Predynastic Egypt

Predynastic Egypt

The Predynastic Period of Egypt (prior to 3100 BC) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy beginning with King Narmer. However, the dates of the predynastic period were first defined before widespread archaeological excavation of Egypt had taken place, and recent finds which show the course of predynastic development to have been very gradual have caused scholars to argue about when exactly the predynastic period ended. Thus, the term "protodynastic period," sometimes called "Dynasty 0," has been used by scholars to name the part of the period which might be characterized as predynastic by some and dynastic by others.

The predynastic period is generally divided into cultural periods named after the places where a certain type of Egyptian settlement was first located. However, it should be noted that the same gradual development that characterizes the protodynastic period is present throughout the entire predynastic period, and individual "cultures" must not be interpreted as separate entities but as largely subjective divisions used to facilitate easier study of the entire period.

Precursors to the Predynastic

Most archaeological sites in Egypt have been excavated only in Upper Egypt, because the silt of the Nile River was more heavily deposited at the delta region, and most delta sites from the predynastic period have since been buried totally .Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 10.] Although Lower Egypt seems to have had a significantly different culture, its nature is still unknown.

Qadan and Sebilian Cultures (Late Paleolithic)

Twenty some archaeological sites in upper Nubia evidence a grain-grinding Neolithic culture called the Qadan culture, which practiced wild grain harvesting along the Nile during the beginning of the Sahaba Daru Nile phase, when desiccation in the Sahara caused residents of the Libyan oases to retreat into the Nile valley.Grimal, Nicolas. "A History of Ancient Egypt." p.21. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988]

In Egypt, analyses of pollen found at archaeological sites indicate that the Sebilian culture (also known as Esna culture) were gathering wheat and barley. This does not seem to be an indicator of farming, as domesticated seeds were not found, and the modern varieties of wheat and barley do not originate in Egypt, but in Turkey and Israel. It has been hypothesized that the sedentary lifestyle used by farmers led to increased warfare, which was detrimental to farming and brought this period to an end. Another culture of hunters, fishers, and gathering peoples using stone tools replaced them.Fact|date=February 2007

Faiyum A Culture (Neolithic)

Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and forced them to adapt a more sedentary lifestyle. The period from 9,000 to 6,000 BC has left very little in the way of archaeological evidence, however, around 6,000 BC Neolithic settlements have been found all over Egypt.Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 6.] Weaving is evidenced for the first time during the Faiyum A Period, but unlike later Egyptian settlements, their dead were buried very close to and sometimes, inside their own settlements.Gardiner, Alan, "Egypt of the Pharaohs" (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 388.]

Although archaeological sites reveal very little about this time, an examination of the many Egyptian words for city can provide a hypothetical list of reasons for why the Egyptians settled. In Upper Egypt, the words for city indicate that they functioned for trade and protection of livestock, for protection from the flood on high ground, or, as sacred sites for deities.Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 8.] This seems to be the era in which agriculture arrived in Egypt from the near East, with crops and livestock domesticated in Turkey.

Tasian Culture

The Tasian culture was the next to begin in Upper Egypt. The culture group is named for the burials found at Der Tasa, a site on the east bank of the Nile between Asyut and Akhmim. The Tasian culture group is notable for producing the earliest blacktop-ware, a type of red and brown pottery, which has been painted black on its top and interior. This pottery is vital to the dating of predynastic Egypt. Because all dates for the predynastic period are tenuous at best, WMF Petrie developed a system called Sequence Dating by which the relative date, if not the absolute date, of any given predynastic site can be ascertained by examining the handles on pottery.

As the predynastic period progressed, the handles on pottery evolved from functional to ornamental, and the degree to which any given archaeological site has functional or ornamental pottery can be used to determine the relative date of the site. Since there is little difference between Tasian and Badarian pottery, the Tasian Culture overlaps the Badarian place on the scale between S.D. 21 and 29 significantly.Gardiner, Alan, "Egypt of the Pharaohs" (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 389.] From the Tasian period onward, it appears that Upper Egypt was influenced strongly by the culture of Lower Egypt. [Grimal, Nicolas. "A History of Ancient Egypt." p.35. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988.]

Badarian Culture

The Badarian Culture, named for the Badari site near Der Tasa, followed the Tasian culture, however similarities between the two have lead very many to not differentiate between them at all. The Badarian Culture continued to produce the kind of pottery called Blacktop-ware (although its quality was much improved over previous specimens), and was assigned the Sequence Dating numbers between 21 and 29. The significant difference, however, between the Tasian and Badarian culture groups, which prevents scholars from completely merging the two together, is that Badarian sites use copper in addition to stone, and thus are chalcolithic settlements, while the Tasian sites remain Neolithic, and are considered technically, part of the Stone Age.

Badarian flint tools continued to develop into sharper and more shapely blades, and the first faience and more was developed.Grimal, Nicolas. "A History of Ancient Egypt." p.24. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988] Distinctly Badarian sites have been located from Nekhen to a little north of Abydos.Gardiner, Alan, "Egypt of the Pharaohs" (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 391.] It appears that the Fayum A culture and the Badarian and Tasian Periods overlapped significantly, however, the Fayum A culture was considerably less agricultural, and was still Neolithic in nature.

Amratian (Naqada I) Culture

The Amratian culture is named after the site of El-Amra, about 120 km south of Badari. El-Amra was the first site where this culture group was found without being mingled with the later Gerzean culture group, however, this period is better attested at the Naqada site, thus it also is referred to as the Naqada I culture. Black-topped ware continues to be produced, but white cross-line ware, a type of pottery which has been decorated with close parallel white lines being crossed by another set of close parallel white lines, begins to be produced during this time. The Amratian period falls between S.D. 30 and 39 in Petrie's Sequence Dating system.Gardiner, Alan, "Egypt of the Pharaohs" (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 390.]

Trade between Upper and Lower Egypt is attested at this time, as new excavated objects attest. A stone vase from the north has been found at el-Amra, and copper, which is not present in Egypt, apparently was imported from the Sinai, or perhaps from Nubia. ObsidianGrimal, Nicolas. "A History of Ancient Egypt." p.28. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988] and an extremely small amount of gold were both definitively imported from Nubia during this time. Trade with the oases also was likely.

New innovations such as mud-brick buildings for which the Gerzean period is well known also to begin during this time, attesting to cultural continuity, however, they did not reach nearly the widespread use that they were known for in later times.Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 7.] Additionally, oval and theriomorphic cosmetic palettes appear to be used in this period, however, the workmanship is still very rudimentary and the relief artwork for which they were later known is not yet present. [Gardiner, Alan, "Egypt of the Pharaohs" (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 393.]

Gerzean (Naqada II) Culture

The Gerzean culture, named after the site of Gerzeh, was the next stage in Egyptian cultural development, and it was during this time that the foundation for Dynastic Egypt was laid. Gerzean culture is largely an unbroken development out of Amratian Culture, starting in the delta and moving south through upper Egypt, however, failing to dislodge Amratian Culture in Nubia.Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 16.] Gerzean sites are identified by the presence of pottery which is assigned values from S.D. 40 through 62, and is distinctly different from Amratian white cross-lined wares or black-topped ware. Gerzean pottery was painted mostly in dark red with pictures of animals, people, and ships, as well as geometric symbols which appear to derive from pictures of animals. Furthermore, the handles became "wavy" and reached a nearly totally decorative phase (although technically wavy handles can be found as early as S.D. 35).

Gerzean culture coincided with a significant drop in rainfall,Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 17.] and farming produced the vast majority of food, although paintings from this time indicate that hunting was not entirely forgone. With increased food supplies, Egyptians adopted a greatly more sedentary lifestyle, and larger settlements grew to cities with about 5,000 residents.

It was in this time that Egyptian city dwellers stopped building out of reeds, and used the mud-brick, which was developed in the Amratian Period, en masse to build their cities.

Egyptian stone tools, while still in use, moved from bifacial construction to ripple-flaked construction, copper was used to make all kinds of tools as well, and also for the first time, copper weaponry turns up. Silver, gold, lapis, and faience were used ornamentally, and the grinding palettes used for eye-paint since the Badarian period began to be adorned with relief carvings.

Tombs also begin to be constructed in classic Egyptian style, being modeled to resemble normal houses, and sometimes composed of multiple rooms. Although excavations in the delta have still to be meticulously undertaken, these traits are interpreted as having come largely from the north, and are probably not indigenous to Upper Egypt.

Foreign contact

Although the Gerzean Culture is now clearly identified as being the continuation of the Amratian period, significant amounts of Mesopotamian influences worked their way into Egypt during the Gerzean which were interpreted in previous years as evidence of a Mesopotamian ruling class, the so called Dynastic Race, coming to power over Upper Egypt. In recent years however, this theory has been discounted.

Nonetheless, distinctly foreign objects and art forms entered Egypt during this period which are indicative of trade contacts with several parts of Asia. Objects such as the Gebel el-Arak knife handle, which has patently Mesopotamian relief carvings on it, have been found in Egypt, [Shaw, Ian. & Nicholson, Paul, "The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt," (London: British Museum Press, 1995), p. 109.] and the silver which appears in this period can only have been obtained from Asia Minor.

In addition, Egyptian objects are created which are clearly mimicking Mesopotamian forms, although not slavishly.Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 18.] Cylinder seals appear in Egypt, as well as recessed paneling architecture, the Egyptian reliefs on cosmetic palettes are clearly made in the same style as the contemporary Mesopotamian Uruk culture, and the ceremonial mace heads which turn up from the late Gerzean and early Semainean are crafted in the Mesopotamian "pear-shaped" style, instead of the Egyptian native style.

The route of this trade is difficult to determine, but contact with Canaan does not predate the early dynastic, so it is usually assumed to have been by water.Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 22.] During the time when the Dynastic Race Theory was still popular, it was theorized that Uruk sailors circumnavigated Arabia, but a Mediterranean route, probably by middlemen through Byblos is more likely, as evidenced by the presence of Byblian objects in Egypt.

Nonetheless, the fact that so many Gerzean sites are at the mouths of Wadys which lead to the Red Sea is indicative of some amount of trade via the Red Sea (though Byblian trade potentially, could cross the Sinai and resume sea travel as well).Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 20.] Also, it is considered unlikely that something as complicated as recessed panel architecture could have worked its way into Egypt by proxy, and at least a small contingent of migrants, is often suspected. Nonetheless, Egyptologists usually take great pains to note that the Gerzean Culture is still by far predominantly indigenous to Egypt.

Naqada III (Protodynastic, sometimes Semainean in older texts) Culture

The Naqada III period is generally taken to be identical with the Protodynastic period, during which Egypt was unified.

Naqada III is notable for being the first era with hieroglyphs (even though it is sometimes said to be later), the first regular use of serekhs, the first irrigation (water routed for farming), and the first appearance of royal cemeteries [ [ Naqada III ] ] .


: ("All dates are approximate")

*Neolithic, from 10th millennium BC
**ca. 9500 BC: Wild grain harvesting along the Nile, grain-grinding culture creates world's earliest stone sickle blades
**ca. 8000 BC: Migration of peoples to the Nile, developing a more centralized society and settled agricultural economy
**ca. 7500 BC: Importing animals from Asia to Sahara
**ca. 7000 BC: Agriculture -- animal and cereal -- in East Sahara
**ca. 7000 BC: in Nabta Playa deep year-round water wells dug, and large organized settlements designed in planned arrangements
**ca. 6000 BC: Rudimentary ships (rowed, single-sailed) depicted in Egyptian rock art
*Copper Age and large-scale Stone Construction, from 6th millennium BC. First hammered native copper tools appearing.
**ca. 4th millennium BC: Metal replacing stone -- farming and hunting equipment, jewelry; tanning animal skins; intricate basket-weaving
**ca. 6th millennium BC: possible early Alchemy as evidenced by common knowledge of animal-skin tanning []
**ca. 5500 BC: Stone-roofed subterranean chambers and other subterranean complexes in Nabta Playa containing buried sacrificed cattle -- preludes Hathor belief in Ancient Egypt
**ca. 5000 BC: Archaeoastronomical stone megalith in Nabta Playa, world's earliest known astronomy []
**ca. 5000 BC: Badarian contacts with Syria; furniture, tableware, models of rectangular houses, pots, dishes, cups, bowls, vases, figurines, combs
**ca. 4500 BC: Geometric spatial designs adorning Naqada pottery []
**ca. 4400 BC: finely-woven linen fragment []
**ca. 4300 BC: Beaker culture-pottery, world's earliest known []
*Inventing prevalent, from 4th millennium BC
**By 4000 BC, the world's earliest-known:
***Alchemy (see Alchemy in Ancient Egypt)
***Cosmetics (antimony)
***Donkey domestication
***Iron works (anybody sure about this date? any references??) (Iron Age)
***Mortar (masonry)
***Pottery hieroglyph writing in Girza []
**ca. 4000 BC:
***early medicine []
**4th millennium BC: Gerzean tomb-building, including underground rooms and burial of furniture and amulets, -- preludes Osiris belief in Ancient Egypt
**4th millennium BC: Cedar imported from Lebanon []
**ca. 3500 BC: Lapis lazuli imported from Badakshan and / or Mesopotamia (see Silk Road)
**ca. 3500 BC: possible Silk Road expansion (see Silk Road)
**ca. 3500 BC: Double clarinets, Lyres (see Music of Egypt)
**ca. 3500 BC: Senet, world's oldest-(confirmed) board game
**ca. 3500 BC: Faience, world's earliest-known glazed ceramic beads


External links

* [ Encyclopædia Britannica] : "ship," from "Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service."
* [ Ancient Egyptian History] - A comprehensive & concise educational website focusing on the basic and the advanced in all aspects of Ancient Egypt

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