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Egyptian Pre-Dynastic Naqada Blacktop Vase

Ancient Egypt, Pre-Dynastic period, late Naqada I to early Naqada II, ca. 3600 to 3300 BCE. A beautiful coil-formed Nile silt pottery vase with a highly-burnished exterior surface boasting a lustrous russet hue created with an iron-oxide slip. The conical body rests atop a flat base, its walls gradually flaring outwards to a thin rim and eventually into a deep interior cavity. The upper exterior rim as well as the vessel's basin are colored a deep black, comprised of thick carbon deposits formed by subjecting them extensively to thick clouds of smoke in an oxygen-deprived environment. Black-top vessels originally rose to popularity during the early Naqada I, a culture which inhabited ancient Egypt during its pre-dynastic period. The Naqada were first described by famed archaeologist William Flinders Petrie, however relatively little is known about them except that they were focused around the site of El-Amra in central Egypt, west of the Nile River. Size: 7.875" W x 6.625" H (20 cm x 16.8 cm).

Pre-Dynastic Egyptian black-top vessels were traditionally made from silt deposits taken from the Nile river due to their abundance in iron and silica. After the pot had dried but before it was fired, it would first be burnished and rubbed smooth with a small stone to create the pinstripe vertical striations still visible today. An iron-rich slip would then be applied just before firing; when placed in an oxygen-rich environment, the elevated temperatures would create the vessels’ signature red-orange hue.

After the end of the Naqada III period around 3,000 BCE, the use of Nile silt in pottery creations fell out of favor with the Pre-Dynastic Egyptians. This is due to the increase in popularity of marl clay, a newly-discovered material for creating terracotta objects which was easier to shape and enabled firing at far greater temperatures than the highly-porous silt. A few blacktop examples have been found from later Dynastic periods, however they were likely used solely for ritualistic and/or ceremonial purposes.

For a smaller but similar ritual example from the 13th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, please visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 20.2.45: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/545772

Condition: Area of repair to shoulder, with some new material and light overpainting along break lines. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, small pressure fissures along shoulder, some fading and discoloration to pigmentation, otherwise excellent. Light earthen deposits throughout.

Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection

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