The Predynastic Period

The river Nile, snaking its way across the desert and into the sea, first attracted people to its banks many thousands of years ago. At first, they moved around and survived by hunting animals and gathering what they could to eat. Then, by around 5500BC, people started to settle along the riverbank and grow crops.

Until around 3500BC, things changed slowly. This time is called the Predynastic Period. People farmed the land along the Nile, and began to dig irrigation canals to make more use of its water. They kept animals, too – many sheep, goats and pigs.

There were two main groups of villages – one in the south (Upper Egypt), and one in the north (Lower Egypt). These areas gradually became two kingdoms (which means they were ruled by kings). In Upper Egypt, early mud-brick tombs or “mastabas” have been found that contain beautiful pots and objects. These suggest that a sophisticated culture and religion were already developing, and a belief in life after death.

The kings of Upper and Lower Egypt had their own separate gods and crowns. The southern king was guarded by the vulture goddess Nekhmet, and wore a tall white crown. In Lower Egypt, the king wore a red crown and was protected by the cobra goddess Wadjet.

Around 3100BC, it seems that Upper Egypt defeated Lower Egypt in a battle, and the two areas were united for the first time. The man who then became king is a slightly mysterious figure, because three different names appear in records: Menes, Narmer and Hor-Aha. This could be because kings always had more than one name. It’s also possible that Hor-Aha was Narmer’s son. Whatever the truth is, the Narmer palette is one of the earliest records of a king who ruled both Upper and Lower Egypt.

Once Egypt was united, the land was ruled by kings for more than 3,000 years. The 1st and 2nd dynasties form the Archaic period, which lasted about 400 years. Menes (or Narmer) created a capital city for the whole country between Upper and Lower Egypt, at the bottom of the Nile Delta. This was called Memphis, which became a great city with it own special god called Ptah.

Source: The Usbourne Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt

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