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The Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3100 BC) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy starting 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, 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 Egyptmarker have been excavated only in Upper Egypt, because the silt of the Nile River was more heavily deposited at the Delta regionmarker, and most Delta sites from the Predynastic period have since been buried totally.

Qadan and Sebilian Cultures (Late Paleolithic)

About twenty archaeological sites in upper Nubia give evidence for the existence of 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.

In Egypt, analyses of pollen found at archaeological sites indicate that the Sebilian culture (also known as Esna culturemarker) were gathering wheat and barley. Domesticated seeds were not found (modern wheat and barley originated in Turkeymarker and Palestine). 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.

Lower Egypt

Faiyum A Culture (Neolithic)

Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and forced them to adopt 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. 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.

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 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.

Merimde Culture

From about 5000 to 4200 BC the Merimde Culture, so far only known from a big settlement site at the edge of the Western Delta, flourished in Lower Egypt. The culture has strong connections to the Faiyum A Culture, but also links to the Levant. People lived in small huts, produced a simple undecorated pottery and had stone tools. Cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were held. Wheat, sorghum and barley were planted. The Merimde people buried the dead within the settlement and produced clay figurines. The first Egyptian lifesize head made of clay comes from Merimde.

El Omari Culture

The El Omari Culture is known from a small settlement near modern Cairo. People seem to have lived in huts, but only postholes and pits survived. The pottery is undecorated. The stone tool repertoire consists of small flakes, axes and sickles. Metal was not yet known.

Maadi Culture

The Maadi Culture (also called Buto Maadi Culture) is the most important Lower Egyptian prehistoric culture contemporary with Naqada I and II phases in Upper Egypt. The culture is best known from the site Maadimarker near Cairo, but is also attested in many other places in the Delta to the Fayum region.

Copper was known, and some copper adzes have been found. The pottery is simple and undecorated and shows, in some forms, strong connections to South Palestine. People lived in small huts, partly dug into the ground. The dead were buried in cemeteries, but there were only a few burial goods. The Maadi culture was replaced by the Naqada III culture; whether this happened by conquest or infiltration is still an open question.

Upper Egypt

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 Asyutmarker and Akhmimmarker. 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. From the Tasian period onward, it appears that Upper Egypt was influenced strongly by the culture of Lower Egypt.

Badarian Culture

The Badarian Culture, named for the Badarimarker site near Der Tasa, followed the Tasian culture; however, similarities between the two have led 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. Distinctly Badarian sites have been located from Nekhenmarker to a little north of Abydos. 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 Badarimarker. 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.

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. Obsidian 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. 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.

Gerzean (Naqada II) Culture

A typical Naqada II pot with ship theme
The Gerzean culture, named after the site of Gerzehmarker, 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. 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, 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

Diorite vase from Gerzean or Neqada II period, approx 12 inches (30 cm)
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 Gerzeanmarker which were interpreted in previous years as evidence of a Mesopotamian ruling class, the so called Dynastic Race, coming to power over Upper Egypt. This idea no longer attracts academic support.

Distinctly foreign objects and art forms entered Egypt during this period, indicating 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, and the silver which appears in this period can only have been obtained from Asia Minormarker.

In addition, Egyptian objects are created which clearly mimic Mesopotamian forms, although not slavishly. 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. During the time when the Dynastic Race Theory was still popular, it was theorized that Uruk sailors circumnavigated Arabia, but a Mediterraneanmarker route, probably by middlemen through Byblosmarker is more likely, as evidenced by the presence of Byblianmarker objects in Egypt.

The fact that so many Gerzean sites are at the mouths of wadis which lead to the Red Sea may indicate some amount of trade via the Red Sea (though Byblian trade potentially could have crossed the Sinai and then taken to the Red Sea). 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.

Despite this evidence of foreign influence, Egyptologists generally agree that the Gerzean Culture is still 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.

Timeline

(All dates are approximate)


See also



References

  1. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 10.
  2. Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.21. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  3. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 6.
  4. Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 388.
  5. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 8.
  6. Josef Eiwanger: Merimde Beni-salame, In: Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Compiled and edited by Kathryn A. Bard. London/New York 1999, p. 501-505
  7. picture of the Merimde head
  8. Bodil Mortensen: el-Omari, in: Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Compiled and edited by Kathryn A. Bard. London/New York 1999. S. 592-594
  9. Jürgen Seeher. Ma'adi and Wadi Digla. in: Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Compiled and edited by Kathryn A. Bard. London/New York 1999, 455-458
  10. Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 389.
  11. Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.35. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988.
  12. Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.24. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  13. Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 391.
  14. Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 390.
  15. Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.28. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  16. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 7.
  17. Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 393.
  18. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 16.
  19. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 17.
  20. Shaw, Ian. & Nicholson, Paul, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, (London: British Museum Press, 1995), p. 109.
  21. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 18.
  22. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 22.
  23. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 20.
  24. Naqada III
  25. http://www.touregypt.net/ebph5.htm
  26. http://www.comp-archaeology.org/WendorfSAA98.html
  27. http://www.touregypt.net/ebph5.htm
  28. http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/fayum/uc72770.html
  29. "Iron beads were worn in Egypt as early as 4000 B.C., but these were of meteoric iron, evidently shaped by the rubbing process used in shaping implements of stone," quoted under the heading "Columbia Encyclopedia: Iron Age" at Iron Age, Answers.com. Also, see History of ferrous metallurgy#Meteoric_iron—"The first signs of iron use come from Ancient Egypt and Sumer, where around 4000 BC small items, such as the tips of spears and ornaments, were being fashioned from iron recovered from meteorites" -- attributed to R. F. Tylecote, A History of Metallurgy (2nd edition, 1992), page 3.
  30. http://www.touregypt.net/ebph5.htm
  31. http://www.touregypt.net/magazine/mag05012001/magf4.htm
  32. http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/hierakonpolis.htm


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