Egypt – pre-dynastic (6,000-3,150 BCE)

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Al Fayum arrowheads and tools
Merimde clay head
Figurine of a woman
Bowl with human feet
Ibex comb
Pottery vase crocodiles, hippos
Figurine of a Man
Figurine of a woman, lapis lazuli

Mud Turtles Palette
Female figure painted terracotta
Decorated funerary jar
Mummy, Naqada II
Jackal statue
Battlefield Palette
Hair comb. wild animals
Narmer palette
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The pre-dynastic period of Egypt occured at the end of the Neolithic period. It ran from 6,000 BCE, the earliest settlements, to c3,150 BCE and the Naqada III period, when state formation began to take shape. Though more recent archaeological finds keeps that second date under review. These finds are rather unequal, most sites have been discovered in Upper Egypt, because the Nile’s silt has either washed away or buried much of the Lower Egypt settlements. Sadly, much of the pre-dynastic settlement was in the delta area of Lower Egypt.

Tool-making has been discovered from 600,000 to 400,000 BP by homo erectus and homo heidelbergensis.

The Halfan culture (c20,000 BCE) can be shown not to have been seasonally nomadic and that there diet was herded animals and fishing. The Sebilian culture (13,000-10,000 BCE) has been shown, by pollen analysis, to have been gathering wheat and barley.

In Upper Egypt, the Qadan culture (13,000-9,000 BCE) can be shown to have hunted and also to have domesticated seeds of grasses and grains, they then irrigated, harvested and ground them.

The Harrifians came from the eastern deserts and intermingled with the locals to evolve a nomadic pastoralism. It was the expansion of the deserts that drove settlements along the Nile, significanly from 6,000 BCE at Fayum, Merimde, and El-Badari. Archaeological and genetic analysis shows that some had come from the Fertile Crescent and brought agricultural techniques with them. The Faiyum A culture began to weave and the terminology of the time was expanded to discuss trade, livestock protection, flood refuge and sacred places for their deities.

The Merimde culture (5,000 to 4,200 BCE) was based in the Western Delta yet had good connections with Faiyum A and into the Levant. They built small huts, fabricated tools and undecorated pottery. They buried their dead and produced clay figurines to commemorate them.

In Upper Egypt, the Naqada I (3.900-3,650 BCE) and Naqada II (3,650-3,300 BCE). These were also termed as Amratian (I) and Gerzean (II) based on the evidence found in the cemetries at El-Amrah and Gerzeh. Naqada I imported obsidian from Ethiopia and produced black-topped and painted pottery. Naqada II fabricated metalwork and used mari for pottery. [Naqada III (3,000-2,900 BCE) would produce cylindrical pots and their Pharaohs prompted more ornate grave items.]

The Maadi, or Buto Maadi, (4,000-3500 BCE) culture in Lower Egypt developed technologies and architecture. They were contemporary with Naqada I and II.


Al Faiyum culture arrowheads and fabricated tools of the period
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Clay Head from the predynastic period, discovered in the Western Delta. This is part of Merimde culture during the Maadi era, dated to c5,000 BCE.
This is one of the earliest human representations yet found in Egypt. See also Natufians at Jericho.
These mortuary figurines of women date to 4,400–4,000 BCE and to the Badarian culture, the earliest farming society known in the Egyptian Nile Valley.
The upper one is carved from crocodile bone It is 9cm high and on show at the Louvre.
The lower one is carved from the lower canine tooth of a hippopotamus. It is on show at the British Museum.
These are among the oldest three-dimensional representations of the human shape known from Egypt.
A total of six Badarian female figurines have been discovered. Details such as body hair, clothing, and tattoos were either incised or painted onto the clay surface

Image source: Wikimedia commons

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Image source: metmuseum.org

This piece of pottery may also a mortuary item, dated from 3,950-3,650 BCE. It is red polished ware, made from Nile clay. The bowl is tipped forward on two human feet. Some have suggested that it is similar in form to the Egyptian hieroglyph meaning ‘to bring’. No context has been established, some suggest it may have been put above a grave for the living to make offerings to the dead, or it could have been used at a shrine to a deity for offerings.
This Ibex ivory comb dates to 3,800–3,500 BCE. Fabricated in hippopotamus ivory it is 7 × 7 × 0.2 cm. It is on show at the Louvre.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: artnet.com

This pottery vase depicts a Nile scene with crocodiles, hippos and plants. It dates to 3,700-3,450 BCE and is on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
This figurine of a man (7 x 2 x 1cm) is dated to later than the females above, 3,650-3,450 BCE, early Naqada II. This bearded man is made from the end portion of a hippo incisor. The features of his face and clothing were incised into the ivory and filled with a black substance. Its purpose has not been established.
Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: artnet.com

Lapis lazuli female figure, Naqada II, c3,650-3,300 BCE. It is on show ar the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Palette fabricated in the shape of a pair of mud turtles from the Nile. It is made of greywacke, a grey sandstone. Perhaps they are meant to be mating as a fertility reference. Dated to Naqada II and c3,650-3,300 BCE. It is 15 x 16 x 1 and it was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image source: artnet.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This terracotta figurine of a woman gives her bird-like characteristics. It is from the Naqada II period and dated to 3,500-3,400 BCE. It is on show at the Brooklyn Museum.
This painted pottery jar was buried with the mummy (below). Thus is also 3,400 BCE and Naqada II.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This Naqada II mummy is one of six from shallow sand graves near Gebelein, The first complete pre-dynastic bodies discovered. The bodies were on their left side in a foetal position. They were buried with grave goods including flints and decorated jars. The first body found was nicknamed ‘Ginger’, because of his red hair. It is dated to 3,400 BCE. On show at the British Museum, a ‘woke’ policy now forbids the use of that familiar name (the Museum terms it an ‘ethical policy’ based on principles of the Human Tissue Act 2004.)
Jackal statue 40 x 17 cm, fabricated from slate. It was found at Tomb 226, Cemetery 100, El Ahaiwah abd dated to Naqada III c3,300-3,100 BCE. On show at Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Image source: artnet.com

Image source: artnet.com

The Battlefield Palette, c3,300-3,100 BE, Naqada III. The picture shows the obverse side. The palette includes some early representations of glyphs, that became Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The lower fragment shows animals and birds quartering an after-battle scene. The upper piece shows prisoners, probably Buto-Maadi people, and part of the circular area used to work the cosmetics. The reverse shows versions of a bird, two antelope-like animals and palms.
It is on the show at the British Museum.
This ‘Davis’ ivory comb (6 x 4 x 0.5cm) was intricately carved with wild animals. These include birds, cattle, elephants, giraffes, hyenas and snakes, and possibly boars. It is dated as Naqada III c3,200-3,100 BCE. It is on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons
The 63 cm high metamorphic siltstone, is named the ‘Narmer Palette’. It was found as part of the the Main Deposit in the Temple of Horus at Nekhen. Dated to between 3,200 and 3,000 BCE, one Egyptologist called it ‘the first historical document in the world’. It has one of the earliest known depictions of an Egyptian king and shows that most of the Egyptian art traditions had already been established. It is on show at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. One theory, as to its purpose, was that it was used to grind cosmetics for decorating the statues of deities.
Narmer was a pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period, considered to be the unifier of Egypt, founder of the First Dynasty.

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