Friday, June 28, 2013

Relationship between Nagadan and "Lower Nubian" Burials


This entry piggybacks on a matter that came up in a 2009 blog entry on this site, titled "What the Different Styles of Crowns could mean in the developments leading up to Kmt [Nwt] State Formation". This matter concerned the possible relationship between the Ta-Seti (particularly in Qustul) royalty and those of Nagada. In particular, the potential of Ta-Seti royalty having "surrogate" or "proxy" ruling concern(s) in complexes up north, such as those associated with the Nagada, was raised on the grounds of certain characteristic regalia of the Dynastic Egyptian complex appearing to show their precedences in the content of the Qustul royal cemetery. Examples of such regalia, are the White Crown and the Falcon, which has intimately been associated with Horus on Dynastic Egyptian wall reliefs. The idea of a relationship whereby royalty from Nagada and Ta-Seti sought to manage international relations, for example to avoid costly confrontations to either party and strengthen political and trade relationships, through marital unions between members of two polities, had not been ruled out either. In the aforementioned 2009 entry, a study by Prowse and Lovell [1] was called upon. This study is hereby recalled, and will be discussed in more detail.


As research before it and on other occasions, Prowse's and Lovell's observations point to close relationships between the Nagadan burials and those from "Lower Nubia". This can be discerned from their dendrogram and table of mean measure of divergence (MMD), where both the Nagadan T elite and the "common" (non-elite) burials show close relationship with the "Nubian" burials. This relationship between Nagadans and the lower "Nubians" also parallels the relationship between the Nagadan series and "Lower Nubian" specimens in this map from Keita [2], which was referenced here before:

Click on the image to expand.

The relevant feature of this plot at the moment, is that the Nagadan and the "Lower Nubian" (Kerma, in this case) series also cluster with dynastic Abydos royal remains, even though the latter likely saw some intermingling between Upper Egyptians and the Lower counterparts. Compare with information contained in Prowse's and Lovell's dendrogram and MMD table:

Click on the images for higher resolution.

Prowse's and Lovell's paper also suggests a recent southern origin of the Nagadan series. Real differentiation between the elite Nagadan Cemetery T specimens, assumed to be that of the "high status" element of the Nagadan II and III population, and specimens from the other two non-elite cemeteries (Cemetery B and the Great Cemetery)—calculated to be those of non-elite segments of Nagadan population of a similar time frame, was observed.

Gene flow from outside as a contributing factor for this phenomenon was not exactly ruled out, even though it was not one of primary consideration. This is understandable, given the relatively closer relationship between the elite Nagadan T and the non-elite Nagadan Cemetery B and Great Cemetery when compared against those between the same Nagadan series and the other series. The two Nagadan series however, show their closest relationship with the "Lower Nubian" A-group series than they do other "neighboring" Egyptian series. This is significant!

Perhaps even more interesting, is that the Nagadan T (elite) series is yet closer to the "Lower Nubian" series than the other aforementioned (non-elite) Nagadan series, which were pooled, reportedly because they are so similar. It has to be remembered too, that the "Lower Nubian" series used for comparison, happened to date to the terminal A-group period, versus the earlier time frame suggested for the Nagadan series. Taking that into consideration, along with the items mentioned above, it cannot be ruled out that the differences seen between the "elite" Nagadan cemetery T series and the other two Nagadan series is a reflection of possible gene flow from the "Lower Nubian" site.

Gene flow as a contributing factor in the phenomenon above is a materially attractive one, taking into consideration the aforementioned cultural elements (related to the monarchy) that suddenly appear in Egypt towards the terminal period of the protodynastic era.

In such a scenario, as has been argued here before, there could have been genetic exchange between ruling circles of Nagada and the A-group to cement ties, if not possibly for power consolidation, which wouldn't have been all that hard at the time, considering the very real possibility that both groups (as populations) were already closely related to begin with. Something to this effect seems to have also been at work in the early dynastic period, wherein there is indication of intermingling between "northerners" and "southerners" in the burials of royalty (at Abydos).

On the matter of the White Crown, which was brought up above, recent reports circling the net have surfaced, speaking of the "earliest" representation of the White Crown, but this time in the Egyptian mainland itself (Nag el-Hamdulab, Aswan), as opposed to Qustul or "Lower Nubia". The image in question is one rendered on a rock, and appears as follows:

Click on the image to expand.

It is difficult to make out whether the said figure is definitely wearing a "White Crown", even though the peculiarly long head on the figure would seem to suggest some kind of a head gear. What is more strongly suggestive of the figure being a "king", rather, is possibly the scepter he is holding in one hand and possibly an equipment in the other, to keep flies away, not leaving out the figure behind him, who is holding some kind of hand-held fanning object. 

NatGeo cites the dating for this rock art at between 3200 to 3100 BC, whereas the burials at Qustul had generated a temporal range from 3800 to 3100 BC. The interesting feature about this rock rendering, is perhaps what is not on it: no Horus or falcon symbols appear to be associated with the imagery, which on the other hand, was found in tandem with the White Crown presentations on the imagery uncovered in the Qustul cemetery. 

Perhaps also noteworthy, this epigraphy was located in Aswan, when evidence suggests that the main center of power was at Abydos during the time range attributed to said rock art. Nothing comes to mind that speaks to royal burials of equivalent wealth in Aswan as that of Abydos. 

A detailed record of predynastic line of kings from Aswan to compare against those of either Abydos or A-group is also wanting. The understanding with regards to only the A-group burials posing as a serious rival to those of the predynastic Abdyos royal cemetery, where archaeology is concerned, more immediately comes to mind. 

If one were to assume that the epigraphic Nag el-Hamdulab figure (king) was from a region north of Aswan, then it is odd the White Crown regalia contemporaneous (i.e. in earliness) has not surfaced therein. On the other hand, the king—if it is indeed that—coming from south, and in the middle of a journey, would tend to support the southern origin that Qustul objects seem to suggest.


It's not unreasonable to suppose that endogamy within the elite Nagadan segment could create differentiation between that segment and remaining segments of the larger society, not leaving potential supplementary influences of socio-economic well-being on development. However, while such differentiation may be observable, it is hard to conceive of it being as substantial as that elicited in Prowse's and Lovell's comparison between the elite Nagadan T series and the non-elite Nagadan Cemetery B and Great Cemetery series; see the posted table on MMD above, for example. On the other hand, as is noted in said authors' paper, the MMD tests don't exactly gauge the degree of relationship, but rather, estimates the similarity or dissimilarity of test groups. Still, they suggest that this potential shortcoming is offset by their use of non-metric traits of the cranium that are "under genetic control", and so, renders it reasonable to take the MMD results as a reflection of "biological relatedness", i.e. "at least in the case of the two nonelite samples from Nagada, which have been pooled".

The mentioning of this last additional matter around the two non-elite Nadagan samples perhaps underscores the level of differentiation, considering that the groups under comparison are assumed to be elements of the same inbreeding population. The authors point out that their dendrogram may serve as a better gauger of a biological relationship between their non-elite Nagadan samples and the elite Nagadan T samples, given "that cluster analysis places them closest to each other in the dendrogram (Fig. 2), " suggesting "a closer biological affinity to each other than to the other skeletal samples analyzed", when on the other hand, "elite and nonelite samples from Naqada are biologically different on the basis of the MMD statistic".

It's therefore not inconceivable that gene flow from outside into the elite segment is the likely driver behind the observed differentiation between the elite and non-elite Nagadan samples. That would adequately explain why the Nagadan samples are still closely related, yet still significantly (statistically) different to the degree that has been observed. Factoring in cultural items uncovered by archaeology, seems to help in reinforcing the case for possible genetic intrusion into the elite layers of Nagada from the south, particularly "Lower Nubia". The backdrop against which such genetic exchanges may have taken place, would have been one whereby the concerned Nagadan populations likely already had close biological relations with those from "Lower Nubia", hence making it easier for ruling circles from either territory to seek political and economic benefits from cementing ties with one another; inter-marital unions would have served as one of most accessible means of achieving such ties.

*Subject to modification or revision upon reception of new or additional information.

[1]: Prowse and Lovell, Concordance of Cranial and Dental Morphological Traits and Evidence for Endogamy in Ancient Egypt, 1996.

[2]: Keita, An Analysis of Crania From Tell-Duweir Using Multiple Discriminant Functions, 1988.


—Personal notes from 2006, 2009 & 2013. 


LordInit said...

There is one significant feature of the Nag el-Hamdulab epigraph that you leave out. You point out that the epigraph does not feature any falcon/Horus figure however notice the figure in the front of the alleged king. It appears to be the exact SAME creature depicted in the Qustul incense burner which seems to be that of a baboon! This type of totem is not to my knowledge found in any of the Abydos material.

Mystery Solver said...

Again, going back to that crude quality of the Nag el-Hamdulab epigraphy, it is really hard to make out the animal with any definitiveness. As crude as the Qustul incense burner epigraphy itself was, i.e. when compared to later Dynastic era work, one could make out claw-like appendages emanating from each leg, thereby instilling a strong hint that this creature is not some dog-like creature.

Even though the snout of the creature on the Qustul burner could well have been reminiscent of that of a dog, the hump-like profile of the creature on its back, near the head, raises doubt about identifying it with a dog. The long slender tail also contributes to raising such doubt. On the other hand, the visibly pointed ears of the creature, on top of the head, could raise doubt about identifying the creature with a baboon; in most instances I’ve come across baboons, pointed ears--clearly visible--on top of the head did not come to mind. Not even the baboons seen on Dynastic era reliefs (e.g. Pwnt/Pwanit/Punt) feature such caricature of baboons.

Clearly baboons were revered creatures, and so, no surprise to see Ancient Egyptian royalty returning with such creatures from their voyage. Perhaps this status makes it tempting to identify the crude imagery in question immediately with baboons.

The creature in the Nag el-Hamdulab epigraphy on the other hand, has no clearly distinguishing feature that one can unequivocally assign only to baboons; it’s that crude, and yes, cruder than the Qustul incense creature in drawing any remote reminiscence to a baboon.

For what it’s worth, unlike the creatures of these alleged “predynastic” era imagery that some observers have linked with baboons, the imagery of the falcon was for the most apparent clearly given some symbolic value, as even those seen on the Qustul imagery were generally seen as part of a composite image of a Serekh featuring a fa├žade of a palace mounted by a falcon, a common dynastic era regalia applied to symbolize royalty.

These creatures, even if one were to positively identify them as baboons, which at this point is still reasonably questionable, really have no direct/obvious relevance to speaking to royalty. It is rather odd for a symbol of Horus, who himself was a symbol of the Pharaoh, to be missing in royal regalia. I’ll be posting more on this sometime, as an entry in its own right; let’s watch this space, shall we?!

Let's be clear in the mean time; I'm not ruling out the possibility that the alleged figure of a king on the Nag el-Hamdulab is that of a king--as I make clear in the blog entry, but I am not yet sold on that it is definitive that said image is that of a king/pharaoh, at least in the dynastic Egyptian guise/style of a king either!