The Project
Slide Show

Eastern Desert Ware

by Hans Barnard

The desert between the Nile and the Red Sea must always have been able to support small groups of pastoral nomads, much like it does today. Little is known about these groups and less about their ancient counterparts. These have left precious little remains and the historical sources are ambiguous at best. During the 4th-6th centuries AD, however, they seem to have been producing pottery. Sherds of these vessels are usually found among larger numbers of imported vessels, in places where outsiders provided an infrastructure for the nomads to settle. Most likely because they were hired by the miners and caravaneers as laborers or guides.

An Eastern Desert Ware cup from Wadi Qitna, currently in the Naprstkovo Muzeum (Prague).

The pottery, currently identified as Eastern Desert Ware, is different from the pottery produced in surrounding areas. Most of the corpus consists of cups and bowls made without the use of a potter's wheel, nicely polished and decorated with incised or impressed, often asymmetric patterns. This is unexpected when assuming that it was made to imitate or supplement what was obtained elsewhere, but congruent with the idea that it served as a cultural marker. Eastern Desert Ware has been described at various places in Nubia (most comprehensively by Eugen Strouhal in 1984), in Berenike (at the Red Sea coast) and in the Mons Smaragdus area. Currently, material from a growing number of sites in Egypt and Sudan is being studied. Using mass-spectrometry as well as experimental archaeology an attempt is made to answer the question what group was setting itself apart by the production and use of Eastern Desert Ware.

Research: Eastern Desert Ware
metal finds