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Before the Pharaohs
  Egypt has three geographically distinct zones: the delta, the Nile Valley and the desert. Historically the Delta of the north and the Nile Valley of the south dominate and are termed Lower and Upper Egypt respectively. Pharaoh ruled over the two lands and wore the Red and White crown, or Pschest, representing the "Two Lands" of Upper and Lower Egypt. Pharaoh was no ordinary mortal: he was deified upon his coronation and he had to keep order (maat) on earth and in the cosmological universe. Keeping Egypt as a unified land ensured Maat. The period we define as the Predynastic spans from 5500 BCE- 3050 BCE and this is the period that precedes the Unification of Egypt and rule under one King. Our knowledge of this period is limited by archaeological finds and historical sources. Increasing social contacts and the acquisition of writing are factors that provided impetus for a united nation about 5000 years ago.
Ancient Settlement
  Merimde Beni Salamais located on the western edge of the Delta and dating from c. 4750 BCE it is the oldest settlement site so far found. The site was occupied for a long time and the progression of house styles and street patterns reflects the growing level of urban organisation. Merimde is in northern Egypt, though our evidence for the predynastic largely comes from sites in southern Egypt. This bias is because of the paucity of ancient sites that have survived the less favourable archaeological conditions of the Delta. The Delta is a dynamic wet landscape with annual alluvial deposits and a moving set of Nile River channels. These wet conditions do not normally favour the preservation of organic material such as papyrus, leather or wood. Many ancient settlements were located because of their strategic position that is still viable now and thus many sites are now inaccessible because of modern occupation. Sites such as these often keep the name of the ancient site, e.g. Kom Ombo and Tell el d'aba (Tell and Kom being the Arabic for mound). The most damaging activity in the Delta is the removal of Sebakh, which is degraded mud brick, the most common building material in ancient Egypt, which now makes an excellent fertiliser and is removed with an unquenchable appetite. The sites in Upper Egypt are usually above the inundation level and are located in less densely populated areas. The Supreme Council for Antiquities of the Egyptian Government is addressing this desperate bias by encouraging more excavation and preservation projects in the Delta.

Based on B. Adams & K. Cialowicz, Protodynastic Egypt, Shire Publications 1987.

Early Predynastic

Middle Predynastic
Late Predynastic

Early Dynastic

500,000-5500 BC
5500-3050 BC
5500-3800 BC
3800-3500 BC
3550-3400 BC
3400-3300 BC
3200-3050 BC
3050-2613 BC

Fayum A, Merimda, Badarian
Amaratian (Naqada IA-IB)
Early Gerzean (Naqada IC, IIA-B)
Middle Gerzean (Naqada IIC)
Late Gerzean (Naqada IIDI-IID2)
(Naqada IIIA1-IIIC1)

Neolithic Egypt essentially starts with the large-scale use of agriculture and farming of animals. By 5600 years ago the people of the Nile Valley were cultivating Emmer wheat and barley and raising herds of cattle and small stock (goats, sheep and pig) to supplement fish and game meat which could be readily caught along the Nile. This chapter of Egyptian history is called Badarian culture after a village where the first settlements were found by Caton-Thompson Esq. Rather than being a cemetery site this is a domestic site typified by settlements of mudbrick and crude simple architecture, which contains evidence right through to Naqada II (c. 3500-3100 BCE). The Badarians normally wrapped their dead in matting and buried them in simple pits. The Badarian pottery that has been found is very well made, and in most cases has a distinctive red appearance with a polished black top. As early as the Badarian we find small copper implements, such as pins, which have been made from naturally occurring copper, and as of yet, we have no evidence of extensive copper ore use.
Settlement in Northern Egypt
  Sites in southern Egypt have passed the wrath of time more favourably than those of the delta, and our knowledge of Upper Egypt supercedes that of Lower Egypt. However excavations in the delta have revealed a number of sites that were inhabited before the Naqada I period. Merimde, a site excavated in the 1930's, is situated on the edge of the desert, facing the delta. It covers an area of c 180 000 m2 and was occupied for at least 400 years beginning at about 4900 BCE. The inhabitants of Merimde lived within quite humble shelter's (c.3x1.5m) with floors lower than the doorway. The dead were buried within the settlements in shallow oval pits with few grave goods. In later Egyptian culture this trend stops and the whole of the country adopts a more southern style of burial by including lots of goods. Large pits understood to be granaries, have inspired scholars to believe that Merimde pooled together surplus crops in some form of community organisation. Alongside growing cereals people reared cattle, goats and pigs, and hunted animals such as antelope on the grasslands. The Nile supplemented their diets with fish, shellfish, turtle and hippopotami. Pottery found at the site is rather plain and simple in its shape. Various tools made from stone and flint would have been used for butchery, craftwork and felling trees. Some archaeologists believe that pear shaped flint mace heads were used not for killing animals but for use on other humans, and believe that Merimde was possibly at conflict with some other community.

Maadi is quite a large settlement just 5km south of Cairo. This late Predynastic site presents itself as an important merchant town providing interesting imported pottery and products from Palestine. The Native pottery is quite poor with similar upper Egyptian pottery being found here. Like Merimde the population of Maadi took advantage of fish resources, though in a greater dependence. The people of Maadi achieved high standards in processing copper from Sinai ores. Large storage jars, remains of agricultural activity (granaries and millstones) and craft specialisation would suggest that Maadi became a community of increasing complexity. Buto is a similar site that was excavated in the 1980's and revealed upper Egyptian pottery, basalt vessels and pottery related to the Amuk/Uruk culture. Trade and diffusion of ideas with west Asia and Mesopotamia increased in Upper and Lower Egypt before the unification of Egypt, some 5050 years ago.

(Ashely Elsdon Cooke)

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