The Early Dynastic Period (also known as the Archaic Period) in Ancient Egypt is shrouded with mystery. This period lasted two dynasties, the first and second, and is considered to be the first instance of a pharaoh ruling Egypt. Before this, Egypt was in the Protodynastic Period which encompassed nomadic tribes that settled along the Nile delta. This time period included two regions; Upper and Lower Egypt.
The Prosperity of the Early Dynastic Period
The Early Dynastic Period in Egypt brought about great change. The most obvious change was abundance in grain and technology. These new advancements in agriculture allowed the villagers and nomadic peasants to place their efforts into politics, sciences, religion, and art. Due to these fruitful times, farmers and artisans started gathering into major cities located at popular trade routes and were able to sell their goods to all who passed through Egypt. These popular cities were established in both Upper and Lower Egypt. Due to the bustle and boom of these cities, administrative needs were eventually needed to govern and protect those who began to inhabit these urban settings.
These populated cities brought about a shift in thinking. For example, many cities installed shrines dedicated to the gods where food offerings could be given. This, perhaps, was not as practical during the Protodynastic Period as most Egyptians probably placed a great deal of effort into survival. Artisans must have also benefited as all ceramic pots and jewelry could now be sold in one place and thus this competition probably helped start the explosion of the arts. These cities were the beacon of growth as not only Egyptians benefited from them, but also foreigners who passed through them. Conceivably, this might be the spark that started the grandeur of what was to come.
Another major advancement was the art of basic hieroglyphics. Some of the oldest writing in the world can be found within this time period of Egypt. At first hieroglyphics were used to mark and track simple items, but eventually led to more sophisticated written language and expression.
The Unification of Egypt
The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period is controversial and continues to be an ongoing debate. At one time, it was believed Egypt was united through bloodshed and war by one king known as Narmer. This was made apparent through a stone tablet found in Hierakonpolis. The tablet is known as the Narmer Palette and it depicts Narmer wearing the crown of Upper Egypt on one side of the tablet and the crown of Lower Egypt on the other side of the tablet. The depiction upon this palette of Narmer is believed to symbolize the unification of the two kingdoms. He is shown smiting his enemies thus protecting Egypt.
Though many argue Narmer united the two kingdoms, some believe it was actually Menes who united the two lands. To add more confusion to the already mysterious period, many historians strongly believe that Narmer and Menes are the same persons. Those who contend this theory disagree strongly. They believe that Narmer began the unification of the two kingdoms and Menes inherited the throne and finished the job.
Though there is great confusion about who united the two lands of Egypt during this early period in Egypt, it is often Narmer who is given credit for uniting the two lands and he is also given acclaim of being the first pharaoh to rule Egypt.
The other theory surrounding the unification of Egypt is that the transition between the two lands was more gradual. It was believed the pharaohs form Upper Egypt established their capital in Memphis and were able to control all labor, artisans, and agriculture. Eventually they overtook the more docile Lower Egypt and were able to successfully unite the two regions thus making it one nation.
Mastabas — A New Type of Tomb
Because some Egyptians were able to enjoy prosperity during the Early Dynastic Period, many looked for a means to differentiate themselves from each other. This was apparent in the early tombs constructed for wealthy citizens, administrators, and the kings. Before this, tombs were mealy holes underneath the ground with only a few items that were buried with the deceased. Tombs for the more privileged during the Early Dynastic Period were compartmentalized chambers used to hold the deceased’s belongings. Some tombs in Hierakonpolis, an Early Dynastic Period town located in Upper Egypt, had wooden roofs which were believed to be used for those who were wealthy.
These compartmentalized tombs are known today as mastabas. They were often constructed above the ground and partially below the ground. The walls were made of mud bricks that dried in the Egyptian sun. The chambers inside these bench shaped tombs included a burial chamber and storage rooms. These structures were often primitive and were completed once the body was laid to
rest. Eventually, this evolved into more elaborate tombs such as the pyramids and tombs constructed in the Valley of the Kings. The Early Dynastic Period is modest when compared to the overall Ancient Egyptian culture; however, this period was the foundation to wealth and magnificence and played a significant part in history.