Predynastic Egypt: Maadi Culture

Contemporary throughout its development to these three cultural phases, in Lower Egypt we first find the Maadian cultural complex, which is later joined by the Buto cultural complex in 3600 BC. 

The Maadian specifically is made up of a dozen archaeological sites, among those that emphasize the cemetery and the establishment of the own Maadi. Contrary to what we see at the sites of the Naqada civilization, the Maadi cemeteries are much less important to the archaeological record than the settlements.

In this sense, the excavated structures show three types of remains, one of which is completely exceptional. It consists of houses excavated in the rock with oval plans measuring 3 x 5 meters in surface and up to three meters deep, which were accessed through an excavated passage.

The presence of hearths, semi-buried jugs and household remains suggests that they were permanent places of residence, which is not without attention for being underground. On the other side of the scale, around 600 tombs have been discovered in Maadi, which is nothing compared to the 15,000 predynastic tombs in the south of the country. It is not only a question of quantity, but also of quality: the tombs of Lower Egypt are extremely simple, based on oval holes with the deceased in a fetal position, wrapped in a mat or cloth and accompanied only by one or two ceramic containers or even for nothing at all.

Starting in 3600 BC, the Maadi-Buto culture not only had contact with the civilization of Naqada II to the south, but was also related to Asia by land with the Palestinian strip and by sea with the northern coast of Syria and, through it, with Mesopotamia.

Predynastic Egypt: Naqada I & II

The civilization or culture of Naqada was born shortly after in the time of the end of the Badarian culture and something more to the south. Specifically, it covers all the territories previously occupied by the Badarian plus the Thebes region, already in the middle of Upper Egypt.

This second great phase of the Predynastic period takes its name from the archaeological site of Naqada, where the famous Egyptologist Flinders Petrie discovered a huge cemetery of more than 3,000 graves in 1892. These burials consist of little more than the body in a fetal position on the left side, wrapped in animal skin, sometimes covered by a mat and deposited in simple oval holes dug in the sand. Compared with the important finds from the world of the dead, the preserved remains of the human settlements of Naqada I are poor and scarce.

The buildings, built using a mixture of mud and organic materials, have not been well preserved, so they have not been able to be well studied by archaeologists. This ignorance directly affects our understanding of the life forms of Naqada I, so that we can only theorize about them from other evidence, such as the presence of domestic animals in the grave goods: Goats, sheep and cattle.

Predynastic Egypt: Naqada II

Naqada II is an evolution of everything already seen in the Nagada I culture, rather than an abrupt change or an independent culture. The Naqada civilization spread south to Nubia at the second cataract, and north to cover the entirety of Middle Egypt and come into contact with the Maadi culture in Lower Egypt.

In fact, around 3400 BC it continued its penetration towards the north, occupying the south and east of the Delta, even overlapping the Maadi culture itself. Finally, around 3300 BC, the culture of Naqada II is archaeologically documented throughout the Delta, thus achieving for the first time the cultural unification of all Egypt, centuries before political unification took place.

From this moment, the sedentary Egyptians experienced a rapid development of their civilization, all coinciding with the beginning of the exploitation of the quarries, the manufacture of pottery on the wheel, the decoration of the vessels with red paint, the appearance of the jewelry and copper metallurgy at full capacity and the manufacture of stone vessels. Likewise, the agricultural surpluses of the new locations stimulated the division of labor, social stratification and the evolution of the political system towards state forms.

Predynastic Egypt: Badarian Culture

The Predynastic Period begins in the middle areas of Egypt with the so-called Badarian culture, a name given to group a series of archaeological sites – six hundred tombs with rich funerary equipment and forty little-investigated settlements – distributed over more than thirty kilometers of the eastern bank of the Nile.

At first it was thought that it was a culture restricted to the area that gives it its name, El Badari, but more recently objects very characteristic of it have been found in much more southern and eastern areas. Beyond its relevance as the first demonstration of the use of agriculture in Upper Egypt, the Badarian culture is known above all for its necropolis in the desert.

All the graves are simple oval holes in the ground that, in many cases, contain a mat on which the corpse is placed. In general, these bodies are in a not too hunched fetal position, lying on the left side, with the head directed south and facing west. Its rich funerary furnishings are striking, suggesting an unequal distribution of wealth and, therefore, the existence of a certain social stratification. This thesis is further reinforced by the fact that the richest tombs tend to separate from the others in specific areas of the necropolis.

Famine Stela

A large fissure already existed at the time the inscription was created, divides the rock into two parts. Some areas are damaged, making some parts of the text unreadable.

It is written in hieroglyphs arranged in 42 columns. In the upper part three deities are represented; Khnum (the creator, represented with the head of a ram), Satis (a goddess, personification of the floods of the Nile) and Anuket (goddess of water and waterfalls). In front of them Pharaoh Djoser brings them offerings.

The text recounts the seven-year period of drought and famine that took place during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser of the Third Dynasty, the builder of the Step pyramid who reigned around 2665-2645 BC.

The drought began in the 18th year of his reign, caused because the Nile did not flood the farmlands and therefore there were no crops. The pharaoh then entrusted his vizier Imhotep to investigate where the god of the Nile was born, who was in charge of causing the flood annually. After consulting the archives in the temple of Thoth in Hermopolis, informs him that the rise of the Nile is the work of the god Khnum, who resides in a sacred spring on the island of Elephantine.

Imhotep travels to the temple of Khnum in Elephantine and while praying to the god he has a dream. In it, Khnum is introduced to him and describes his divine powers. He then promises the vizier to make the Nile flow again. Imhotep wakes up and writes down everything that Khnum has told him to tell pharaoh Djoser.

“I was grieving on my great throne, and those in the palace were grieving. My heart was in great pain, for the Nile had not arrived in time for seven years. The grain was scarce, the seeds were dry, everything that could be eaten was in short supply… Then I took pleasure in looking back and questioned the chief priest, Imhotep. Where does the Nile originate? I asked him, what god rests there, to support me? Imhotep replied, “There is a city in the middle of the water; the Nile surrounds it. Her name is Elephantine; Khnum is there”

Before the vizier’s account, the pharaoh orders priests, scribes and workers to restore Khnum´s temple and to once more make regular offerings to the god. Furthermore, by decree it grants him the territory between Aswan and Tachompso, and a part of all imports from Nubia.

However, the Famine Stela does not date from the reign of Djoser, or even that of any of his immediate successors. Researchers believe it was made during the time of the reign of the Ptolemies, the Greek rulers of Egypt after Alexander the Great, between 332 and 31 BC. That is, more than 2,300 years after the events that it narrates.

Specifically, it would belong to the reign of Ptolemy V (205-180 BC), and its creators would be the own priests of the temple of Khnum, who thus tried to justify their dominion over Elephantine Island and the surrounding regions. For this reason, for a time the inscription was considered a forgery of the priests. Today some Egyptologists believe that the facts it relates are true, others believe that they are fiction.

Sources: Historicaleve

Priests and Priestesses of Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians understood that their gods had prevailed over the forces of chaos through the creation of the world and relied upon humanity’s help to maintain it. The people of Mesopotamia held this same belief but felt they were co-workers with the gods, laboring daily to hold back chaos through even the simplest acts, but the Egyptians believed all they had to do was recognize how the world worked, who was responsible for its operation, and behave accordingly.

This behavior was directed by the central cultural value, ma’at (harmony and balance) which was sustained by an underlying force known as heka (magic). Heka (personified as the god Heka) had been present at the creation of the world, pre-existing the gods, and allowed those gods to perform their duties. All the people, by observing ma’at, helped to maintain the order established by the gods through heka, but a special class was responsible for honoring and caring for the gods daily, and this was the priesthood.

The clergy of ancient Egypt did not preach, interpret scripture, proselytize, or conduct weekly services; their sole responsibility was to care for the god in the temple. Men and women could be clergy, performed the same functions, and received the same pay. Women were more often priestesses of female deities while men served males, but this was not always the case as evidenced by the priests of the goddess Serket (Selket), who were doctors and both female and male, and those of the god Amun. The position of God’s Wife of Amun, held by a woman, would eventually become as powerful as that of the king.

High priests were chosen by the king, who was considered the high priest of Egypt, the mediator between the people and their gods, and so this position had political as well as religious authority. The priesthood was already established in the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150-2613 BCE) but developed in the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) at the same time as the great mortuary complexes like Giza and Saqqara were being constructed. Throughout Egypt’s history, the priesthood would serve a vital role in maintaining religious belief and tradition while, at the same time, consistently challenge the authority of the king by amassing wealth and power which at times rivaled that of the crown.

Sources: World History Encyclopedia

Heka & Akhu: Ancient Egyptian Magic

Heka (magic) was already at the heart of Egyptian beliefs by 4000 BCE. Creator deities such as Nu (the watery abyss) were said to have used heka to bring the world into existence from primordial chaos. In doing so, they subdued the forces of chaos, but the forces constantly sought to return and could only be stopped by heka. For the ancient Egyptians, it was not just the gods that handled magic. Lesser supernatural beings, pharaohs, and the dead were thought to possess an element of heka, which they could channel through the use of spells to deflect the attention of malevolent spirits.

The ancient Egyptians also believed in another form of magic power called akhu, which was malign and closely associated with beings of the underworld. To protect against akhu magical practitioners such as priests, scribes in the “Houses of Life”—which held the manuscript collections of Egyptian temples—sunu (doctors), and sau (amulet-makers) employed heka spells, rituals, and magical objects. Indeed, faith in heka was so widespread that ancient Egyptians used it in all aspects of life from matters of state to the delivery of oracles and more mundane village affairs, such as love matches, protection during childbirth, and curing minor illnesses. As well as being an abstract force, there was a god called Heka who personified magic. Heka helped ensure the harmony of the cosmos and acted as a conduit through whom worshippers could seek divine favors. He had a female counterpart, Weret-hekau (Great of Magic), who was depicted in the form of a cobra. It is thought that the snake-headed staffs often used by ancient Egyptian magicians may have represented her.

Sources: A History of Magic, Witchcraft and the Occult

The Djed

The djed is an ancient Egyptian symbol for stability which features prominently in Egyptian art and architecture throughout the country’s history. `Stability’ should be understood to mean not only a firm footing but immutability and permanance. The symbol is a column with a broad base which narrows as it rises to a capital and is crossed by four parallel lines. The column and the lines are sometimes brightly painted and other times monochrome. The djed first appears in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and continues through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before it became a province of the Roman Empire.

The djed is often overlooked in Egyptian art, and especially in architecture, simply because it is so ubiquitous; the djed is featured on pillars, tomb walls, architraves (the main beam which rests on pillars), palace walls, sheets of painted papyrus, and especially sarcophagi. Once one is aware of the djed and its importance to ancient Egyptian culture it is impossible to miss. It is a potent symbol associated with the god Osiris and his return from the dead. The symbol has been interpreted to represent different objects such as the god Osiris’ backbone, the tamarisk tree which enclosed the god, four pillars rising one behind another, and a fertility pole raised at festivals. `Stability’, however, seems to have been its prime meaning and the one which the ancient Egyptians attached the greatest importance to.

The precise origin of the djed is unknown but it was associated with the god Ptah, an early creator god in the Predynastic Period whose attributes were later assumed by the deities Atum and Osiris. According to historian Clare Gibson, the djed was an early phonogram which could also act as a pictogram or ideogram. A phonogram is a symbol representing a sound and a pictogram a symbol for a specific word or phrase while an ideogram is a symbol of a thing itself without reference to words or sounds (such as numerals where one recognizes the symbol 10 as representing a certain quantity). The djed symbolized the spoken word-concept for stability, was the written word for stability, and stood for the concept itself.

Sources: World History Encyclopedia

Cannabis in Ancient Egyptian Religion and Culture

When the mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses II was uncovered and examined back in 1881, traces of cannabis in the remains was the last thing anyone was expecting, but it was there. Since then, a lot of the uncovered mummies have shown similar traces of the herb in their systems, confirming the suspicion that cannabis was indeed a part of the regular culture in ancient Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, cannabis was used for medicinal, religious, and cultural purposes.

Seshat, the goddess of wisdom, was often depicted with a leaf of the cannabis plant above her head in paintings from thousands of years ago. Bastet, the feline goddess of war, was also related to the use of cannabis in the region, but more in terms of witchcraft. Evidence also suggests that worshippers may have consumed marijuana in one form or the other during certain religious festivities and rituals.

Sources: Ancient Origins (Robert Brusco)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

“Beautiful are the Beauties of Aten, the Beautiful one has come”

Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this is still an ongoing debate.

Rosetta Stone Discovered

Today in Egyptian history —> On this day in 1799, French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard found the Rosetta Stone in an Egyptian village. The stone was inscribed with hieroglyphics, demotic script and Greek script in 196 BC but was lost during the Medieval period. After its rediscovery, it prompted widespread excitement as scientists raced to be the first to decipher the ancient text. It was eventually translated by Jean-François Champollion, a French scholar, in 1822!

The inscription, by the way, is about the divine status of Ptolemy V.

The Egyptians want it returned for their new Grand Egyptian Museum (opening later this year), but the British Museum says no as it’s the most visited artifact in the museum.