The first people to inhabit Egypt were nomadic or semi nomadic groups who lived during the Paleolithic (“Old Stone Age”) Period, possibly around 500,000 years ago, but it is impossible to be very precise with dates. These people subsisted on hunting, fishing and gathering, and used fairly simple stone tools (supplemented by organic materials such as bone, wood and horn). Pottery had not yet been developed.
Notable sites from this period include the earliest known prehistoric burial in ancient Egypt at Taramsa (dated to 55,000 years ago) and the chert mines (and associated burials) at Nazlet Khater (dated to around 30,000 to 35,000 years ago).
During the Neolithic (“New Stone Age”) Period, farming and herding replaced hunting and gathering. The development of agriculture allowed for greater surpluses of food, which in turn allowed greater population growth and the development of specialist crafts (such as pottery).
Agricultural villages began to spring up all over the country. With the increasing size of settlements came more complex social stratification. The benefits of cooperation were balanced by the increased risk of disease and social tensions. We also see the first evidence of monumental architecture in the fascinating Stone Circle at Nabta Playa (the dates and purpose of which are the grounds of much speculation).
The period is divided into cultural groups named after the geographical locations of settlements which bear their characteristics. While we have a fair bit of information on the villages of Lower Egypt, less settlement remains have been found in Upper Egypt. Conversely, we have more information on burial practices in the south than in the north.
The Predynastic Period draws to a close with the unification of Egypt in the Early Dynastic Period (around 4,000 to 3,100 B.C.).
Paleolithic Period (700,000 – 6,000 BC)
- Saharan Neolithic
- Lower Egyptian Neolithic (Faiyum A, Merimdi, el-Omari)
- Upper Egyptian Neolithic (Tarifian, Badarian)
- Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
- Kemp, Barry J (1991) Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation
- Trigger, B.G, Kemp, B.J, O’Connor. D, Lloyd. A.B (1983) Ancient Egypt, A Social History
- S. Hendrickx and P. Vermeersch “Prehistory”, “The Naqada Period”, B. Midant-reynes, and K. Bard (2000) “The emergence of the Egyptian State” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
Copyright J Hill 2008