Ancient Egypt isn’t all about the pharaohs and the pyramids, as fascinating as they may be. Much existed before the time of dynasties was heralded by King Menes (or possibly Narmer) in around 3,100 BCE, but thanks to a dearth of archaeological evidence, plenty about this period is shrouded in mystery.
A new discovery, then, should shed some light on matters. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has announced that an expedition has discovered what remains of a Neolithic village in Tell el-Samara, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Cairo. Dating back to around 5,000 BCE, it predates the emergence of the famous Giza pyramids by 2,500 years.
A joint French-Egyptian excavation team, led by chief archaeologist Frederick Geo, explained in a statement that it’s one of the oldest known villages in the Nile Delta. It’ll no doubt contain clues as to how Predynastic Egyptians lived, what they may have worshipped, what kind of culture they developed, and how they transitioned from hunter-gathering in North Africa to sustained agricultural practices.
It appears that the site, which has been carefully examined since 2015, contains stone tools, pottery, and several storage silos that contain animal bones and plant residues. It confirms that there were stable, sizeable communities existing in the wetlands of the delta as far back as 7,000 years ago.
Dr Nadia Khedr, a ministry official responsible for Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities on the Mediterranean coast, told reporters that rain-based plantations at the time may have provided Predynastic Egyptians with the ability to start large-scale irrigation farming.
“Analyzing the biological material that has been discovered will present us with a clearer view of the first communities that settled in the Delta and the origins of agriculture and farming in Egypt,” she said.
The Nile River Delta famously proved to be the lynchpin in which the ruling families of Egypt arose. King Menes founded the capital of Ancient Egypt at a place named White Walls, later known as Memphis, right at the top of the delta. From this city sprung a vast civilization, with tales recorded down in the then-new hieroglyphic texts.
The pyramids, the go-to point for Ancient Egyptophiles everywhere, wouldn’t appear until the Old Kingdom age, from 2686 BCE onwards.
As this new site reminds us, though, humans had been in the region for a long time beforehand. In fact, archaeological evidence has revealed that the Nile Valley was first inhabited as far back as 300,000 BCE, with basic stone tools and primitive human cultural practices, like burials, being uncovered.
It wasn’t until the Neolithic, which began in 7,000 BCE, that permanent settlements first began to appear. Through a series of major and accelerating cultural and societal changes, pharaonic Egypt was born around 3,100 BCE – a period of time that would persist until the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 BCE.