Prehistoric settlement near the suburbs of Cairo



29° 57' 57.51" N, 31° 16' 24.8736" E

Fig. 1: The settlement area of Maadi West, looking to the west © DAIThe predynastic settlement of Maadi is situated on an east-west running desert ridge covering an area c. 1.5 km long and 200-300 m wide. Today, parts of the site are overbuilt by modern houses; the rest of the area is threatened by the rapidly growing city of Cairo (Fig.1).


In addition to Buto, Maadi is the settlement the chalcolithic Lower Egyptian culture of the 4th millennium is named for. The settlement existed for approximately 300 years and was abandoned in the middle of the 4th millennium B.C.
The site is well-known by large-scale excavation directed by M. Amer und I. Rizkana 1930-1953 on behalf of the University of Kairo (Fig.2). Recent investigations were carried out 1999-2002 and 2006/07 by the German Archaeological Institute Cairo.

Fig. 2: In the 1930s, the excavation site was still surrounded by desert, the skyline of Cairo can be seen in the background. © DAIApart from agriculture, for the economy of the settlement was the trade with Palestine seems to have played a role which supplied Lower Egypt with a number of goods including copper.
The settlement of Maadi (as well as two nearby cemeteries) was excavated on a large scale by  Cairo University from 1930-1953. The excavations were directed by M. Amer and I. Rizkana and were initially (1930-1933) carried out in cooperation with the German Institute of Archaeology (O. Menghin, K. Bittel) (Fig.2). Further excavations were conducted by the University of Rome “La Sapienza” in the late 1970s and by F.A. Badawi (Al-Azhar University Cairo) in the 1980s. Badawi was the first to be granted permission to work in the western part of the settlement which was previously inaccessible to archaeologists due to a military camp with a transmitting station on the site.
Likewise in the 1980s, the previously unpublished material of the old excavations was revised by J. Seeher and published in four volumes in cooperation with the German Institute of Archaeology and funded by the German Research Foundation.


The aim of the investigations carried out from 1999-2002 was to document the archaeological remains of Maadi-West, an area threatened by modern-day construction. The results of the  investigations were to form the basis of a recommendation for the Egyptian authorities to protect the area from further building activities.
The investigations also focused on the stratigraphy of the settlement, on re-examining a unique semi-subterranean stone house and on assumed metallurgical activities in the settlement.


Beside collections of surface material, core drillings yielded quick and good results. This simple method makes it easy to determine the extension and thickness of the settlement layers which may subsequently investigated in greater detail by archaeological sondages.  
It turned out that geomagnetic measurements are not suitable for Maadi as remains of  foundations of reinforced concrete and  iron girders from the military camp and transmitting station affect the measurements considerably.

Current research

Fig.4: Typical vessels from Maadi. © DAIFig.3: Storage jar in the section of one of the trial trenches. © DAIThe recent work complements the overall picture of the settlement achieved by previous excavations. The settlement consisted principally of light huts and was economically based on agriculture and cattle breeding, although the trade with southern Palestine and the Upper Egyptian Naqada Culture seems to have played a role, too. Beside imported raw materials and objects, semi-subterranean stone dwellings point to influences from the southern Levant. The import of copper and copper ore, respectively, might have been of special importance but their origin is not yet fully clarified.

During the work 1999-2002, carried out in cooperation with the Cairo University (during the first campaign) and the Supreme Council of Antiquities, it was possible to determine the extent of the remaining settlement and to make a recommendation to the Egyptian authorities to classify approximately two-thirds of the area as a historical monument.
The settlement layer is approximately 50-70 cm thick, sometimes 1 m or 1.20 m. Remains of wooden posts, probably from huts, windbreaks and fences, partially stone-lined hearths, pits of varying size and shape, small pits with burnt mud lining – perhaps cooking pits - and sunken storage jars (Fig.3) illustrate the general nature of the settlement. In some areas, thicker layers of ash were evident that seem to indicate not only normal household fires but also technical activities. Small beads of smelted copper could suggest the processing of metal. Most probably, the majority of the ceramics was produced locally. The ceramic inventory includes bowls, dishes and large storage vessels as well as ovoid and spherical vessels of differing size and shape, either with a smoothed surface or sometimes painted red, often with black or brown, polished surfaces (Fig.4).  In addition to flint and bone tools, jewellery was probably produced in the settlement, too (Fig.5). Wool was also processed (Fig.6). Additionally, trade seems to have played a role, although in comparison to the earlier excavations, imported objects and materials are not common in the newly examined settlement area. Connections to the southern Levant can be traced to some ceramic fragments and so called tabular scrapers made of flint; the latter probably come from the Sinai or the Negev Desert. Some vessels from Upper Egypt were also found in Maadi, as well as a large flint knife (Fig.7) which probably had its origin in Upper Egypt, too. The finds show that connections to Palestine and Upper Egypt existed; however, it is quite likely that agriculture formed the economic basis. Emmer, barley and some pulses have been identified in Maadi; grinding stones and querns for processing grains are common finds. Goats, sheep, pigs and cattle were kept and consumed, fishing also played a role. Hunting was of little importance, unless it was the hunting of water fowl.

Fig.5: Beads, pendants and bead blanks made of various kinds of stone. © DAI Fig.6: Limestone spindle whorls. © DAI Fig.7: Rhombic flint knife from Upper Egypt. © DAI

Fig.9: Floor of the stone house with post-holes and depressions of storage jars. © DAIFig.8: Semi-subterranean stone house, looking east. © DAIThe newly examined area of the settlement existed for approximately 300 years (c. 3700-3500 B.C.) without distinctive changes in the material culture.
Two extraordinary finds contrast with the light huts and wind-screens of the settlement: the sunken stone house that was excavated by F.A. Badawi in the middle of the 1980s and cleaned during the new excavations; and a second subterranean structure, a “cave dwelling”, that was discovered during the core drillings and subsequently excavated which resembles similar structures revealed during the old excavations in the eastern part of the settlement.
The fairly precisely east-west oriented stone house (Fig.8) has a rectangular floor plan with rounded corners (the interior measures ca. 8.5 x 4 m) and is approximately 2 m sunken into the ground. The walls were very carefully built of undressed stones and pebbles, originally plastered with mud mortar. On the northern side is a wall-lined entrance that leads above ground. Three large holes for thick posts that supported a roof construction are aligned in the middle of the room. There are numerous small depressions in the floor, apparently imprints of storage vessels (Fig.9). The roof was most likely at the same height as the surrounding surface. It probably consisted of beams resting on the posts which were covered with mats and mud plaster (Fig.10).
In the second structure, stone steps lead from the south (Fig.11) to a slightly sloping corridor that is made of carefully built and plastered stone walls (Fig.12). The corridor leads to a subterranean room with a dome-shaped ceiling that was cut into the bedrock. The floor of this room is approximately 4 m deeper than the present-day surface (Fig.13). The corridor was presumably lined with flat limestone slabs and mud plaster (Fig.14). After a fire had destroyed the wooden support posts and had caused the structure to collapse, the remaining cave continued to be used as depot or hide-away for ceramic vessels and other objects. It seems to have also been used as a workshop, e.g. for producing tools made of bone. Over time, the pit filled up with sand and was subsequently covered by the surrounding settlement (Fig.15).
Fig.11: Cave dwelling after excavation, looking north. © DAIFig.10: Plan of the stone house with reconstructed roofing. © DAISo far, the function of these two buildings has not been clarified. There is no evidence of a use as graves or shrines; thus it seems plausible that they were utilized on a practical, daily basis. Maybe they were used e.g. as central storage rooms in which perishable goods were protected from the heat. In Egypt, such buildings have only been found in Maadi. During the earlier excavations in the eastern part of the settlement, four similar, yet simplified, structures were discovered. There are comparisons in Palestine where subterranean dwellings and storage rooms were typical for the southern part of the country during Chalcolithic time, and rectangular stone buildings with rounded corners (however, not sunk into the ground) are known from early Bronze Age settlements. The numerous goods and objects imported from the southern Levant which came to light during the earlier excavations provide clear evidence for close contact between both regions. There are some indications that “Canaanites” may have lived in the settlement for a time. The idea for these buildings must have been the result of interaction with Egypt, but there is no archaeological prove that the structures were actually built and used by people from the Southern Levant.
Currently, there are no ongoing excavations in Maadi. However, the settlement became the focus of attention in the frame of another project which investigates the copper supply and the origin of copper in predynastic Egypt []. Maadi is especially important because the settlement is, to date, the only Egyptian location where copper ingots (Fig.16) were found in addition to copper ore (malachite) and various copper objects. The copper ingots seem to match moulds that were discovered during recent excavations of the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute in Hujayrat al-Ghuzlan near Aqaba in Jordan, and it is not unlikely that the two settlements had trade relations with each other. Archeometallurgical investigations of ores and slags from various locations and a comparison with archaeological finds are supposed to help to determine the sources of the copper from the settlement of Maadi and to answer such questions.

Fig.12: Stairway to the cave dwelling, looking south. © DAI Fig.13: View from inside the cave dwelling. © DAI Fig.14: Plan of the cave dwelling with reconstructed corridor roofing. © DAI
Fig.15: Deposit of pottery vessels in the already half-filled cave dwelling. © DAI Fig.16: Copper ingots from the excavations in the 1930s. © DAI

Cooperation / Cooperation partners

Field work at Maadi:
Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA)
University of Cairo, Department of Archaeology

Copper project:
German Mining Museum, Bochum
University of Cairo, Department of Geology
German Archaeological Institute, Orient branch

External Contact

Prof. Dr. Andreas Hauptmann (German Mining Museum, Bochum; archaeometallurgical investigations)


I. Rizkana/J. Seeher, Maadi I, The Pottery of the Predynastic Settlement, AVDAIK 64, Mainz  
I. Rizkana/J. Seeher, Maadi II, The Lithic Industries of the Predynastic Settlement, AVDAIK
65, Mainz 1988;
I. Rizkana/J. Seeher, Maadi III, The Non-lithic Small Finds and the Structural Remains of the
Predynastic Settlement, AVDAIK 80, Mainz 1989;
I. Rizkana/J. Seeher, Maadi IV, The Predynastic Cemeteries of Maadi and Wadi Digla,
AVDAIK 81, Mainz 1990;
J. Seeher, Maadi – eine prädynastische Kulturgruppe zwischen Oberägypten und Palästina, in:
Prähistorische Zeitschrift 65, 1990, S. 123-156;
F.A. Badawi, A Preliminary Report on 1984-86 Excavations at Maadi-West, in: MDAIK 59,
2003, S. 1-10.
U. Hartung/M. Abd el-Gelil/A. von den Driesch/G. Fares/R. Hartmann/Th. Hikade/Ch. Ihde,
Vorbericht über neue Untersuchungen in der prädynastischen Siedlung von Maadi, in: MDAIK 59, 2003, S. 149-198.
U. Hartung, Predynastic subterranean dwellers in Maadi, Cairo, in: Egyptian Archaeology 22,
2003, S. 7-9.
U. Hartung, Maadi, fouille de sauvetage aux confins du Caire, in: Archéo-Nil 13, 2003, S. 29-
U. Hartung, Rescue Excavations in the Predynastic Settlement of Maadi, in: S.
Hendrichx/R.F. Friedman/K.M. Cialowicz/M. Chlodnicki (eds.), Egypt at its Origins. Studies in Memory of Barbara Adams, Leuven 2004, S. 337-356.
U. Hartung, Bemerkungen zur Architektur und Chronologie der unterirdischen und
halbunterirdischen Bauten in der prädynastischen Siedlung von Maadi, in: E. Czerny/I. Hein/H. Hunger/D. Melman/A. Schwab (Hrsg.), Timelines, Studies in Honour of Manfred Bietak, Volume II, Leuven 2006, S. 35-44. 


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