Globalization in Nubia

during the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period

(2000- 1500 B.C.)

Walter de Winter

University of Leiden




The research to the economic function of the Ancient Egyptian “Second Cataract” Forts, now in present day northern Sudan, focuses on pottery studies and study to the sealing system that was used during the Late Middle Kingdom. The abundance of the sealings due to mass production in contrast with the Early Middle Kingdom points to a globalization leap in interconnectivity. The system monitored the increased flow of goods, and reflected a certain administrative control, and the use of economic institutes like treasuries, granaries, magazines, provisions, “Upper Fort”, Seal of the Governor, and Seal of Sesostris, with officials attached to that.The adoption of this sealing system by the Kerma culture during the Second Intermediate Period suggests trade contacts with Egypt and concurring social changes.

New research could point out that the adoption of the sealing system could have been not after the Middle Kingdom, but even during this period due to a chronological shift that shows an overlap of previously considered successive timeperiods.


Egyptian forts in Lower Nubia, Northern Sudan






Globalization in present times can be regarded as an accelleration of a long term process, that has been research within Wallersteins world system of core periphery interactions, as a process of leaps in connectivity.

According to recent research in globalization processes in ancient societies, the phenomenon can be best described as a result of increasing interregional interactions (Jennings 2011:6) and hybridization (Jennings 2011: 10; Nederveen Pieterse 2004). Examples of ancient globalizations are the expansion of the Uruk culture in the fourth Millennium BC, the Mississippi in the United States, and the Huari culture, a Middle Horizon culture in the south central Andes region.

The Egyptian expansion to Lower Nubia at the beginning of the second millennium BC, has parallels with the increased connectivity that is characteristic for processes that are part of an ancient globalization. The construction of the forts along the Nile in Lower Nubia were initiated by Sesostris III, and the forts maintained a sealing system that points to a constant flow of goods and information between the forts, and the Theban residence up north. It is assumed that these forts functioned in the way that Egypt benefited from the Lower Nubian resources, by the lowering of transport costs (Smith 1995).

The nature of the Egyptian expansion into Lower Nubia is still being debated, in terms of ideology, trade, lowered costs, equilibrium, colonisation and imperialism (ST Smith 1995, Flammini 2009). However, the number of sealings discoverd in the forts could point to mass production during the late Middle Kingdom (Ben Tor 2007: 3), in comparison with the occurence of seals in the First Intermediate Period and early Middle Kingdom. The occurrence of Marl C (Upper Egyptian) pottery in Kerma, could suppose that the Second Cataract Forts played a significant part in the trade between Egypt and Nubia (Bourrieau 1995: 129-130), and the sealing system reflects an administrative standardization to a high degree (Smith 1990: 202), the importance of certain institutes. According to most researches on the Second Cataract Forts, an occupational gap is assumed at the end of the 13th Dynasty, the time when the transmission of the seal system could have taken place (Smith 1998: 224).

The use of a similar sealing system by the Kerma culture during the Second Intermediate Period, suggests an exchange that goes further than merely cultural and economic agents.

Socially, a change was established in Kerma in regard to secondary state formation and the growing power if the Kerman elite (Smith 1998: 226-227), which is actually the second criterium for a globalization leap in ancient societies as suggested by Jennings (2012: 12).

Artist impression of Fort Buhen


Wallerstein’s World-System


According to Jennings (2012), ancient globalizations have been researched as a modern phenomenon that “suddenly” could be spoken of, when it would have attained a certain level that we could call the beginning of modern globalization.

The other model is the idea that globalization is a gradual process that gets faster over a longer period of time. Jennings however has proposed a new view in which he sees globalization as a process of successive explosions of increasing interaction, and therefore globalization identifies multiple periods over time (Jennings 2012: 8-12).

The world system model of Wallerstein has gained more importance in archaeology (Kohl 1978, Blanton and Feinman 1984, Rowlands Larsen and Kristiansen 1978, Champion 1989), in which production, exchange, and consumption are regarded as unity, structures of inequality, and the combination of social and political history (Edens 1992 121).

Flammini summarises Wallerstein's (1974) three assumptions of the modern world system as follows: Core dominance over the peripheries, secondly are symmetrical exchange between regions, and trade as the prime cause of social development (Flammini 2008: 50). The problem of this theoretical approach is not always applicable to non-capitalist societies, that is why the economic dimensions of core periphery structures is mostly not given attention that it deserves (Edens 1992 121).  Then again, the economic character of core periphery relations is within the authoritative context of structured and class divided societies that emphasises non-economic into regional forces in which economic phenomenon is like trade and patterns of consumption are embedded. In complex societies  consumption is linked with social ties, hierarchy domination and ideology (Edens 1992: 122).

 Kohl (1987) is an advocate of the existence of multiple core areas that integrate with one another, and that mostly the peripheries were the places of technological innovation (Flammini 2008 : 50-51). Also Edens adheres to this by saying that core periphery relations were not strong enough to create a world system as such, but he prefers to speak of centre periphery structures (Edens 1992 134).

Flammini points out that many ancient core periphery relationships processes in Lower Nubia fit into the core driven model (2008: 51). She agrees with Chase Dunn and Hall (1991) in regard to the definition of two different types of relationships that exist between cores and peripheries. Core periphery differentiation is the phenomenon of interaction without exploitation by the core, core periphery hierarchy by which there is a political or economic dominance within the same system (2008: 51). Nevertheless, emphasizing core domination neglects the agency of native or local actors (Flammini 2008: 51; Smith 2003). Jennings however, proposes an adjusted model of the world system, called a comparative world systems approach (Jennings 2012: 13). He states that Wallerstein's classical system is too much applied on modern societies, and he proposes a more limited size of the system, less focus on a dominant core, a more active role of the periphery, and above all more diverse connections between the two zones (Jennings 2012: 12-13; Chase Dunn and Hall 1997: 12-15; Earle and D' Altroy 1989; Kardulias 1999, 2007; Parkinson and Galaty 2007; Peregrine and Feinman 1996; Schneider 1997; Stein 1999).

The existence of the semiperiphery specifically defined as an area geographically located between cores and peripheries that acts as an intermediate Flammini 2008: 51). The Egyptian forts in Lower Nubia could have played a part as such.


The stratigraphy


The Second Cataract Forts pose many challenges in research to the function and motivation of the Egyptian presence during the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermetiate Period. Before research can be done properly, one has to take into account the problems with lacking or the perceived lack of stratigraphy that makes a diachronic analysis difficult.

The forts of Buhen and Mirgissa were denuded, and the mixing of the deposits resulted in a very unreliable context, and in Buhen's case, most of the non-diagnostic pottery was saved (Smith 1995: 24; Emery et al. 1979: 93-94). In Mirgissa's Inner Fort, deposits varied from 50 to 20 cm.

Semna South was completely denuded, but the area around the fort was preserved better (Smith 1995: 24; Zabkar and Zabkar 1982).

The stratigraphy at Shalfak, Uronarti and Kumma were excavated in such a way that research can not rely too heavily on the cultural layers, however at Uronarti, a distinction has been made between  levels K, and B, and “lower” and “upper level”. In exceptional cases, objects in the objectlists are registered with an accompanying height level (Dunham 1967).

At Askut however, the stratigraphy was preserved to 1.5 m in the Upper Fort and between 0.2 and 0.5 m in the Southeastern Sector, which provided a much better horizontal and vertical control of the “spiral stratigraphy” (Smith 1995: 24, 53; Knoblauch 2007: 226). Then again, it is important to make a difference between the reliability of the date within and outside of structures.

The inconsistencies in depth of deposits and dating could be explained by, on the one hand, maintenance of floors, and abandonement of structures elsewhere in Askut (Smith 1995:53) However, in Uronarti no such restructuring was found (Ben Tor et al. 1999: 57). In general it is very difficult to make out clearly the difference between 12th and 13th dynasty deposits, and between Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period deposits (Ben Tor 2007: 5).





Fort Uronarti



Dating through the pottery


Hemispherical cups

Stuart Tyson Smith's research on Askut, resulted in a continuous four phased pottery sequence, that is invaluable for the Second Cataract Forts (Knoblauch 2007: 225). Besides that, it provides a context for the synchronization of the Middle Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom and the Nubian- Kerma cultures. Research to the sealing system of the forts also relies on Smith's research (Ben Tor 2007, Ben Tor/ Allen 1999).

Pottery has been accepted as the most reliable source for relative dating of archaeological deposits (Ben Tor 1999: 53). However, Smith based his research on the so-called Vessel Index of the pottery, in an attempt to bypass the spiral stratigraphical contex that mainly existed within the barracks structures at Askut, instead of the vertical relationship of the pottery in itself. In his research the following sequence could be established in comparison with Dorothea Arnold's research in Dashur:

Phase 1= Late 12th – Early 13th Dynasty = Dashur 6

Phase 2= Mid 13th Dynasty = intermediate phase between Dashur 6 and 7

Phase 3= Mid to Late 13th Dynasty = Dashur 7

Phase 4= Second Intermediate Period/ Upper Egyptian 17th Dynasty = Upper Egyptian pottery types. (Knoblauch 2007: 226-228).


One of the problems is that the publication of the Dashur corpus is not a final one, and there are many objections to base a Lower Nubian ceramic sequence on a Lower Egyptian one, in spite of the cultural influences of the Delta on the forts during the centralized government of the Middle Kingdom. Smith's assumptions are based on the absence of a regional development of the pottery, standardization and import from the Delta (Knoblauch 2007: 228-229). Still, Smith's use of the pottery from Dashur 7 makes sense in regard to the abandonment of the royal funerary complex of Amenemhat III at the site. This is an archaeological marker of the transition from the Middle Kingdom to the Second Intermediate Period (Ben Tor 2004: 28). During the 12th Dynasty, the rotating garrisons in the forts were being backed up by the capital near El Lisht in the Delta, so a influx of Lower Egptian pottery in Lower Nubia is assumed. During the 13th Dynasty, the settlers in the forts were more independent form the Delta, and had close relationships with Upper Egypt (Bourrieau 1997).

Knoblauch proposes the origin of the hemispherical cups with a Vessel Index from 130-140  in Upper Egypt, specifically Elephantine (von Pilgrim 1996) or Thebes (Moeller and Marouard 2011: 114), and not the Delta. This results in the dating of certain contexts of the forts to a later date, in the 17th Dynasty instead of mid-late 13th Dynasty.

This is also a complementary statement to the occurence of 17th Dynasty jars in Building D/ Block VI at Uronarti, in which the major corpus of sealings were found (Ben Tor/ Allen 1999: 57; Schiestl and Seiler 2012: 675). Knoblauch however states that the vessel index in itself does not provide a reliable dating, nor it reflects a specific pottery type (personal communication).


Example of a hemispherical cup


Tell el Yahidiya Ware

There are three pieces of Tell el Yahudiya ware found at Uronarti. At Room F32, Room 26 and the South Passage (Dunham 1967: Figure 1). This pottery was also found at Askut, and at both sites the ware is belonging to class Pyriform 1b-c ( Smith 2004: 210-212;  Ben Tor et al 1999: 58).

According to Bietak, this specific type of pottery can be dated to the mid-late 13th Dynasty, as well as Askut (Smith 2004: 210) as Uronarti (Ben Tor 1999: 58), in relation to Tell el Dab'a in the Delta.

Smith relates the occurrence of Tell el Yahudiya ware in Askut to the ceramic evidence at Tell el Dab'a on the one hand, but again to the Vessel Index 128-136 from Arnold and places the date in the advanced 13th Dynasty, correlating with Dashur complex 7 (Smith 2004: 210).

The association of this Tell el Yahidiya pottery with hemispherical cups that are supposedly dated too early, together with assosiated sealings of M3-ib-R' king of the 14th Dynasty, in Uronarti, proposes a date in that time, and thus has implications for the supposed abandoning, and the sealing system of the forts during this time.


“Gilt ware”

Recently, the material from some of the Second Cataract Forts is being reviewed and researched with a fresh point of view. Christian Knoblauch (Knoblauch, C. 2011 All that glitters: A Case Study of Regional Aspects of Egyptian Middle Kingdom Pottery Production in Lower Nubia and the Second Cataract, Cahiers de la Céramique Egyptienne 9, 167-183) researches the pottery named by Reisner “gilt/gilded ware”, or pottery consisting of a “gilt polish”, “gilt wash” and “gilding”, abbreviated as “GW” in the Pottery Drawing Sheets. Koblauch states that this terminology corresponds to different manufacturing processes (Knoblauch, Cripel 9, 168).

Knoblauch's terminology for this originally considered to be an independent pottery group as “micaceaous slipped ware”,  categorizes the pottery according to the application of a slip layer containing mica, which gives the pottery a romantic “golden” appearance.

This phenomenon occurs at the Second Cataract Forts, however it is not an indication of a pottery type, but a trend. Knoblauch concludes that it was a local Nubian adaptation to cover Egyptian Middle Kingdom pottery with a micaceous layer, and this trend was relatively short, dating from the Twelfth- Thirteenth Dynasties into the Second Intermediate Period (Knoblauch, Cripel 9, 176).


Schiestl and Seiler pottery types


When one goes through original publications from the excavations for instance from the Nubian Second Cataract Forts, one can feel lost in the abundance of recorded data. Unfortunately, Reisner and Wheeler did not always use a standard way to describe the material that was excavated in the forts during the 1920's and 1930's, and eventually got published by Dunham and Janssen in 1960 and 1967 (1967 Second Cataract Forts Volume I + II. Uronarti, Shalfak; Semna- Kumma Mirgissa Boston).

Recently, Schiestl and Seiler (2012, Volumes I and II) have published a database of Middle Kingdom pottery from published and unpublished sources. By means of cross referencing, they provide a new overview on Middle Kingdom Pottery in Egypt, Nubia and the Levant.

Also the original Pottery Sheets from Dunham and Janssen (1960) and Dunham (1967) concerning the Second Cataract Forts were being reviewed and categorized by Schiestl and Seiler.

From these, for 46 pottery types (and subtypes) that occur in the Lower Nubian forts, a (fine) dating range is provided, which makes a diachronic relation between the forts possible.

Schiestl and Seiler also deal with certain groups of “hemispherical cups” but unlike Smith, they only use the types from which a certain degree of standardization is established, in order to make an attempt to correlate context different from Tell el Dab'a or Dashur. According to the authors, only shape group I.A.14 (hemisperical cups, group 6) has been identified as with certainty in Lower Egypt and Lower Nubia (Schiestl and Seiler 2012: 84, 108). However group I.A.12 is also present at the fort of Uronarti.


The seals themselves


The high occurrence of scarabs in the Levant and Egypt during the second millennium BC resulted in research to a reliable chronological typology. This is still inconclusive due to the stylistic developement, the post quem use of royal names, their use as heirlooms.

When one turns to scarab seals in a clear archaeological context, the absolute dating and historical conclusions are still controversial (Ben Tor 2007: 1-2). The scarab seals are however very useful in the historical recontruction of the first half of the second millennium BC, the same time as the second cararact forts in Lower Nubia. Recent research by Ben Tor can shed light on the historical background that resulted in the mass production of scarabs during the Late Middle Kingdom (Ben Tor 2007: 3), and their possible use during the Second Intermediate Period. It is important to clearly make a distiction between official seals, private seals, counterseals and royal seals, and seals portraying a royal name.


Ben Tor eventually uses very broad definitions for the phases to group the scarabs: early Middle Kingdom, Late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period. Together with the new pottery research of Knoblauch and Schiestl and Seiler, it is possible to give a more precise date to the 2233 scarab sealings that have been found in situ in Building D at Uronarti (Smith 1998: 222) , and thus has implications for the dating of the sealings found in other Second Cataract forts, and the sealings in Kerma.

Ben Tor (2007) bases her research on the study of Tufnell and Ward (1975) who dated the seals of Uronarti to the end of the 12th Dynasty (Tufnell 1975: 69). Ryholt and Reisner thought the seals to be dated to the early 13th Dynasty (Ben Tor 1999: 55). Later research pointed out that the seals from Uronarti (specifically Building D) would probably date to the advanced 13th Dynasty/ Early Second Intermediate Period (Ben Tor 2007: 9; Smith 1990:206-207; Kemp 1986), and specifically the last year(s) of occupation (Ben Tor 1999: 56; Smith 1990).


Example of institutional seals


Examples of counterseals that were found stamped on institutional seals




Ben Tor (2007) refers to a selection of the many seals in Uronarti, not the entire corpus. She decribes various design types for the early-and Late Middle Kingdom, and some types overlap (2007). A review of the seals that she did not incorporate in her study could be considered, in regard to the stylistic dating of the seals, and their association with the revised pottery. 

There are several seals found that could date to the Second Intermediate Period, according to royal name scarabs from Hyksos kings from the 14th-17th Dynasties (Ben Tor 2007, 2010).

Recent research on sealings from the Hyskos at Tell Edfu, has pointed out close similarities between the sealings of Khayan from Tell Edfu and sealings of Hyksos kings Yabubhar and Shesi/ M3-ib-re, found at Uronarti. Besides that, sealings of Khayan have been found in Tell Edfu in a closed archaeological context together with Late Middle Kingdom seals. This points to contacts between the Hyksos and Upper Egypt, and also a possible overlap of the late 13th Dynasty and the 15th Dynasty (Moeller and Marouard 2011:109).


At Kerma, many scarabs have been found in a burial context, dating from the Second Intermediate period, specifically the late Classic Kerma phase.

At location K1 at the Western Duffufa (main religious complex), cemetery chapel KX1, in in from of the door in front of the tumulus KX, 101 types distibuted over 765 sealings, have been found (Smith 1998; Bonnet 2001; Gratien 1991). This is in indicator of administrative activity (Reinser 1923: 81-84). Apart from sealings that reflect local Nubian designs (Gratien 2004: 78), these sealings have close parallels with the ones found at the Egyptian second cataract forts. However, the system seems less complex than the system at Uronarti, that consisted of archival sealing and countersealing.


Examples of seals found at Kerma, Upper Nubia. One can see clearly the Middle Egyptian style, and a local Nubian style



According to Smith (1998: 224) this system could have been transmitted at the end of the 13th Dynasty, during a supposed occupational gap. During the second intermediate period, it is thought that such sealings were only used in Kerma, not in Egypt (Ben Tor 2007: 62) apart from some sealings from Uronarti that could be stylictically attibuted to the Second Intermediate Period (Ben Tor 2007: 47).

This seems to be an outdated conclusion. With the new pottery research of the forts, that could point to the 17th Dynasty as a date of the seals in Building D at Uronarti, together with the overlap of the late 13th and the 15th Dynasty, this has implications for the chronology of the Late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate period in Nubia, and the ongoing increasing contacts between the Hyksos in the Delta, the Upper Egyptian Dynasties and Kerma.




The material for this research, the pottery and the seals need first to be correlated in such a way that several restricted time periods can be established, that correlate between the rooms of the several forts. The pottery provides a fine dating, that can be as detailed as “second quarter of the 13th Dynasty” but sometimes a very broad 11th to 13th Dynasty date can only be found.

With the broad dating of the pottery, the research should take the possible dating of the sealings themselves into account, and this highly depending on cross referencing with other sites with closed archaeological contexts.

In the second cataract forts, some pottery consists of Nile clay, that could point to import from the Delta. One can trace the proportion of imported cooking wares, storage jars, table wares, etc., in a determined number of sites, and this can tell you which kind of relationship (immigration, trade, colonialism, etc.) the forts had with  Lower Egypt. Pottery that would be produced in the region of Upper Egypt, would be in general consisting of Marl clays. However, a large group of Marl A3 ware, would have been imported into Nubia (Schiestl and Seiler 2012: 25).

With a vertical analysis you can study the numerical proportion of imported and locally produced items, or of specific kinds of imported items, through the different “strata” in the forts. So you will have a measure of the contacts of one or several sites with neighbouring regions through different periods. In this case you will know the temporal distribution of  imported items, but not yet the cause of that, for example trade.

With a horizontal analysis you can study the numerical proportion of imported or local items,  in different sites. You will have a measure of the contacts of different sites or  geographical areas with neighbouring regions.

If the sample is representative enough, you can plot the fall off (i.e. a decreasing curve of

number of objects through different sites) between different sites or areas, and the

characteristics of the resulting curve can tell you which kind of depositional process (trade,

gift-giving, colonialism, etc.) was the cause of such curve. (Tebes, personal communication).

This will also answer the use of the sealing system (archival or not), and the timeframe of the transmission to Kerma, and insight in the chronology of the Late Middle Kingdom in regard to the Second Intermediate period, especially the Theban 17th Dynasty.


The mass production of the scarab seals during the Late Middle Kingdom/ Second Intermediate Period, could point to a globalization leap characterised by interconnectivity. The transmission of the Egyptian sealing system in Kerma, is a social change, due to the contact with Egypt. Possibly the Egyptian institutes indicated by the seals remained in use not until the Late Middle Kingdom, but even during the Second Intermediate period, and maybe were even adopted as such by the Kerman people.

The possible prolonged use of the institutes is an indication of the ongoing Egyptian influence and centralized state that was characteristic of the Middle Kingdom, and research to this contributes to the chronology of the much debated timeframe of the Second Intermediate Period, that could be shorter, or a more contemporary with the Middle Kingdom, than traditionally assumed.

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