Life Before the Pharaohs

For more than half of the twentieth century, much like the pyramids, the predynastic Egypt was a mystery to archeologists. The little discoveries that had been made from the period preceding the pharaohs were not enough to either prove or disprove the various theories circulating at the time.
One of the first artifacts dated at the time of the unification to be unearthed was Narmers palette, discovered by the English archeologist James Edward Quibell at the end of the nineteenth century. The discovery was made at Hierakonpolis, about four hundred and fifty miles outside of Cairo. The object depicted the unification of the Lower and Upper Egypt, the event being attributed to Narmer; he also found a macehead that carried the insignia of Scorpion, a king which was believed to have ruled Upper Egypt just before the unification. Not far from the spot where Quibell had found the palette, his colleague, Frederick W. Green, discovered an extremely decorated tomb that had been built for a ruler who dominated the surrounding region almost two centuries before Narmer. Their discoveries were the first ones to document this moment of extreme importance in history: a time of political and cultural change and evolution. Unfortunately they were not nearly enough to explain that evolution.

The little evidence available led several archeologists to come up with more or less believable theories about the predynastic Egypt. Some sustained that the society before the pharaohs was a primitive and one that could not have evolved into the great Egyptian state without any outside help. Walter Brian Emory was one of the supporters of this theory.

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Only three years before this amazing discovery, another English archeologist, William Fliders Petrie, had unearthed at Naqada about twenty-one hundred graves containing such objects as fired-clay pots, palettes, and amulets made of stone, bone, and ivory. The latest graves were dated to about 3100 BC, while the earliest were dated to the predynastic period. Petrie assigned the objects found in the predynastic graves to three major periods: the Amratian (3800-3500 BC), the Gerzean (3500-3200 BC), and the Protodynastic (3200-3100 BC) periods; a fourth period, the Badarian (before 4000-3800 BC), is added in the 1920s. Using the scarce evidence they had, Petrie and other archeologists concluded that life before the pharaohs was quite a primitive one and it wasnt until very short before the dynastic era that the culture would evolve. But he had deduced this by studying graves and not habitation sites, which meant that he had no evidence of what day to day life was, therefore he couldnt know if the evolution had came from within or from outside.

The uncertainty floated around for a long time, before any light would be shed upon this ancient period of our prehistory. In 1969 a team of archeologists from the American Museum of Natural History discovered a structure dating to the Protodynastic period, very close to the place where Quibell had made his discovery. Excavations outside Hierakonpolis led to the discovery of a whole Amratian village along an ancient dried-up creek bed, Wadi Abul Suffian, which finally made possible the reconstruction of what day-to-day life might have been. The population was constituted mostly of farmers and craftsmen; the leaders were the ones that managed the manufacture and commerce of the goods. During this period the first signs of written language appear also. During the Gerzean period we see a very primitive layout of what will become the irrigation system being created. We also see the old local chieftains expand into regional kings. At the same time, the tombs grew larger and more sophisticated, so by the end of the Gerzean they were very much alike the graves of the early pharaohs. The Protodynastic was a period of political unrest and consolidation, a period during which the city of Hierakonpolis became one of the greatest, biggest and most powerful urban centers in Egypt.

The excavations at Hierakonpolis have, without doubt, proven the fact that there was no <dynastic race that invaded the Nile Valley in the late fourth millennium BC> as Emory sustained nor any other outside force that influenced the development of the predynastic civilization; Egypts development into a state was gradual, but entirely from within.

Personal Opinion:
My overall impression of the article is that it was objective one, although not very concise. As I first started reading it I realized I didnt have much knowledge of the prehistoric Egypt and what exactly is known about it today; yet the article gives us a pretty good insight of how we came to know all we know about it today and also how well we do know it. That gives you a much better understanding of the topic.

Its strongest point I would say is the fact that it without any doubt achieves its goal: proving that Egypt, the first nation-state, developed from within, and invalidating all the other influential theories that had emerged since the beginning of the twentieth century. Another thing that I liked in this article is that the author does not suppress the contrary view points, but instead tries to bring logical arguments against them.

Although I dont see any major weaknesses, I could say a down-point was the over-attentiveness the author paid to details. Although there are certain things he couldnt have left out, there certainly are some details he could have skipped.


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