Predynastic Period

The Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt lasted from around 5500 to 3100 BCE – during the Late Neolithic (Stone Age).

During that time, Egyptians invented their first written language and shaped their first religious beliefs.

They settled on the banks of the Nile River and started producing food using the newly invented plough to cultivate the land.

In the beginning, Egypt was not a unified state. There were two very different cultures in two parts of the land, called Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.

However, Upper and Lower Egypt were not just two settlements. Archaeological findings tell us there were several settlement sites, and most of them were located in Upper Egypt.

The Lower Egypt, on the contrary, was full of cemeteries.

Historians divide the Predynastic Period into four phases:

  • The Early Predynastic or the Badrian Phase (around 5500-4000 BCE) – during that phase, the first agricultural settlements were developed in the el-Badari region of Upper Egypt and Fayum in Lower Egypt.The Egyptians started making nicely designed and well-polished pottery.They also made first tombs, but those were still nothing like the pyramids that Egyptians were yet to build.In the Early Predynastic phase, tombs were simple constructions made of mud brick.
  • The Old Predynastic, otherwise known as the Amratian or Naqada I Phase (around 4500-3500 BCE – this phase did not begin in the same time in all regions, and that’s why time overlaps) was named after an important archaeological site, Naqada, which was located north of Luxor.Characteristic findings from that period include many cemeteries in Upper Egypt, terra cotta sculptures, and a square house at Hierakonpolis.Similar structures and artefacts were found in Lower Egypt too, at Merimda Beni Salama and el-Omari, near Cairo).
  • The Middle Predynastic, also known as the Gerzean or Naqada II Phase (around 3500-3200 BCE) was when a temple in Hierakonpolis was built and decorated with some of the first examples of tomb painting in Egypt.The tombs were still built out of mud bricks, but they were large and comprised many chambers.Pottery was adorned with bird and animal images and some abstract symbols which represented gods.
  • The Late Predynastic or the Protodynastic phase (around 3200-3100 BCE) was politically significant. The population of both Upper and Lower Egypt had grown a lot.Local communities started interacting with each other, and the more successful ones widened their spheres of influence.Eventually, two kingdoms emerged – Upper Egypt in the Nile Valley and Lower Egypt in the Nile Delta.

The cultures of Upper and Lower Egypt were not exactly like the traditional culture we have on mind when we talk about Ancient Egypt.

Still, several common symbols that continued through to the end of the Ancient Egyptian Civilization appeared in the early art of the Predynastic period:

  • Cattle cult imagery – a cattle later represented the goddess Hathor;
  • Images of scenes in which the king is hitting his enemy;
  • The red crown of Lower Egypt – the oldest Egyptian symbol of royal power.

The Predynastic Period ended when, around 3100 BC, the first Egyptian King, Narmer, unified the land of Egypt.

What did you learn?

What were the names of the two parts of Egypt in the Predynastic Period that produced distinct cultures?
Those were Upper and Lower Egypt.

Which significant inventions were dated in the Predynastic period?
Plough in agriculture and the first written script

Were the Egyptians building pyramids in the Predynastic period?
No, their tombs were made of mud bricks.

Which event meant the end of the Predynastic period?
It was the emergence of unified Egypt.