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Predynastic Period


Photo courtesy of Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum
Male idol
Predynastic Period, before 3200 B.C.
Ivory, findspot not know



By carefully studying the architecture of town sites and cemeteries as well as the objects found within them, Egyptologists are able to reconstruct the emergence of the Egyptian elite during the period prior to 3200 B.C.

A statistical approach reveals that 90% of the excavated graves dating to the period between 4500-3500 B.C. contained 35 objects or less whereas the remaining 10% of the graves contained more than 35 objects. This inequality in the number of grave goods implies a degree of social stratification and indicates the initial presence of an elite whose graves are more amply supplied. During the period between 3500-3000 B.C. certain individuals identified as men and not women by a forensic examination of their skeletal remains were

buried in graves that were distinguished from all other contemporary graves not only by their infinitely larger dimensions, but also by the greater number of offerings and grave goods found within them.

Moreover, the tombs of these advantaged males were grouped into their own special sections of the cemeteries. One site, for example, contained almost 2,500 burials of which only about 60 or less than 3%, belonged to the elite category just described. Clearly, then, these men were gaining control of the existing social systems -- political, religious, economic and the like.

In order to insure their advantaged position, the members of the elite developed the hieroglyphic system of writing around the year 3200 B.C.

At the time of its introduction, scholars estimate that fewer than 20 people per mile's length of the River Nile were literate. It is from the ranks of these members of the elite, who controlled knowledge in the form of the hieroglyphs and who co-opted craftsmen to give visual expression to their cultural ideals that the position of pharaoh emerged.

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