Robert J. Wenke

The general theoretical context of our research at Kom el-Hisn involves one of the most enduring problems of historical analysis, the evolution of ancient "civilization."

For over two millennia scholars have tried to explain the origins and nature of civilization, usually in a comparative framework: Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., Ibn Khaldoun in the fourteenth century A.D., and virtually every major social philosopher since have confronted the problem of explaining the similarities and differences among civilizations. The European discovery of New World civilizations and more than a century of archaeological research have brought the problem into sharp focus on a single issue: how are we to understand, and what factors explain, the fundamental similarities of ancient cultures in such areas as China, the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mesoamerica, and Andean South American?

The view that ancient civilizations are superficially similar but in some important ways are incommensurable has a long history, and in our own era some have rejected the traditional terms and objectives in approaches to this problem (Hodder 1985). Yet the evolution of early civilizations, or "states," remains at the center of anthropological and historical inquiry. For the "problem" of ancient civilizations is, of course, a classic specific expression of the larger issue of how we are to understand historical inquiry in general.

Since Herodotus and probably long before, ancient Egypt has been considered a particularly important resource for understanding the nature of civilization and cultural complexity. But despite ancient Egypt's well-known similarities to other early civilizations, its most important contributions to comparative analyses may derive from its apparently distinctive, almost contradictory cultural characteristics. Ancient texts suggest Egypt was one of the most centralized of early states, yet it also seems to have been the least urban; its bureaucratic complexity was extraordinary, yet the vast majority of ancient Egyptians seem to have lived in largely self-sufficient villages and towns; and though its political cycles were closely related to a single environmental factor (Nile flood levels), within these environmental limits Egypt's socio-political evolution was a baroque interweaving of factors, personalities, and events.

In trying to account for these apparent contradictions, scholars have used the Egyptian archaeological record to address many of the central issues of ancient cultural evolution, such as the determinants of urbanism (Bietak 1979; Trigger 1985), the political correlates of irrigation agriculture (Wittfogel 1957; Harris 1977: 157-63), the relationship of ideologies and socio-economic structures (Trigger 1979, Hoffman 1979), the links between modes of production and social differentiation (Janssen 1978), the evolutionary context of monumental architecture (H. Haas et al. n.d), and the ecological and demographic correlates of cultural evolution (Butzer 1976, 1984; Hassan 1981).

These studies, however, have been greatly limited by grossly inadequate archaeological evidence. Relevant archaeological--as opposed to epigraphic--evidence about early Egypt is so limited, in fact, that in some cases Egypt has been excluded from comparative analyses of early civilizations (e.g., Wright 1986), and none of the major general explanations of cultural complexity (reviewed in Wenke 1981) have been based on Egyptian data. Research in Egypt has been concentrated on Egyptian ritual centers, not on the settlements constituting the socio-economic structure that supported these centers; and Nile floods and millennia of settlement and cultivation have destroyed or obscured most of Egypt's early settlements.

One might suppose that Egypt's rich epigraphic record would compensate for this unbalanced view of the archaeological record, but this is only true in a limited sense. Certainly, the ancient texts give us a great deal of information about Egypt, but in a sense the archaeological and epigraphic data can be profitably combined only for a narrow range of questions. If we are interested primarily in simple reconstructions and descriptions of the Egyptian past, we can make good use of the synthesis of archaeological and epigraphic data. In the case of Kom el-Hisn, for example, the ancient texts mention the importance of cattle-raising in this area, and there is some apparent confirmation of the accuracy of these texts in the animal bones, plant remains, and other data we have recovered from Kom el-Hisn. But if our research concerns are more analytical and processual, involving such variables as relative changes over time in diet at Kom el-Hisn, or variability in the kinds and volumes of regional exchange in the Old Kingdom Delta, we shall have to rely almost exclusively on the kinds of measurable, quantifiable data only archaeology can supply. And such data, as noted above, are relatively scarce for ancient rural Egypt.

But the pace of Egyptian archaeological research has increased markedly in recent years (e.g., Bietak 1975; Hoffman 1982; Hassan 1984; Mills 1984; Kroeper and Wildung 1985; Harlan 1985; Jeffreys 1985; Von der Way et al. n.d.). The outlines of Egypt's socioeconomic history are clearer, and Egypt can now be compared more precisely with other ancient civilizations (Trigger 1985).

Our own research has been focussed on the provincial socioeconomic structure of the Old Kingdom (c. 2700-2215 B.C.). For reasons explained below, we consider changes in Old Kingdom provincial socioeconomic organization to be a key element in analyzing Pharaonic Egypt's developmental history. In this context we have conducted two seasons of excavations and other research at Kom el-Hisn (Figure 1), a large, west Delta site. We selected Kom el-Hisn for this analysis because: it was occupied during the period when Egypt's national administrative institutions first formed fully and then underwent major changes; its extensive, well-preserved, Old Kingdom occupations are almost entirely unobscured by later habitation; and its political status (as a provincial capital) and its location (near the desert/Delta margin and a branch of the Nile, and close to the Libyan frontier and the Mediterranean) are such that its composition probably reflects diverse sectors of early economic and socio-political systems.

In our research at Kom el-Hisn we have attempted to reconstruct elements of economic and social variability within the site, in order to relate these elements to relatively simple concepts involving functional specialization and the organization and control of economic production. Our ultimate objective is to relate this analysis to a general interpretation of Egyptian cultural evolution, and to comparisons between Egypt and other early civilizations. The specific kinds of comparisons we hope to make are described and explained later in this chapter.


To understand what Kom el-Hisn was as a community, and the role it played in the Old Kingdom Egyptian state, we must first consider Old Kingdom Egyptian economy, society, and polity in general. A detailed review of Old Kingdom Egypt is beyond the scope of this volume, however; only those elements potentially most relevant to an analysis of Kom el-Hisn are considered here.

Already by the early Old Kingdom, Egypt was a complexly-organized nation-state, with monumental architecture, a multi-tiered economy, and a centralized and hierarchically-arranged bureaucracy. Trigger (1983:69) notes that the great achievement of the Early Dynastic period was the formation of the centralized administration and elites that formed the core of Egyptian cultural complexity for the succeeding three millennia. Thus our analyses of Kom el-Hisn's Old Kingdom occupations relate to the study of the development of Egypt's economic and administrative institutions, not their earliest appearance.

In analyzing the factors that determined Kom el-Hisn's cultural characteristics and history, we have focussed on the following related factors.

1. The power of the pharaoh. The composition and history of communities like Kom el-Hisn must be assumed to be partly determined by variability in the power of the pharaoh and elites to control rural sectors of the state. Wilson notes that the written language of Old Kingdom Egypt had no words for "government" or "state" as impersonal terms, conceived apart from the pharaoh: the Egyptian ". . . theory of government was that the king was everywhere and did everything . . . . The fiction of direct delegation of duty and of a direct report to the king was impossible to maintain in practice; but in the theory of government it was no fiction, it was a working reality" (1951: 79) (see also Kemp 1983; Trigger 1979: 32-50). Particularly in the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate periods, inscriptions suggest, the pharaohs personally directed the settlement of Egypt, and they did so for a variety of secular motives, including the consolidation of royal power, stimulation of economic development, and the defense of the frontiers. Pharaoh Wahkare' Khety III (2070-2040 B.C.), in his instructions to his son, Merykare, forcefully recommended building towns as a means to counteract political fragmentation and inefficient organization, especially in the eastern Delta, which, he lamented, was being subdivided into rival provinces and cities (Badawy 1967: 105). Baer's classic study of rank and title in the Old Kingdom began as attempt to document "disintegration of central authority and the rise of semiautonomous families in the provinces" (1960: 1), and though the epigraphic evidence to do this was lacking, his study illustrated the great complexity and change in Old Kingdom bureaucratic hierarchies. Kemp (1983: 108) suggests that in Upper Egypt the control of local affairs by the pharaoh's overseer was gradually diluted during the late Old Kingdom, culminating in the appearance of provincial governors, or nomarchs. Scholars differ on the extent of fluctuations of royal power during the 4th and 5th Dynasties--when Kom el-Hisn was occupied. Trigger (1984: 107) raises the possibility that a slow but continuous expansion and elaboration of society and economy in the Old Kingdom may have been accompanied by growing complexity and power of provincial administrative institutions (see also Kanawati 1977: 69-77; Goedicke 1967). The apparent emergence of powerful nomarchs in the 6th Dynasty may reflect a reduction of pharaonic power, but the pharaohs of this period were still able to send expeditions to Nubia and Palestine and to exert considerable internal control as well. The presumed weakening of the central Egyptian government in the First Intermediate Period (c. 2160-2040 B.C.) may have arisen out of the growing power of the nomarchs under the long rule of Pepi II, in association with declines in Nile flood levels (Butzer 1980: 278; Kemp 1983: 113). The few texts and fragmentary archaeological evidence from the First Intermediate Period seem to reflect "a loss of equilibrium between a powerful court and provincial aspirations" (Kemp 1983: 115).

Reconstructing the socio-political changes of the Middle Kingdom (c. 2080-1640 B.C.)--Egypt's first true imperial age--is a complex matter. In this period, successive rulers sought to increase national integration while directing defense and trade along increasingly active frontiers. For example, Ammenemes I (c. 1980 B.C.)--whose throne name appears in a clay seal impression at Kom el-Hisn--seems to have been in a constant struggle for power with provincial governors during a period of Asiatic threat to the east Delta (Kemp 1983).

Throughout the first millennium of the Egyptian state, there was, then, a tension between the central government and other elites. Kemp suggests that "one must imagine a network of government agencies spread throughout the country, attempting by bureaucratic methods total assessment and management of resources, and overlying to varying degrees the semi-autonomous functioning of pious-foundations and private estates whose own 'officials' would have had as their principal concern not the facilitating of the transfer of wealth to the crown, but rather the effective operation of the foundation or estate of which they themselves were the chief beneficiaries" (1983: 83).

2. The organization and operation of provincial economic systems. As is discussed below, a critical issue in evaluating Kom el-Hisn is to determine if it was simply an agricultural community, largely self-sufficient in most goods and services, and linked to the political centers mainly through taxation and other indirect exploitative relations; or, in contrast, was a specialized element in a functionally interdependent provincial and national economic system, with direct administration by agents of the pharaoh.

Potentially one of the most illuminating sources of evidence about these economic aspects of Old Kingdom Egypt would be its settlement patterns. In early complex societies, one can expect that the social and administrative hierarchies will be mirrored to some extent in the size and functional complexity of communities, not only at the level of individual communities,

but at the level of regional and national settlement patterns as well.

We know from texts that from the Early Dynastic period at least, Egyptian society, aside from the pharaoh, was divided into a literate class of administrators who were charged with executing the pharaoh's policies and who drew their authority from pharaoh, and under them a class of soldiers, craftsmen, and others who executed the orders of the ruling elites, and at the bottom of society, the illiterate peasantry (Kemp 1983: 81). Thus, we might expect settlements to reflect these social classes in the kinds and contents of architecture, tombs, tools, etc., and we might also expect the regional and national settlement patterns to reflect these social divisions. Unfortunately, except for Kom el-Hisn, only a few small areas of provincial early Pharaonic communities have been excavated (reviewed in Kemp 1983; Bietak 1979; Mills 1984; Krzyzaniak and Kobusiewicz, eds. in press; Hoffman 1982; Fairservis 1972). These communities seem small by Mesopotamian standards; some were walled (e.g., Buhen [O'Connor 1987]) and possessed modest public architecture. In Upper Egypt, Hierakonpolis, Elephantine, Edfu, Buhen, and Abydos were all substantial communities in the Old Kingdom. Most appear to have had a rectangular design, with an interior citadel or walled areas (Kemp 1983: 102). But all of these communities are insufficiently preserved or excavated to provide an integrated plan of the community, and comparatively little is known about their floral and faunal remains and other economic data. Perhaps our best evidence about the correspondence of rural Egyptian communities to one or the other of these stereotypes would be in their regional settlement patterns, but we know little about these. Kemp suggests that, unlike the "primate distribution" of the Predynastic, when Nagada, Hierakonpolis, and a few other towns were probably by far the largest communities in Upper Egypt, the Old Kingdom settlement distribution was one in which settlements of varying sizes were distributed around several larger towns (e.g., Hierakonpolis), which in turn were spaced fairly evenly down the Nile (1983: 103). In the Delta, Old Kingdom settlements (e.g., Kom el-Hisn, Mendes, Tell Basta, possibly Bhuto) seem to have been relatively large, but we know little about the regional rank-size distribution.

We can expect that much of what Kom el-Hisn was would have

been determined by the kind of agricultural land-tenure and production on which the community was based. Agricultural resources were of three basic forms in ancient Egypt: land owned directly by the Crown; land privately owned and subject to taxation; and land held in the form of "pious foundations." According to epigraphic evidence, large estates were frequently created in the Delta as "pious foundations"--the establishment by an individual of a fund, supported by the donation of property or other income-producing assets, and used to ensure the maintenance of a cult center. Pious foundations recorded on monuments in the Giza-Saqqara area (Posener-Krieger 1976; Jacquet-Gordon 1962) committed large estates in the Delta to the support of cult centers, and it is possible that Kom el-Hisn was founded and functioned as such an estate. As an incentive to establish communities in the Delta, the government granted some of these estates exemption from taxes and corvee labor requirements (Badaway 1967: 105). A primary economic role of at least some of these Delta estates was in cattle-raising (Helck 1975; Kees 1961: 29-30; Ghoneim 1977: 25; see also Cruz-Uribe 1985: xiii). Moens and Wetterstrom (in press) note that cattle occur in the names of four Delta nomes, and that references to the cow-goddess Hathor's cult at Kom el-Hisn are known from the Middle Kingdom and earlier (Helck 1975; Kees 1961).

The exact nature of the social and economic relationships that evolved around pious-foundations, their local communities, and cult centers is a complex matter, for which we have some instructive Old Kingdom texts. The control and economic benefits of estates connected with pious foundations appear to have been hereditary in many cases, and provincial elites probably derived much of their status and income from their links to local temples and cult centers (Goedicke 1970: 131-48; Helck 1974; Pirenne 1932-5, Vol. II: 372-8; Kemp 1983:105-7). Kemp (1983: 106-7) notes that the size of these estates could vary from one to over 50 hectares, and that although the central government probably exerted direct control over most of these, a royal charter of immunity could be granted. The economic and other relationships among royal officials and provincial administrators of pious foundations must have altered with the fluctuations of the country's political and economic functions as a whole, and Kemp concludes that overall the ". . .relationship . . . must have been a very delicate one" (1983:107).

In addition to agricultural production, another important reflection of provincial integration into the national political and economic system would be the nature of commodity production and distribution. Tomb contents reflect scores of industries in materials whose volumes and standardized forms indicate considerable centralized control. Yet most scholars suggest that well into the Pharaonic era rural Egyptian settlements were self-sufficient in most foods and crafts, and that to the limited extent that they produced commodities for export it was on a part-time basis and in a regional exchange system based on barter (Trigger 1984: 104, 1985; Kemp 1983; Butzer 1978: 17). Relevant archaeological (as opposed to epigraphic) evidence from rural communities on this point is scarce, however. Specifically, we do not know, as Kemp notes, "whether. . .the groupings of estates in the larger pious foundations were built around existing settlement patterns or, alternatively, interfered with them" (1983:96).

International trade in the Old Kingdom was substantial (though perhaps not comparable to that of early Mesopotamia [R. McC. Adams 1981; Wright 1986]). In the Delta, most international trade may have moved overland; there is no evidence of extensive port facilities in the Old Kingdom period (cf. Helck 1971: 5-6). But even the location of the coastline in early Pharaonic times is uncertain, and excavations at possible trading entrepots, such as Bhuto, are in their preliminary stages. It is unclear to what extent a community like Kom el-Hisn would have participated in international exchange--though in later times it seems to have been a part of the system through which cattle and other wealth expropriated from Libya were transferred to the central authorities at Giza (Moens and Wetterstrom in press).


In our research at Kom el-Hisn, we are particularly concerned with the determinants of the size, economic functioning, and socio-political organization of rural communities in political systems like that of Old Kingdom Egypt. We assume that if we can determine how provincial Egypt both resembled and differed from other early civilizations in settlement pattern characteristics, the general nature and mechanisms of early cultural complexity may be more evident.

Figure 2 illustrates in the most general terms the theoretical context of our research. In this figure, variability over time in some of the most important environmental, economic, and demographic variables in Egyptian antiquity is reconstructed. These reconstructions are highly speculative, and they are not in and of themselves explanations: even to the extent that some of these variables, when accurately reconstructed, may show strong correlation, the task of the analyst is to explain such correlations, not simply identify them. Nonetheless, there are important questions implicit in Figure 2 concerning the general nature of cultural change. To what extent, for example, can we ever hope to identify "causal" connection between such variables? Is the nature of causality in this sense inappropriate for complex cultural analyses? And, is there any useful sense in which we can describe the tempo of cultural change? In the biological sciences the question of evolutionary tempo remains a major issue, with some asserting that evolution occurs in a discontinuous, non-gradual pattern, whereas others see the general pattern of biological evolution to be gradual. Major questions of social philosophy are seen to be directly at issue in some of these debates (Gould and Eldredge 1977).

On superficial examination, the determinants of Egyptian

history, particularly in the form of its settlement pattern

history, seem relatively few and obvious: the Nile determines agricultural productivity, and a great deal of the variance in settlement size through time in Egypt is statistically predictable from the width of the flood plain and a few other variables (Butzer 1976, Butzer student). Most explanations of early Egyptian settlement patterns are, in fact, essentially functional in nature: that is, in trying to explain, for example, the apparent combination in Old Kingdom Egypt of extreme political centralization and a largely non-urban settlement pattern with a low level of functional interdependence among communities, scholars have tended to begin by estimating the costs and benefits of this and different arrangements. The similarity of microenvironments in the Nile Valley and Delta seems to offer relatively few economic inducements to voluminous interregional exchange or cooperation. Agricultural potential is quite similar along the length of the Nile, and the desert borders offer some protection from invasion. Even though transport of goods and information via the Nile is cheap and reliable, and Egypt's ancient documents describe regular transport of foodstuffs among communities (Hayes 1964; O'Connor 1983: 226-32), in the early periods such state-directed redistribution may have been relatively minor. Water control seems to have been local until late in the last century. One great centrifugal force in Egyptian history seems to have been the recurrent fragmentation of the country into largely self-sufficient, functionally redundant units based on the natural flood basins of the Nile (Butzer 1976, 1978:17-18). Thus, generally, there seem to have been few stimuli to elaborate functional interdependence among communities, and thus, perhaps, few of the urban centers that often seem to result from such interdependence.

Yet early Egypt's non-urban character and low level of functional interdependence cannot be understood entirely as results of simple ecological determinants--as contemporary Cairo amply illustrates. Large cities and a differentiated settlement size hierarchy appear to be cost-effective in pre-industrial economies because they offer advantages in organization of economic production, social control, military security, etc. In Mesopotamia and elsewhere, cities apparently offered effective environments for organization and the transmission of techniques of craft-production, administrative and military training, and other activities on which complex societies depend (R.McC. Adams 1966, 1981; Johnson 1982; Wenke 1981). In Egypt these same activities may have been carried out in ritual centers that were not as functionally interdependent with their rural populations as was apparently the case in Mesopotamia. In fact, Trigger (1985) suggests that Egypt may even have been less urbanized in the Early Dynastic era than in the Predynastic, because the emerging state suppressed conflicts between the major towns. Similarly, Service (1975: 225-237) argues that in Egypt the absence of cities promoted stability: by dispersing most administrators except the priests and those with a vested interest in the continuation of the system, the Egyptian state avoided the class-divisiveness of other large urban centers. This contrasts with the Mesopotamian model, where the rapid and extreme urbanization may have been a political strategy by rulers trying to defend and extend their territories (R.McC. Adams 1981).

Various scholars have interpreted settlement pattern variability, functional interdependence, and related concepts in evolutionary, as opposed to functionalist, terms. Dunnell (1980), for example, suggests that functional interdependence in the mechanisms required to reproduce the society's means of production is the defining criterion of cultural complexity, in that a change in the level of cultural selection occurs when societies of functionally independent communities become functionally interdependent (see also Wenke 1981). Urbanized settlement patterns have even been explained in terms of their efficiencies with regard to the laws of thermodynamics (R.N. Adams 1981).

In any case, there is no necessary contrast between extreme political and religious centralization and a very low level of functional integration. Exchange among components of a political system may be regular and voluminous, but in ritual, not necessarily staple, commodities (Earle 1977). As is discussed below, for example, a principal function of Kom el-Hisn seems to have been to raise cattle, which were the focus of the Hathor cult--through which part of the economy of Old Kingdom Egypt was organized.

All these forms of explanation are subject to many problems (Salmon 1982), and in any case, they are largely untested archaeologically in Egypt. The stereotype of Old Kingdom Egypt as a non-urban society may be accurate, but it is largely an inference based on very little data: even the supposed largest Old Kingdom community--Memphis--is known only from texts and from fragmentary finds amidst the later occupations that are presumed to cover it (Jeffreys 1985).

It is in this context of various explanations of settlement composition and arrangement, and the scarcity of relevant data from Egypt, that we have designed our work at Kom el-Hisn. To link these larger issues to Kom el-Hisn, we have sought evidence about: (1) the local environment, so that we can estimate the agricultural potential of this and other areas of the Delta and such conditions, for example, as the extent of deforestation and agricultural clearing; (2) the size of the community, so that we can estimate the scale of commodity production and occupational specialization; (3) architectural differentiation, so that we can make inferences about socio-economic and political hierarchies in the community; (4) the volume of imported materials in the settlement, so that we can estimate Kom el-Hisn's links to regional, national, and international exchange systems; (5) the nature of the agricultural system, to determine if Kom el-Hisn was mainly a self-sufficient community engaged in subsistence agriculture, or, possibly, a government-directed, specialized producer of cattle or other exportable commodities; and (6) the depositional history of the community, so that we can extend our regional survey and use remote-sensing data to reconstruct Kom el-Hisn's regional settlement pattern.

We have summarized these various aspects of our research objectives by constructing two alternative models of what the community at Kom el-Hisn was like at a given time in the Old Kingdom.

Model I. Kom el-Hisn was established as a pious foundation and to provide cattle and orchard products to the central government. As a regional center it imported some products from central government workshops, but it was largely self-sufficient, and most of its external supplies came from regional markets. Its populace consisted mainly of agriculturalists, who were administered by a resident agent of the pharaoh. Except for this agent and, perhaps, a few elite families, most people lived in simple mud-brick houses that differed little in construction or contents. Because of the heavy centralization of economic and political power at Memphis and perhaps a few other centers, Kom el-Hisn was part of the lower end of a largely "primate" rank-size settlement distribution and supplied only a few goods and services to smaller communities in the Delta.

Model II. Like provincial Mesopotamian settlements, Kom el-Hisn's initial settlement was in response to both local and national socio-economic factors, and the community served a large hinterland with goods and services. Although participating in the national economy, it was itself functionally quite complex, producing a wide range of agricultural and craft products for internal consumption and export. Its inhabitants were mainly farmers but included specialists and administrators, so that there was significant social stratification and preferential access to the community's wealth, power, and prestige. Interactions between the people of Kom el-Hisn and the rest of Egypt were sufficiently frequent that its artifact styles reflect regional and national influences. Its internal functional complexity and external relations were such that Kom el-Hisn was in the middle of a roughly linear rank-size distribution of Old Kingdom settlements.

We recognize that many plausible alternative models could be constructed, that few of these imagined characteristics are mutually exclusive, and that these characteristics are not likely to have unique reflections in the archaeological record. The accuracy of any such models could never be conclusively "proven," and we use them mainly as a basis to specify the variable interactions of potential importance to our analyses.

In general summary, then, of the cultural context of Kom el-Hisn and our research design, we have used Kom el-Hisn to take a somewhat unusual perspective on the early Egyptian state, a view from the the lower levels of this political system up to the elites of this state. The major premise of our research is that to understand the evolution of Egyptian cultural complexity, we must focus on the organization and administration of the rural economy that supported the tiny fraction of the society composed of the royalty and other elites.


Every archaeological analysis is to some extent reconstructive, in the sense that at some stage in the analysis one must interpret the significance of the archaeological data in terms of some inferential notions about the cultural processes underlying these data. In the case of Kom el-Hisn, we are clearly attempting to reconstruct elements of the socio-economic functioning of this community so that we can relate it to evidence about regional and national variables, and then place the whole in a comparative context vis-a-vis reconstructions of similar aspects of other early civilizations.

Complex debates attend the problem of at what stage these reconstructive elements enter the analytical process and, ultimately, how they are involved in the explanation and interpretation of the archaeological record (e.g., Dunnell 1986; Salmon 1982; Watson, Redman, and LeBlanc 1986). The reader will be spared any substantial review of these debates, given that the primary purpose of this volume is to report the data and preliminary interpretations of our two initial seasons.

Nonetheless, to understand our excavation strategy and tactics, it is necessary to consider a few of the methodological assumptions and tactics we have employed. Central to most of these methodological issues is the problem of unit-formation, which is discussed at some length in Chapter Three. These matters of unit-formation directly involve the specifics of our techniques of stratigraphic analysis, which are discussed in Chapter Two. Both of these issues are fundamental to the process at the center of our research design, which is to partition Kom el-Hisn's remains into units that reflect functional and stylistic variability.

For example, for the basic problem of reconstructing some aspects of Kom el-Hisn's economic functions, we must determine the spatial association of selected categories of lithics, ceramics, plant and animal remains, and architecture. The determination of spatial associations of this kind might seem to be a relatively simple and straightforward problem of showing that these classes of evidence are found close to one another. But the statistical and other problems of determining and measuring this sense of proximity are many and complex. These artifacts and botanical remains must first of all be tallied in such a way that the contents of one housefloor, for example, can be compared with those of another. But we must assume that the sediments comprising the living floor of different buildings were deposited over somewhat different lengths of time--and the precision of stratigraphic analysis can never be such that units of equivalent time can be determined. Then too, at Kom el-Hisn, as in most Egyptian sites, older occupations were continually mined for construction materials, so that in later levels of the site seemingly mudbrick contains pottery sherds and other debris, which when these buildings decay deposit their contents in such a way that "reverse stratigraphy" can be expected in many instances: that is, pottery from one occupation is incorporated in bricks for a later occupation, and as these bricks decompose they fall on the residues of these later occupations, and thereby violate in every sense the Law of Stratigraphic Superposition.

The statistical problems of determining spatial association are even more severe when analyzing materials that do not come from areas neatly bounded by mudbrick walls and obvious floor deposits. In some excavation units at Kom el-Hisn, for example, we removed successive layers of debris that were entirely unassociated with architecture over the 1 - 2 m of their depth. Yet these levels contained dense concentrations of animal bones, sherds, lithics, etc. We can ask in such cases exactly what the spatial associations of these layers can be assumed to mean. Some of these levels probably represent regrading of the site surface to prepare it for reconstruction, in which case the redeposited sherds and other debris may reflect very little of the "tool-kits" these artifacts comprise. Other levels in these non-architectural deposits probably represent the deposition of small amounts of garbage over long periods of time, and here too it is not reasonable to assume, for example, that because two rim sherds from two different kinds of vessels, a sickle blade, and a pig jaw are found together in the same 0.10 cubic meter of deposits, they were used in combination for some specific task. Even if economic activities such as winnowing grain or making flint sickle blades left clear "signatures" in their artifacts and other debris, and even if the remains of episodes of such activities were neatly superimposed stratigraphically, the mechanics of excavation are such that one cannot expect the whole material record of these episodes to be precisely contained in a given 2 X 2 meters of an excavation unit--it's more likely that one corner of the extent of remains from one episode is encountered in one level, and a different area of the record of the other activity is exposed in the underlying strata.

When one includes the problems of differential preservation of various kinds of ceramic wares and biological remains, as well as imprecisions in separating depositional events stratigraphically, errors of identification of artifact and biological specimens, small sample sizes, and so forth, the inference that the spatial conjunction of objects reflects functional or chronological association appears somewhat suspect.

Our main resources in the face of such problems are to make the most precise stratigraphic determinations as possible and to collect and analyze artifacts and other remains in terms of assemblages that reflect these stratigraphic determinations; and to use large sample size, appropriate object classifications and typologies, and carefully-chosen statistical techniques.

Thus, for example, in trying to establish something as basic as whether or not the distribution of animal bones through Kom el-Hisn's strata reflects any changes in the community's diet over time, we have had to hedge our arguments (Chapter VI) with numerous qualifications, beginning with our inadequate samples from the lower levels of the site, the differential preservation of fish vis-a-vis other remains, the difficulties of identifying the stratigraphic units that could meaningfully be compared, and the wholesale violations of the assumptions of most parametric statistical tests posed by these data sets.

These many problems in interpreting Kom el-Hisn's remains are reviewed here not to suggest that any statistical treatment of these kinds cannot usefully be applied, but to underline the preliminary nature of our research to date, and also to explain why we have employed the various methods, strategies, and tactics described in the succeeding chapters.