At the edge of the main Predynastic town (the settlement cluster HK29/29A) is the house and workshop of a potter who made cooking pots and other domestic wares for his neighborhood clientele. Its discovery in 1978 by Michael Hoffman proved the important contribution to be made by excavating in the desert portion of Hierakonpolis, despite the unpromising mounds and pits made by fertilizer collectors (sebakhin) covering its surface.

hk29 burnt house

Remains of predynastic dwellings from the Predynastic era usually take the form of deflated semi-subterranean foundations and a few post holes, but this rectangular house preserves far more due to a fortunate (for us) industrial accident. It would seem that the potter worked just a little too close to where he lived. The evidence suggests that one day, a shift in the wind caused the flames from his pottery kiln, located just over 5m away, to spread to the house and burn it to the ground. The fire reddened and hardened the soil and mud bricks that formed the lower portion of the house and reduced the posts and mats of its walls to charcoal and ash, found by Michael Hoffman and his team just as they had fallen 5500 years earlier. Today it is one of the oldest houses still extant in Egypt.

hk29 charred posts


hk29 mud brick

From these burnt remains the house and workshop could be reconstructed with fair accuracy. The lower portion of the house, which measured 4 x 3.5m was dug about 50cm into the earth. Mud mortar and hand-formed mud bricks supported the 8 wooden posts that held up the roof and walls of mud plastered reeds. Based on the preserved height of the charred posts, the structure was about 1.45m high. Inside the house was a hearth set on a mud platform in one corner, while in the opposite corner a storage pot was found sunk into the floor. Outside the sunken structure, a series of post-holes on one side suggest an additional enclosure or porch on the leeward side. The remnants of foundation trenches for post and reed walls of additional buildings and animal pens as well as the eroded (unburnt) remains of other sunken floor structures surround the house, but some may date to earlier or later phases of occupation. 

hk29 plan

To the east was the kiln. Although badly disturbed, the kiln was originally a roughly circular platform of earth about 6x5m in extent with 8 to 10 shallow basins about 50-80cm in diameter and 5-15cm deep sunk into it. According to the excavators, in three of the basins some rectangular kiln bricks were found in place. Their arrangement in one basin suggested that these fired clay bars supported large jars in which smaller vessels were fired, but experiments have shown this could not have worked. The heat necessary to fire the pottery could not have penetrated the larger vat. Instead, these fire bars may have supported vats in which porridge or beer was heated, as fire bars that are possibly similar have been found at the Operation A brewery at HK11C. Nevertheless, overfired pottery fragments and other tools still strongly suggest that pottery making was taking place here, probably in pit kilns as reconstructed at HK11C Operation B (see pottery production). Opening to the north to take advantage of the prevailing wind was the stoke-hole for the fire. The kiln may have been surrounded by a low wall and covered during the firing with a make-shift roof of potsherds and mud to contain the heat. Such an installation could easily have been used for both food and pottery production.

hk29 kiln detail1

Only straw tempered Rough wares appear to have made here with clays mined from outcrops of Sahaba silts close by. The most common forms were medium sized jars (for holding the food?) or cooking pots on which are sometimes found light impressions made by the potter's finger in the form of an upright crescent that may be his signature or some indication of the pots contents. The function of such potmarks made before the pot was fired is an enduring question across Egypt. Large and small bowls were also common.  More than five thousand years later, fragments of his pots, some 300,000 of them, still covered the ground where the potter worked, although some have clearly been reused to make the ad hoc covering over the kilns as the burnt mud adhering to them attests.

Several phases of habitation were observed, so that even after the fire, the area was not abandoned. The second phase is shown by deflated cobblestone foundations of houses that may have been built of mud, mud-bricks, reused potsherds or wattle and daub.

The averaged C14 date for this establishment is 3590+/-117BC, placing it in the early to mid Naqada II period. However, numerous sherds of white-cross line (C ware) pottery as well as pieces of marl ware indicate the area had a long history. The rather complicated sequence of events and change of functions suggested by Hoffman (1982) may well reflect the actual situation in this uniquely preserved habitation of the predynastic age.

For more information see:

M.A Hoffman 1980 An Amratian House from Hierakonpolis and Its Significance for Predynastic Research, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 39: 119-137.

M. A. Hoffman 1982.The Predynastic of Hierakonpolis - An Interim Report. Egyptian Studies Association Publication 1. Cairo University Herbarium, Cairo, Egypt and Western Illinois University, Macomb Illinois: 7-14; 66-92.

Allen, R.O. and M.S. Rogers. 1982. Preliminary Findings of the Technology of Ceramic Manufacturing at Hierakonpolis, in M.A. Hoffman (ed.), The Predynastic of Hierakonpolis - An Interim Report. Egyptian Studies Association Publication 1. Cairo and Illinois: 149-150. 

Hoffman, M.A. and M. Berger. 1982. A Taxonomic System for Predynastic Settlement Ceramics and the Locality 29 Assemblage, in M.A. Hoffman (ed.), The Predynastic of Hierakonpolis. (ESA 1) Cairo and Illinois: 66-84. 

Friedman, R.F., 1994. Predynastic settlement ceramics of Upper Egypt: A comparative study of the ceramics of Hemamieh, Nagada and Hierakonpolis.U.M.I./Berkeley.




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