top of page

Antelope in the Desert Valley: Naqada Decorated Ware

Updated: Feb 20


Reproduction Details

Object: Deep bowl

Material: Marl clay pottery

Date: c. 3650-3300 BC

Period: Predynastic, Naqada II

Findspot: Unknown provenance. Purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art from Maurice Nahman in Cairo in 1912.

Dimensions: height 24.3 x width 24 x rim diameter 23.2 cm

Current Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Accession Number 12.182.41

Reproduction Number: DP94

Naqada Pottery

Decorated Ware (D-Ware) originated during the Naqada II and III periods of predynastic Egypt, approximately 3500-3000 BC. Crafted from fine marl clay, fired to achieve a light red or buff hue, these ceramics typically feature intricate designs painted in dark brown and dark red. Produced in select workshops near the clay source, D-Ware was extensively traded across Egypt. The earliest examples are decorated with simple spirals and zigzag lines, but these were quickly followed by scenes featuring animals, plants, water, boats and people in rivers, desert valleys, and mountain environments.

In an era before the hieroglyphic writing system, the pottery decoration from this period provides valuable insights into the beliefs, practices, and daily life of the people of ancient Egypt. They serve as a visual language through which we can explore their worldview, societal structures, and cultural practices. The presence of depictions of animals, plants, and landscapes can tell us about their environment and the resources available to them and the symbolism and motifs used can shed light on their religious and spiritual beliefs.

This specific artefact showcases three bands of decoration portraying various species of antelope being pursued in a mountainous desert landscape.

Lower Band

In the lower band, larger antelope with elongated tails and twisted horns are depicted amidst droopy-leafed plants, likely representing sedges or palm trees—a symbol of Upper Egypt in later Egyptian art. Triangular peaks signify the hills and mountains where these creatures roamed. The sets of three N shapes seen above groups of antelope or amidst the plants are believed to represent birds in flight, though some interpretations suggest they might serve as a numerical or tally system.

Upper Band

In the central band smaller antelope with upright tails also run in a hilly environment, whilst above them encircling the rim of the bowl is a stylised representation of the nets being used in the hunting of these creatures. Interrupting the recurring motif of antelope are three human figures: two men holding sticks, possibly adorned with penis sheaths, flank a woman or goddess who raises her hands above her disc-shaped head.

This enigmatic figure frequently appears in Naqada pottery, often depicted in a celebratory or dancing posture amidst scenes of hunts like this or on boats, such as in this example depicting a river procession.

Further information

Book - Craig Patch, D., 2011. The Dawn of Egyptian Art

Video - Hendrickx, S., Friedman, R. F. & Craig Patch, D., 2012. The Dawn of Egyptian Art

Object record - Metropolitan Museum of Art. Deep bowl depicting people, animals, and plants


bottom of page