow our progress when we returned to HK2A in 2002-2003 see
To follow along as our ideas developed with the excavations see:
Nekhen News 1 (1985)
Nekhen News 2 (1986)
Nekhen News 4.1 (1988)
Nekhen News 15 (2003)
Nekhen News 18 (2006)
Nekhen News 19 (2007)
Nekhen News 20 (2008)
For the latest information see:
Friedman, R.F., 2009. Hierakonpolis Locality HK29A: The Predynastic ceremonial center revisited. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45: 79–103.
Linseele, V., Van Neer, W. & Friedman, R.F., 2009. Special animals from a special place? The fauna from HK29A at Predynastic Hierakonpolis. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45: 105–136.
Fahmy, A.G. and Fadl, M. 2009. Plant macroremains from Locality HK 29A at Hierakonpolis, Egypt. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45: 137-152.
Hikade, T.; Pyke, G. and O’Neill, D., 2008. Excavations at Hierakonpolis HK29B and HK25: The campaigns of 2005/2006. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 64: 153–188.
Hikade, T., 2011. Origins of monumental architecture: recent excavations at Hierakonpolis HK29B and HK25 [in:] Friedman, R.F. & Fiske, P.N. (eds.), Egypt at its Origins 3. Proceedings of the Third International Conference ‘Origins of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt. London, 27th July- 1st August 2008. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 205. Peeters: Leuven: 81-107