Ancient History & Civilisation

2. Prehistoric Egypt

Paleolithic—Neolithic—The Badarians—Predynastic—Race

Since the radicals of one age are the reactionaries of the next, it was not to be expected that the men who created Egyptology should be the first to accept as authentic the remains of Egypt’s Old Stone Age; after forty les savants ne sont pas curieux. When the first flints were unearthed in the valley of the Nile, Sir Flinders Petrie, not usually hesitant with figures, classed them as the work of post-dynastic generations; and Maspero, whose lordly erudition did no hurt to his urbane and polished style, ascribed neolithic Egyptian pottery to the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless, in 1895 De Morgan revealed an almost continuous gradation of paleolithic cultures-corresponding substantially with their succession in Europe—in the flint hand-axes, harpoons, arrow-heads and hammers exhumed all along the Nile.13 Imperceptibly the paleolithic remains graduate into neolithic at depths indicating an age 10,000-4000 B.C.14 The stone tools become more refined, and reach indeed a level of sharpness, finish and precision unequaled by any other neolithic culture known.15 Towards the end of the period metal work enters in the form of vases, chisels and pins of copper, and ornaments of silver and gold.16

Finally, as a transition to history, agriculture appears. In the year 1901, near the little town of Badari (half way between Cairo and Karnak), bodies were excavated amid implements indicating a date approximating to forty centuries before Christ. In the intestines of these bodies, preserved through six millenniums by the dry heat of the sand, were husks of unconsumed barley.17 Since barley does not grow wild in Egypt, it is presumed that the Badarians had learned to cultivate cereals. From that early age the inhabitants of the Nile valley began the work of irrigation, cleared the jungles and the swamps, won the river from the crocodile and the hippopotamus, and slowly laid the groundwork of civilization.

These and other remains give us some inkling of Egyptian life before the first of the historic dynasties. It was a culture midway between hunting and agriculture, and just beginning to replace stone with metal tools. The people made boats, ground corn, wove linen and carpets, had jewels and perfumes, barbers and domesticated animals, and delighted to draw pictures, chiefly of the prey they pursued.18 They painted upon their simple pottery figures of mourning women, representations of animals and men, and geometrical designs; and they carved such excellent products as the Gebel-el-Arak knife. They had pictographic writing, and Sumerian-like cylinder seals.19

No one knows whence these early Egyptians came. Learned guesses incline to the view that they were a cross between Nubian, Ethiopian and Libyan natives on one side and Semitic or Armenoid immigrants on the other;20 even at that date there were no pure races on the earth. Probably the invaders or immigrants from Western Asia brought a higher culture with them,21 and their intermarriage with the vigorous native stocks provided that ethnic blend which is often the prelude to a new civilization. Slowly, from 4000 to 3000 B.C., these mingling groups became a people, and created the Egypt of history.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!