The history of ancient Egypt


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The more than 3000 year long history of Ancient Egypt has been divided into 8 or 9 periods, sometimes called Kingdoms. This modern-day division is somewhat arbitrarily based on the country's unity and wealth and the power of the central government. The Ancient Egyptians themselves did not group their rulers according to such criteria. They rather seem to have developed the notion of dynasties throughout their history. The Palermo Stone simply lists the kings one after the other, without any apparent need of grouping them. The Turin Kinglist, which is more recent, has grouped the kings according to their descendance or origin. Thus, Amenemhat I and his descendants, are described as the kings of Itj-Tawi, the capital whence they ruled. We owe the division into 30 dynasties as we use it now to Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived at the beginning of the Ptolemaic Era. In many cases, however, it is not clear why Manetho has grouped some kings into one dynasty and other kings into another. The 18th Dynasty, for instance, starts with Ahmose, a brother of the last king in Manetho's 17th Dynasty. Theoritically, Ahmose and Kamose should thus have been grouped in the same dynasty. Thutmosis I, on the other hand, does not appear to have been related to his predecessor, Amenhotep I, but still both kings are grouped in the 18th Dynasty.

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Lower Paleolithic: c. 2 Mil. - 100,000 BC

As hard as may be to believe, there was an Egypt before the Pharaohs. Over a century ago, Charles Darwin, without any real evidence to back up his theory, set forth the statement that Africa might have been the cradle of the human race. Today, we still have no conclusive proof, but many signs point to one of the first civilizations created by human-like beings might have been in the Nile Valley around 700,000 years ago, if not earlier. Possible evidence to push the date back much earlier was found at Olduvai.
The Olduvai Gorge site in Tanzania is the oldest archaeological site in the world. Discovered by Dr. Mary D. Leakey and her husband, Louis Leakey, it contains the remains of large hominids (humanlike creatures) almost two million years old, which they labeled as Zinjanthropus boisei. But even more important than the remains themselves was the large amount of animal bones and crude stone tools found with them, evidence that these were intelligent beings. The existence of these stone tools prompted archaeologists to label them the "Olduwan Industry."
Remains of boisei and similar hominids, as well as the shelters they built and tools they used have been found in many places in Africa, from Lake Rudolph in eastern Africa, to South Africa, to the Afar and Omo river valleys in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, to date, no remains of boisei or even of Australopithecus africanus and Homo habilis (two species of advanced hominids believed to be our ancestors) have been found in the Lower Nile Valley, but if human-like creatures were already roaming over Africa nearly two million years ago, it seems very likely they could have migrated to the Nile Valley. Many archaeologists now believe, based on what has already been found at Olduvai and similar sites, that it is only a matter of time before remains of early hominids are found in Egypt. There is a strong case for this, but until the discovery of australopithecine remains there, the evidence is still only circumstantial.
For nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers, as some anthropologists believe our ancestors were, the fertile Nile Valley, with its readily available water, game, and arable land, must have looked inviting indeed. Additionally, this period is believed to have been much more temperate and rainy than the Nile Valley of today, and so one must imagine this area to be filled with wide expanses of grasslands, teeming with life, similar to the savannas of southern and eastern Africa. These savannas may even have extended well into what is today the Sahara Desert, and oases such as the Karga Oasis and the Dungul Oasis are all that is left of these vast ranges of vegetation. The Nile may even have served as a migration route for early civilizations to make their way up through Africa and into Europe, beginning the spreading of the human race throughout the world.
At the very least, we can say early humans were in Egypt 700,000 years ago for certain. To date, the oldest tools found in the lower Nile Valley have been found in and near the cliffs of Abu Simbel, just across the river from where, millennia later, the descendants of these people would build the temple of Rameses II. Geological evidence indicates they are around 700,000 years old, giving a fairly good estimate as to when a Stone Age people was living in the area. "Slightly" later, dating to approximately 500,000 years ago, are various finds of stone tools, including the stone axes that the Lower Paleolithic is noted for. Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Elinor Gardner report industry in the Achulean Period (c. 250,000 - 90,000 BC) of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Paleolithic sites are most often found near dried-up springs or lakes, or in areas where materials to make stone tools are plentiful.
One of the most important finds from the Achulean Period is known as Arkin 8, discovered by Polish archaeologist Waldemar Chmielewski near the the Nile Valley town of Wadi Halfa. Arkin 8, unlike many Paleolithic sites in Egypt, was not only remarkably well-preserved, but astonishingly rich. Arkin 8 boasts the earliest known house-like structures in Egypt and the Sudan, some of the oldest buildings in the world. The structures are oval depressions around 30 cm deep and 1.8 x 1.2 meters across, many lined with flat sandstone slabs. Most likely these are what are known as "tent rings," in which a dome-like shelter of skins or brush was held down by heavy rocks lain in a circle. This type of dwelling provides a permanent place to live, but if necessary, can be taken down easily and moved. They are the dwelling that seems to be most favored by nomadic tribes making the transition from hunter-gatherer to semi-permanent settlement and similar structures are still built by modern hunter-gatherer tribes all over the world. Another striking detail of the Arkin 8 site is the concentration of artifacts in small areas of the "village," implying that these were areas where groups of people gathered to work on stone artifacts together. Arkin 8 paints a vivid picture of emerging human society.
Another important site is the site labeled BS-14, in the Libyan Desert's Bir Sahara depression. Today this area is dry and parched, but during the Achulean Period it was nourished by the frequent rainfall. As was mentioned before, Egypt and the surrounding area of this period was subject to much more rainfall than it is now. The Abbassia Pluvial prevailed during the late Achulean Period, lasting around 30,000 years. During this time, according to the artifacts and remains found at BS-14, the hunter-gatherer culture became more stationary around the permanent water holes. Women, children, and young men browsed for the bulk of the tribe's food near the water hole, while the older men would go out and hunt on the grasslands.
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Middle Paleolithic: 100,000 - 30,000 BC

Between the Lower and Middle Paleolithic eras, the Abbassia Pluvial ended and the Sahara returned to a desert state. By this time Homo erectus had evolved into Homo neanderthalensis, and began to escape the encroaching desert by migrating to the Nile Valley and to the oases that were left, such as the one at Kharga.
It was about this time that a more efficient stone tool industry developed. Called Levalloisian after the site in France where tools of this style were first discovered, it involves the making of several stone tools from one piece of stone by chipping a number of similarly sized and shaped flakes from around the circumference of the stone. This technique was a good step over the previous techniques which often required an entire stone to make a single tool, or if multiple flakes were taken from a single stone, they would be of varying sizes, many unusable. With this technique, numerous thin, sharp, almost identical flakes could be made and only slightly reshaped to make what was desired. The standardization of stone tools, as well as the development of several new tools had begun. Most importantly, the Levalloisian industry resulted in an invention that would change everything that had come before: the spear point.
Levallois points not only had a better piercing point, they were also made to be fitted to wooden shafts. The advantages of a stone spear point over a sharpened wood one permitted a great increase in hunting efficiency, as well as a change in hunting tactics. The stone spear point may even have led to another trait of the Middle Paleolithic, which was the focus of tribal attention on one particular type of game, such as sheep or goats, a step toward domestication.
It was during Middle Paleolithic times that early humans began to spread throughout the area. The development of these new stone industries and survival techniques, coupled with the Mousterian Pluvial (which was even greater than the Abbassian that preceded it) between 50,000 and 30,000 BC caused a widespread distribution of early human culture. Whereas Lower Paleolithic sites are few and far between, Middle Paleolithic sites are scattered all over Egypt and the Sudan, from the Nile Valley to the coast of the Red Sea to even the now-hostile Liqiya depression in the southern Libyan Desert. The Mousterian Pluvial caused the Sahara to bloom like never before, not only in vegetation and wildlife, but also in new human settlements. By this time, early humans (still Neanderthaloid) had spread to almost every habitable area of North Africa.
Two new industries emerged during the Mousterian Pluvial, those being the Aterian Industry and the Khormusan Industry. The Aterian Industry, named for the type site at Bir-el-Ater in Tunisia, began some time around 40,000 BC, about the middle of the pluvial, and ended just shy of 30,000 BC. Aterian points are characterized by a distinct "tang" or plug on the bottom, which allowed for a more secure fit to the spear shaft. Originally thought to be arrow points, Aterian points may have been far too bulky to be used on primitive arrows, and were more likely points for a smaller variety of spear, the dart, which was more efficient in hunting small game than the normal-sized spear. Another invention of the Aterian Industry was that of the spear-thrower, a small length of wood with a notch at one end for the back end of the spear shaft, which allowed for greater power in throws as well as greater accuracy. These new developments permitted increased efficiency in hunting large grazing animals. The discoveries of gigantic stores of animal remains and human artifacts at site BT-14 attest to the success of these new hunting methods as well as the success of the settlement itself. The bones from this site reveal that our ancestors made use of a wide variety of animal life such as the white rhinoceros, the now-extinct Pleistocene camel, gazelles, jackals, warthogs, ostriches, and various types of antelopes.
In the Khormusan Industry, stone tools became even more varied and advanced, and tools made of bone and ground hematite became widespread. Of course, these industries did not follow one another one by one, but rather overlap by several thousand years as well as in area. The Khormusan is noted above all for the prolific use of a small, sharp point that greatly resembles the early arrow points of the Native Americans. In fact, such points were used during the Upper Paleolithic to tip the arrows developed at that time. Whether the Khormusans developed bow technology is still under debate, as is whether the Aterians did. Regardless, the Khormusans were certainly efficient hunters, as well as being gatherers and fishers, and their diet resembled that of the Aterians, and added wild cattle (think of cattle roughly twice as big as our domestic cattle), and fish from the Nile. These animals came from many different in the Nile Valley and the surrounding area, so Khormusan hunting parties must have ranged from the river itself to the savanna grasslands. These two industries, or rather, these two cultures, for such they were, existed almost side-by-side until the end of the pluvial, foreshadowing the the great cultural cross-sections that would inhabit Dynastic Egypt thousands of years later


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Upper Paleolithic: 30,000 - 10,000 BC

Some time around the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, or in the few centuries before it, the Mousterian Pluvial ended and desert once again reclaimed the Sahara region. Fleeing the desert, many of the peoples settled in the area migrated closer and closer to the Nile. It is possibly during this time that various tribes began to interact, providing a much wider gene pool on which to draw. It is unfortunate that little is known about the period from 40,000 - 17,000 BC. However, it is easy to draw conclusions based on earlier and later events. The growing barrenness of the Sahara would obviously cause many of the settlements to die of starvation, and once again survival of the human race in this area depended on the Nile. Naturally, some industries would survive and new ones would be created. These new industries show many similar trends, especially that of the miniaturization of tools, possibly as a desire to conserve resources. Most of the data about this period in time comes from the famous site of Kom Ombo. Kom Ombo is located on the east bank of the Nile in the southern area of Upper Egypt. Archaeologists know that this site is from the Upper Paleolithic because of the existence of burins, small, stubby, pointed tools made of flakes and characterized by long, narrow flakes forming a point. The discovery of burins in Egyptian archaeological sites prompted Edmund Vignard, the discoverer of Kom Ombo, to label it a new industry: the Sebilian.
Sebilian tools are manufactured from diorite, a hard, black, igneous rock that was plentiful in the area. The Sebilian Industry is divided into three distinct stages, based on the artifacts created and the techniques used to make them. Sebilian I, also called Lower Sebilian, is essentially a modified Levallois industry with retouched points and the first burins (small, knobby points). Sebilian II and III are true microblade and burin industries and by this time diorite had given way to the more durable and workable flint. But even with these developments, Sebilian artifacts appear technologically conservative and backward when compared with some of the Upper Paleolithic industries in Europe.
Complicating everything, however, is the discovery of a coexisting industry now labeled Silsillian (c. 13,000 BC) which effectively puts the early Egyptians back at the forefront of prehistoric technological development. Sisillian was a highly-developed microblade industry that included truncated blades, blades of unusual shapes made specifically for one task, and most significant of all, a wide variety of bladelets for mounting onto spears, darts, and arrows. There is almost no trace of earlier techniques such as Levalloisian, and Silsillian blades in some cases are thousands of years ahead of anything found in Europe from this period. The Silsillian Industry also premiered the creation of microliths. Microliths are small, fine blades used in advanced tools such as arrows, harpoons, and sickles, and since they are smaller, use less material. This latter development may have been due to the fact that in the Kom Ombo area, high-quality stone was in short supply. Additionally, the fact that these blades were used for agricultural tools such as sickles shows that by this time basic farming had begun, and earlier than had been previously thought.
Unlike their European "contemporaries" who had to deal with the changing post-ice age climate and the disappearance of several food species, the early Egyptians were still able to engage in hunting large game animals, and since many of the animal herds were now concentrated near the Nile, more stable settlements could be made. The Halfan Industry, or rather, the Halfan people, for it was much more than just a way of making tools, flourished between 18,000 and 15,000 BC (though one site has been found dating to before 24,000 BC) on a diet of large herd animals and the Khormusan tradition of fishing. Although there are only a few Halfan sites and they are small in size, there is a greater concentration of artifacts, indicating that this was not a people bound to seasonal wandering, but one that had settled, at least for a time.
Another group that did rather well during this time (17,000 - 15,000 BC) was the Fakhurian, an industry based entirely on microlithic tools. Indeed, they are the only industry discovered so far that is solely microlithic. Some Fakhurian blades are less than 3 cm long! At the same time, the two Idfuan industries were retaining a culture based on nomadic hunting, trapping, and snaring. During this time, at least in Upper Egypt, there is a trend for industries, as they become more advanced, to become more localized. No doubt this is due to the fact that the people were ceasing to be nomadic, settling in various areas, and then developing separately from everyone else depending on the environment in which they made their home, whether it was on the banks of the Nile, on the savannas, or in one of the outlying oases not yet claimed by the desert. Perhaps it should be mentioned that the Nile of the Paleolithic was much different than the Nile of today. Although dry, the desert areas were not completely hostile, as the annual flooding of the Nile was much higher than today, which resulted in a greater groundwater table and in turn, oases, floodpools, and waterholes.
With the sites from these periods archaeologists begin to see the signs of "true" cultures emerging. The Qadan (13,000 - 9,000 BC) sites, stretching from the Second Cataract of the Nile to Tushka (about 250 km upriver from Aswan), actually have cemeteries and evidence of ritual burial. It is also during this time that the first great experiments in ordered agriculture began. Grinding stones and blades have been found in great numbers with a glossy film of silica on them, possibly the result of cut grass stems. Sadly, as stone preserves better than straw baskets or satchels, the extent of agriculture from this period can not be determined. It may not have been true agriculture as we know it, but rather a sort of systematic "caring for" the local plant life (watering and harvesting, but as yet no planting in ordered rows and the like). Yet even this would put the Paleolithic Egyptians on almost the same technological level as the early Neolithic peoples in Europe. Some of the sites also give evidence that fishing was abandoned by the people living there, possibly because farmed grains (barley, most likely), together with the large herd animals still hunted, created a diet that was more than adequate.
Oddly though, almost as soon as this protoagriculture was developed, it appears to have been abandoned. Beginning around 10,500 BC, the stone sickles that were so predominant seem to simply fade out of the picture and there is a return to the hunter-gatherer-fisher culture that came before. Invasion by another people is a possible explanation, though a series of natural disasters that devastated the fledgling crops is more logical, as we are dealing with abandonment by not one, but many prehistoric societies over a widespread area. At first it would seem that the growing aridity of the environment was the cause. Certainly, given the present state of the Sahara and the surrounding area, this is a logical conclusion, but new evidence shows that this period was marked by a series of rather severe and violent Nile floods which could have destroyed the "farmlands" and discouraged the people from continuing to rely on crops as a dietary index.
It was about this time that the demise of the various Paleolithic peoples in Egypt began. It may very well be that the abandonment of protoagriculture contributed to this, but the discovery of the Jebel Sahaba cemetery sheds some new light on the end of many Paleolithic cultures. In all, three Qadan cemeteries are known: one at Tushka, and two at Jebel Sahaba, one on each side of the river. Although many of the remains unearthed at these sites are the usual cross-section of elderly and young, chieftains and commoners, there are quite a disturbing number of bodies from the final 10,000 years of the Upper Paleolithic that appear to have died by violence. Stone points found with the remains were almost all located in areas of the body that suggests penetration as spear points or similar weapons. Most were located in the chest and back area, with others in the lower abdomen, and even a few entering the skull through the lower jaw or neck area! Additionally, the lack of bony calluses as a result of healing near these points shows that in many of these cases the wound was fatal (bone tissue repairs itself rather quickly, preliminary healing often begins before even that of soft tissues). A statistical analysis of the main cemetery at Jebel Sahaba gives a figure of 40 percent of the people buried there died from wounds due to thrown projectiles; spears, darts, and arrows.
Why then was a hunter-gatherer culture so prone to violence? One explanation is diminishing resources, caused by the growing aridity and the failure of the protoagriculture experiments. The Jebel Sahaba cemeteries must only have been used for a few generations and for that many violent deaths to occur within that time supports an explanation based on massive intertribal warfare. Also, since the victims were of all ages (except infants; only one infant is buried in each of the Jebel Sahaba cemeteries), this could indicate that the majority of the skirmishes were actually based on raiding and ambush, as "normal" warfare usually only involves young to middle-aged males. And we should not dismiss the possibility of invasion by a more advanced, or at least more powerful, people from outside, especially if Jebel Sahaba and similar sites date to as late as 7000 BC, as by then the people would have been in competition with larger and more advanced Epipaleolithic cultures.


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Epipaleolithic: 10,000 - c. 5,500 BC

The Epipaleolithic years are largely a transition between the Paleolithic and the Predynastic time periods in ancient Egypt, a time between the hunter-gatherers of before and the appearance of the true farming of the village-dwelling cultures after 5500 BC. Most of the information from this era comes from the site of El Kab, nestled between the eastern bank of the Nile and the Red Sea Hills. Before the discoveries at El Kab, it was thought that Paleolithic artifacts, even those dating to the Epipaleolithic, would not be found on the floodplain of the Nile, simply because of the action of the inundation. However, in the case of many of the artifact sites, it was the inundation that preserved them, as the Nile deposited layer upon layer of soil each year without washing the artifacts away.
Three major "camps" of Epipaleolithic peoples were discovered, the oldest dating to around 6400 BC, the one above it to 6040 BC, and the uppermost to 5980 BC. The importance of this site can easily be seen in the fact that the major archaeologist of the site, Dr. Paul Vermeersch, classified over 4,000 artifacts. Most of these were artfully made and minutely detailed microblades. Beads made of ostrich shell were also discovered, showing that even then the ancient Egyptians had a love for ornamentation. Burins, scrapers, and points of all sizes and description rounded out the inventory.
The camps at El Kab were most likely occupied only during spring and summer. The annual inundation of the Nile, especially given how massive it was then, would make it next to impossible to live in those locations year round. It is apparent that these tribes were still largely nomadic. Despite this, the camps (for such we should label them) enjoyed many times of prosperity, living near the cool Nile and benefiting from its supply of fish, supplemented by the traditional hunting of savanna wildlife such as wild cattle and gazelles.
The two most prominent industries at this time, as discovered near Wadi Halfa in the northern Sudan, were the Arkinian and the Sharmarkian. So far, Arkinian artifacts have only been found at one site and have been dated to around 7440 BC. The site is a small settlement, with possibly around thirteen dwellings, given the concentration of debris in a clustered location. Like many of the settlements at this time near the Nile, this was most likely a seasonal camp of some kind, though we will have to wait until other Arkinian sites are discovered. Arkinian was largely a microlithic industry, making use of very small, skillfully crafted stone tools, but large blades and a new method of extracting more material from a stone, the double-platform core, have been found.
We know more about the Sharmarkian industry than the Arkinian. A newer industry, but one that spans a much larger time period, Sharmarkian artifacts have been dated from 5750 BC to 3270 BC, if not even more recent. Although more prolific, the Sharmarkian artifacts actually show a decline in the quality of toolcraft toward the end of the Sharmarkian. Settlements of these people have been found on the beaches of soil left by the inundation. These seasonal camps merged together and grew into large concentrations of dwellings over time. There is evidence in these later Epipaleolithic sites of a population explosion around 5500 BC, possibly due to the development of true agriculture as well as animal domestication. In a very short time, geologically speaking, the people had gone from savanna nomads to riverdwellers, making a very efficient adaptation to the new environment.
Unfortunately, we still do not know exactly when agriculture and animal domestication were discovered (or introduced by another people) in Egypt. There is an odd gap of around a thousand years between these riverine settlements of the late Epipaleolithic and the true farming villages of the Predynastic cultures during which great strides in Egyptian knowledge were made. It is even surmised that it was during this time that they began to develop the writing systems that would evolve into the hieroglyphs. There are sites in Nubia that possess possible remains of domesticated animals that date to around 5110 BC. Whether domestication was brought into Egypt or was discovered within her borders is still a debated topic. All things aside, this final time period before the Predynastic age remains a very important problem for researchers. Each new discovery, though, sheds more light on the history of the first Egyptians.


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Predynastic (5,500 - 3,100 BC)

Beginning just before the Predynastic period, Egyptian culture was already beginning to resemble greatly the Pharaonic ages that would soon come after, and rapidly at that. In a transition period of a thousand years (about which little is still known), nearly all the archetypal characteristics appeared, and beginning in 5500 BC we find evidence of organized, permanent settlements focused around agriculture. Hunting was no longer a major support for existence now that the Egyptian diet was made up of domesticated cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, as well as cereal grains such as wheat and barley. Artifacts of stone were supplemented by those of metal, and the crafts of basketry, pottery, weaving, and the tanning of animal hides became part of the daily life. The transition from primitive nomadic tribes to traditional civilization was nearly complete.
One of the most interesting aspects of the transition period is the shift in burial customs. Previous to the permanent settlements, most burials were done where it was convenient, often in a centrally-located cemetery near to or inside the settlement, such as the cemeteries at Jebel Sahaba. As the seasonal hunting camps grew into more stable agricultural villages, burial sites and practices changed. Cemeteries and single graves were no longer located near the living, but were placed further and further away, both from the villages as well as the cultivated land, most often on the very edge of what would be considered the village's "territory." Even children, formerly buried under the floor of their home, were now relegated to these outer cemeteries. The reasons for this are unknown, but a growing feeling of necrophobia, a fear of the dead, might be the cause, as is often the case in many cultures. Practices too, changed. Here we see the beginnings of the "life after death" beliefs that centuries later, would make the ancient Egyptians famous. The dead were buried with provisions for the journey into the next life, as well as pottery, jewelry, and other artifacts to help them enjoy it. Offerings of cereals, dried meat, and fruit were included, but hunting and farming implements were also common (presumably so the dead would not starve after having eaten all the offerings). Even then, the Egyptians believed that the next life would be very much like this one. Interestingly enough, the dead were buried in a fetal position, surrounded by the burial offerings and artifacts, facing west, all prepared for the journey to the world of the dead, where the sun shone after leaving the world of the living.
The Chalcolithic period, also called the "Primitive" Predynastic, marks the beginning of the true Predynastic cultures both in the north and in the south. The southern cultures, particularly that of the Badarian, were almost completely agrarian (farmers), but their northern counterparts, such as the Faiyum who were oasis dwellers, still relied on hunting and fishing for the majority of their diet. Predictably, the various craftworks developed along further lines at a rapid pace. Stoneworking, particularly that involved in the making of blades and points, reached a level almost that of the Old Kingdom industries that would follow. Furniture too, was a major object of creation, again, many artifacts already resembling what would come. Objects began to be made not only with a function, but also with an aesthetic value. Pottery was painted and decorated, particularly the black-topped clay pots and vases that this era is noted for; bone and ivory combs, figurines, and tableware, are found in great numbers, as is jewelry of all types and materials. It would seem that while the rest of the world at large was still in the darkness of primitivism, the Predynastic Egyptians were already creating a world of beauty.
Somewhere around 4500 BC is the start of the "Old" Predynastic, also known as the Amratian period, or simply as Naqada I, as most of the sites from this period date to around the same time as the occupation of the Naqada site. The change that is easiest to see in this period is in the pottery. Whereas before ceramics were decorated with simple bands of paint, these have clever geometric designs inspired by the world around the artist, as well as pictures of animals, either painted on or carved into the surface of the vessel. Shapes too, became more varied, both for practical reasons depending on what the vessel was used for, and aesthetic reasons.
The third stage of the Predynastic period is dated to around 4000 BC and is labeled the Gerzean period or Naqada II. Amratian and Gerzean are vastly different from one another, and one can see the growing influence of the peoples of the North on those of the South. Soon this would result in a truly mixed people and culture, that of the Late Predynastic, or Naqada III. The greatest difference between the Amratian and the Gerzean peoples can be seen in their ceramics industries. While Amratian pottery did have some decorative aspects, its primary purpose was functional. Gerzean pottery, on the other hand, was developed along decorative lines. Gerzean pottery is adorned with organic-inspired geometric motifs, and highly realistic depictions of animals, people, and the many other things that surrounded the Gerzean people. There are more than a few surprises in the motifs, however. Unusual animals such as ostriches and ibexes give clues to a possibility that the Gerzeans hunted in the sub-desert, as such animals were not to be found near the Nile. We also find what are possibly the first representations of gods, almost always shown riding in boats and carrying standards that greatly resemble the later standards that would represent the various provinces of Egypt. It is possible too, that these are simply some form of historical records (visits of chieftains, battles, perhaps?), but as they are almost always painted on votive artifacts buried with the dead, the plausible explanation points to the sacred.
When compared to the Pharaonic periods, the Gerzean culture is not much dissimilar, having reached a high level of civilization, especially in is religious aspects, and particularly in those dealing with funerary customs. Amratian burials were most often simply a pit in the ground, covered over by a skin-covered framework, but with the Gerzean, tomb-building became a foreshadowing of what was to come, with furnished underground rooms, near replicas of the dwelling that the deceased had occupied in life. Amulets and other ceremonial objects, many of which depict the early animal-form gods of the Gerzeans, are also prolific in these tombs. The Gerzean form of the afterlife would eventually grow into the Cult of Osiris and the magnificent burials of the Dynasties.
Previously it was believed that the transition between Predynastic and Dynastic was the result of a brutal series of revolutions and warfare brought about as a result of the discovery of metallurgy and the new social structures such as cities, individual dwellings, and writing. Yet as more and more details of this time period are uncovered, we see that it was nothing of the sort, but rather the slow process of technological evolution. The above-mentioned new technologies could be Mesopotamian in origin, as they are found there earlier than they are in Egypt, yet there is little proof of this. About the only Mesopotamian artifacts found in Egypt proper are cylinder seals, and these only point to a strictly commercial-political connection. A few artifacts of Egyptian origin do bear Mesopotamian design traits, but again, this could be the result of an eager artist copying an imported artifact.
It is of course their writing system that is the Egyptian hallmark, but where did it begin, and when? Some have said that writing was imported, but after a brief study of the motifs found on ceramics from the Naqada periods we can discard this as only a remote possibility. The pottery motifs evolve distinctly over a period of time into a regular set of images that greatly resemble the traditional hieroglyphics. Already they show the fundamental principle of hieroglyphic writing, that of the combination of pictograms and phonograms. A pictogram is an actual representation of the item it represents. In such a system, the pictogram for a man is a picture of a human figure, the pictogram for water is a picture of water. A phonogram is a picture that stands not for its image, but for a sound or set of sounds. For example, the picture of a water bird might mean sa, and the word sa would not mean "bird" but "child," or sa even might be combined with other phonograms to create a larger word. Such systems of writing exist even today. Japanese, with its combination of a phonetic alphabet with a set of complex characters that can mean either a sound or an entire word, is a perfect example. These symbols found on pottery and other artifacts of the Amratian period might be writing, but by the Gerzean they most definitely are a form of writing.
No time of the Predynastic offers as many questions as the period of unification of southern and northern Egypt. Exactly who conquered whom is the first. Many sources point to the event as the victory of the south over the north, yet the resulting social system resembles more that of the north than the south. Kurt Sethe and Hermann Kees, among the first to draw conclusions about this period came up with a combination of both theories: that Egypt was first unified under the north, but for one reason or another collapsed and the power was picked up by the southern kings, who kept the original form of government set up by the north. Recent archaeological evidence is beginning to discredit this, but it still seems to be among the most logical explanations. Another theory is that the south conquered the north, but adopted much of the northern culture into their own. This is not unusual in the least when dealing with Egypt. The Ptolemies were the Greek rulers of Egypt after Alexander the Great, yet they absorbed as much of the Egyptian culture as they could, calling themselves Pharaohs and even being buried according to Egyptian custom instead of Greek.
Exactly who the first king of unified Egypt was is also difficult to say, or even when the actual unification occurred. The most powerful piece of data on this event is the Narmer Palette, a triangular piece of black basalt depicting a king whose name is given as Nar-Mer in the hieroglyphs. On the obverse he is shown wearing the white crown of the south and holding a mace about to crush the head of a northern foe, and on the reverse, the same figure is shown wearing the red crown of the north while a bull (a symbol of the pharaoh's power) rages below him, smashing the walls of a city and trampling yet another foe. Another artifact, the "Scorpion" Macehead, depicts a similar figure, only this time the name is given by the pictogram of a scorpion. This king-figure is called in many documents alternatively Narmer, or Aha, and if the historian Eratosthenes is to be believed, this is the legendary king Meni, or Menes. Whether "King Scorpion" is the same person as Narmer is a bit of contention, but the two are widely accepted to be the same. If these two artifacts, and others like them from the same period, do in fact depict this as the first king of unified Egypt, then the date for the Unification can be placed sometime between 3150 and 3110 BC.


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Here I am writing the history of my country to be known for all who are interested of the civilizations of the others.
it is the beginning & it will continued later to the modern times
I hope to be useful information

The Early Dynastic Period is a period of some 500 years or more at the beginning of what is conventionally considered as the history of Ancient Egypt. It was the culmination of the formative stage of the Ancient Egyptian culture that began centuries before during the Prehistory.
It was during this period that the divine kingship became well established as Egypt's form of government, and with it, an entire culture that would remain virtually unchanged for the next 3000 or more years. Writing evolved from a few simple signs mainly used to denote quantities of substances and their provenance, to a complex system of several hundreds of signs with both phonetic and ideographic value
The typical ancient Egyptian artistic canon took shape for both two and three dimensional representions, determining the work of artists for millenia to come

( The evolution of writing: left, some signs dated several generations before the 1st Dynasty; center, the name of a city at the start of the 1st Dynasty; right, a text from a wooden panel from the tomb of Hesyre of the 3rd Dynasty )

( The artistic canon for two (left, Narmer Palette) and three dimensional art (right, statue of Khasekhemwi) was established during the Early Dynastic Period )

Craftsmen increased their skills and experimented with the use of more durable materials. Structures built in brick, wood and reeds were copied in stone, giving birth to the typical Ancient Egyptian architecture. Most of the features developed during the Early Dynastic Period would remain in use until the Greek-Roman Period, more than 3000 years later.​
Another very important change that marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period is the rise of urbanism. Inhabitants of small settlements throughout the country abandoned their homes and moved to larger communities and cities. Several key factors, that could vary from region to region, have influenced this process of urbanisation:​

  • The need for security may have caused people to seek protection within the safety of fortified walls.
  • It facilitated central control of the population by the state. Some relocations may thus have been forced by the government. The process of urbanisation appears to have started earlier in societies with a stronger hierarchical structure.
  • Changes in the natural environment. This has apparently been the case at Hierakonpolis, one of the most important cities in late Predynastic Egypt.
  • Society was evolving beyond its mere agricultural needs and required specialised craftsmen, traders and other skilled personnel. The ruling elite needed these people not only to be close at hand, but also to work and thus live together.
  • Demographic changes, such as a growth in population, may have caused smaller settlements to extend and merge into one larger community.
As the Early Dynastic Period is the culmination of an on-going cultural, religious and political evolution, it is hard to determine its actual beginning. According to the Ancient Egyptian tradition, the first (human) king to have ruled over the whole of Egypt was a man named Menes. He is considered the first king of the 1st Dynasty and tradition credited him with the unification of Upper- and Lower-Egypt. As none of the sources from the Early Dynastic Period mention his name and as none of the deeds credited to him can be associated with any of the archaeologically attested kings, the identification of this Menes, however, is problematic.​
Both in the Turin King-list and with Manetho, this Menes follows a long list of gods and demi-gods who ruled before him. The first row on the Palermo Stone contains names of kings who allegedly ruled Egypt before him.As our knowledge of this early stage of Egyptian history evolves, we are finding sources that hint at powerful rulers living in Middle and Upper Egypt who already had extended their influence, if not their realm, to parts of Lower Egypt. This information may correspond to the mythical rulers in the Turin King-list and to the names listed in the first row of the Palermo Stone, if not literally, then perhaps simply as a confirmation that the Ancient Egyptian chroniclers were aware of the existence of kings before Menes. This has led some authors to propose that there may have been a Dynasty "0" before the 1st Dynasty. It is not certain that the kings placed in this hypothetical Dynasty "0" actually belonged to the same ruling family and to what extent they all ruled over the same area.​
In most books dealing with the history of Ancient Egypt, the Early Dynastic Period usually consists of the first two dynasties. This is based on the fact that the first pyramids were built during the 3rd Dynasty and that the Old Kingdom is often viewed as "the age of the pyramids". This has caused the 3rd Dynasty to be included in the Old Kingdom.​
It needs to be pointed out, however, that the pyramids built during the 3rd Dynasty were Step Pyramids and not the "true" pyramids that were built from the start of the 4th Dynasty on. The complexes surrounding Netjerikhet's Step Pyramid and Sekhemkhet's unfinished step pyramid, both at Saqqara, are unlike the funerary complexes of the 4th Dynasty and later. As such, the Step Pyramid and the funerary complexes of the 3rd Dynasty can still be considered as part of the formative stage of pyramid building.​
The kings during the 3rd Dynasty were still known mainly by their Horus-title, but from the 4th Dynasty on, the Prenomen, and later the Nomen, become the more important titles. This may indicate in shift in views on the divine kingship: during the first three dynasties, the king was a living embodiment of the god Horus, whereas from the 4th Dynasty on, he came to be the son of the solar god Re.​
The 3rd Dynasty should therefore rather be part of the Early Dynastic Period than the Old Kingdom. As such, it played a pivotal role in consolidating the political, religious and cultural evolution that had started centuries before.​
It should, on the other hand, be noted that the Turin King-list simply lists the kings of the first 5 dynasties, without further classification. This may mean that at the time of the composition of the Turin King-list's original, the first 5 dynasties were viewed as a whole. Our division of that timeframe into an Early Dynastic Period and an Old Kingdom, does not correspond to the views of some Ancient Egyptian chroniclers.​

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The Old Kingdom is not as much a breach with the Early Dynastic Period as a continuation of it. The kings of the 4th Dynasty are believed to be descendants of Huni, the last king of the 3rd Dynasty. The Turin King-list, in fact, lists all kings from the first five dynasties without any further internal distinction. This means that the composers of the list considered these kings as belonging to a single group.
From a cultural, political and religious point of view, however, the 4th Dynasty has brought about several changes that set it apart from the first three dynasties.​
The most remarkable change is the transition of Step Pyramids to 'true' pyramids with smooth surfaces. This transition was not only the result of increasing technical skills, but even more of religious views that shifted from stellar to solar. The Step Pyramid symbolised a staircase to the stars. The 'true' pyramid, on the other hand was considered as a solar symbol and as a representation of the primaeval mound from which all life had sprung.​
The image below illustrates the evolution of the Early Dynastic Step Pyramid (to the left) to the 'real' pyramid shape of the pyramids at Giza (to the right). The pyramid of Meidum (second from left) was converted from a Step Pyramid into a 'real' pyramid by Snofru, the first king of the 4th Dynasty. The Bent Pyramid at Dashur was also built by Snofru. The angle of the pyramid may have been changed to alleviate the pressure of the weight of the pyramid.

( The scribe became the backbone of the royal administration that helped the government tighten its grasp on the society, enabling impressive building projects at Dashur and Giza.)

The building of pyramids would not have been possible without a flourishing economy and a strong central government. Royal estates throughout the country centralised and provided the necessary resources that were needed in the construction of pyramid complexes. This required a powerful administration, both on a local and on a central level, to successfully manage the resources and ensure the flow of supplies, materials and riches to the central government.​
Artists and craftsmen became increasingly skilled as state-sponsored ateliers produced the most exquisite objects of art for the royal family and the members of the ruling elite. The high-quality decoration of the private tombs that were grouped next to the royal pyramids, not only hint at the wealth and status of the tomb-owner, but are also a rich source of information about daily life in the age of the pyramids.​

During the 4th Dynasty, there was also some military activity in the South, in Nubia, where a fortress was built at Buhen, near the 2nd cataract. This fortress not only confirmed the Egyptian military presence in Nubia, it was also a commercial settlement where traders from all of Nubia would come to trade with the Egyptians. Since the 4th Dynasty, Nubia, rich in many raw materials and especially in gold, has always been of interest to the Ancient Egyptians.
The addition of the title "Son of Re" to the royal titulary from the reign of Djedefre on, shows the increasing importance in the solar cult. Even more, it stresses the role of the king as the representative of the sun on earth.
During the 5th Dynasty, the solar religion was even more firmly established, when the kings built solar temples as well as pyramids. This may well explain why the 5th Dynasty Pyramids are far less dominating than their predecessors: the building effort was no longer concentrated on the building of a single pyramid and their temples.
Economic and political factors may have had some importance as well: the 5th Dynasty government seems to have been less centralised and less strong. Private tombs were no longer restricted to the vicinity of the king’s pyramid and their decoration became richer and more elaborate. Some private people had their tombs built in their own province and not in or near the necropolis of Memphis.

( The title 'Son of Re' was added to the royal titulary during the 4th Dynasty)​

The last king of the 5th Dynasty, Unas, introduced yet another innovation: his pyramid was the first to have been "decorated" with texts, the so-called Pyramid Texts. These texts relate to the fate of the king in the afterlife, when he takes his place among the gods and among the stars.​
With the 6th Dynasty, the Old Kingdom would start its slow decline. Although some military activity is reported to the East of the Delta or in Palestine and in Nubia, the central power of the king kept on decaying. This may have been caused, in part, by the long reign of Pepi II, during which more power may have been relegated to the central and local administrations.​
Another key factor in the decline of the Old Kingdom was a decreasing inundation of the Nile. By the end of the Old Kingdom, the inundation apparently became less abundant. Local measures needed to be taken to ensure that the inundation would flood enough land and keep it fertile. Local administrators and governors who succeeded in controlling the flow of the floods for their region strengthened their position against the central government.​
The kings of the 7th/8th Dynasty lacked the power and prestige to prevent their country from becoming divided. With them, the Old Kingdom has come to an end and the 1st Intermediate Period has started. Some history books have the 7th/8th Dynasty at the end of the Old Kingdom, but since it was during that Dynasty that the central government lost its grip on the country, it seems preferable to already place this dynasty in the 1st Intermediate Period.

The table below lists the dynasties that were part of the Old Kingdom:

Dynasty Dates (*) 4th Dynasty 2575 - 2465 BC 5th Dynasty 2465 - 2323 BC 6th Dynasty 2323 - 2150 BC Note that the provided dates are approximations only.
From the web site of ancient Egypt
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