Ancient Egypt’s Early Pre-Dynastic Period
Egypt’s Pre-dynastic history is subdivided into a number of smaller epochs based on the regional cultures that arose during this period.
Most of the Pre-dynastic sites uncovered in Egypt have been found in Upper Egypt, to the south of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. This is due to the Nile’s annual flood, which deposits large amounts of silt in the Nile Delta. As a result many of the Pre-dynastic settlements in Lower Egypt are permanently buried.
However, in Upper Nubia, to the south of Egypt, sites have been uncovered that provide evidence of a grain-based culture that researchers call the Qaadan Culture.
Pre-Dynastic Lower Egypt
In Lower Egypt, a number of different farming cultures developed during this period, such as the Faiyum A Culture. The expansion of the desert forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to permanently settle on the banks of the Nile River, in addition to adopting a sedentary lifestyle. It is around this time that the first evidence of weaving appears in the Egyptian archaeological record. However, unlike later Egyptian history, the practice of mummification had not yet developed. Instead families are thought to have buried their deceased loved ones in their homes. Archaeological digs reveal little of this time period, however, the many words in the Ancient Egyptian language for city indicate that many settlements existed in the Pre-dynastic period either as places of worship or as trading centres.
Beginning sometime around 5000 BC, the Merimde Culture arose along the edge of the western Nile Delta. The Merimde Culture is believed to have had strong ties to the Faiyum A Culture, in addition to links with the Levant in modern day Turkey. Like the Faiyum A people, the Merimde people are known to have used stone tools and grew wheat, sorghum and barely.
By 4200 BC, the Merimde Culture had given way to the Maadi Culture. The Maadi Culture represented one of the most important phases in the evolution of Egyptian culture in Lower Egypt during the Pre-dynastic Period because it coincided with the beginning of the Proto-dynastic Period in Upper Egypt.
Pre-Dynastic Upper Egypt
The earliest civilization to appear in the archaeological record in Upper Egypt is the Tasian Culture. The Tasian people are believed to have produced the earliest known black top ware, a type of red and brown pottery. Because the exact beginning and end dates of the Pre-dynastic Period are not known for sure, Egyptian pottery is dated using a method called sequential dating. This method assigns dates based on the size and shape of pottery handles, as well as the over all complexity of the pot’s design.
Following the collapse of the Tasian Culture, the Badarian Culture arose in its place. As with the Faiyum A and Merimde Cultures in Lower Egypt, the Badarian people in Upper Egypt had close cultural ties with the Tasian Culture. However, unlike the Tasian people, the Badarian people were more advanced. This has been demonstrated by the discovery of copper tools at some Badarian settlements.
The Badarian Culture was eventually supplanted by the Amratian Culture, which is sometimes called the Naqada I Culture. The Amratian Culture marked a significant moment in Egypt’s early history because it marked the beginning of the transition from the Pre-dynastic to the Proto-dynastic Period.
During this time, trade between Upper and Lower Egypt increased. The Egyptians also began to trade overseas. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Egyptians may have had contact with settlements in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Amratian Culture was eventually supplanted by the Gerzean Culture. Also referred to as the Naqada II period, the Gerzean Culture is believed to represent the transition point from the Pre-dynastic to the Proto-dynastic period. The Gerzean people also began to build with mud bricks during this period. Around the same time, Egyptian tombs took on the distinctive Egyptian style, and were sometimes composed of multiple rooms. There was also an increase in trade with Mesopotamia.
The Gerzean period eventually gave way to the Proto-dynastic Period, which is also known as the Naqada III period, by which point the process of state formation was fully visible.
This transitional period laid the ground work for the rise of Egypt’s Pharaohs and marked the beginning of one of the great civilizations of the ancient world.
Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992)
Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964
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