Shallow bowls for mortuary meals from Tarkhan

archaeology of the path towards the intellectual formation of the state in Early Dynastic Egypt

Martin Bommas, Eman Khalifa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


During what is referred to as the Early Intermediate Period (EIP; 3300–3150 BC), the process of state formation led to a diversity of material data, rather than simplification as previously thought. This development is reflected by the stratification of social groups whose access to sources defined their rank in society. While shallow bowls made of stone catered for exclusive mortuary meals with ancestor gods in the hidden chambers of mastaba tombs in the Memphite area, contemporary shallow bowls made of clay catered for levels of society who were deprived from accessing resources, infrastructure and production methods owned by the elite. In a combined approach to archaeological and written evidence, this article argues for the emergence of social stratification as the product of an intellectual process. Thus, Pyramid Texts provide a valuable insight in retrospect into the development of funerary rituals long before their Verschriftlichung. As the evidence from Tarkhan shows, newly developed funerary rituals catered both for the socialisation with elite gods identified by shallow bowls, while, at the same time, new strategies for a funerary cult were established, which involved offering dishes supplied by the living during funerary festivals. At the end of the Early Intermediate Period, actual mortuary meals were abandoned and reduced to a topos eagerly referred to by the Pyramid Texts, while a direct contact with the deceased became institutionalised and an integral part of religious practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages11
JournalMitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo
Volume74 (2018)
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Early Dynastic Egypt
  • pottery
  • Pyramid Texts
  • state formation
  • funerary belief
  • ceramology
  • social history

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