In the latter half of the Predynastic period, the era before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, Egyptian potters utilized the rich alluvial silt of the Nile to produce a distinctive handmade pottery known as black-topped ware. This pottery was marked by a red-washed exterior with a blackened upper surface. The darkened area below the rim was the deliberate product of a technique that allowed soot to accumulate on the pot’s upper surface during the firing process.
The Art Museum’s beaker belongs to a handful of vessels in this technique which bear incised figural decoration. The animal subject, a horned quadruped, represents a gazelle or (more probably) an aoudad, a wild sheep indigenous to North Africa; its form was scratched into the surface after firing. This technique, called graffito, left little room for error; a sure hand was required to execute the design, which is silhouetted dramatically against the vessel’s darkened ground. The archaeological contexts of related vessels suggest that the Cincinnati beaker derived from the burial of an important individual, perhaps a local chieftain.