Picking Up the Pieces: Political, Cultural, and Economic Relationships in Egypt During the Late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period (c. 1850–1550 BC)

Reconstructing how different regions of Egypt interacted during the Late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period is challenging. Written sources are scarce, so we must rely instead on material culture. By examining pottery through network analysis, this project aims at understanding internal interactions in Egypt during a period of political turmoil.

The project examines how sites in Egypt interacted, and how these interactions evolved, between c. 1850 and 1550 BC. This time span includes the later part of the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1775–1550 BC). The latter was characterized by both political and cultural divisions, while the first was still a time of political unity under one king. However, signs of weakness among the ruling dynasty, and an incipient regionalization with respect to material culture, can already be detected.

The goal of the research is to advance our knowledge of this time of political and cultural fragmentation by applying network analysis to a broader range of pottery finds from contemporary sites in Egypt. The advantage of focusing on pottery is that this is the most common and the best documented category of objects for the examined period. The emphasis is on pottery types that are not only widely found in different regions of Egypt during the period examined, but also show variation between these regions and can be easily dated due to rapid change over time. Central to this project is network analysis. This is a quantitative and statistical method that, through the calculation of mathematical algorithms and the creation of graphs, thanks to the help of digital tools, allows us to detect relationships between entities, based on what and how much these have in common. In this case, the entities will be the Egyptian sites dated to ca. 1850–1550 BC, examined based on the types of pottery that they have in common (or not!). Each type is characterized by specific features (e.g. fabric, shape, technique, and surface treatment).

By applying network analysis, this project will identify geographical areas where the sites shared more types of pottery, forming therefore regions, and it will reconstruct how these regions interacted. It will also retrace how the different fabrics and shapes characterizing the pottery analysed were distributed, and how this distribution developed in time, i.e. spreading from one area to another, or starting from a particular one and becoming more common in the rest of Egypt, or remaining a local feature. Systematically and quantitatively analysing the types of pottery in common between sites, as well as comparing the results with what is known about the political situation of the period examined and with the distribution of stone and metal materials, which also come from specific areas, will further allow to shed light on the political developments of this period and on the exchanges between different places. Lastly, comparing the contexts where similar types of pottery were found can help understand whether they were used in similar or different ways.

Principal Investigator

Arianna Sacco

Duration

09/2021–08/2023

Funding

NWO Rubicon