During this time period, Egypt consisted of villages that were scattered in and around the Nile River, including the delta area and the river valley. The villages were self-contained, each with a ruling Chieftain. The villagers likely lived in mud-brick housing and combined some farming with hunting to support their families. There is little known about this period because the homes and living utensils all were made with perishable materials. Artifacts that have survived the period indicate continuous advances in the construction of pottery and stone vessels. The discovery of silver goods indicates some trading must have occurred during this time period, since silver was not seen in any abundance in early Egypt. The graves of the Archaic period indicate that the Egyptians believed in an afterlife, because of the many objects found in graves. The Egyptians of this time period were a superstitious people, with many amulets discovered in graves, designed to provide the user with good luck. Close to the cemeteries for humans were burial grounds for animals.
By about 3400 BC, cities develop to replace the small towns. The people likely came together for protection and to be able to rely on a larger population for farming and hunting purposes. It is about this time that a ruling class apparently emerges in Egypt. This is borne out by the beginnings of differences in the burial grounds of the general population and rulers in the towns. Common people still are still buried in graves just under the surface of the ground. But tombs underground are built for the leaders of the town.
Archaeological evidence shows the rise of two separate kingdoms at about this time, called the Red Land and the White Land. These two lands combined in about 3100 B.C., creating what many historians call the first dynasty of Egypt. The Egyptians of this time clearly believe in a system of gods, many of whom are animals. By the end of the period, the animal gods have taken on a full or half human form.
The Red and White Land unite, under of the rule of a leader called Menes, who is considered the first king of Dynasty I.
Old Kingdom of Egypt (2660-2180 B.C)
As Egypt transitioned from the Archaic period to the Old Kingdom period, the times initially were dangerous and ever-changing, as kings in the first two dynasties constantly battled against enemies all along the Nile River. Then came Zoser, the second king of the third dynasty. He is credited with bringing calm throughout the country by becoming powerful enough to maintain control of all of Egypt. Beginning with Zoser, Egypt grew exponentially and became a wealthy area able not just to feed its own but to travel along the Nile and trade its excess crops with other communities. The Old Kingdom was easily the time that Egypt grew and flourished the most in all its history, as agriculture boomed, trade brought great wealth and the peaceful, prosperous times led to many advancements. Archaeologists believe it was during the Old Kingdom that hieroglyphics were introduced in Egypt.
The system of writing that included symbols that represented objects is believed by many experts to be the oldest form of writing. Hieroglyphics are discovered as as early as the 3200 B.C., but are seen most extensively during the Old Kingdom and the following Middle Kingdom periods. The writing system was not used by the mass of Egyptians, as it was limited mostly to priests and royalty.
The Old Kingdom also was the period that the majority of Egypt’s pyramids were built, including the so-called Step Pyramid and the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza.
The pyramids were gifts by the kings to themselves, an indication of how prosperous Egypt was at the time. The kings could well afford to have these huge structures could be commissioned. The king was, in essence, a living god, who had total control over all aspects of Egypt and who deserved a palatial resting place to ascend with the gods after death. The pyramids illustrate the stratus of life in Egypt, as the common man on the street would never think he would have an afterlife. The Old Kingdom continued until the 6th Dynasty, falling prey to Mother Nature as climate conditions change and the annual overflow of the Nile that enriched the entire area with food-producing soil, virtually disappeared over years.
Middle Kingdom (2080-1640 B.C.)
By the end of the Old Kingdom, Egypt was in disarray, but with the arrival of Mentuhotep I, Egypt is united again under a powerful king who reigns for 51 years. With the drought long over and peace and safety returning to Egypt, prosperity was not far behind. Agriculture exploded again as did mining for gold.
The Middle Kingdom was a time of great construction, from the mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari of Mentuhotep I to the continuation of pyramid building to fortresses built for protection against enemies. Amenemhat I moved the capital of Egypt from Thebes to a new city called Itjtawi. The Middle Kingdom last until approximately the 15th dynasty, a period noted by mostly peaceful times, despite the images created by the great fortresses that were built. After the rule of Amenemhat III, an outsider apparently managed to rule and the Middle Kingdom came to an end with the disarray of that dynasty.
When we think about Egypt, camels, pyramids, and mummies often come to mind! That’s not surprising since much of what we know about ancient Egypt comes from the tombs of Egyptians and the objects found buried with them.
New Kingdom (1570-1075 B.C)
This period of 500 years began with a succession of warrior rulers, bent upon preventing the difficulties that led to the end of the Middle Kingdom. By the 18th dynasty, another rich, prosperous period for Egypt arrived, during a time when Egyptian queens became well-known and powerful. One queen, Hatshepsut, became a pharaoh in 1490 B.C. Things changed in Egypt with the arrival of Akhenaten, the young king with his wife, Nefertiti, who believed in a single god a sun god and created by experts have called the first single-god religion in human history. Unfortunately, Akhenaten’s rule, beginning in 1360 B.C. foreshadowed the eventual end of the New Kingdom, as his religious devotion allowed the Hittite empire to make gains against the Egyptian army to the west.
Akhenaten built a new capital for Egypt and ushered in a time that featured a religion headed by a new sun god and explosive gains in the arts. Akhenaten had a well-known wife, Nefertiti. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Tutankhamon, the child pharaoh and one of the best known rulers of Egypt. That is because of the exceptional archaeological finds in the well-preserved pyramids of the era. Kings were mummified and discovered centuries later, along with the headdresses, jewelry and other artifacts buried with the pharaoh.
By the 19th dynasty, a new ruling family came into power, headed by Rameses, who moved the capital back to Memphis and led an era with a great emphasis on priests, continued fighting in Asia and valuable trade missions. By 1200 B.C., Egypt moved into the 20th dynasty. However, this was a time of growing war, with attacks from on all sides, from Libya to the West to the Hittites in Western Asia. Eventually, the war in Asia took its toll on Egypt, leading to a depression that led to the collapse of the New Kingdom.