September 30, 2012

The Early Settlers of Ancient Egyptian

The Early Settlers
Some tribes who tracked game across the grassy plains made their way eastwards. They joined the indigenous people on the plateau overlooking the gorge. Crude flint implements for chopping, scraping, skinning, sawing and stabbing attest to their hunting and fishing activities. Their settlements show that at this time they were little different from Egyptian Stone-Age settlements in Libya, Morocco and western Europe; populations of African origin that had settled on the Mediterranean. Other tribes made their way westwards from Asia, across the Isthmus of Suez or the Straits of Bab el Mandab in Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian
During the Final Paleolithic the weather became drier. Forests became sparse. The savanna turned to dust. Water holes dried up, and plants withered. The Egyptian Nile, flowing more sluggishly, deposited ever larger amounts of sediment along its banks. This sediment, and the earth carried to the Delta, was dark in colour and became known as the Black Land, the life- giving land of Egypt, as against the Red Land, the sun-baked desert where life shrivelled and died.

Stone artifacts indicate that at first the different tribal units remained isolated. The changing climatic conditions, however, encouraged them to group together in times of plenty to exploit the valley potential and split into smaller groups during the drought or low-flood season to search for Egyptian food. As the savanna became a desiccated waste, therefore, the hunting way of life was abandoned, and the people began to adjust to valley conditions; in so doing their lives became unavoidably bound to the rise and ebb of the flood.

The level of the Egyptian Nile in Egypt began to rise in July each year. At first the water spread over the floodplain lowlands and the people withdrew to the lower valley. Then, as the uplands became progressively submerged they moved to the dry rim of the plateau. The flood reached its full height towards the end of August when activities were limited to the pursuing of hartebeest, wild ass and gazelle on the desert highlands.

At the end of October the waters began slowly to recede, leaving behind a fairly uniform deposit of silt as well as lagoons and streams that became natural reservoirs for fish. This was the beginning of the season of abundance. Settlements were made at the edge of the floodplain where movements could be made either into the hills to hunt game animals, or into the flood- plain itself which provided ample resources for food-collecting. A variety of plants including wild wheat, brush, bulrush and papyrus formed lush vegetation in the enriched soil, and indigenous and migratory waterfowl were plentiful. In April the Egyptian Nile was at its lowest level. Vegetation started to diminish. Seasonal pools dried out. Game began to move southwards, or scatter. Fishing was limited to the permanent pools, side channels and the river. But the wooded areas near the river could be exploited for turtles, rodents and Nile clams, which were collected in large amounts. By July the Nile started to rise and the cycle was repeated.

Since the rise and ebb of the flood occurred with tireless regularity, a similar rhythm resulted in the lives of the people who depended on it. This is one of the unique features of the ancient Egyptian civilisation: that the bond between the Egyptian land and the people, which was established as much by the geographical characteristics of the land as from nature’s changeless cycles, affected their essential character. It was a relationship so intimate that it subtly imprinted itself on their lives and beliefs, and ultimately affected their political and social patterns. Though three civilisations rose and fell during Egypt’s 3,000 years of ancient history, and these were interspersed with periods of anarchy and bloodshed, foreign occupation, political corruption and centuries of decline, those distinctive features of the culture which were the direct outcome of the natural characteristics of the land endured.

The sun and the Nile river, which together formed the dominating cause of existence, made a profound impression on the people. They were two natural forces with both creative and destructive power. For the life-giving rays of the sun that caused the crop to grow could also cause it to shrivel and die. And the river that invigorated the soil with its life-giving silt could destroy whatever lay in its path or, if it failed to rise sufficiently, bring famine. The sun and the river, moreover, shared in the pattern of death and rebirth: the sun ‘died’ when it sank on the western horizon only to be ‘reborn’ in the eastern sky the following morning. And the ‘death’ of the land followed by the germination or ‘rebirth’ of the crops each year were directly connected with the river’s annual flood. Rebirth was, therefore, a central feature of the Egyptian scene. It was seen as a natural sequence to death and undoubtedly lay at the root of the ancient Egyptian conviction of life after death. Like the sun and the crops, man, they felt assured, would also rise again and live a second life.

The climate in semi-tropical, largely barren Upper Egypt bore no resemblance to the temperate, fertile Delta. And the cultures that developed in each area, like the land itself, each had a distinct character. Agriculture made its first appearance in the Delta, which is not surprising in view of the mild climate and the fact that grain, once planted, benefitted from the natural irrigation of the Egyptian Nile. In Upper Egypt simple farming communities were also established but due to the more hostile environment the people remained pastoralists rather than farmers.

One of the earliest Neolithic sites in Egypt is a large village called Merimda in the western Delta. The houses were oval in plan and made of lumps of clay over a structure of reeds. Grain a variety of domesticated barley apparently brought from western Asia was stored in large jars and baskets near the houses. The presence of polished stone axes, fish-hooks and well- made arrowheads indicates however, that the Egyptian people of Merimda, like their ancestors of the Late Paleolithic, still hunted. They buried their dead around their dwellings. They had few funerary gifts apart from flowers and, in one tomb, a wooden baton. It is possible that this primitive community buried their dead near their houses in the belief that the propitiation of the dead was essential for the welfare of the community as a form of ancestor worship.

Most of our knowledge of the settlements in Upper Egypt comes from their burial customs, especially from Badari for which the culture called the Badarian has been named. The dead were buried in cemeteries at the edge of the desert. Though no sacred images were found, we know from their simple graves that the people believed in the afterlife, and believed also that this was regarded as a prolongation of life on earth. It may have been the natural desiccation of the bodies of the dead, in the dry heat of the desert sand, into leatherlike figures, that first led the people to believe that preservation of the body was essential for the afterlife. Each corpse was wrapped in matting or skins and placed in a contracted position, knees to chest, surrounded by worldly possessions: bone needles and awls, weapons including spears and arrow-heads, jewellery, including ivory bracelets, necklets, girdle beads and ivory combs ornamented with birds, and fine thin-walled pottery, with black rim or with rippled patterns, containing food, drink and ointments. Buried in the same cemeteries as the people in Upper Egypt, and similarly wrapped, were animals, such as cows, sheep and jackal. The cow later became revered as the Egyptian goddess Hathor at Dendera. The ram became the god Khnum at Elephantine. And the jackal was later to become Anubis, the god of the necropolis, who was believed to watch over funeral rites and guard the western horizon.

Architecture in Ancient Egypt

Great strides were taken in the field of architecture. The royal tombs of the first two dynasties were large structures with the tomb chamber and surrounding rooms hewn deep in the bedrock surmounted by a superstructure of the characteristic ‘palace-fagade’ panelling. The Egyptian tombs of the noblemen were strong, low brick structures with rectangular ground-plan and sloping walls for which the word ‘mastaba’ (bench) was coined by workmen excavating under the French Egyptologist Mariette.

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
In the 3rd dynasty Zoser’s architect, Imhotep, drew up plans for his majestic funerary complex, the central feature of which was the Egyptian Step Pyramid the first stone structure in history; Imhotep chose a rectangular site on the Memphite necropolis and marked the corners with stele bearing the names of Zoser and his two daughters. He erected a 30ft high wall round the chosen site using the palace-fagade panelling of the earlier dynasties. Imhotep then commenced excavation of the substructure and lined the floor of the tomb chamber with granite brought by river from the quarries of Aswan. A series of chambers and a maze of corridors to house the furniture and effects of the deceased were lined with blue tiles.

The superstructure was at first a simple mastaba with a unique square ground-plan. However, a second facing of limestone was then added, 2-3ft lower than the original wall, thus forming a step. An extension to the east rendered the mastaba rectangular. A series of pits led to a 90ft gallery on the east of the mastaba and it may have been to incorporate these into the tomb that the idea of constructing a second tier first dawned on Imhotep. The ancient Egyptians were still inexperienced in the use of stone, and Imhotep was not an architect with a blueprint so much as an imaginative builder. It was when constructing the third tier that he included in the overall design a mortuary temple and a whole series of dummy buildings. When the fourth tier was raised, the construction could finally be called a Step Pyramid of Zoser king. The last two tiers were added by enlarging slightly on either side. The six-step pyramid was encased in a final layer of fine limestone and rose majestically above the surrounding wall. It was approached through a gateway in the girdle wall, leading to a colonnaded hall which gave on to a Great Court.

The enormous architectural significance of Zoser’s mortuary complex lies in the fact that Imhotep drew inspiration from the contemporary houses and palaces which have all perished. He transcribed into masonry all light, perishable materials and though his were the first large-scale experiments in stone, he nevertheless provides us with simple elegance and mature expression which is characteristic of the Egyptian Old Kingdom.

Less than a century lies between the construction of Zoser’s Step Pyramid at Sakkara and that of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. The mastery of stone is reflected, however, in several stages of development. Zoser’s successor, Sekhemkhet, also had a Step Pyramid (i). Khaba had what is now known as the Layer Pyramid (2), at Zawiyet el Aryan between Giza and Abu Sir. Nebka’s ‘Unfinished Pyramid’, in the same area, is believed to have been planned on the same lines as Zoser’s. A change came with Huni, the last pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty. His pyramid at Meidum (3), though appearing somewhat like a tower today, was the first true pyramid. It was constructed in the form of an eight-step pyramidal monument at a steep angle of 51^° and, after the steps were filled in, the whole was carefully dressed in stone. The transition having been achieved, Senefru’s two pyramids at Dashur, known as the Bent Pyramid (4) and the Northern Pyramid (5), show a striving for an architectural ideal that was finally achieved with the perfect symmetry of the three Egyptian pyramids on the Giza plateau.

There are no written or pictorial records of the methods used for the planning and construction of the pyramids. Clearly as much engineering know-how as brute force was necessary to raise them. Following such basic considerations as the choice of site on the western bank of the river, on bedrock free from defects, well above the Egyptian valley but in close proximity to the river for easy conveyance of stone was the task of levelling and smoothing the plateau to within a fraction of an inch and orientating the four cardinal points with a maximum error in alignment of little over one-twelfth of a degree.

The building of the Egyptian great pyramids on the Giza, has been extensively written about. Some 2,400,000 blocks of sandstone were quarried from Tura on the eastern banks of the Nile, each weighing an average of 8 tons, they were transported to barges and sailed across the turbulent river in full flood. They were then lowered on to rollers and probably manoeuvred up an earth ramp to reach the plateau.

Temple of Luxor
Ancient Egyptian Architecture
Even stones weighing as much as 16 tons were brought into contact as close as one-five-thousandth of an inch. The pyramids are now stripped of their smooth outer casings of fine-quality, exquisitely fitted, polished limestone. The great pyramid of Khufu once rose to a height of 483 feet and its base covered 13 acres. It is difficult, even today, to visualise the strength of a state able to support such projects, let alone provide the skill and technical ability to raise them.

A causeway once linked the mortuary temples of the Egyptian pyramids and the valley temples on the river’s edge. Khafre’s causeway was constructed of white limestone, its lower blocks let into the rock surface beneath. His valley temple was encased in granite from the quarries of Aswan. This was a final step in the mastery of stone: the finest-quality raw material with an emphasis on straight lines, both perpendiculars and horizontals. The ‘granite temple’ is an example of simple, massive elegance. The statues which decorated the interior were lit by the use of oblique slits forming roof windows between the level of the central aisle of the court and the lower roof on either side. The use of sunlight for illumination was an important feature of ancient Egyptian architecture.

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Ancient Egyptian Pyramids Timeline Introduction

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids age Introduction
Ancient Egyptian history covers some 3,000 years, from the legendary King Menes (3100 BC), who united the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, to the conquest of Alexander the Great (332 BC). This period has been roughly divided into thirty dynasties, which have been grouped into three ‘Great Periods’, as shown opposite.

Each of the three Great Periods bears a distinctive character. The Old Kingdom, the Pyramid Age, is considered by many historians as the high-water mark of achievement. A series of vigorous and able monarchs established a highly organised, centralised Egyptian government which saw a rising tide of productivity in all fields. It was a culture of great refinement, an aristocratic era, which ended in an explosion of feudal disorder, anarchy and bloodshed. The Middle Kingdom saw the country restored to national discipline by force of arms. The royal house was reestablished under strong leadership.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
Reorganizations throughout the Egyptian land was immediately reflected in an artistic and architectural revival, massive irrigation projects and a literary breakthrough. This period, when powerful monarchs ruled a feudal state, came to an end when the Hyksos, a warlike people who had settled in the Delta, successfully challenged Egyptian authority. Following the war of liberation Egypt emerged with a strong government and a regular army, heralding an era of international trade and foreign expansion. This was the New Kingdom, when Egypt controlled a vast empire and tributes and booty from the conquered nations and vassal states poured into the state capital at Thebes. It was a period of unparalleled grandeur, strength , wealth and prestige.

The three Great ancient Egyptian Periods are clearly divided by a period of anarchy when the provincial powers rose against the crown and democratic values were voiced for the first time (1st Intermediate Period) and a period of foreign occupation (2nd Intermediate Period). It is not surprising, therefore, that due to the different political, religious, cultural and social forces at work; each of the cultural peaks should bear a distinctive character. The problem of deciding which should be described as most representative of the ancient Egyptian civilisation is easily resolved. The Old Kingdom is chosen as the classic standard; it was the period in which the hard core of Egyptian thought and institution was formulated; and the time which the ancient Egyptians themselves regarded as a model throughout their history:

After the fall of the old Kingdom, during the 1st Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt, a sage said to his son: ‘Truth (Maat) comes to him well- brewed after the manner of his ancestors . . ' and a priest called Khe-kheperre-Soneb looked back and said: ‘Would that I had unknown utterances, sayings that are unfamiliar, even new speech that has not occurred {before), free from repetitions, not the utterance of what has long passed, which the ancestors spake.'

In the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt, when the title ‘Repeating of Births' (ie renaissance) was adopted and the monarchs maintained their control over the feudal state by using many of the methods practised in the Old Kingdom, a harper sang: ‘I have heard the sayings of Imhotep and Hardedef with whose words we speak so often . .

In the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt the upper classes criticised Amon (the god of the conquering heroes) as the usurper of the ‘true religion'. And when Ikhnaton, the world's first monotheist came to the throne he emphasised the connection between his new sun worship and the old sun cult at Heliopolis. In fact he built his sun temples on the same lines as the 5th dynasty temples at Abu Sir. And the symbol of his god, the Aten, was reminiscent of the description of the Sun-god in the 5th dynasty Pyramid Texts: ‘The arm of the sun beams'.

After the Period of Decline in ancient Egypt, during the 26th dynasty revival known as the Saite Period, efforts were made to recapture ‘the time of the ancestors' .... for lo, their words abide in writing; open, that thou mayest read and imitate knowledge . . .’ And, indeed, the Saite rulers recopied the ancient texts and there is even evidence that they excavated a gallery beneath the Step Pyramid of the 3rd dynasty pharaoh Zoser to see how it was built.

The ancient Egyptians believed that there was once a Golden Age, ‘The First Time’ when the principles of justice reigned over the land. What was actually meant by this oft-repeated phrase in ancient Egyptian texts is not known. It implies the beginning of an event and was often taken to mean ‘The Beginning’ or Creation. In fact the Egyptian priest Manetho, who wrote the history of ancient Egypt in Greco-Roman times, saw it as the pre-historic period which was filled with dynasties of gods and demi-gods. ‘The First Time’ might, however, simply be recapitulations which reflected the Egyptians’ pride in their own culture; a confirmation that order once existed.

The Golden Age of ancient Egypt when ‘Maat (Justice) came from heaven and joined those who lived on earth’, may be the Old Kingdom civilisation, the purest period of Egypt’s ancient history, which rose to its peak and collapsed while Babylonia was still the scene of battles between city states fomented by petty local interests, and while Europe, America and most of western Asia were inhabited by Stone-Age hunters.

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