The prehistory of Egypt spans the period from the earliest human settlement to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period
around 3100 BC, starting with the first Pharaoh
for some Egyptologists, Hor-Aha
for others, with the name Menes
also possibly used for one of these kings. This Predynastic era is traditionally equivalent to the final part of the Neolithic
period beginning c. 6000 BC and ending in the Naqada III
period c. 3000 BC.
The dates of the Predynastic period were first defined before widespread archaeological excavation of Egypt took place, and recent finds indicating very gradual Predynastic development have led to controversy over when exactly the Predynastic period ended. Thus, various terms such as "Protodynastic period
", "Zero Dynasty" or "Dynasty 0" are used to name the part of the period which might be characterized as Predynastic by some and Early Dynastic by others.
The Predynastic period is generally divided into cultural eras, each named after the place where a certain type of Egyptian settlement was first discovered. 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 study of the entire period.
The vast majority of Predynastic archaeological finds have been in Upper Egypt
, because the silt of the Nile River
was more heavily deposited at the Delta region
, completely burying most Delta sites long before modern times.
Excavation of the Nile has exposed early stone tools from the last million or so years. The earliest of these lithic industries were located within a 30-metre (100 ft) terrace
, and were primitive Acheulean
) ( 600,000 years ago), and an Egyptian form of the Clactonian
( 400,000 years ago). Within the 15-metre (50 ft) terrace was developed Acheulean. Originally reported as early Mousterian
( 160,000 years ago) but since changed to Levalloisean
, other implements were located in the 10-metre (30 ft) terrace. The 4.5- and 3-metre (15–10 ft) terraces saw a more developed version of the Levalloisean, also initially reported as an Egyptian version of Mousterian. An Egyptian version of the Aterian
technology was also located.
Some of the oldest known structures were discovered in Egypt by archaeologist Waldemar Chmielewski
along the southern border near Wadi Halfa
in Arkin 8 site. Chmielewski dated the structures to 100,000 BC.
The remains of the structures are oval depressions about 30 cm deep and 2 × 1 meters across. Many are lined with flat sandstone slabs. They are called tent rings, because the rocks supported a dome-like shelter of skins or brush. This type of dwelling provided a place to live, but if necessary, could be taken down easily and moved. They were mobile structures—easily disassembled, moved, and reassembled—providing hunter-gatherers with semi-permanent habitation.
tool-making reached Egypt c. 40,000 BC.
industry in Egypt began between 42,000 and 32,000 BP.
s developed tools not only from stone
but also from animal bone
s and hematite
They also developed small arrow head
s resembling those of Native American
but no bow
s have been found.
The end of the Khormusan industry came around 16,000 B.C. with the appearance of other cultures in the region, including the Gemaian.
The Late Paleolithic
in Egypt started around 30,000 BC.
The Nazlet Khater
skeleton was found in 1980 and given an age of 33,000 years in 1982, based on nine samples ranging between 35,100 and 30,360 years old. This specimen is the only complete modern human skeleton from the earliest Late Stone Age in Africa.
Halfan and Kubbaniyan culture
The Halfan and Kubbaniyan, two closely related industries, flourished along the Upper Nile Valley
. Halfan sites are found in the far north of Sudan, whereas Kubbaniyan sites are found in Upper Egypt. For the Halfan, only four radiocarbon dates have been produced. Schild and Wendorf (2014) discard the earliest and latest as erratic and conclude that the Halfan existed c. 22.5-22.0 ka cal BP. People survived on a diet of large herd animals and the Khormusan tradition of fishing. Greater concentrations of artifacts indicate that they were not bound to seasonal wandering, but settled for longer periods. The Halfan culture was derived in turn from the Khormusan, which depended on specialized hunting, fishing, and collecting techniques for survival. The primary material remains of this culture are stone tools, flakes, and a multitude of rock paintings.
In Egypt, analyses of pollen found at archaeological sites indicate that the people of the Sebilian
culture (also known as the Esna culture) were gathering wheat and barley.
culture began around 13,000 B.C and vanished around 10,000 B.C Domesticated seeds were not found.
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.
The Qadan culture (13,000–9,000 BC) was a Mesolithic industry
evidence suggests, originated in Upper Egypt
(present-day south Egypt
) approximately 15,000 years ago.
[Phillipson, DW: ''African Archaeology'' p. 149. Cambridge University Press, 2005.] [Shaw, I & Jameson, R: ''A Dictionary of Archaeology'', p. 136. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002.]
The Qadan subsistence mode is estimated to have persisted for approximately 4,000 years. It was characterized by hunting
, as well as a unique approach to food gathering that incorporated the preparation and consumption of wild grasses and grains
Systematic efforts were made by the Qadan people to water, care for, and harvest local plant life, but grains were not planted in ordered rows.
[Darvill, T: ''The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology'', Copyright © 2002, 2003 by Oxford University Press.]
Around twenty archaeological sites in Upper Nubia
give evidence for the existence of the Qadan culture's grain
culture. Its makers also 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.
Among the Qadan culture sites is the Jebel Sahaba
cemetery, which has been dated to the Mesolithic.
Qadan peoples were the first to develop sickle
s and they also developed grinding stone
s independently to aid in the collecting and processing of these plant foods prior to consumption.
However, there are no indications of the use of these tools after around 10,000 BC, when hunter-gatherers replaced them.
s (8,800 BCE – 8,000 BCE) are viewed as migrating out of the Fayyum
and the eastern deserts of Egypt (including Sinai) during the late Mesolithic to merge with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB
) culture, whose tool assemblage resembles that of the Harifian. This assimilation led to the Circum-Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex, a group of cultures that invented nomadic pastoralism
, and may have been the original culture which spread Proto-Semitic
languages throughout Mesopotamia.
Faiyum A culture
Continued expansion of the desert forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians
to settle around the Nile
more permanently and adopt a more sedentary lifestyle during the Neolithic
The period from 9000 to 6000 BC has left very little in the way of archaeological evidence. Around 6000 BC, Neolithic settlements appear all over Egypt.
Studies based on morphological
, and archaeological
have attributed these settlements to migrants from the Fertile Crescent
in the Near East
returning during the Egyptian and North African Neolithic
, bringing agriculture
to the region. Jared Diamond, in a non-scholarly work, proposes other regions in Africa independently developed agriculture at about the same time: the Ethiopian highlands
, the Sahel
, and West Africa
Some morphological and post-cranial data has linked the earliest farming populations at Fayum, Merimde, and El-Badari, to Near Eastern populations. However, the archaeological data also suggests that Near Eastern domesticates were incorporated into a pre-existing foraging strategy and only slowly developed into a full-blown lifestyle, contrary to what would be expected from settler colonists from the Near East. Finally, the names for the Near Eastern domesticates imported into Egypt were not Sumerian or Proto-Semitic
loan words, which further diminishes the likelihood of a mass migrant colonization of lower Egypt during the transition to agriculture.
is evidenced for the first time during the Faiyum A Period. People of this period, unlike later Egyptians, buried their dead very close to, and sometimes inside, their settlements.
Although archaeological sites reveal very little about this time, an examination of the many Egyptian words for "city" provides a hypothetical list of causes of Egyptian sedentarism. In Upper Egypt, terminology indicates trade, protection of livestock, high ground for flood refuge, and sacred sites for deities.
From about 5000 to 4200 BC the Merimde culture, so far only known from a large settlement site at the edge of the Western Delta, flourished in Lower Egypt. The culture has strong connections to the Faiyum A culture as well as 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 their dead within the settlement and produced clay figurines. The first life-sized Egyptian 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 survive. The pottery is undecorated. Stone tools include small flakes, axes and sickles. Metal was not yet known. Their sites were occupied from 4000 BC to the Archaic Period.
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 Maadi
near Cairo, but is also attested in many other places in the Delta to the Faiyum region. This culture was marked by development in architecture and technology. It also followed its predecessor cultures when it comes to undecorated ceramics.
Copper was known, and some copper adze
s have been found. The pottery is simple and undecorated and shows, in some forms, strong connections to the southern Levant. People lived in small huts, partly dug into the ground. The dead were buried in cemeteries, but with 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.
File:Egypte louvre 300.jpg|Clapper discovered in Maadi, Louvre Museum
File:Ossos de bagre - Maadi.svg|Carved catfish bones, and jar discovered in Maadi
File:Battlefield_palette.jpg|Possible prisoners and wounded men of the Buto-Maadi culture devoured by animals, while one is led by a man in long dress, probably an Egyptian official (fragment, top right corner). Battlefield Palette.
was once a large internally drained basin
in the Nubian Desert
, located approximately 800 kilometers south of modern-day Cairo
or about 100 kilometers west of Abu Simbel
in southern Egypt
22.51° north, 30.73° east.
Today the region is characterized by numerous archaeological
The Nabta Playa archaeological site, one of the earliest of the Egyptian Neolithic Period, is dated to circa 7500 BC.
The Tasian culture was the next in Upper Egypt
. This culture group is named for the burials found at Der Tasa
, on the east bank of the Nile between Asyut
. The Tasian culture group is notable for producing the earliest blacktop-ware, a type of red and brown pottery that is colored black on the top portion 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 its pottery.
As the Predynastic period progressed, the handles on pottery evolved from functional to ornamental. The degree to which any given archaeological site has functional or ornamental pottery can also be used to determine the relative date of the site. Since there is little difference between Tasian ceramics and Badarian pottery, the Tasian Culture overlaps the Badarian range 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
The Badarian culture, from about 4400 to 4000 BC,
is named for the Badari
site near Der Tasa. It followed the Tasian culture, but was so similar that many consider them one continuous period. The Badarian Culture continued to produce the kind of pottery called blacktop-ware (albeit much improved in quality) and was assigned Sequence Dating numbers 21–29.
The primary difference that prevents scholars from merging the two periods is that Badarian sites use copper in addition to stone and are thus chalcolithic
settlements, while the Neolithic
Tasian sites are still considered Stone Age
Badarian flint tools continued to develop into sharper and more shapely blades, and the first faience
[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.
[Newell, G.D. "A re-examination of the Badarian Culture" Academia.edu, 2012]
The Naqada culture
is an archaeological culture of Chalcolithic Predynastic Egypt
(c. 4000–3000 BC), named for the town of Naqada
, Qena Governorate
. It is divided in three sub-periods: Naqada I, II and III.
=Amratian culture (Naqada I)
The Amratian culture lasted from about 4000 to 3500 BC.
It is named after the site of El-Amra
, about 120 km south of Badari
. El-Amra is the first site where this culture group was found unmingled with the later Gerzean culture group, but this period is better attested at the Naqada site, so it also is referred to as the Naqada I culture.
Black-topped ware continues to appear, 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, is also found at this time. The Amratian period falls between S.D. 30 and 39 in Petrie's Sequence Dating
[Gardiner, Alan, ''Egypt of the Pharaohs'' (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 390.]
Newly excavated objects attest to increased trade between Upper and Lower Egypt at this time. A stone vase from the north was found at el-Amra, and copper, which is not mined in Egypt, was imported from the Sinai, or possibly Nubia. Obsidian
[Grimal, Nicolas. ''A History of Ancient Egypt''. p. 28. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988]
and a small amount of gold
were both definitely imported from Nubia. Trade with the oases also was likely.
New innovations appeared in Amratian settlements as precursors to later cultural periods. For example, the mud-brick buildings for which the Gerzean period is known were first seen in Amratian times, but only in small numbers.
[Redford, Donald B. ''Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times''. Princeton: University Press, 1992, p. 7.]
Additionally, oval and theriomorph
ic cosmetic palette
s appear in this period, but the workmanship is very rudimentary and the relief artwork for which they were later known is not yet present.
=Gerzean culture (Naqada II)
The Gerzean culture, from about 3500 to 3200 BC,
is named after the site of Gerzeh
. It was the next stage in Egyptian cultural development, and it was during this time that the foundation of 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, but failing to dislodge Amratian culture in Nubia.
[Redford, Donald B. ''Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.'' (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 16.]
Gerzean pottery 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 that appear derived from animals.
Also, "wavy" handles, rare before this period (though occasionally found as early as S.D. 35) became more common and more elaborate until they were almost completely ornamental.
Gerzean culture coincided with a significant decline in rainfall
[Redford, Donald B. ''Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.'' (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 17.]
and farming along the Nile now produced the vast majority of food,
though contemporary paintings indicate that hunting was not entirely forgone. With increased food supplies, Egyptians
adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle and cities grew as large as 5,000.
It was in this time that Egyptian city dwellers stopped building with reeds
and began mass-producing mud bricks, first found in the Amratian Period, to build their cities.
Egyptian stone tools, while still in use, moved from bifacial
construction to ripple-flaked construction. Copper was used for all kinds of tools,
and the first copper weaponry appears here.
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.
The first tombs in classic Egyptian style were also built, modeled after ordinary houses and sometimes composed of multiple rooms.
Although further excavations in the Delta are needed, this style is generally believed to originate there and not in Upper Egypt.
Although the Gerzean Culture is now clearly identified as being the continuation of the Amratian
period, significant Mesopotamia
n influence worked its way into Egypt during the Gerzean
, 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 Minor
In addition, Egyptian objects are created which clearly mimic 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 conducted over 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.
The fact that so many Gerzean sites are at the mouths of wadi
s that 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 the Red Sea).
[Redford, Donald B. ''Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.'' (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 20.]
Also, it is considered unlikely that something so 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.
=Protodynastic Period (Naqada III)
The Naqada III period, from about 3200 to 3000 BC,
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
(though this is disputed by some), the first regular use of serekh
s, the first irrigation, and the first appearance of royal cemeteries.
The relatively affluent Maadi
suburb of Cairo is built over the original Naqada stronghold.
Kingscorpion.jpg|The Scorpion Macehead, Ashmolean Museum.
File:Dynastie 0 Stabaufsatz.jpg|Protodynastic sceptre fragment with royal couple. Staatliche Sammlung für Ägyptische Kunst, Munich
File:Fragment of a ceremonial palette illustrating a man and a type of staff circa 3200–3100 BCE Predynastic, Late Naqada III.jpg|Fragment of a ceremonial palette illustrating a man and a type of staff. Circa 3200–3100 BCE, Predynastic, Late Naqada III.
: (''All dates are approximate'')
* Late Paleolithic
, from 40th millennium BC
** Semi-permanent dwellings in Wadi Halfa
** Tools made from animal bones, hematite
, and other stones
, from 11th millennium BC
** c. 10,500 BC: Wild grain harvesting along the Nile, grain-grinding culture creates world's earliest stone sickle
roughly at end of Pleistocene
** c. 8000 BC: Migration of peoples to the Nile, developing a more centralized society and settled agricultural economy
** c. 7500 BC: Importing animals from Asia to Sahara
** c. 7000 BC: Agriculture—animal and cereal—in East Sahara
** c. 7000 BC: in Nabta Playa
deep year-round water wells dug, and large organized settlements designed in planned arrangements
** c. 6000 BC: Rudimentary ships (rowed, single-sailed) depicted in Egyptian rock art
** c. 5500 BC: Stone-roofed subterranean chambers and other subterranean complexes in Nabta Playa
containing buried sacrifice
** c. 5000 BC: Alleged archaeoastronomical
in Nabta Playa
** c. 5000 BC: Badarian
: furniture, tableware, models of rectangular houses, pots, dishes, cups, bowls, vases, figurines, combs
** c. 4400 BC: finely-woven linen
* From 4th millennium BC, inventing
has become prevalent
** c. 4000 BC: early Naqadan trade
** 4th millennium BC: Gerzean
tomb-building, including underground rooms and burial of furniture and amulets
** 4th millennium BC: Cedar
imported from Lebanon
** c. 3900 BC: An aridification event
in the Sahara leads to human migration to the Nile Valley
** c. 3500 BC: Lapis lazuli
imported from Badakshan
and / or Mesopotamia
** c. 3500 BC: Senet
, world's oldest (confirmed) board game
** c. 3500 BC: Faience
, world's earliest-known glazed ceramic beads
** c. 3400 BC: Cosmetics
, donkey domestication, (meteoric) iron works,
["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 ] mortar (masonry)
Iron Age, Answers.com
'' Also, see History of ferrous metallurgy#Meteoritic iron—"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), p. 3.
** c. 3300 BC: Double reed
instruments and lyre
s (see Music of Egypt
** c. 3100 BC: Pharaoh Narmer
, or Menes
, or possibly Hor-Aha
unified Upper and Lower Egypt
* 5.9 kiloyear event
* Prehistoric North Africa
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