Podcast – Ancient Egypt – 01 – Prehistoric Egypt

Podcast – Ancient Egypt – 01 – Prehistoric Egypt


Welcome to the DW World History Podcast Series. In the last episode we discussed an introduction
to Ancient Egypt and reviewed the chronological timeline. We’ll start at the very beginning of that
timeline here in this episode. Prehistory literally means ‘before history’
– before writing. So it is not a term that covers the world
at the same time. For example, writing comes into Egypt around
3200 B.C. So, after 3200 B.C., Egypt is out of Prehistoric
Times. It depends on the culture and is a relative
term and Prehistoric Egypt means Egypt before 3200 B.C. The Study of Prehistory and How It Began The basic divisions of prehistory are divided
into three ages: The Paleolithic (or Old Stone Age), when humans existed as hunter-gatherers;
The Mesolithic (a transition stage); and the Neolithic (or New Stone Age), when plants
and animals were first domesticated. The study of Prehistory is fairly recent. Before we got into the scientific study of
prehistory, there was just the Bible, and people were using the Bible to try and calculate
how far back time went. In the seventeenth century, the Bishop of
Usher used the Bible and worked backwards while studying the genealogies. Through his method, he determined that the
world began in 4004 B.C. Bibles were created at this time that had this chronological background
in the margins on the top, and in the Book of Genesis, you could follow this timeline
as you read along. Now a later colleague of the Bishop of Usher
went even further, and through some fine tuning of the calculations, determined a more specific
time at October 23, 4004 B.C., at 9:00 in the morning. This is how far prehistory went back in the
seventeenth century. Even Issac Newton believed this date – the
man who invented calculus – believed the world began in 4004 B.C. In his spare time, he tried to figure out
Egyptian chronology and he criticized the Egyptians for being too brash by tracing their
history way too far, way past 4004 B.C. The real scientific study of prehistory began
in 1859. Two things happened in this year that challenged
the creationists’ point of view. First, excavations in England revealed Stone
Age tools next to the bones of extinct animals. Through their research, they discovered that
these extinct animals went far past 4004 B.C. This opened up the reality that prehistory
was much older than Bishop Usher’s calculations. The second event that impacted the study of
prehistory, was the publication of one of the most important books in the history of
the world: Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species. Here Darwin proposed that we were the products
of evolution. This rocked the scientific community and established
the foundation for the study of prehistory. How far back do we go? The current estimate for man – the hominids
– go back about 2 million years. This is nothing when compared to the estimated
age of the planet, which is about 4.5 billion years. Bishop Usher was off a little in his calculations. So how do you cover 2 million years of Human
History? As mentioned, you break it down into historical
ages: The Old Stone Age, The Middle Stone Age, and the New Stone Age. In Greek, ‘Paleo’ means old; ‘Lithos’ means
stone. So, Paleolithic means Old Stone, ‘Meso’ means
middle, and Neolithic means new. We discuss these ages in more detail to give
you a better understanding. The Paleolithic Age The first age of man, the Paleolithic – The
Old Stone Age – consisted of several stages: The Early Paleolithic Age, the Early Middle
Paleolithic Age, the Late Middle Paleolithic Age, and the Late Paleolithic Age. The Early Paleolithic Age dates from 700,000
to 70,000 B.C., when Homo Erectus lived. Now in relation to Ancient Egypt, the Nile
River Valley was first inhabited around 700,000 B.C. – at the very beginning. These people perhaps migrated from the south
along the Nile River Valley during a time when the climate was very favorable. It was not a desert at the time. The climate supported fauna as found today
on the Serengeti Plain and was a lush environment with giraffes and gazelles; an almost tropical
environment. What were these people like? The first human inhabitants used language,
gathered food, most likely controlled fire, and used the hand axe. This was their one and only tool. Now this is one of the simplest tools you
can imagine. It was a stone that fit in your hand and used
to smash something softer than it. What’s important is that this was not an accidental
tool, something you just pick up and use. This tool was flaked. It was specifically made to fit in the palm
of your hand; made so it wouldn’t cut you, and used to smash things. It was the first intentional tool in world
history. Now something important to consider is the
rate of progress. Unlike today’s Computer Age, where process
is made every day, this hand axe remained the same from 700,000 to 70,000 B.C. There was no other tool than the hand axe. With our current rate of progress, its remarkable
to consider that for a half-million years we had no change than just the hand axe. Now the next big jump began around 70,000
B.C. during the time of the Neanderthal – The Early Middle Paleolithic Age – from 70,000
to 43,000 B.C. Unlike what most people think, Neanderthals
were not brute savages. They buried their dead in caves and cared
for the injured and old. They also developed a little more sophisticated
flaking technique for tools. For example, they created specialized tools:
scrapers which were used for scraping and daggers which were used for cutting meat. Most of these items were found in the Egyptian
Desert, which provides a further example of how much the climate has changed. The next big shift began around 43,000 B.C.
during the beginning of the Late Middle Paleolithic Age – from 43,000 to 30,000 B.C. with the
appearance of the Homo Sapiens. Here modern man begins and replaces the Neanderthal,
although the specifics of this are open for debate. In regards to the Egyptians, these people
began to settle around lakes. They ate mollusks and shellfish. One of the sources of the Nile is Lake Tania
in Ethiopia. During this period, it joins the Nile for
the first time, causing flooding and inundation. The best estimate from tools found in these
locations, indicate that bands of about 25-50 people lived together at a time. The life expectancy of these people were less
than 30 years. This was life in Prehistoric Times. During the Late Paleolithic Age – from 30,000
to 10,000 B.C., the people began living near swamps. Malaria became a real problem and the Nile
began to dry up. Their settlements had clay hearths on which
they cooked, grindstones for grinding wild cereal grains, and pigments for eye make-up. There was no farming or cattle breeding yet
at this time. Tools were now fashioned from quartz and diorite,
as well as from flint and obsidian. During this period, the sickle was developed. This was a crescent-shaped piece of wood with
a row of flint stone 2-3 inches long that was inserted into the wood. This was used to harvest crops, but this does
not mean that they were planting crops. They were intensively caring for wild grains. They hadn’t yet discovered that you could
plant your own. The bow and arrow was also introduced at this
time. This made hunting safer and easier. The bow was the first weapon in history that
stored energy, and with this came the arrowheads. These tools were not easy to make. They involved an impressive amount of skill,
especially the small arrowheads found at Kom Ombo, an area of Egypt in the south. Here archaeologists discovered what they call
‘microtools’; arrowheads small enough for hunting birds. These arrowheads are the size of your thumbnail. A mysterious development during the end of
this age is the disappearance of the sickle for a couple of thousand years. No one knows why. This tool will return, but it was not used
for the next 2,000 years for reasons unknown. Two prominent theories are that the bow and
arrow made hunting easier and the people no longer relied on the wild crops for food needs. Another theory is crop failure. With crop failure they are no longer harvesting
and you no longer need the sickle. The definite cause remains unknown. The Mesolithic Age The Mesolithic Period dates from 10,000 to
5,000 B.C. This is the transition from hunter-gatherers
to the domestication of animals and the raising of crops. This is the period when people start to settle. They have grindstones for crops that they
are able to find, but they also begin to have grindstones for cosmetics. This was definitely used for religious purposes,
but the specifics are unknown. There was no pottery in the north of Egypt. Ostrich eggshells were used for cooking. In the south (Sudan area), pottery did develop. The human groups were very isolated and each
may have spoken its own dialect. The Neolithic Age The Neolithic Age takes place from 5,000 to
3,000 B.C. Here we begin to have organized society up
and down the Nile. Pottery was developed in the north, and with
that, new technological advantages took place. With pottery they were now able to cook their
own food, cook the grains that were being harvested, and most importantly, to make beer! They were now able to cook their food in real
pots. At the beginning of this time, villages developed
along the Nile River with a population of about 100-150 people. With these villages, a division of labor developed
and skilled workers were introduced. These included the toolmakers, the bakers,
the brewers, the pot makers, and so on… What is surprising to consider is that of
all the villages springing up along the Nile, the population remained very small – only
about 2,000 people – for the entire region. With these small villages, politics developed
and the region was soon divided by a king in the north and a king in the south. This was the Neolithic Period. What is important to remember when talking
about Egypt, is that Upper Egypt was below Lower Egypt. Lower Egypt was on the top and Upper Egypt
was on the bottom. Why? Because the Nile River flowed from South to
North. Going ‘Up the Nile’ was traveling south. The Egyptians had boats throughout their history,
but they were not very good sailors and they did not like to be on the water. They were spoiled by the Nile River’s behavior. The wind constantly blew south and the Nile
always flowed north. With this arrangement, you could float north
and sail south. During the New Kingdom, when Egypt developed
their own navy, the men had to learn how to be proper sailors once they entered the Mediterranean
Sea. Toward the end of the Neolithic Period, the
people began burying their dead in sand pit burials in the desert. These sand pit burials were perhaps the origins
of mummification. The body naturally dehydrated once you buried
it in the sand. These people were also buried with possessions,
which provides evidence that these early Egyptians may have already believed in life after death. Carved palettes, some adorned with decorative
art, were now being used for grinding cosmetics. Some of these palettes were even whimsical,
being carved in the images of animals, revealing that the culture was now capable of more than
just surviving. They also had little statues made out of clay,
often of women, which, with their depictions of wide-hips, may have been fertility symbols. The exact reason for these figurines is unknown. Pottery at the end of this late period began
to be decorated. Pottery is crucial to any archaeological site
because it is used to date the excavations. Pottery is virtually indestructible. Granted pots break, but the fragments remain
forever in any kind of soil. Archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie developed
the study of pottery and discovered that the pottery evolved from the simple to the complex
– meaning the more highly decorated pottery was newer. Thus, pottery became essential to dating sites
and is crucial to prehistorians where there is no written record. This ends our coverage of Prehistoric Egypt. In the next episode we’ll see how Egypt became
the first nation in history and discuss the first historical document in the world! Thank-you for joining us!

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