EARLY PRE-DYNASTIC EGYPT (4,500-4,000 B.C.)
Evidence of village life in the Nile Delta has been dated to 5000 B.C. Excavations in Hierakonpolis have indicated that agriculture may have begun in the Nile Valley as early as 5000 B.C. The origin of these early farmers is not known. They are believed to have originated from within Africa rather than to have migrated from Asia. Research of this period has reveled evidence of wheat farming, weaving and metalwork. Grave goods in early tombs indicate social stratification.
Small communities developed along the Nile. They unified into two small kingdoms: one around the Nile Delta called Lower Egypt, with its capital at Buto in the northern delta, and one along the Nile Valley (south of the delta) called Upper Egypt, which extended to the First Cataract of the Nile. Buto, Naqada (near Luxor) and Hierakonpolis (near Aswan) at the First Cataract were important trade and population centers.
Some historians date the origin of ancient Egyptian civilization to 4000 B.C., when carefully- prepared burials of bulls, jackals and crocodiles appeared near the Nile. Arts and crafts from this period include pottery with geometric designs, molded hippopotamuses and crocodiles, and painted motifs of dances, ostriches and boats. Changes in pottery styles have helped archaeologists date the oldest sites.
Amanda Minich of Minnesota State University wrote: “Prior to 4000 B.C., Egypt was populated by nomadic tribes complete with different cultures and traditions. Sometime around this date, however, the tribes began to band together. The Early Predynastic is marked by the development of the Faiyum Culture in the north and the Badarian Culture in the South. Differences between the two cultures are primarily in the areas of stone-working, pottery manufacture and the production of flint tools and weapons. Another difference between the two lies in the relative importance of their hunting and fishing activities. The people of the Faiyum tended to aquire their food by non-agrarian methods. The Badarian Culture was based on farming, hunting, and mining. They traded for various products, including wool and turquoise, and made carved objects and pottery. They had a great deal of knowledge about copper ores and how to extract the metals. [Source: Amanda Minich, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Fall 2000 +]
“This era also witnessed advances in furniture and agricultural equipment. There was an obvious development in funeral ritualistic practices, in which the deceased would be buried under the simple protection of a animal skin, but the tomb began to take on a more solid architectural appearance. The production of black-topped pottery, at this time, reached a sophisticated level. Bone and ivory objects such as combs, cosmetic spoons, and female figurines became particularly common. +\
“Decorative clay objects were common, in particular those called the “dancer”, or small women with their arms upraised. Artifacts from 3300 B.C. indicate further development in both culture and technology. There is evidence among the Naqada of advanced burial and irrigation systems. Small models of houses (similar to those from the Old Kingdom) were found in some of the burial sites. +\ “They had larger settlements, and traded with outsiders for materials like lapis lazuli, and are first noted around 4000 B.C.. They made decorated pottery, as well as clay and ivory figurines. The pottery had geometric shapes or animals painted or carved on it instead of the previous method of simple banding. Items became more varied in shape, not only for practical reasons, but also for purely aesthetic ones. +\
“For the most part, during Egypt’s predynastic phase, there are myriads of settlements that develop into small tribal kingdoms. These eventually evolved into two larger groups, one in the delta and one in the Nile Valley up to the delta that once united, began the Dynastic period in Egypt.” +\
Categories with related articles in this website: Ancient Egyptian History (32 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Egyptian Religion (24 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Egyptian Life and Culture (36 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Egyptian Government, Infrastructure and Economics (24 articles) factsanddetails.com
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Predynastic Stone Tool Production
Thomas Hikade of the University of British Columbia wrote: “With respect to Upper Egypt, a rather homogenous lithic tradition was once assumed, but based on studies by Diane L. Holmes, this tradition was not as coherent as originally presumed, and today three major industries can be separated: the Badari region, i.e. the Mostagedda industry, the Naqada region, and Hierakonpolis. [Source: Thomas Hikade, University of British Columbia, Canada, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]
“The Mostagedda industry, with finds from settlements and cemeteries, developed from its predecessor, the Badarian. The lithic industry was a flake-blade industry on single platform cores with a bladelet technology on heat-treated cores. The raw material is mostly beige, but also brown, and brown-banded. The tool kit contained various perforators, picks, retouched pieces, retouched tabular slabs, sickle stones, axes, and concave-base arrowheads. Over time, the demand for larger tools increased, and people started to mine flint in the limestone cliffs, as the desert cobbles did not deliver the quality or the size required. Larger, regular blades were produced by specialized flinknappers. Knives, axes, or so-called fishtail knives were, however, rare elements. The fishtail knives were made by highly skilled knappers as prestige objects to be carried only by the elite. They belong to the finest stone tools ever made in Egypt, as do ripple-flaked knives. These delicate knives have, on one face, a retouching pattern that resembles ripples, while the opposite side remains purely polished. Only the area of the handle shows bifacial retouching. The cutting edge was often finished with an extremely fine denticulation. Although generally seen as characteristic of the fourth millennium B.C., these prestige objects are actually very rare overall. Some flint knives of the late fourth millennium B.C. could have amazing dimensions, such as the gigantic pieces from the Main Deposit at Hierakonpolis or the recently discovered 50 cm-long example found at Tell el-Farkha in the Nile delta.
“The raw material of the Naqada lithic industry is overwhelmingly a beige flint from the higher slopes of the local wadis, with a few rare pieces made from silicified limestone or obsidian. The industry is a flake industry with relatively small flakes. Over time, larger and more regular blades were also made from much larger cores. While the flake industry is the dominant technology in the settlement site, larger blades and bladelets, some from heat-treated cores, and tools thereof, dominate the collections from the cemeteries. The main non-bifacial tool categories are burins, notched or denticulated pieces, truncations, sickle blades, end- and sidescrapers, small and larger perforators, and various other retouched implements
“The lithic industry at Hierakonpolis is a combination of a flake industry, a distinct blade technology, and a glossy bladelet technology. Flake technology dominates the earlier assemblages, while larger regular blades indicate developments during the Naqada II period, showing a uniting element in the lithic assemblages throughout the Nile Valley. A special segment of stone tool production comes from HK29A, known as the first ceremonial building in Egypt and often referred to as the ancient National Shrine of Upper Egypt. Here, bifacial thinning flakes indicate the production of bifacial tools, and an abundance of microdrills points to the manufacture of stone beads. A new element of flintknapping, clearly showing the outstanding craftsmanship of the time, is the production of flint artifacts in the shape of animals. Made by pressure flaking, the range of animals encompasses wild animals such as hippopotamus and ibex, but also cows, goats, and even dogs. These artifacts probably functioned as votive offerings. So far, approximately 60 animal figures in flint are known, the provenanced ones mostly from Hierakonpolis, thus it seems that we are dealing with a Hierakonpolis specialty.
“At the site of Adaima about 20 kilometers north of Hierakonpolis we can observe the dichotomy of a local and non-local lithic industry quite typical for Predynastic Egypt. The local industry is characterized by the use of locally available pebbles for overwhelmingly expedient tools such as scrapers, borers, or denticulated pieces made on the spot. All stages of the production sequence can be found in the lithic assemblage for this industry at Adaima. The non-local lithic industry comprised finished bifacial knives and regular blades sometimes used as blanks for sickle blades which had been made by specialized craftsmen and brought to the settlement.
“At the onset of the fourth millennium B.C., we can observe a sophisticated blade and bladelet industry in the north of Egypt. In this so-called Maadi/Buto culture, larger blades were often retouched to make perforators, backed pieces, and end-scrapers. At the site of Maadi, a particularly rich assemblage can be studied. Small bladelets, often with a twisted long axis, were struck from small cores and often turned into micro-endscrapers. Another dominant tool type is the burin, mostly made on existing tools that were altered to make an implement for carving wood, bones, and possibly also for drilling holes in materials such as leather. Bifacials are generally rare at Maadi. Until recently, it was believed that copper replaced flint for larger tools at Maadi. This assumption was based on a lack of heavy stone tools from older excavations. However, one recently excavated flint ax shows that copper had not replaced flint entirely. Upper Egyptian knives of the type Hemmamjje, bifacial rhomboid, and fishtail knives at Maadi show contact with the south. Two more groups can be considered imports from outside Egypt: the so-called Canaanean blades, which are large regular harvesting tools, and the circular or tabular scrapers. Together with the foreign underground dwellings, these are clear indications that Maadi was part of a larger trading and exchange network and acted as the entrepôt to Egypt. In light of all of the tool categories, we should not forget that for all lithic cultures of the Predynastic, a large number of ad hoc or expedient tools, which defy any categorization, supplemented the stone tool kit.
“Neolithization” and Development of Regional Cultures in Pre-Dynastic Egypt
Beatrix Midant-Reynes of the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale wrote: “To understand the development of regional cultures in the Nile Valley, we must take into consideration the fact that Egypt is located at the crossroads of two continents, Asia and Africa, connected by the Sinai Peninsula. Although Egypt is part of Africa, we cannot ignore the role played by southwestern Asia, and particularly the south Levantine area, in the emergence of the Neolithic Period in Egypt and in the development of different regional entities.[Source: Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org ]
“The slow development of the Palaeolithic was followed—almost everywhere in the world although at different times—by new forms of production characterized by the control of livestock breeding and the beginnings of agriculture. In the tenth millennium B.C., the small communities of what is now the Middle East built the first villages and began the process of “neolithization” (for the terms “Neolithic” and “neolithization” in North Africa, see Smith 2013). The Nile Valley, however, did not follow the same trajectory as its neighbors. There the hunter-gatherer way of life—that is, the late Pleistocene (19,000 – 17,000 B.C.) hunter-gatherer strategy of exploitation elucidated by the work of Wendorf and his team at Wadi Kubbaniya — lingered until the sixth millennium, when the first domestic species (goats, sheep, pigs, barley, wheat, and peas; flax for linen), originating in Asia, appeared on the eastern margins (i.e., in southern Sinai and along the Red Sea coast) and eventually spread, during the fifth millennium, not only throughout the Valley but also along the desert borders and southward to the area of what is now Sudan. Sites such as el-Omari, in the southern part of modern Cairo, Merimde Beni- Salame, on the western margin of the Delta, and the Fayum testify to the adoption of the new strategy of controlling resources through livestock domestication and agriculture.
“We unfortunately have almost no information about the local populations who occupied the Delta at this turning point, because the alluvial deposits have buried archaeological data under thick layers of silt. We do know that at Helwan at the end of the nineteenth century arrowheads were noticed by travelers, who collected them because of their aesthetic appearance. At the beginning of the twentieth century, archaeologists systematically surveyed the area before a military base and urban expansion closed it definitively. Much later, Schmidt (1996), having studied some 3000 pieces collected during the early surveys, linked the industry at Helwan with the Levant Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) from the ninth millennium B.C.. The most clearly recognizable of these remains can be dated to the beginning of the fourth millennium.”
David Wengrow of University College London wrote: “Predynastic art” describes a range of visual imagery and ornamental forms attested in Egypt and Lower Nubia from c.4000 - 3300 B.C.. The known corpus comprises a rich variety of figural and non-figural designs, often applied to functional objects that were widely available, such as cosmetic palettes, ceramic vessels, and combs. Free-standing figurines are also known, as are occasional examples of large-scale painting and sculpture. Such images were a pervasive feature of Egyptian social life prior to the formation of the dynastic state, when elaborate personal display appears to have become a prerogative of elite groups. [Source: David Wengrow, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, escholarship.org ]
“The term “Predynastic art” is conventionally used to describe a range of visual imagery and ornamental forms attested in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia, and subsequently throughout Egypt, during the early and middle part of the fourth millennium (c.4000 - 3300 B.C.). The northward dissemination of these decorative forms constitutes part of a wider expansion of cultural influences and practices from the Nile Valley into the Delta, which begins around 3600 B.C. and characterizes the transition from the Naqada I to Naqada II periods. During the final centuries of the fourth millennium the majority ceased to be produced, or their production was tightly restricted, as the display of images throughout Egypt appears to have become a prerogative of elite groups.
“This attempt by the early dynastic state to co- opt, restrict, or eliminate pre-existing modes of visual expression implies that they had important social functions, reflected in the incorporation of art objects into Predynastic burials as ways of enhancing and extending a funerary image of the deceased that was committed to social memory.
“Most of what is termed Predynastic art derives from cemeteries excavated throughout Egypt during the early twentieth century, such as the large burial grounds of Naqada and Ballas, where the stylistic development of decorative forms provided an important component in Petrie’s establishment of a relative dating sequence. Around that time many examples also entered public and private collections from the antiquities market. Some are of doubtful authenticity, including a number of anthropomorphic figurines and a storage jar painted with an image of a sailing ship which is still widely, but unreliably, cited as the earliest evidence for sail-powered transport in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The surviving corpus of Predynastic art represents only a fraction of what was produced. Little can be said, for instance, about the decorative designs that were undoubtedly applied to the bodies of people and animals. Life-size sculpture was present by no later than the Naqada II Period, as attested by limestone fragments of a human statue found at Hierakonpolis. Much decorative work in metal, probably hammered rather than cast, has no doubt also been lost through recycling. The existence of other, perishable, media is indicated by the polychrome painting on fragments of linen from Gebelein and by the extensive pictorial decoration found on the plastered walls of a mud-brick tomb at Hierakonpolis, dating to the mid-fourth millennium B.C.. This unique composition comprises vignettes of boats, animals, and humans in combat that vary in scale and orientation, and may have been created by numerous painters during the course of an extended funerary ritual. Elements of these scenes bear comparison with images on Decorated Ware, while others—such as the so-called “master of animals”—reflect the growing influence of representational forms imported from Southwest Asia. These forms are likely to have been conveyed on small and durable objects such as cylinder seals, and may have stimulated the adoption of relief carving (e.g., on ivory knife- handles) towards the end of the Predynastic Period (c.3400 – 3300 B.C.). The latter technique was subsequently taken to new heights on ceremonial cosmetic palettes and maceheads of the late fourth millennium B.C.”
Predynastic Art Objects and Their Subjects and Meaning
David Wengrow of University College London wrote: “In spite of its wide currency, the term “Predynastic art” has little meaning outside the context of the art market and the specialized disciplinary conventions of art history. There is no evidence to suggest that such a category had significance for prehistoric actors. It is a modern abstraction from a more encompassing system of communication and display that appears to have been strongly focused upon the ornamentation and modification of the human body, in life as well as death. This is suggested by the highly mobile and portable character of many decorated objects, such as combs, spoons, and pins carved from bone or ivory, siltstone palettes and “tags”, miniature vessels, pendants, and flint knives; by their function in grooming and in the preparation of cosmetic, and perhaps also medicinal, substances; and by the provision of many of these objects with some means of suspension. Most of these artifact types, and the complex system of personal presentation to which they belonged, make their first appearance in the archaeological record of the Nile Valley (Egyptian and Sudanese) during the fifth millennium B.C., when domestic animals and plants were first widely adopted. However, it is only during the early fourth millennium, and within the more restricted area between the Second Cataract and Middle Egypt, that they were routinely used as surfaces for depiction or shaped into the forms of animals and other features of the landscape. [Source: David Wengrow, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, escholarship.org ]
“In addition to objects attached to the body, the known repertory of Predynastic art also comprises many free-standing forms. Among the most widely discussed are clay figurines of humans and animals, as well as examples that appear to deliberately combine elements from different species. Free-standing figurines in ivory and bone appear not to have been produced in any quantity until the very end of the Predynastic Period, which saw a proliferation of such figures that continued into the Naqada III Period and beyond. The interpretation of Predynastic figurines is an area of ongoing controversy and no consensus exists as to their purpose or even their basic subject matter. Some are closely comparable in form and surface detail to figures rendered in other media, such as those modeled or painted on ceramic vessels. This fluidity of decorative forms between mobile media is strongly characteristic of Predynastic art as a whole, but frequent attempts to extend such comparisons to the extensive record of Nilotic rock art remain inconclusive and do not in themselves provide a reliable method for dating the latter.
“Another important class of free-standing object is pottery, use of which as a surface for painting underwent a number of changes during the Predynastic Period. Most striking is the shift between two monochrome traditions, from a light-on-dark to a dark-on- light format, which marks the onset of Naqada II (c.3600 B.C.). The former White Cross-Lined Ware (abbreviated as “C-Ware”) is known primarily from cemeteries in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia, dating to the early fourth millennium B.C.. It features loosely symmetrical arrangements of living beings, particularly wild river-animals such as hippopotami and reptiles, occasionally depicted alongside figures of human hunters. Painting is executed in white on a polished red background and typically appears on open forms such as bowls and beakers. By contrast, the later Decorated Ware (abbreviated as “D-Ware”) was made in a marl fabric that created a pale surface for decoration, executed with a dull red pigment. Its characteristic vessel form is a closed globular jar, probably inspired by contemporaneous stone vessels, the patterned texture of which is sometimes imitated in paint. On vessels with figural decoration, activities relating to water remain a dominant theme, notably through the inclusion of paddled boats with emblematic standards; but the repertory of riverside creatures has changed with the inclusion of flamingos and horned ungulates.”
Pre-Dynastic Lower Egyptian Culture
Beatrix Midant-Reynes wrote: As we have seen, the Neolithic is represented on the desert borders of Lower Egypt at the sites of el-Omari, Merimde Beni-Saleme, and the Fayum. In the Delta, the first witnesses of a new Predynastic culture appeared in the first part of the fourth millennium, synchronous with the Naqadan culture in Upper Egypt (Naqada I-IIC, 4000 – 3400 B.C.). It has been identified as the Maadi/Buto culture, according to the main sites where it was represented, but here we will refer to it as “Lower Egyptian Culture” because the discovery of new sites, particularly in the eastern Delta, has widened its extension. In the Memphite region around the site of Maadi and the necropolis of Wadi Digla. It includes the cemeteries of Tura, Heliopolis, and the isolated finds of Giza. It extends as far south as the site of el-Saff, located 45 kilometers south of Maadi. The culture is much better represented in the Nile Delta at the sites of But , Ezbet el-Qerdahi, and Konasiyet el-Sardushi in the northwest, as well as at Tell el-Farkha, Kom el-Khilgan, and Tell el-Iswid. [Source: Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org ]
“The Lower Egyptian cultural complex is characterized by light dwellings, a weak investment in funerary assemblages, and a strong connection with contemporary Levantine cultures. The settlements comprise small structures made of light, perishable material, identified by trenches, postholes, and remains of wooden posts, and by hearths, buried jars, and storage pits. The pottery corpus consists of globular shapes with a flat base, narrow neck, and flared rims, and by narrow tumblers, bottles, bowls, and cups. Maadi distinguishes itself by the exceptional presence of subterranean structures attested nowhere else in Egypt but for which parallels are found in the Beersheva region during the Late Chalcolithic and the initial Early Bronze I periods; indeed Maadi seems to have displayed the characteristics of a south Levantine community from its inception. In the lowest strata from Buto a similar scenario is revealed by a specific group of ceramics, the so-called V-shaped bowls, which, although locally produced, clearly derive from South Levantine Chalcolithic production in their morphology, decoration, and exceptional use of a wheel in their manufacture. The technique of wheel manufacture ceased during the following phase, about the time the Maadi occupation ended, but Levantine influence is nevertheless evident in the ceramics made with calcareous clay fabric bearing foot, neck, mouth, and handle decoration. The local flint industry is characterized by twisted blades and bladelets, clearly distinct from “Canaanean” tools. Copper objects are common in Maadi, including not only needles, pins, and fishhooks, but also rods, spatulas, and axes. Metal analysis revealed a probable provenance of the eastern and southern Sinai Peninsula.
“The interregional contacts with the Levantine area constitute one of the most striking features of the Lower Egyptian Culture. They took place in a complex dynamic of exchanges and borrowings correlated with the social organization of both regions and with their fluctuating evolution during the first part of the fourth millennium (Guyot 2008).
“The Lower Egyptian culture was, above all, pastoral-agricultural and sedentary. Domestic animals built up an overwhelming majority of the culture’s faunal spectrum: goats, sheep, oxen, pigs, and the donkey, which was employed for the transport of the goods. Kilos of grain, including wheat and barley, were found in jars and storage pits, along with lentils and peas.
“In contrast to those of Upper Egypt, the Lower Egyptian graves are characterized by extreme simplicity. Two cemeteries corresponding to two distinct phases of inhumation are associated with the site of Maadi, at nearby Wadi Digla. Bodies were placed in individual pits, on their side and in a contracted position, either without any offering, or accompanied by a few pots and, from time to time, a bivalve shellfish (Unio). In Kom el-Khilgan, in the eastern Delta, 226 tombs were excavated, revealing three phases of occupation. The first two phases belong to the Lower Egyptian cultural complex (Buto I-II) and the third is attributed to the Naqadan tradition (Naqada IIIA-IIIC). The occurrence of two different funeral traditions in the same cemetery is exceptional and initiated for scholars a new way of thinking about the cultural unification of Egypt (Buchez and Midant-Reynes 2007, 2011).”
Pre-Dynastic Upper Egyptian Culture
Beatrix Midant-Reynes wrote: “In the area of the modern town of Assiut, in approximately 4500 B.C., a cultural complex arose of whom our knowledge is based essentially on funerary remains, and to a lesser extent on poorly documented settlements: the Badarian culture, first identified in the Badari region, near Sohag. In the light of new discoveries in the Egyptian deserts, however, and in the context of the paleoclimatic reconstruction of the Holocene period, we can now consider the existence of the still earlier Tasian culture, for which the cultural marker is a round-based caliciform beaker with incised design filled with white pigment. New data from the Eastern and Western deserts, the area of modern Sudan (Friedman and Hobbs 2002; Kuper 2007), the exceptional cemeteries of Gebel Ramlah, some 130 kilometers west of Abu Simbel (Kobusiewicz et al. 2010), and from a well-dated settlement at Kharga Oasis (Briois et al. 2012) allow us to sketch the cultural identity of the Tasian and to locate it at the roots of the Badarian. The Badarian now tends to be considered as a regional development of the Tasian nomadic culture, which occupied the southern part of the Egyptian deserts and the Sudan during the fifth millennium. [Source: Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org ]
“Research conducted over the past thirty years has revealed the extent of the Badarian area to be considerably larger than was previously thought. Badarian items have been found as far south as Maghar Dendera (Hendrickx, Midant-Reynes, and Van Neer 2001) and Elkab (Vermeersch 1978: pl. VI), and as far east as the Eastern Desert (Friedman and Hobbs 2002). The Badarians were herders and farmers. Their settlements are poorly documented but suggest small structures made of perishable materials, grouped in small villages. Thus the Badarian way of life did not differ fundamentally from that of the Lower Egyptian.
“The contrast between the Lower and Upper Egyptian cultures is striking, however, in the realm of funerary practices. Numerous cemeteries located in the low desert (close to the fertile land of the Nile Valley) comprised hundred of graves that exhibited the onset of a process of social stratification that became increasingly pronounced in the following (Naqada) period. Bodies were placed in a simple pit, often on a mat, in a contracted position, on the left side, head to the south, looking west.
“The main grave offering was pottery, simply shaped and made by hand, including cups and bowls with straight rims and a rounded base. The finest example is a very thin-walled, black-topped ware, whose surface was combed prior to being polished, producing a ripple effect. The repertoire of funerary goods also included personal items such as ivory and bone hairpins, combs, bracelets, spoons, and beads, and the graywacke palette made its first appearance, thus beginning its long development through Predynastic times. The shapes were limited to oval and rectangular forms, but would display great variety during the following Naqadan Period. The lithic industry, which we know essentially through settlements, was principally a flake industry with a small component of bifacial tools
Identifying the precise connection between the Badarian and Naqadan cultures is more complex than previously believed. It has been thought that the Naqadan culture developed out of the Badarian and spread to the south, covering an area between Matmar and Hierakonpolis, but there is no clear break between the two cultures. Conversely, it is now believed that the Naqadan culture developed in regions south of the Badarian core area. In every case, and despite regional variations identified through the ceramic and the lithic assemblages (Friedman 1994; Holmes 1989), the cultural complex that developed in Upper Egypt during the first half of the fourth millennium, represented by a consistency in material culture and funerary practices, was totally different from that of Lower Egypt and the northern part of Middle Egypt. The situation began to change in the Naqada II C and D phases, when a period of interaction between the northern and the southern complexes took place, which would be followed by cultural unification in Naqada IIIA. Middle Egypt, due to its central position, undoubtedly played an important role in the process of cultural unification, but our data is unfortunately limited, since no new excavation has been conducted there since 1930. A recent reappraisal of the Gerza cemetery by Stevenson drew her to the conclusion that “the community at Gerza was a migrant one who were embedded in Naqadan traditions” (Stevenson 2009: 207; cf. Buchez and Midant- Reynes 2007, 2011).”
Unification of Upper and Lower Egyptian Cultures
Beatrix Midant-Reynes wrote: “The expansion of the Naqada culture has been the object of much debate and controversy. The dominant traits of the Naqada IIIA assemblage were assimilated by the Lower Egyptian complex, which as a consequence lost its own cultural identity. This phenomenon became the model for Kaiser’s “Naqadan expansion” (1964, 1990, 1995), which implied a conquest, at the end of which the entire country was subjugated by the Naqadan elite. [Source: Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org ]
“This model, though largely accepted, has been strongly criticised by Köhler (2008), who draws attention to the fact that notable regional variability existed within what was thought to be a single cultural entity. Based on the material culture from settlements, rather than cemeteries, she proposes that the local differences were gradual simultaneous developments in the different regions of the Nile Valley. The connections between the Naqadan and the Lower Egyptian contexts are explained as inter-relationships between permeable cultural entities. Instead of an external stimulus—the Naqada expansion—a model of internal development is suggested in which the changes that occurred in Lower Egypt from Naqada IIC-D are the result of the general evolution of the entire Nile Valley.
“New data recorded from the excavation of Kom el-Khilgan, in the northeastern Delta, lead us to somewhat different conclusions. Before Naqada IIC, two main entities (i.e., the Upper and Lower Egyptian cultures) took shape, within which we can observe variability in material culture and funerary practices. Yet these entities—though stemming from different traditions—exhibit the same socio- economic level in regard to their settlements and means of production. A change took place, however, after Naqada IIC, in the form of a process of interaction whose impetus was provided by the fundamental social changes that occurred in the Naqada sphere. The following period—100 to 150 years—saw a progressive transformation that led to the appearance of a “syncretic” culture, which finally culminated in the assimilation of southern traditions by the north. In this way, Naqada III is not a “pure” Naqadan culture but a “mixed” one with Naqadan-dominant traits. A similar pattern is found in southern Egypt, which has dominant Naqadan traits intermixed with traits of the Lower Nubian tradition (Gatto 2006). The emergence of power in this process requires the analysis of the economic and political structures of the social groups involved, how they interacted, and the role played by war (Campagno 2004).”
Middle Predynastic Egypt (4,000-3,500 B.C.)
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “The Middle Predynastic Period in Egypt dates to 4000 B.C. This time period is also referred to as the Gerzean Period or the Naqada Period. It is most recognized by the growing influence of the peoples of the north over those of the South, a prelude to what is to come in the late pre-dynastic period. The two main groups were the Amratian and the Gerzean. The greatest difference that can be seen among these people is in their ceramic industry. The Amratian pottery had some decoration, but its main purpose was functional. Gerzean pottery was decorated with geometric shapes and realistic animals. Decoration of ceramic vessels went through a dual evolution that began to include geometric motifs inspired by plant forms and painted or incised depictions of animals and shapes, with the appearance of thereomephic vessels. The art of clay-working had already reached its peak, particularly in the painted terracotta female "dancers" with raised arms. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato,ethanholman.com +]
“Animals such as ostriches and ibexes were found on their pottery, this lead some to speculate that the Gerzean were hunting in the sub-desert, because these animals are not found in the Nile Valley. In this period we also find the first representations of gods. Most of this was through their art on pottery. The gods were depicted as riding in boats. Some believe that this could be only records of visits from chieftains and records of battles. However these items were placed with the dead, which suggests that they were sacred. +\
“Changes in funerary practices among the Gerzean were found in this period. People were found buried in the fetal position and accompanied by sacred items and food. Children were now buried in cemeteries outside the villages instead of under the floor of their dwelling. We also begin to see tomb building in this era. The changes of burial customs have lead us to believe that this was a time of belief in the concept of life after death. The Amratian culture was not as elaborate with their burial practices; their dead were usually buried in a small pit with a skin cover over it. +\
“The appearance of historical architectural forms, "models" that the deceased took with him into the afterlife, have revealed the existence of houses and mud-brick enclosure walls. This suggests that the concept of the Egyptian town and urban planning can be traced back as far as the Amatian (Naqada I) Phase.” +\
Late Predynastic Egypt (3,500-3,300 B.C.)
Kozue Takahashi wrote: The Late Predynastic Period, (also called Gerzean period or Naqada II) is known as the most important predynastic culture in Egypt. Although the center of the development was the same as that of Amratian (or Naqada I), Gerzean culture slowly spread throughout Egypt. This period is best characterized by the discovery of the el-Gerza Culture providing a third predynastic phase and a second stage of the Naqada period. Kawm al-Ahmar, Naqada, and Abydos are the large sites developed during Naqada II period. They had large settlement areas with increasing division of wealth and status. [Source: Kozue Takahashi, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
“Social stratification is evident from the burials of this time. The rich were buried in tombs lined with mud brick, while the poor were buried in oblong tombs with one-sided ledges to hold funerary offerings. Tombs of people in the upper class were bigger and richer than those of the middle class. Regional political leaders can be easily identified by their "chieftains's tombs'' at different sites. +\
“Compared with the pharonic civilization, the Gerzean culture reached a stage of development that was already well advanced, especially in its funeral and religious rituals. Gerzean tombs had become virtual replicas of earthly dwellings; sometimes they comprised several profusely furnished rooms. There were amulets, figurines and ceremonial objects decorated with thematic scenes of animals (lions, bulls, cattle, hippopotami and falcons) which are known to have represented various gods from a very early period in Egyptian history. +\
Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: “In ancient Egypt, the late fourth millennium B.C. corresponds to what is known as the late Predynastic Period (Naqada IIIa-b). It was a crucial time for the constitution of Egypt as a single political entity. In Upper Egypt, earlier tendencies towards social differentiation and functional specialization intensify during this period, mainly in Hierakonpolis and Abydos. From this time on, similar tendencies are also apparent in Lower Egypt, in centers such as Buto, Tell el-Farkha, and Minshat Abu Omar. The process of political unification of Egypt takes place during this period. Authors differ with regard to specific events, but most agree that the process began in upper Egypt and then continued outwards, to ultimately encompass the territory from Elephantine to the Nile Delta. The earliest known examples of writing (Abydos Tomb U-j) date back to this period, as well as the earliest serekhs, both anonymous and with kings’ names. These names are usually grouped under the label “Dynasty 0,” a term that only indicates the existence of kings in the Nile Valley before the advent of Dynasty 1. [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
Defining Late Predynastic Egypt
Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: “The last part of the fourth millennium B.C. in the Nile Valley is generally known as the late Predynastic Period, that is, the time immediately prior to Dynasty 1. The epoch has received a variety of names, due to diverse periodization criteria. W. Flinders Petrie (1901a, 1920) originally proposed, in the framework of his system of sequence dates, the name Semainean for the last Predynastic epoch (SD 60 - 75). Later, the existence of a clear difference between the Semainean and the preceding Gerzean Period was brought into question, and both periods were subsumed under the name of the latter (Kantor 1944). Werner Kaiser (1957) proposed a new chronology based on evidence found in Upper Egypt (Naqadan culture), which he classified into three main phases (Stufen). [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“According to this chronology, refined later by Stan Hendrickx (1996, 1999, 2006), the late fourth millennium B.C. generically corresponds to Naqada IIIa-b. In Lower Egypt, the beginning of Naqada III coincides with the latest (“transitional”) phase of the so-called Buto-Maadi culture, whose later incorporation into Naqadan culture (see below) means that, beginning with Naqada IIIb, the chronology of Upper and Lower Egypt is unified under Naqada’s name. Beyond these specifically chronological criteria, in recent times the period is also referred to as Protodynastic (Adams and Ciałowicz 1997), since the earliest royal names are registered during this time. This meaning of the term Protodynastic ought not to be confused with a previous use (Trigger 1983), referring to the Thinite Dynasties 1 and 2 (nowadays called the Early Dynastic Period, see Wilkinson 1999). As for the early royal names, they used to be grouped under the label “Dynasty 0,” a rather equivocal name, as it does not refer to a sequence of kings of the same lineage, but merely to the set of known late Predynastic kings, whose names are not unanimously accepted by researchers.
“Regarding the absolute chronology of the period, there are some discrepancies among specialists, mainly due to the limited number of radiocarbon dates and to the difficulties of correlating this kind of data with the “historical” chronologies of later periods (Hendrickx 2006: 90 - 92). Several authors have accepted approximate dates between 3200 and 3050 B.C. for Naqada IIIa-b (Bard 2000; Midant-Reynes 2003; Wilkinson 2000). However, more recent works (Hassan et al. 2006; Hendrickx 2006) suggest earlier dates for the beginning of the period (around 3350 B.C.), differing with regards to when it ends (3060 and 3150 B.C., respectively), and thus implying greater disagreement about the total duration of the period.”
Trade and Cultural Exchanges in Late Predynastic Egypt
Kozue Takahashi wrote: “By Naqada II (also called Nakada II or Naqadah II) Period, bigger and more practical river ships were made, and the trade along the Nile River was flourishing. Egyptian boats changed from crafts made of reed bundles to ships made of wood planks. There is evidence of intense trade with the Near East. Ma'adi was a center of trade with the Near East and there were a wide range of settlement that presumably played a role of intermediary to transport goods to the south. [Source: Kozue Takahashi, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
“Imports of lapis lazuli tell us that their trading went as far as Badakhshan in Afghanistan. Lapis lazulis was traded across land and by ocean via the Persian Gulf to Sumer. Evidence of a brief period of either direct or indirect contact with cultures in Mesopotamia during the late Gerzean time was found. Some of the influence from Southwestern Asia can be seen from pottery paralleled in Mesopotamia and Palestine, seal stones with Mesopotamian motifs-interlacing ophidians, master of animals, griffin with wings, and the complex niched-facade mud brick architecture paralleled in Sumer where it was used for the decoration of the temples of the gods. +\ “The major difference between the Amatian and the Gerzean lay in their ceramic production. The decoration of Gerzean pottery was more developed with the use of stylized motifs including geometrical representations of flora and more naturalistic depictions of fauna and other aspects of their culture. Gerzean culture was introduced into Egypt by the "Eastern Desert Folk,'' who invaded and governed Egypt while the Amratian white-lined pottery was brought by "Libyan invasions.'' Gerzean culture is characterized by a buff-coloured pottery with pictorial decorations in dark red paint, use of an abrasive tubular drill for stonecutting, pear-shaped mace-heads and ripple-flacked flint knives and an advanced metallurgy.” +\
Development in the Late Predynastic Egypt (3,500-3,300 B.C.)
Kozue Takahashi wrote: “During the Gerzean period, pottery was mass-produced and was of very good quality. Unusual animal motifs drawn on the Gerzean pottery, such as ostriches and ibexes tell us that Gerzean people went to hunt in the sub-desert since those animals could not be found near the Nile River. The donkey was the only locally domesticated animal that was portrayed as tame in the late Predynastic art. [Source: Kozue Takahashi, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
“Gazelle herding and the domestication of sheep and dogs are found in the Gerzean along with cattle and pigs. The dwarf goat was found at the Gerzean site of Tukh and Esh-Shaheinab. The ancient indigenous way of hunting, fishing and utilizing wild plants supported the subsistence economy of Egypt until late Predynastic Period. However, population increase affected the distribution of plants and animals in the desert. In the late predynastic period, elephants, giraffes and ostriches seem to have vanished from the desert and floodplain. +\
“Writing was most likely not brought into Egypt, but may have began during this period with representations on the Naqada pottery. This pottery apparently charts gradual stylization of the plants, animals and religious dances depicted, eventually resulting in a set of divine symbols that are virtually hieroglyphic signs. These Naqada pictures reflect a fundamental principle throughout Egyptian history: the combination of pictograms and phonograms. +\
Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: “From a socioeconomic point of view, the increasing concentration of a great number of exotic and highly elaborate goods in few burials in Upper Egyptian cemeteries points to the presence of elites engaged in long- distance trade with control over craft production. At some sites, there are clear indications of a remarkable vertical (hierarchical) and horizontal (functional) differentiation. Among the main centers at the end of Naqada II (Abydos, Naqada, Hierakonpolis), evidence of social differentiation only diminishes in Naqada, where the use of the elite Cemetery T declines (Bard 1994). On the contrary, this evidence is strong in Hierakonpolis, where the elite Cemetery HK6 is reused and a massive building (HK29A) for ceremonial purposes remains in use (Friedman 2008, 2009; Hikade 2011). Evidence of hierarchical organization is even stronger in Abydos, where the pre- existing elite Cemetery U continues to be used; in particular, the Tomb U-j—9.10 x 7.30 m, with twelve brick-lined chambers, hundreds of imported vessels, an ivory heka scepter, and the earliest known examples of writing—clearly suggests the existence of a state-like elite, capable of obtaining vast quantities of prestige goods and of controlling craftsmen and scribes (Dreyer 1998; Hartung 2001; on the origin, problems, and early implications of Egyptian writing, see Baines 2006; Cervelló Autuori 2005; Kahl 1994; Vernus 1993).” [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
Merging of Upper and Lower Egypt in the Late Predynastic Period
Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: “Beyond Upper Egypt, there were different situations. To the south, two early Naqada III sites in Lower Nubia showed marked social differentiation, judging from mortuary evidence: Sayala (Cemetery 137) and Qustul (Cemetery L) (Firth 1927; Williams 1986). To the north, sites in Middle Egypt such as Mostagedda and Matmar—similar to other sites in Upper Egypt, such as Armant and Adaima—provide evidence indicating the existence of village organizations, with moderate social differentiation (Castillos 1998; Crubézy et al. 2002; Wilkinson 1996). Further to the north, the situation in the Memphite area and the Delta seems to have been characterized by pronounced social differentiation, as suggested by the large size of some tombs and the quantitative and qualitative expansion of prestige goods (see Chłodnicki and Ciałowicz 2007; Ellis 1996; Köhler 2004; Kroeper 2004; Tassie and van Wetering 2003), as well as by large buildings that point to both the existence of elite residences and different forms of labor specialization (Buto, Tell Ibrahim Awad, Tell el-Farkha; see Ciałowicz 2004; Eigner 2000; Tristant 2005; von der Way 1997). [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Late Predynastic material culture in both Upper and Lower Egypt shows more homogeneity than in previous periods. Such homogeneity seems to reflect the influence of the south on the north, since many of the findings in Lower Egypt (pottery types, shapes and contents of tombs, mud-brick architecture, serekhs) have precedents in Upper Egypt. However, specialists do not agree on the scope and implications of this process. Kaiser’s already mentioned theory of an expansion of Naqadan culture that took place before political unification—what Th. von der Way (1992: 4) has called “cultural assimilation by superimposition”—is the most generally accepted criterion for interpreting the changes in Lower Egypt’s archaeological record. More recently, Christiana Köhler (1995, 2008) has questioned the assumption of a marked cultural contrast between Upper and Lower Egypt before Naqada III, a contrast she explains as a difference in the levels of craft specialization (household production in the north as opposed to a workshop industry in the south, stimulated by the ecological advantages of the region as well as the demands of emerging elites).
“On this basis, the influence of the south on the Delta might be viewed as the result of changing consumption patterns of northern elites rather than evidence of the total replacement of one culture by another. The same change may have taken place in Lower Nubia, where the A-Group elite burials at sites such as Qustul and Sayala contain imported goods and objects with iconographic influences coming from Upper Egypt. Thus, the “cultural expansion” during late Naqada II and early Naqada III might be largely due to local elites in neighboring regions emulating the practices and symbols of prestige of the powerful Upper Egyptian elites.”
Religion Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt
Lee Huddleston wrote in Ancient Near East Page: “Pre-Pharoanic Egypt consisted of many [42?] small states centered around a community religious compound. All of them possessed many divinities in common but differed in their perceptions of the relative power of the individual divinities. Upper Egypt [to the south of the Delta of the Nile] had stronger kings and were more zenophobic than their contemporary rulers in Lower Egypt [the Delta]. All considered themselves divine. Communities in the Delta allowed resident foreigners and had considerable commerce with non-Egyptian peoples. [Source: Lee Huddleston, Ancient Near East Page, January, 2001, Internet Archive, from UNT \=/]
“The kings took servants with them when they died; i. e., subjects were ritually buried in the king's burial precinct-a practice called Sati. Other Egyptians [and foreigners in the Delta] had separate cemeteries. In Upper Egypt royal cemeteries were much grander in relation to those of other Egyptians than in the Delta. Around 3200-3000 BCE Egypt was unified by a king from Thebes in the south. His traditional name was Menes and he may have been one of the two men depicted on the Narmer Pallette, Narmer and his presumed father identified as Scorpion. \=/
In unified Egypt, with a capital and religious center in Memphis, “Theocracy, or rule by God or by terms dictated by God, describes Egyptian government. Each of the Forty-two nomes [provinces] of Egypt were the property of a Divinity and all of Egypt belonged to the Divine Pharoah. Gods were territorial and people in the land of a particular God must give him/her priority deference. Since Memphis was owned by the God Ptah, Ptah was recognized as the national deity.” \=/
Political Development in the Late Predynastic Period
In the late predynastic period, there is evidence of increased political activity and a struggle for predominance between Upper and Lower Egypt. Kozue Takahashi wrote: “In both regions, the basic unit of government was the local community clustered around a town or group of villages and was under the greater control of a local variant of one of the universal gods, and looking for leadership to some powerful headman.” [Source: Kozue Takahashi, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: The decline of the Naqada site around 3200 B.C. suggests that this center could have fallen to one of its neighbors and rivals, either Hierakonpolis to the south or Abydos to the north. Rock carvings recently discovered at Gebel Tjauti—in an overland path that may have connected Hierakonpolis to Abydos, allowing them to avoid passing through Naqada—with scenes including early kingship symbols (falcons, individuals holding scepters and maces) and depictions of violence (capture of prisoners) support this possibility. In particular, the depiction of a scorpion similar to those represented repeatedly on Tomb U-j’s vessels— considered by some authors to be the name of the tomb owner—may also provide a link to Abydos. [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Expansion to the north seems to have resulted in increased political integration. Before this process, there appears to have been a variety of political scenarios in the regions to the north of Upper Egypt. In Middle Egypt, as pointed out above, some social differentiation occurred; however, there are no specific traces of political- administrative leadership. On the other hand, in the Memphite region and the Delta, the situation may have been much more heterogeneous. Aside from the aforementioned indications of socioeconomic differentiation, some sites in these regions show evidence of what were probably recording systems (seals and other small devices in Tell el-Farkha, potmarks in vessels from many northern sites), and serekhs with features and names only known in the north.
“The pace and specific dynamics of the political unification process are difficult to determine. Although the expansion to the north may have begun in early Naqada IIIa, the process seems to have reached completion only in late Naqada IIIb, in the transition between “Dynasty 0” and Dynasty 1, since it is only with Ka and Narmer that objects related to a single king have been consistently found at sites ranging from Upper Egypt to the southern Levant. Regarding the nature of the expansion, traditional Egyptology, relying on a historicist reading of a set of ceremonial objects decorated with scenes of combats, walled settlements, and prisoner executions (among them, the Gebel el-Arak knife-handle; Battlefield, Cities, Bulls, and Narmer palettes; Scorpion and Narmer maceheads), assumed that expansion was mainly achieved by systematic military conquest. This approach has been questioned, both because of the nature of the message expressed in these documents— symbolic rather than “realistic”—and because of the lack of unequivocal archaeological evidence indicating such conquest. In any case, iconography of the period suggests that the expansion was carried out in a context that was at the very least discursively violent; this kind of symbolic violence is totally compatible with the prerogatives of an elite capable of exercising coercion on the territories that were being included under its rule.
“The direction of the expansion, as well as the iconographic motifs related to its violence, both provide clues about the reasons behind this process. The expansion followed the routes to the principal regions from which prestige goods consumed by Upper Egyptian elites arrived (e.g., ivory, ebony, incense, or animal skins coming from the south and intermediated by Lower Nubia; wine, oils, timber, copper, precious stones, and even Mesopotamian artifacts coming from the north through the Delta and the Levant). Thus, the expansion may have suppressed the competition of potential rivals, avoiding intermediaries and securing the obtaining in situ of the exotic products desired in Egypt. Regarding the depictions of scenes of violence, they make known one of the core attributes of the Egyptian king, a figure who imposes cosmic order against the threat of chaos. Throughout Egyptian history, the king would have been seen as the divine guarantor of order imposed through violence, as the ritual massacre of the enemy, depicted both before (Hierakonpolis Tomb 100) and after (palette of Narmer) the late Predynastic Period, symbolizes. In this respect, the expansion may have been seen by the Egyptians as the royal task par excellence, a cosmic matter rather than a strictly political one.”
Predynastic Egypt Developed Later and Quicker Than Previously Thought?
In 2013, British scientists announced that Ancient Egypt developed — marked by the region’s transformation from a land of isolated farmers into a state ruled over by a king — was later more rapid than previously thought: between 3700 and 3100 B.C. rather than 4000 and 3100 B.C.. Nick Renaud-Komiya wrote in The Independent, “Through a combination of radiocarbon dating and computer models, the scientists estimate that the civilisation’s first ruler, King Aha, came to power in about 3100 B.C.. Previous research had suggested that the area’s transformation began 300 years before the date established by the recent analysis. The team’s research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. [Source: Nick Renaud-Komiya. The Independent, September 4, 2013 +++]
“Previously Egypt’s origins had been dated using estimates based on gradually differing styles of ceramics discovered in human burial sites due to a lack of written records. Lead researcher Dr Michael Dee, from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said, “The formation of Egypt was unique in the ancient world. It was a territorial state; a state from which the moment it formed had established borders over a territory in much the same way we think of nations today.” ”Trying to understand what happened in human history to lead people to establish this sort of polity we felt was a gap in understanding that needed to be filled,“ he added. +++
“The scientists used radiocarbon dating on excavated artefacts, including hair, bones and plants, with established archaeological evidence and computer models to help uncover when the civilization first came into existence. Previous records suggested the pre-Dynastic period, when groups of people began to settle along the Nile to farm the land, began in 4000 B.C. But the new analysis revealed this process started later, between 3700 or 3600 B.C. The team found that just a few hundred years later, by about 3100 B.C. society had transformed to one under the rule of a king. +++
Speaking to the BBC Dr Dee said, ”The time period is shorter than was previously thought, about 300 or 400 years shorter. Egypt was a state that emerged quickly-over that time one has immense social change. This is interesting when one compares it with other places. In Mesopotamia, for example, you have agriculture for several thousand years before you have anything like a state.” Commenting on the research, Professor Joann Fletcher from the department of archaeology at the University of York, said, “This is highly significant work, which pulls the beginnings of Egypt's dynastic history into much sharper focus-it is tremendously valuable to have such a precise timeline for Egypt's first rulers.” +++
Study of Predynastic Egypt
Beatrix Midant-Reynes of the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale wrote: “In 1892, when W. M. F. Petrie uncovered the vast cemetery of Naqada, in Upper Egypt, he signed the virtual “birth certificate” of Egyptian prehistory. Although Petrie’s first interpretation was that the material found at Naqada dated to the end of the Old Kingdom, he nevertheless inaugurated the systematic study of Predynastic Egypt by the application of his innovative sequence-dating system (Petrie 1901; and see Hendrickx 1996). [Source: Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org ]
“Some archaeologists before him had drawn attention to the stone artifacts present in many parts of the Nile Valley and in the Egyptian deserts (Tristant 2007), but the existence of a “history before history” was not convincing and remained to be proved. Since Petrie’s time, the evolution of the research has progressed more or less steadily, benefiting in the second half of the twentieth century from the rise of cultural anthropology, which sparked a renewed interest in cultural origins. Concomitant technological progress made possible not only absolute datations (C14) and large surveys in the deserts, but allowed the development of the paleoenvironmental sciences. The chronological framework is now solid, although adjustments remain discussed (Köhler, ed. 2011), and numerous new data— particularly from the deserts and Delta—allow us to construct a clearer image of the previously “dark millenniums.”“
Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: “Before the pioneering excavations in Upper Egypt in the late nineteenth century, the Predynastic history of the Nile Valley— including, certainly, its final phase—was completely unknown. Speculations about the time prior to the mythical king Menes were based on the supposition that two ancient kingdoms existed, one in the Delta and the other in the Valley, whose kings would have worn, respectively, the red crown and the white crown—typical of later Pharaonic kingship. Though these speculations continued to draw the attention of many Egyptologists well into the twentieth century (especially in conjunction with a reading of the conflicts between Horus and Seth as remote historical events, see Gwyn Griffiths 1960; Sethe 1930), a new picture began to emerge following the archaeological work carried out principally in Naqada, Abydos, and Hierakonpolis. These excavations would greatly enhance the knowledge of the first dynasties, and also the understanding of the preceding periods. In particular, regarding the late Predynastic Period, some of the royal tombs found in Cemetery B at Abydos (Petrie 1901b, 1902), as well as a decorated macehead found at the Hierakonpolis Main Deposit (Quibell 1900), suggested the existence of kings before Dynasty 1 (Irihor, Ka, Scorpion), quickly grouped under the new label “Dynasty 0” (e.g., Petrie 1912: 1 - 9). [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The significance of the findings at these sites, in combination with racial and diffusionist theories popular at the time, led Petrie to propose that during the late Predynastic Period, a “dynastic race” could have invaded Upper Egypt, bringing to the Nile Valley all the attributes of civilization (Petrie 1912: 3 - 4, 1920: 49 - 50). In subsequent years, the excavation of sites in the Memphite region—particularly Tura and Tarkhan—with evidence comparable to that found in the south, allowed the researcher to assume that this “dynastic race,” after settling in Upper Egypt, initiated a progressive conquest of the regions to the north, a task that would be finished by the time of Menes (Petrie 1912: 2; Petrie et al. 1913: 1).
“The theory of two Predynastic kingdoms in Upper and Lower Egypt, and that of a single dynastic race, would for decades continue to be the primary explanatory models for the last Predynastic centuries. From the end of the 1950s, Kaiser (1964, 1986, 1990) proposed a reassessment of the archaeological record, according to which the diffusion of Upper Egyptian cultural characteristics in the north would appear to involve a double process of unification: first, a cultural integration between the Delta and the Valley on Naqadan cultural parameters, which assumed some type of migration from south to north; and second, a process of political unification, which would have ended eight to ten generations before king Narmer. Though some aspects of Kaiser’s theory were later questioned, especially his proposal of such an early date for political unification, his model was one of the main factors leading to the reconsideration of late Predynastic history.
“Another significant factor was no doubt the extraordinary expansion of the period’s archaeological record in recent decades. In the 1960s, rescue campaigns in Sudan promoted knowledge of Lower Nubia at the end of the fourth millennium B.C., especially the site of Qustul (Seele 1974), comparable to contemporary Upper Egyptian centers. In the early 1970s, excavations in Hierakonpolis were relaunched and have continued uninterrupted since then (Adams 1995; Fairservis et al. 1972; Friedman 2005; Hoffman 1982), providing valuable information on Naqada III regarding both mortuary practices and the complex organization of the urban settlement. Excavations in the Umm el-Qaab necropolis at Abydos (Dreyer 1992, 1998; Dreyer et al. 1993; Kaiser and Dreyer 1982), also uninterrupted since their beginning in the late 1970s, have included the re-excavation of the elite Cemetery U (contiguous to Cemetery B and the Royal Cemetery of Dynasties 1 and 2). In particular, the rediscovery of Tomb U-j (see below) has been decisive for the present- day understanding of the late Predynastic Period.
“Recent archaeological work has also been of great importance in northern Egypt. Excavations at a large number of sites—Buto, Mendes, Tell el-Farkha, Tell Ibrahim Awad, Minshat Abu Omar, Kafr Hassan Dawood, Helwan, among the most relevant (see Hendrickx et al. 2004; van den Brink 1992)— have given qualitatively different information from that available only a few decades ago, particularly in relation to the remarkable and previously unknown social dynamism of this region during late Predynastic times. In addition, excavations carried out in recent decades in the southern Levant (for example, Tel Sakan, En Besor, Tel Halif, Tel Malhata, Tel Arad, Tel Ma’ahaz, Tel Erani, Tel Lod; see van den Brink 1992; van den Brink and Levy 2002), have contributed to this understanding, revealing evidence of Egyptian presence in that area prior to Dynasty 1.
“The expansion of the archaeological record in the last decades has been accompanied by an increasing use of interpretive models, mainly derived from anthropology, reflecting some of the general trends in vogue in current archaeological studies. Thus, the history of the period has been considered in the light of various theories about the state origins (Hoffman 1979; Wenke 2009), cross-cultural comparative approaches (Maisels 1999; Trigger 2003), or analytical perspectives arising from post-structuralist studies (Wengrow 2006), all of which show a great theoretical diversity that has helped weaken the traditional “isolation” of Egyptology regarding other areas of social sciences.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018