Over the years, surveys of the site have detected numerous cemeteries of Predynastic/ Early Dynastic date within the desert portion of Hierakonpolis. In 1982 and again in 1987 Michael Hoffman published a list of these localities with summaries of estimated area covered, date, status and number of graves. However this information was supplied almost entirely on the basis of surface indications. In the intervening years, excavations at several of these cemeteries (HK43, HK6, HK27) combined with archival research had led to a revision of this table, which is provided here. The localities are listed in roughly chronological order. While full details about all of them cannot be determined without excavation, as a group the cemeteries and their distribution still have much to tell us about predynastic Hierakonpolis and its development over time.
The cemeteries active in the Naqada IC-IIB period are: the elite cemetery at HK6 and its satellites at HK12 and HK13 located in the Wadi Abu Suffian; HK11E in a tributary wadi; HK43-44 on the southern border adjacent to Wadi Khamsini; and HK20A on the north side by the Wadi Terifa. HK11E, HK43 and HK20A appear to be positioned in order to service the large settlement localities most proximal to them (cf. HK11; HK54; HK22). Located roughly 2.5km apart, the placement of these non-elite cemeteries corresponds to the distribution observed in the Abydos and Naqada regions, where settlements and cemeteries were found fairly evenly spaced at 2km intervals and this even distribution suggests that ease of access for a community/clan was the rational for their existence. On the other hand, the cemetery at HK6 (and its satellites) is a separate entity, and served as a burial ground restricted to the elite probably since its inception in Naqada IC-IIA.
In the Naqada IIC period there is a notable change in cemetery location. The cemeteries in the Wadi Abu Suffian were abandoned and new cemeteries were established on former settlement area along the edge of the flood plain at HK27 (Fort Cemetery), HK31 (Painted Tomb Cemetery) and HK33.
While the Painted Tomb has generally been considered to lay within the HK33 cemetery, there is no reason to doubt the map of F.W. Green, which places it at the far southeastern tip of the desert site (Quibell and Green 1902: pl. lxxiiia). In this same location Fairservis (1972: fig. 1) noted a discrete cluster of mortuary remains which he labelled as HK31, when it was still extant; the site has since been overtaken by cultivation and housing.
The inception of the Fort Cemetery (HK27) indicates the shrinkage of desert occupation in Naqada IIC, but if HK33 was also an extensive cemetery at this time, then a relatively rapid abandonment of the desert settlement must have occurred. The nucleation of the population into floodplain settlements and the commensurate shift in cemetery location has been noted at numerous sites throughout Upper Egypt, and its causes much discussed (see Hoffman et al. 1986). The cemetery development at Hierakonpolis is further illustration of this process.
The number of cemeteries operational in the Naqada III period, when the desert was almost completely abandoned by the living, is harder to assess. We know that burial at HK6 was resumed, the Fort cemetery continued to grow in a south and westward direction, and activity at HK30G appears to have commenced. Other cemeteries are date only on the basis of surface observations or the brief reports of Quibell. All of these need to be re-confirmed.
Hierakonpolis is one of the few sites at which widely separated and distinct cemeteries for the different segments of society have been found. Extensive excavations by the current Expedition at the workers cemetery at HK43 and the elite cemetery at HK6 provide a unique opportunity to study the remains of individuals of different social status all from this same site and all dating to the same time. As a result we can see what it really meant to be rich and poor at about 3600BC. The differences are profound.
Explore the most remarkable features of these two cemeteries. Discussions of the Painted Tomb and the Fort cemetery will be coming soon.
For more information on the cemeteries of Hierakonpolis see:
Friedman, R., 2008.The cemeteries of Hierakonpolis, Archeo-Nil, 18: 8-29.