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Predynastic Egypt

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The Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3100 BCE) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy starting with King Menes. 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.

Most archaeological sites in Egypt have been excavated only in Upper Egypt, because the silt of the Nile was more heavily deposited at the Delta region, and most Delta sites from the Predynastic period have since been totally buried.[1]

Precursors to the Predynastic

Late Paleolithic

The Paleolithic in Egypt ended around 30,000 BCE.[2]

Wadi Halfa (Egypt)

Some of the oldest known buildings were discovered in Egypt by archaeologist Waldemar Chmielewski, along the southern border near Wadi Halfa.[2] They were mobile structures — easily disassembled, moved, and reassembled — providing hunter-gatherers with semi-permanent habitation.[2]

Aterian Industry

Aterian- tool-making reached Egypt circa 40,000 BCE.[2]

Khormusan Industry

The Khormusan culture in Egypt began between 40,000 and 30,000 BCE.[2] Khormusans developed advanced tools not only from stone but also from animal bones and hematite.[2] They also developed small arrow heads resembling those of Native Americans,[2] but no bows have been found.[2]


Halfan culture

The Halfan culture flourished along the Nile Valley of Egypt and Nubia between 18,000 and 15,000 BCE. Though one Halfan site has been dated to before 24,000 BCE. They survived on a diet of large herd animals and the Khormusan tradition of fishing. Due to a greater concentration of artifacts, indications are that they were not bound to seasonal wandering but instead settled for a time.[3] They are viewed as the parent culture of the Ibero-Maurusian industry which spread across the Sahara and into Spain. The Halfan culture was derived in turn from the Khormusan,[4] which depended on specialized hunting, fishing, and collecting techniques for survival. The material remains of this culture are primarily stone tools, flakes, and a multitude of rock paintings. The end of the Khormusan came around 16,000 BCE and was concurrent with the development of other cultures in the region, including the Gemaian.[5]

Qadan and Sebilian cultures

About twenty archaeological sites in upper Nubia give evidence for the existence of a grain-grinding Mesolithic 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.[6]

Qadan peoples developed sickles and grinding stones to aid in the collecting and processing of these plant foods prior to consumption.[2] However there are no indications for the usage of these tools after around 10,000 BC, when hunter-gathers replaced them.[2]

In Egypt, analyses of pollen found at archaeological sites indicate that the Sebilian culture (also known as Esna culture) were gathering wheat and barley. Domesticated seeds were not found (modern wheat and barley originated in Turkey and Palestine[6]). 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.[6]

Mushabian culture

The Mushabian culture emerged from along the Nile Valley and is viewed as a parent of the Natufian culture which has been associated with the beginning of agriculture.[7][8] Epipalaeolithic Natufians carried parthenocarpic figs from Africa to the southwestern corner of the Fertile Crescent, circa 10,000 BCE.[9] The Mushabians are considered to have migrated to the Levant, merging with the Kebaran.[10]

Harifian culture

The Harifians are viewed as migrating out of the Fayyum and the Eastern Deserts of Egypt during the late Mesolithic to merge with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) culture, whose tool assemblage resembles that of the Harifian, which 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[11].

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 BCE has left very little in the way of archaeological evidence. Around 6,000 BC Neolithic settlements appear all over Egypt,[12] as morphological,[13] genetic,[14][15][16][17][18] and archaeological[19][20][21][22][23] studies show migrants from the Fertile Crescent returning during the Egyptian and North African Neolithic, bringing agriculture to the region. However other regions in Africa independently developed agriculture at about the same time: the Ethiopian highlands, the Sahel, and West Africa.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26]

Merimde Culture

From about 5000 to 4200 BCE 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. [27] The first Egyptian lifesize head made of clay comes from Merimde.[28]

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.[29] Their sites were occupied from 4000 BCE to the Archaic Period (Which began 3411 BCE). [30]

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 Maadi 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. [31]

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 Asyut and Akhmim. The Tasian culture group is notable for producing the earliest blacktop-ware, a type of red and brown pottery, which has been painted black on its top and interior.[25] This pottery is vital to the dating of predynastic Egypt. Because all dates for the predynastic period are tenuous at best, William Matthew Flinders 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.[32] From the Tasian period onward, it appears that Upper Egypt was influenced strongly by the culture of Lower Egypt.[33]

Badarian Culture

The Badarian Culture, from about 4400 to 4000 BC,[34] is named for the Badari site near Der Tasa. It followed the Tasian culture, but 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.[32] 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.[32]

Badarian flint tools continued to develop into sharper and more shapely blades, and the first faience and more was developed.[35] Distinctly Badarian sites have been located from Nekhen to a little north of Abydos.[36] 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.[35]

Amratian (Naqada I) Culture

The Amratian culture lasted from about 4000 to 3500 BCE.[34] It is named after the site of El-Amra, about 120 km south of Badari. El-Amra was the first site where this culture group was found without being mingled with the later Gerzean culture group, however, this period is better attested at the Naqada site, thus it also is referred to as the Naqada I culture.[35] 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.[37]

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[38] and an extremely small amount of gold[37] were both definitively imported from Nubia during this time. Trade with the oases also was likely.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40]

Gerzean (Naqada II) Culture

The Gerzean culture, from about 3500 to 3200 BCE,[34] 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 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.[41] 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.[37] 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.[41] 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).[37]

Gerzean culture coincided with a significant drop in rainfall,[42] and farming produced the vast majority of food,[41] 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.[41]

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.[41]

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,[41] and also for the first time, copper weaponry turns up.[36] Silver, gold, lapis, and faience were used ornamentally,[41] and the grinding palettes used for eye-paint since the Badarian period began to be adorned with relief carvings.[36]

Tombs also begin to be constructed in classic Egyptian style, being modeled to resemble normal houses, and sometimes composed of multiple rooms.[38] 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.[38]

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

Pear-Shaped Mace
in hieroglyphs

The Naqada III period, from about 3200 to 3000 BCE,[34] 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.[43]


(All dates are approximate)
  • Late Paleolithic, from 40th millennium BCE
    • Aterian tool-making[2]
    • Semi-permanent dwellings in Wadi Halfa[2]
    • Tools made from animal bones, hematite, and stone[2]
  • Neolithic, from 11th millennium BCE
    • ca. 10500 BCE: Wild grain harvesting along the Nile, grain-grinding culture creates world's earliest stone sickle blades[2]
    • ca. 8000 BCE: Migration of peoples to the Nile, developing a more centralized society and settled agricultural economy
    • ca. 7500 BCE: Importing animals from Asia to the Sahara
    • ca. 7000 BCE: Agriculture—animal and cereal—in East Sahara
    • ca. 7000 BCE: in Nabta Playa deep year-round water wells dug, and large organized settlements designed in planned arrangements
    • ca. 6000 BC: Rudimentary ships (rowed, single-sailed) depicted in Egyptian rock art
  • Copper Age and large-scale stone construction, from 6th millennium BCE. First hammered native copper tools appearing.
    • ca. 4th millennium BCE: Metal replacing stone—farming and hunting equipment, jewelry; tanning animal skins; intricate basket-weaving
    • ca. 6th millennium BCE: common knowledge of animal-skin tanning[44]
    • ca. 5500 BCE: Stone-roofed subterranean chambers and other subterranean complexes in Nabta Playa containing buried sacrificed cattle—preludes Hathor belief in Ancient Egypt
    • ca. 5000 BCE: Archaeoastronomical stone megalith in Nabta Playa, world's earliest known astronomy[45]
    • ca. 5000 BCE: Badarian contacts with Syria; furniture, tableware, models of rectangular houses, pots, dishes, cups, bowls, vases, figurines, combs
    • ca. 4500 BCE: Geometric spatial designs adorning Naqada pottery[46]
    • ca. 4400 BCE: finely-woven linen fragment[47]
  • Inventing prevalent, from 4th millennium BCE
    • By 4000 BCE, the world's earliest-known:
    • ca. 4000 BCE:
      • Flutes
      • Early medicine[50]
      • Early Naqadan trade[51]
    • 4th millennium BCE: Gerzean tomb-building, including underground rooms and burial of furniture and amulets—preludes Osiris belief in Ancient Egypt
    • 4th millennium BCE: Cedar imported from Lebanon[52]
    • ca. 3900 BCE: An aridification event in the Sahara leads to human migration to the Nile Valley[53]
    • ca. 3500 BCE: Lapis lazuli imported from Badakshan and / or Mesopotamia
    • ca. 3500 BCE: Double clarinets, lyres
    • ca. 3500 BCE: Senet, world's oldest-(confirmed) board game
    • ca. 3500 BCE: Faience, world's earliest-known glazed ceramic beads


  1. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 10.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 Minnesota State University EMuseum: Ancient Egyptian Culture: Paleolithic Egypt. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  3. David C. Scott. Upper Paleolithic 30,000-10,000
  4. Midant-Beatrix Reynes. The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to the First Pharohs. Wiley-Blackwell (2000). ISBN 0631217878.
  5. Nicolas-Christophe Grimal. A History of Ancient Egypt. p. 20. Blackwell (1994). ISBN 0631193960
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.21. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  7. Bar-Yosef, O. (1987). "Pleistocene connexions between Africa and Southwest Asia: an archaeological perspective". African Archaeological Review 5: 29. 
  8. Bar-Yosef, Ofer (1998). "The Natufian Culture in the Levant, Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture" (PDF). Evolutionary Anthropology 6 (5): 159–177. 
  9. Kislev ME, Hartmann A, Bar-Yosef O (2006) Early domesticated fig in the Jordan Valley. Nature 312:1372–1374.
  10. Please refer to African admixture in Europe#Paleoanthropology.
  11. Zarins Juris (1990), "Early Pastoral Nomadism and the Settlement of Lower Mesopotamia" (Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research), No. 280 (Nov., 1990), pp. 31-65
  12. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 6.
  13. C. Loring Brace, Noriko Seguchi, Conrad B. Quintyn, Sherry C. Fox, A. Russell Nelson, Sotiris K. Manolis, and Pan Qifeng, "The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form," in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (Jan. 3, 2006). Vol. 103, No. 1, pp. 242-247. [1] doi: 10.1073/pnas.0509801102
  14. Chicki, L; Nichols, RA; Barbujani, G; Beaumont, MA. 2002. Y genetic data support the Neolithic demic diffusion model. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 99(17): 11008-11013.
  15. Estimating the Impact of Prehistoric Admixture on the Genome of Europeans, Dupanloup et al., 2004
  16. Origin, Diffusion, and Differentiation of Y-Chromosome Haplogroups E and J: Inferences on the Neolithization of Europe and Later Migratory Events in the Mediterranean Area, 2004
  17. Paleolithic and Neolithic lineages in the European mitochondrial gene pool, Cavalli-Sforza 1997.
  18. Clines of nuclear DNA markers suggest a largely Neolithic ancestry of the European gene, Chikhi 1997.
  19. M. Zvelebil, in Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic Societies and the Transition to Farming, M. Zvelebil (editor), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (1986) pp. 5-15, 167–188.
  20. P. Bellwood, First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Blackwell: Malden, MA (2005).
  21. M. Dokládal, J. Brožek, Curr. Anthropol. 2 (1961) pp. 455–477.
  22. O. Bar-Yosef, Evol. Anthropol. 6 (1998) pp. 159–177.
  23. M. Zvelebil, Antiquity 63 (1989) pp. 379–383.
  24. Diamond, Jared (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton Press. ISBN 0-393-31755-2. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 388.
  26. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 8.
  27. 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
  28. picture of the Merimde head
  29. 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
  31. 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
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 389.
  33. Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.35. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 Shaw, Ian, ed (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 479. ISBN 0-19-815034-2. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.24. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 391.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 390.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.28. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988
  39. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 7.
  40. Gardiner, Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: University Press, 1964), p. 393.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 41.4 41.5 41.6 Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 16.
  42. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 17.
  43. Naqada III
  48. "Iron beads were worn in Egypt as early as 4000 BCE, 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, Also, see History of ferrous metallurgy#Meteoric 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), page 3.
  51. Shaw (2000), p. 61
  53. Brooks, Nick (2006). "Cultural responses to aridity in the Middle Holocene and increased social complexity". Quaternary International 151 (1): 29–49. 

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Predynastic Egypt. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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