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Gallery Text

Most objects in this case were made in the fourth millennium BCE, in the so-called predynastic period, when Egypt became unified and powerful rulers first emerged. Pyramids were yet to be built, but burials at sites such as Hierakonpolis, Abydos, Naqada, and Mesaid contained a wealth of goods, including stone tools and stone and terracotta vessels. In the early 20th century, the Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, led by George A. Reisner (1867–1942), revealed many products of the period’s sophisticated stone-working and pottery industries.

The serrated edges of the flint knife were created by removing numerous tiny flakes. The bird-headed palette for eye paint preparation was shaped by abrasion. The striking bi-color effect of the black-topped jar was achieved by firing the vessel—handmade of iron-rich clay—upside down in a bed of densely packed combustible material. This technique was still employed some two thousand years later, in Nubia (modern Sudan), as seen here in one of the thin-walled, bell-shaped beakers from Kerma. It is also found on vessels from Bronze Age Cyprus, such as on the small incised bowl. Predynastic pottery decoration could imitate other materials: basketry for the white-painted bowl, and stone for the speckled jar. As in other early civilizations, spirals were popular motifs.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Black-Topped Red Polished Bowl with Incised Decoration
Work Type
c. 2000 BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Cyprus
Bronze Age
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
5.3 x 9 cm (2 1/16 x 3 9/16 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Stuart C. Welch
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Black-topped Red Polished bowl of roughly hemispherical shape, with incised decoration and a small, pierced lug handle. As is usual for this type of pottery, the incised decoration is highlighted with a white, lime-based fill. The black-topped effect was produced in the firing process.

The incised motifs include a framed band of zigzag running below the rim, followed by a large, multiple zigzag pattern dominating the side view of the bowl. A series of vertical, framed and unframed bands of hatching connect the lower tips of the zigzag to muliple lines encircling the bowl near its rounded base. A W-shaped loss on the vessel's rim has been filled.

Such bowls were produced in the north and the center of the island, and remained in use from the Early Cypriot to the Middle Cypriot periods.
Exhibition History

32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/17/2015 - 11/30/2018

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at