The Predynastic Period extends over a very long span of time marking the first evidence of human civilization beginning to appear in Egypt. That is, it is the period that preceded the invention of writing and recording, a period that witnessed the first man recording his ideas and achievement and expressing himself using written language on papyrus.
The process of recording events using the Egyptian Language, Hieroglyphics, began to appear in Egypt by the end of 4000 BC and the beginning of 3000 BC. Writing is considered the separate line between Prehistoric and historic Ages.
Discovered monuments contributed in clearing the vision over the prehistoric man through adding information about– among other things – his origin, culture, religious beliefs, houses, tools and tombs.
The separate lines between the recorded prehistoric ages and the division of historical periods differ from one country to another. In the Nile Valley, for example, writing appeared at the beginning of the year 3000 BC, whereas in Mesopotamia, it appeared in 2800 BC.
Prehistoric period is divided into three important phases, Paleolithic (600,000 –10,000 BC), Mesolithic Age (10,000–5,000 BC) and Neolithic Age (5,000 –3100 BC).
In Egypt, the Neolithic Age witnessed man’s efforts in creating stable life either from the social, economic or religious aspects. Emerging from the surrounding environment and relying on nature imitation, his thoughts carried the meaning of creation and hard work.
This age is divided into two phases:
The first phrase is the one in which tools were made of stone rather than metal. This stage is called Neolithic. The second stage began with man using metals, particularly copper. Thus, it is called Chalcolithic Age.
The main centers of the first phase for the Neolithic Age, discovered up till now in Egypt are: Marmadat Bany Salama (Western Delta), Al Amry (at the head of the Delta), Northern Helwan, and Faiyum. These places represent the Northern Culture. The Southern Culture is represented by Deir Tasa (Tasa Monastry), in El-Badari City, Asyut. The Neolithic Age Culture is distinguished by general features, most importantly are:
1- Raising animals and livestock (like sheep, goats, oxen, pigs, and dogs) of which man availed in houses and farms.
2- Learning cultivation and establishing a stable settled life.
3- Smoothing stones to create tools and producing various kinds of them.
4- Making pottery, baskets, mats, and ropes, weaving flax, and producing leather.
Bronze Age & Prehistoric Period in Egypt
It covers The Badarian Culture of both Niqada I, Niqada II (In Quena)on the one hand,and Maadi ( in South Cairo governorate) on the other hand .
Belonging to the Bronze Age is the Badarian Culture that is distinguished by discovering copper and other metals. The Badarian people were keen in developing the industry of pottery, seeking to render it smoother and more decorated. They produced red black-edged pottery and decorated their pots with drawings of plants and figures. Pharaohs were bred to hunt and think for themselves, and that is why they invented ways to make hook sticks to be used in hunting sea birds.
In addition, this culture was distinguished by its small female statues made of pottery, ivory or clay. They used turquoise and agate copper in producing small beads and joining them together by linen threads to make necklaces for women. Women were interested in decoration, ornament, and cosmetics and used the blue and red colors in their make-up. They wore linen and leather clothes. They also used spoons, which is a behavior quite similar to what happens nowadays. Tombs of the Badarian people were oval-like or resembled circular holes. Their tombs were covered with mat. The dead person was buried in fetus position and directed to the south. He was buried on something like a sofa, wrapped in leather and covered with linen. Animals’ tombs, on the other hand, were also discovered by archeologists. Sometimes the animals buried those were that had been helping them in cultivation like cows, sheep, goats and dogs. Even these animals were found well buried and wrapped in leather or linen.
Niqada I is a city located in Qena where a huge number of potteries were found in more than 900 tombs. More than 1500 tombs had been discovered up till now. The period in which this culture expands is divided into three phases. To begin with, the first one is Amra Culture, south Gerga, which marks the beginning of the Prehistoric Period. The culture of Niqada I is distinguished with smooth red pottery, black-edged red pottery and a third kind of pottery with white paintings. Pottery at this phase had various shapes. People used it in making bowls, pots, plates and cups. Tombs of Niqada I resembled oval holes, where the dead person was to be buried in fetus position and directed to the south. Dead people’s corpses were wrapped with goatskin or mat and there were mass graves as well. These tombs suggest that either they were family graves or that the servants of the dead were killed and buried to serve their masters in the Second Life. Also discovered are tombs for animals and humans buried together.
The culture of Niqada II extends to Lower Nubia area on the south and to Garza, Abu Sier and Maadi on the north. Until now, there are not discoveries of Niqada II’s ancient monuments in Delta. As much as pottery is concerned in the culture of Niqada II, there is a distinct kind called Betry, a name referring to decorated pottery or pottery with red drawings. Such drawings contain birds, humans, animals, sea birds, boats and plants. Also, this culture is distinguished by another kind of wavy-handled pottery. These handles were used for carrying the pot or merely as a decoration.
The Ancient Egyptians used diorite, basalt and Alolpastr for making stony vessels. Also, they used green slate for making bird-like, fish-like and turtle-like vases. In addition, they made rectangle vases with their edges decorated shapes of birds and animal heads. The cemetery -in Niqada II- is like a square or resembling a rectangle. The Egyptians tried to outline the interior boundaries of cemetery by using mud then by ditch reeds or boards. The dead person was buried in fetus position and shrouded in flax. Last but not least, it is to be noted that there were no cemeteries for mass graves.
Late the Neolithic period witnessed emergence of the Maadi Culture, coinciding with the Metal Period in Delta. This Culture emerged in the middle between Delta and Upper Egypt and formed a link between them. Buildings dating back to this period extend over 10 acres and are divided into three kinds:
1- The first kind is egg-shaped with holes at the top.
2- The second kind partly exists under the ground with egg-shaped steps.
3- The third kind is rectangle buildings consisting of small tree or ditch reeds to outline corners, and mud to build walls.
On the other hand, Maadi pottery is divided into two kinds: red smooth pottery and black polished pottery, with one having handles and the other, base. Some wooden vessels were found in different sizes: big, middle and small. Furthermore, Maadi Culture is distinguished by stony vessels made of various kinds of rocks, such as basalt, limestone, alabaster and granite. Inside cemeteries, some beads made of camelian, quartz and rock crystal were discovered side by side with animal-bone combs. People in Maadi were interested in making copper hooks and drills. A cemetery was found on the south border of Maadi. There, the tomb was only a simple hole, its depth reaching about 20 to 90 centimeters. Usually, the hole’s depth is determined according to the person and his age. Beside the dead bodies, there were found vessels full of food and drinks. But exceptionally, a buried body was found lying on its back. Maadi Culture is contemporary to late Niqada I and early Niqada II, recent researches have shown.
The Tasian people knew cultivation and planted different cereals. Besides, they knew how to make fine flint axes. Women interested in cosmetics, knew green and red colors and used them in their make-up and wore ornaments. Pottery of Deir Tasa was distinguished with red and black edges. There was also a kind of pottery smoothed and decorated with white paintings. People in Deir Tasa produced other kinds, such as the brown and gray potteries. Tombs of Deir Tasa took the shape of small oval holes with a small hole in its western wall designed in order to preserve the objects of the dead person. These objects were important for man in the Ancient Egypt, because of his belief in the Afterlife. The dead person was buried in fetus position and directed to the south. He was wrapped in mat, leather or linen, depending on how wealthy he had been.
Marmadat Bani Salama is a Neolithic village, in which its inhabitants built their muddy huts along the two sides of a strait main road. This village is considered the first backbone structure of a village and it refers to the existence of an authority that had been organizing the village and had been responsible for applying certain laws inside it. The Village’s pottery was distinguished by being black and tough. Its shapes were simple and it had protrusion around the edge to be used as handles or just for decoration.
The Marmada people built two kinds of houses: muddy huts for winter and narrow oval holes rooted in the land, and made of ditch reeds for hot days in summer. They knew cultivation and planted grains. They also raised sheep, goats, pigs and dogs. In addition, they used flint scythes in cutting wheat and flint knives, axes, arrows, spears and gimlets in fighting. Moreover, flax was woven in order to be used in making linen clothes. Luxury was the main concern of the people of this culture. Their women wore necklaces, earrings and rings. However, art was not glorious in this culture and in fact, there is no artistic monuments to prove otherwise, except for a female statue made of pottery.As to their dead bodies, they buried them between houses, not in separate graves. The grave was a simple oval hole. The dead person was buried in fetus position directed to the south.
The discovery of the culture of el-Gerza, several kilometres from Meidum, provided the evidence for a third Predynastic phase and a second stage of the Naqada Period: the Gerzean c.4000-3300 BC. The differences between the Amratian and Gerzean groups are so marked that it is possible to see in them the increasing influence of the northern peoples on those in the south, which was eventually to result in the appearance of a third, mixed culture: the Naqada ill or Late Predynastic period. This culture flourished from about 3500 to 3150 BC., a period of some 300 years immediately before the unification of Egypt.
The major difference between the Amratian and the Gerzean lay in their ceramic production. Gerzean pottery developed particularly in terms of decoration, with the use of stylized motifs including geometrical representations of flora and more naturalistic depictions of fauna and other aspects of their culture. Among the birds and animals represented are ostriches, ibexes and deer. On the other hand, the decoration of these ceramics included human figures and boats carrying emblems that are clearly divine, that later were the standards that came to symbolize the different provinces of Egypt.
These scenes seem to have been formally related to early pictograms, but were they historical documents or purely emblematic in function? Unfortunately, the material is primarily votive and mostly from funerary contexts. It is significant that the pottery decoration is complemented by another type of representation dating back to the Badarian period: the carved schist palettes used to grind eye-paint, which were also frequently buried with the deceased; these palettes would soon acquire value as historical documents.
The Gerzean culture reached a stage of development that was already well-advanced, especially in its funerary and religious aspects. Gerzean tombs had become virtual replicas of earthly dwellings; sometimes they comprised several furnished rooms. There were also amulets, figurines and ceremonial objects decorated with scenes of animals (lions, bulls, cattle, and falcons) which are known to have represented various gods from a very early period of Egyptian history. Archaeological evidence shows that the change from prehistory to history was the result of a slow process of evolution and not a brutal revolution involving the appearance of new technology and new social structures.