“Black-topped pottery is made by hand from a tempered or untempered paste and is characterised by a distinctive black lip. It is a marker of many cultures present at sites in the Western Desert. Although its pres-ence in the Dakhleh Oasis region is reported as early as 7120 ± 90 bp(Hope 2002: 41), recent refinement of the chronology questions the association of this pottery type with these early dates (Warfe 2003, 2008).Its earliest occurrence in a good stratigraphic context comes from Nabta Playa with a date of 5810 ± 80 bp (Table 1).
Black-topped pottery is best known for its association with the Predynastic of Upper Egypt, beginning with the Badarian culture, during which it was a predominate type (Fried-man 1994). It continues to be typical of pottery production during the Naqada I and Naqada IIA–B periods in Upper Egypt, but becomes less common in Naqada IIC and appears to fall out of use by Naqada IID.
Its production is revived in the Naqada III period when it is exclusively used for cult vessels of specific shape (Sowada 1999).It is difficult to determine the reason behind the production of Black-topped vessels. Several theories as to why it first developed have been postulated. W. Needler (1984) argues that Black-topped pottery originated as a special type of Polished-red ware because both share the same surface treatments and forms. The black top is also thought to imitate black-lipped gourd vessels that were heat-treated to prevent splinteringaround the cut edge (Arkell 1960; Lucas & Harris 1962). K.N. Sowada(1999) maintains that the makers of Black-topped pottery during the Early Dynastic (Naqada III) period adopted a colour scheme that reflected the vessels’ ritual functions. She refers to the symbolic nature of colour use in Egyptian art in which red is the colour of chaos and death and black is the colour of the fertile land of Egypt and resurrection, suggest-ing that the two colours were combined to represent the contrast between life and death.
How Black-topped pottery fits into the larger picture of cultural change is a more complicated question. At Nabta Playa, the earliest examples hail from Site E-75-8, located on the north-western edge of the lake, which yielded stratified deposits in alternating layers of cultural material and fossilised dune (Figs. 2–3). The first Black-topped pottery-bearing layer at E-75-8 is Layer 8 (Nelson 2001b) (Fig. 4),which is bounded by a Middle Neolithic context dated to 6155 bp.This first appearance is in conjunction with Red/Brownish wares that lack the blackened rim, but share with it other features, including construction, material and surface treatment (Table 1) (Nelson 2002b;Zedeño 2002).
Red/Brownish ware is also present at Nabta Playa at site E-92-9, which has been dated to 6000 bp, but without accompanying
Black-topped pottery (Applegate & Zedeño 2001).
The assemblage from this site is small,with only 45 sherds, and the absence of Black-topped pottery may simply represent a sampling error. Nevertheless, this shows that the early phase for the complex of pottery in which Black-topped pottery first occurs issecurely dated to around 6000 bp and is present at multiple sites at Nabta Playa.
The presence of Black-topped pottery as part of a larger ceramic complex sharing general features is important: first, because this combination of features represents broad changes in technology, which willbe discussed in detail below; and second, because this complex,although referred to by a variety of cultural names, including Badarian,Tasian and A-Group, appears to be a widespread phenomenon. Broadly defined, this ceramic complex includes Black-topped pottery, ripple-ware and tulip-shaped vessels, together or in conjunction with other vessels that fall within the more general Red/Brown, Qussier Clastic and Olive wares (as described in Nelson 2002b). The extent of this complex includes the Nabta Playa area (Nelson 2002a), the adjacent Gebel Ramlah(Kobusiewicz et al. 2004, this volume), Dakhleh Oasis (in the culture described as Bashendi B in McDonald 2002), Kurkur Oasis (Darnell &Darnell 2006), as far east as Wadi Atulla in the Eastern Desert (Friedman& Hobbs 2002), southwards to Khartoum (see, for example, Arkell 1949:pls. 91–100) and beyond. This ceramic complex replaces the rocker-stamped and impressed wares that were also widespread. It is not possible within the scope of this paper to discuss all of the details of the distribution and variability of this new ceramic complex; nevertheless,it is necessary to understand the broader changes that led to this transformation in pottery and to consider this transition within the larger context of the formation of cultures in southern Egypt and northern Sudan”
“NABTA PLAYA BLACK-TOPPED POTTERY:TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION AND SOCIAL CHANGE
& EMAN KHALIFA
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, USA”