October 1, 2010


With the obvious exception of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, PAHMA curates the largest collections of the predynastic period (that began in the 4th millennium BC) in the world. 
Harvard graduate George A. Reisner received funding from Phoebe Hearst in 1898 for five years of research. By the end of 1901 he had excavated parts of two large pre-dynastic necropoli at Ballas and El Ahaiwah and the more recent cemetery at Naga ed-Der. In addition he excavated portions of the large town of Der el-Ballas with palaces and commoner houses that he dated to the middle and new kingdoms although new excavations in the 1980s revealed earlier levels.
This sickle blade found outside of a house at Der el-Ballas was used to harvest one of the many grain fields that likely surrounded the town. Grain stems contain silicates that transfer onto the blade's edge during reaping, leaving a glossy deposit along the border. The small notches are also the result of such activity. In predynastic, late neolithic times harvesting was accomplished by groups of men and women whose tools included sickles made by inserting a line of these flint blades in a wood or bone handle. One beautiful wooden handle is featured on the British Museum web site.

A thousand years after the appearance of domesticated species,  permanent villages were numerous along the Nile Valley and agricultural production had greatly increased in scale and variety of crops. Since earlier times barley was cultivated also for making beer, then a staple in Egyptian diet, the invention of which was attributed to Osiris. A few thousand years later Greek writers praised the quality of Egyptian beer. In the 1st century BC Diodorus Siculus wrote:
They make a drink of barley [...] for smell and sweetness of taste is not much inferior to wine.
Beer was also much appreciated by the Romans and by middle eastern populations.


Hearst Museum #6-9125
Flint knife, small
Egypt; Der-el-Ballas; hill south of House A-L
Collected by George A. Reisner, 1900-1901