Power and Competition in the Upper Egyptian Predynastic: A View from the Predynastic Settlement at el-Mahâsna, Egypt

David Allen Anderson

PhD Thesis 2006

Questions concerning the basis of power and processes which lead to social stratification have occupied anthropological research for decades, resulting in a number of competing schools of thought. This research examines two of these; factional competition and managerial models for the rise of social complexity. Factional competition models propose that individuals are in a constant state of competition for power and leadership positions and use a variety of arenas and methods by which to compete. Managerial models on the other hand suggest individuals are given power by the populace in exchange for managing subsistence goods and production for the overall benefit of the society.

These models are evaluated in light of evidence from the Predynastic period cultures of Upper Egypt, where scholars have suggested that each of these models reflect the processes which led to the formation of the centralized Egyptian state. Data for this study was obtained through a program of systematic surface collections and new, large-scale excavations at the Predynastic settlement site of el-Mahâsna. Patterns of artifacts and activity areas revealed through these efforts are evaluated against implications for intrasite patterning derived from managerial and factional competition models specifically proposed for the Nile Valley.

Results of this study suggest that elites during the later Naqada I and early-mid Naqada II periods were not heavily involved in the management of subsistence goods, nor do they appear to have been competing through large scale feasting or the production of luxury goods for use in the funerary industry, as suggested. Further, results from this study suggest that competition for power in the Nile Valley may already have progressed beyond the level of individual communities, and may have been taking place at a regional level between established leaders by the mid-Naqada I. Finally, the data from el-Mahâsna reveals a pattern of elite activities focused upon ritual and ceremony associated with a possible early cult structure