The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview

PART ONE
THE PREHISTORIC AND ARCHAIC PERIODS

CHAPTER 2
PREDYNASTIC EGYPT 4000-3200 B.C.

AT some time around 4000 B.C. the early settlers in the Nile Valley were beginning to emerge from the neolithic culture of the Tasian villages of Upper Egypt and those of Merimdeh on the western edge of the Delta and on the shore of the lake in the Fayum. The last-named district is a sort of oasis reached through a narrow opening in the escarpent of the western desert a little south of Cairo. These primitive village communities lay on higher ground out of reach of the Nile flood which left a large part of the valley so swampy and overgrown as to be uninhabitable. The people of these communities must have made a start at the long task of controlling the flood-waters by dykes and canals. It was a labour which could be undertaken only by joint effort and was the chief contributory factor towards the co-operation of several communities which came to accept the leadership of one of the villages and the pre-eminence of its local god. These districts are represented in later times by the different provinces or Nomes, each with its chief city. Gradually coalitions of the various districts were formed, and this resulted in the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, late in Predynastic times, and the uniting of the whole country at the beginning of the historical period about 3000 B.C.

In Upper Egypt a Badarian culture followed the Tasian, to which it is closely related. The succeeding phases of the prehistoric age are better known from the many cemeteries which have been excavated. They fall into two well-defined groups: the earlier Amratian of Upper Egypt, and the Gerzean. The characteristic products of this second group have been found in the neighbourhood of the entrance to the Fayum, and therefore in northern Egypt. They are thought to represent the developing culture of the Delta. The conditions of this alluvial plain which fans out between the branches of the river a little north of Cairo have so far made it impossible to recover much tangible evidence concerning its early inhabitants. The largest quantity of Gerzean material has actually been found in Upper Egypt, where it succeeds the Amratian. These periods have long been termed Early and Middle Predynastic, to which was added a Late Predynastic Period (called Semainian, like Amratian and Gerzean, after a site where its remains first appeared). It has been pointed out that this last phase has such ill-defined characteristics that it would be preferable to drop the term, considering that certain Gerzean features continued down into the time of transition into the historical period. 1 While the same

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