"Each part of the world recapitulates, shares in and experiences the history of the world as a whole"
Fernand Braudel

Bowl with Cattle Representations

datation
Between 1900 and 1650 BC
provenance
Nubia, Addendan cemetery T, Grave 230
area
period
materials
themes

This bowl was discovered in the Cemetery T in Addendan (grave 230) which belongs to the C-Group culture. The decoration engraved on the body of the vase is divided up into several registers. The two middle registers are more developed than the others. Each contains a line of cattle with and without horns: the first alternates between the large and small animals whilst the second only shows the larger. The silhouette of the animals stands against a background entirely covered with small vertical incisions. This manner of just marking the contours of the represented figure is similar to the many rock carvings of Nubia from the Neolithic age, where local wildlife occupied an important place.

The emphasis placed on cattle evokes the first people of North East Africa, where societies of nomadic shepherds and gatherers moved according to seasonal camps for cattle grazing and the economy of gathering. The domestication of cattle occurred towards 8500 BC: most likely of African origin and it remained dominant during the following millennia in the Egyptian-Sudanese area, as in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, as opposed to caprid (goats and lamb) rearing that emerged in the Middle East. The fat oxen from Nubia were highly appreciated by ancient Egyptians; they are visible in scenes found in graves and temples of the New Kingdom. A source of wealth in rural societies, cattle also occupied an important position in religious and funerary practices from the Neolithic era. The offering and the representation of “bucrania” (skulls of oxen with their horns) can be seen in Africa, Europe and Asia: a testament to its diffusion. It appeared in Nubia in the Neolithic period and continues into the culture of Kerma (2600-1500 BC) where it plays a major role in burial customs: the grave of a prince of the Middle Kerma period had no less than 4000 skulls of cattle arranged close to his burial mound. In 1st Dynasty Egypt (around 3100-2900 BC), bucrania were placed in front of the facade of elite tombs. Today, bucrania are still attested in various geographical areas, where the animal remains a symbol of power, wealth and fertility.

see also