The Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3100 BC) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy starting with King Narmer. However, the dates of the Predynastic period were first defined before widespread archaeological excavation of Egypt had taken place, and recent finds which show the course of Predynastic development to have been very gradual have caused scholars to argue about when exactly the Predynastic period ended. Thus, the term Protodynastic Period, sometimes called Dynasty 0, has been used by scholars to name the part of the period which might be characterized as Predynastic by some and Dynastic by others.
The Predynastic Period is generally divided into cultural periods named after the places where a certain type of Egyptian settlement was first located. However, the same gradual development that characterizes the Protodynastic Period is present throughout the entire Predynastic Period, and individual "cultures" must not be interpreted as separate entities but as largely subjective divisions used to facilitate easier study of the entire period.
The Protodynastic Period of Egypt (generally dated 3100 - 3000 BC) refers to the period of time at the very end of the Predynastic Period, equivalent to the archaeological phase known as Naqada III. During the Protodynastic Period, Egypt took the first steps toward political unification, leading to a truly unified state during the Early Dynastic Period. Also during this time, we see the Egyptian language first being recorded in hieroglyphs.
There is also strong archaeological evidence of Egyptian settlements in southern Israel during the Protodynastic Period, which may have functioned as colonies.
State formation began during this era with the rise of small city-states along the Nile. Centuries of conquest reduced Upper Egypt to three major states: Thinis, Naqada, and Nekhen.
Sandwiched between Thinis and Nekhen, Naqada was the first of the Upper Egypt city-states to fall. Thinis then conquered Lower Egypt. Nekhen's relationship with Thinis is uncertain, but the two states may have merged amicably with the Thinite royal family ruling the whole of Egypt. The Thinite kings were buried at Abydos in the now famous Umm el-Qa'ab cemetery.
Most Egyptologists consider Narmer to be the last king of the Protodynastic period (although some experts place his reign during the First Dynasty), and the last of the so-called "Scorpion Kings", whose name may refer to, or be derived from, the goddess, Serket, a special early protector of other deities and the rulers.
Early Dynastic Period
The Archaic or Early Dynastic Period of Egypt immediately follows the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt c. 3100 BC. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Protodynastic Period of Egypt until 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom. With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Abydos to Memphis where an Egyptian god-king ruled a now unified polity that extended from the Nile Delta to the first cataract at Aswan. Abydos remained the major holy land in the south.
The distinctive hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic period.
Before the unification of Egypt, the land was settled with autonomous villages. With the early dynasties, and for much of Egypt's history thereafter, the country came to be known as the Two Lands. The rulers established a national administration and appointed royal governors. The buildings of the central government were typically open-air temples constructed of wood or sandstone. State formation in Egypt was primarily indigenous in character, and it is likely that a common language, namely Egyptian, was spoken in Upper and Lower Egypt in variant dialects, which facilitated the unification. The earliest hieroglyphs appear just before this period, though nothing is certain about the spoken language represented by the writing at the time.
According to the historian Manetho, the first king was Menes (likely reign circa 3100–3050 BC). However, the earliest recorded king of the First Dynasty was Hor-Aha (reign c. 3050–3049 BC), and the first king to claim to have united the two lands was Narmer (the final king of the Protodynastic Period). His name is known because it is written on a votive palette (the Narmer Pallette) used for grinding minerals for kohl, used by ancient Egyptians to outline the eyes. Funeral practices for the peasants would have been the same as in Predynastic times, but the rich demanded something more. Thus, the Egyptians began construction of the mastabas which became models for the later Old Kingdom constructions such as the Step pyramid. Cereal agriculture and centralization contributed to the success of the state for the next 800 years.
It has also so been interpreted that King Menes and the whole traditional story of an Egypt unified under a single conquering ruler, who led his armies and conquered lower Egypt to establish the first dynasty in the lower Egyptian city of Memphis, is just mythology as are the twin kingdoms story.
It seems certain that Egypt became unified as a cultural and economic domain long before its first king ascended to the throne in the lower Egyptian city of Memphis where the dynastic period did originate.
Political unification proceeded gradually, perhaps over a period of a century or so as local districts established trading networks and the ability of their governments to organize agriculture labor on a larger scale increased, divine kingship may also have gained spiritual momentum as the cults of gods like Horus, Seth and Neith associated with living representatives became widespread in the country.
During the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Abydos to Memphis where an Egyptian god-king ruled a now unified polity that extended from the Nile Delta to the first cataract at Aswan.
Abydos remained the major holy land in the south. The distinctive hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic period.