Researchers Calculate Timeline For Origin Of Ancient Egypt's Dynasties
September 5, 2013

Researchers Calculate Timeline For Origin Of Ancient Egypt’s Dynasties

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April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A team of researchers, led by the University of Oxford, has set a robust timeline for the first eight dynastic rulers of ancient Egypt.

Prior to this study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, there have been no verifiable chronological records for this period, or for the process leading to the integration of lower and upper Egypt into one unified state with a single rule. New mathematical models that combine radiocarbon dates – obtained from over 100 fresh samples excavated at key sites including the tombs of the kings and surrounding burials – with established archaeological evidence, have allowed the team to reset the timeline of Early Egypt to between 4500 and 2800 BC.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Dee, from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said, "The formation of Egypt was unique in the ancient world. It was a territorial state; a state from which the moment it formed had established borders over a territory in much the same way we think of nations today. Trying to understand what happened in human history to lead people to establish this sort of polity we felt was a gap in understanding that needed to be filled."

The new evidence suggests that this unique unification of power happened far more quickly than was previously thought. Prior estimates have relied on archaeological evidence alone – based mainly on the evolving styles of ceramics excavated at human burial sites – to try to piece together the timings of key chronological events in the Predynastic period and the First Dynasty. Two of the most significant pieces of evidence surviving today are mud seals excavated at the royal tombs at Abydos. The seals contain lists in successive order of the First Dynasty kings.

‘The origins of Egypt began a millennium before the pyramids were built, which is why our understanding of how and why this powerful state developed is based solely on archaeological evidence,” said Dee.

The BBC's Rebecca Morelle reports that prior estimates have placed the pre-Dynastic period – that time when groups began to settle along the Nile and farm the land - as beginning in 4000BC. But the new analysis revealed this process started later, between 3700 or 3600BC. This means the Neolithic period that preceded the pre-Dynastic period lasted longer and finished later than previously believed.

The Pharaohs ruled Egypt for more than 3,000 years, ending with the infamous Cleopatra. The Daily Mail reminds us that it will be another 1,000 years before we are as far removed from her, as she was from the first rulers of Egypt. Those rulers remain shrouded in legends and conjecture, known only from a handful of frustratingly incomplete sources.

Dee said, “There are no records before the third dynasty, so we have had to guess exactly when the vital First Dynasty, which led to the development of writing and agriculture, happened.”

The new mathematical model pinpoints the likeliest date for each of the first eight kings’ accession. The model’s predictions are accurate to within 32 years with a 68 percent probability. The researchers say the lengths of reign revealed by the model are about what you would expect in terms of lifespan.

The first ruler of Ancient Egypt was King Aha, who is believed to have become pharaoh at the age of 30 and ruled until he was allegedly killed by a hippopotamus while hunting at the age of 62. Aha was followed by his son, Djer, as king.

King Djer, according to the model, might have ruled for more than 50 years, which is such a long period that it raises the possibility that there may have been other kings or queens that we know nothing about. It is also possible that the state of Egypt collapsed and reformed during that time.

Djer was followed by Djet, Queen Merneith, Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet and Qa’a, in order of succession. These rulers would have governed over a territory spanning a similar area to modern day Egypt with formal borders at Aswan in the south, the Mediterranean Sea in the north and across to the modern-day Gaza Strip in the east.

Prof Joann Fletcher from the department of archaeology at the University of York, commented on the study, "This is highly significant work, which pulls the beginnings of Egypt's dynastic history into much sharper focus - it is tremendously valuable to have such a precise timeline for Egypt's first rulers. The study also has ramifications for the earlier pre-Dynastic period, allowing us to better understand these key periods of transition."

The materials tested for the new model were organic materials obtained from Badarin and Naqada period and First Dynasty burial sites. The remains, all from museum collections in Europe and North America, along with freshly excavated seeds from the Gaza Strip were analyzed using the Oxford Radiocarbon Acceleterator Unit (ORAU) at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology, Oxford.