By: Jalin Whitely
Egypt is a country in North Africa, on the Mediterranean Sea, and is among the oldest civilizations on earth. The name 'Egypt' comes from the Greek Aegyptos which was the Greek pronunciation of the Egyptian name 'Hwt-Ka-Ptah' (which means House of the Spirit of Ptah, who was a very early God of the Ancient Egyptians). In the early Old Kingdom Egypt was simply known as 'Kemet' which means 'Black Land' so named for the rich, dark soil along the Nile River where the first settlements began. Later, the country was known simply as Misr which means 'country', a name still in use by Egyptians for their nation in the present day. Egypt thrived for thousands of years (from c. 8,000 BCE to c. 525 BCE) as an independent nation whose culture was famous for great cultural advances in every area of human knowledge from the arts to science to technology and religion. The great monuments which Egypt is still celebrated for reflect the depth and grandeur of Egyptian culture which influenced so many ancient civilizations, among them Greece and Rome.
Evidence of overgrazing of cattle, on the land which is now the Sahara Desert, has been dated to about 8,000 BCE. This evidence, along with artifacts discovered, points to a thriving agricultural civilization in the region at that time. As the land was mostly arid even then, hunter-gathering nomads sought the cool of the water source of the Nile River Valley and began to settle there sometime prior to 5500 BCE. Organized farming began in the region c. 5000 BCE and communities known as the Badari Culture began to flourish alongside the river. The Badari were followed by the Amratian, the Gerzean, and the Naqada cultures, all of which contributed significantly to the development of what became Egyptian civilization. The written history of the land begins at some point between 5000 and 3200 BCE when Hieroglyphic Script is developed by the Naqada Culture (who also established the faience industry sometime prior to 5500 BCE around Abydos). By 3500 BCE mummification of the dead was in practice at the city of Hierakonpolis. The city of Xois is recorded as being already ancient by 3100-2181 BCE as inscribed on the famous Palermo Stone. As in other cultures world-wide, the small agrarian communities became centralized and grew into larger urban centers.
The Early Dynastic Period (c.3150-c.2686 BCE) saw the unification of the north and south kingdoms of Egypt under the Pharaoh Manes (also known as Meni or Menes) of the south who conquered the north in 3118 BCE. This version of the early history comes from the Aegyptica (History of Egypt) by the ancient historian Manetho who lived in either the 3rd century BCE or 2nd century CE and whose account has been disputed by later historians. Manetho’s work is the only source which cites Manes and the conquest and it is now thought that the man referred to by Manetho as `Manes’ was the Pharaoh Narmer who peacefully united Upper and Lower Egypt under one rule. Geographical designation in Egypt follows the direction of the Nile River and so `Upper Egypt’ is the southern region and `Lower Egypt’ the northern area closer to the Mediterranean Sea. Narmer ruled from the city of Heirakonopolis and then from Abydos. Trade increased significantly under the rulers of the Early Dynastic Period and elaborate mastaba tombs, precursors to the later pyramids, developed in ritual burialpractices which included more elaborate mummification techniques.
During the period known as the Old Kingdom (c.2686-c.2181 BCE) architecture developed at an increased rate and some of the most famous monuments in Egypt, such as the pyramids and the Great Sphinx at Giza, were constructed. The Pharaoh Djoser, who reigned 2691-2625 BCE, built the first Step Pyramid at Saqqara c. 2630, designed by his chief architect and physician Imhotep (who also wrote one of the first medical texts describing the treatment of over 200 different diseases). The Great Pyramid of Khufu (also known as The Great Pyramid of Cheops, last of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was constructed in 2528 BCE with the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure following in 2494 and 2474 BCE, respectively. The grandeur of the pyramids on the Giza plateau, as they originally would have appeared, sheathed in gleaming white limestone, is a testament to the power and wealth of the rulers during this period. Many theories abound regarding how these monuments and tombs were constructed but modern architects and scholars are far from agreement on any single one. Considering the technology of the day, some have argued, a monument such as the Great Pyramid of Giza should not exist. Others claim, however, that the existence of such buildings and tombs suggest superior technology which has been lost to time. Most modern scholars today reject the claim that the pyramids and other monuments were built by Slave labor and recent archeological excavations in and around Giza go to support this view. Such monuments were considered public works created for the state and used both skilled and unskilled Egyptian workers in construction who were paid for their labor.