Ancient Kmt didn't begin on the banks of the Nile, but in a much harsher environment. The ancestors of the pyramid builders, were not village dwelling farmers, but wandering cattle herders.
Pharaonic civilization was forged in a remote region, now one of the forbidden places on earth.
Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson, based on his own discovery in the heart of Eastern desert, between the Nile Valley and Red Sea.
Kmt's distant ancestors left a stunning legacy, that has remained hidden for 6000 years: hundred of intricate rock carvings that express Kmt's lifestyle and deepest belief system. Pharoaonic imagery such as the after life journey by boat, royal hunting, and the iconography of gods and kings all find their origins in this hospitable terrain.
Toby Wilkinsons' book - Genesis of the Pharoahs - traces the discovery of these ancient records, dates them, and identifies the artist who made them. A remarkable early period of human creativity. Discover the answer to the question of where, when and how ancient Kmt begin.
The Desert Speaks:
Making The Discovery:
Genesis of the Pharaohs, Toby Wilkinson shines new light on the Predynastic by demonstrating that the majority of rock drawings in the Eastern Desert of Upper Egypt date to Naqada I (c. 4000–3500 BC).
Since the petroglyphs depict wild African fauna, hunters with bows and dogs, and men herding cattle, it is clear that the now nearly lifeless region up to 100 km east of the Nile between Quft and Hierakonpolis was at this time a well-watered, well-populated, game-rich savanna. That the rock artists were not mere isolated pastoralists but also part-time Nile dwellers is evident because their works commonly include boats. This implies that the artists probably moved from river to range in seasonal cycles.
Because of this, and the fact that so many of the drawings echo subjects in later Egyptian art, Wilkinson makes a compelling case that the rock artists were the ancestors of the dynastic Egyptians. His conclusion: “the heavy reliance of these people on herding and hunting rather than agriculture suggests that their roots — and indeed the roots of Egyptian civilization — lay not so much along the Nile but in the pre-arid Sahara.”
Through The Sands Of Time:
Dating Rock Art:
The deep, black darkness underneath the surface of the Nile is the great hidden secret upon which the boat navigated. This deep represented the best one could receive from the river : abundant gifts of life, prosperity and the luxury of time, the foundation of all grand cultures. However, nobody could look the Nile "in the face", for the gods never reveal the name "unknown to those below", namely the secret of the "All-Lord who sustains the shores !".
With their glyphs of barks, flotilla of barges, or procession of boats, the Predynastic Egyptians expressed the enduring quality of their mythical mindset, able to distinguish between the undifferentiated waters (or primordial origin of consciousness) and creation, while actively identifying "divine powers" (i.e. natural differentials) to move along the arrow of time and encompass the "Two Lands" by means of the river. A company of boats is hence a family of successful evolutionary histories, a metaphor of cooperation and mutual respect between the Egyptians themselves, and between their way of life and their natural environments ruled by natural differentials. This is the image of a triumph over chaos shared with all. This naturalistic and typological view on the deities was also quite original.
Wadi Abu Wasil - Hunters and a Dog trapping an Ibex - ca. 4.000 BCE, after Wilkinson, 2003.
"The scenes which appear on the Egyptian rock surfaces reveal many elements of continuity between the late Neolithic period, to which the early works belong and the long sequence of royal rule which was to follow them. Although Egyptian rock art shares traditions with both the Sahara and Arabia even at its earliest it is recognizably Egyptian, powerful and assured in technique and content."
"The parallels between the rock art of 4000 BC and the tomb scenes of 1500 BC are indeed striking. The discovery of the boat petroglyphs faces us with two astonishing revelations. First, the familiar ancient Egyptian concept of the afterlife originated at the very dawn of civilization in the Nile Valley, among the semi-nomadic cattle-herders whose domain encompassed both valley and savannah. Second, this concept was so powerful and so resonant that it remained unchanged throughout the succeeding thirty centuries. The longevity of Egyptian culture is as ramarkable as its antiquity."
Wilkinson, 2003, p.189.
The theme of a journey by boat remained central to the Egyptian concept of the afterlife, and returned in the Pharaonic Period. Not only did Pharaohs place these sacred boats near their tombs, either in miniature form or full-size, or near the "naos" in their temples, but the theme became fundamental in the New Kingdom Books of the Netherworld and their rich iconography. These vessels accentuated the nurturing role of the Nile, and point to the spiritualization of the river, which carried the dead to the various levels of the eternal afterlife. The spiritual Nile led the deceased out of the mortal world of time, if they were deemed worthy, into the timeless eternity of the afterlife and its paradise.
6000 Year Old Petroglyphs:
Hunters And Herders:
Unmasking The Artist:
Traditional beliefs in the origins of ancient Egyptian culture say that the peoples occupying the wetter, more fertile, ancient savannahs of Egypt’s margins gradually moved into the Nile Valley as the climate dried up. It was once they had reached the valley that the culture slowly developed. What this rock art suggests is that in fact the two cultures were one and the same. The herdsmen followed the best pasture. In season they travelled up into the wadis (dried up river beds) to the fertile lands, where they carved images of their lives into the rocks under which they sheltered. They then travelled back into the Nile Valley, where they painted the same images onto pottery.
These people drew on the life around them in both the desert and the valley, for their inspiration. There are picture of warriors smiting their enemies, herdsmen with their cattle, ostriches, ibex, hippos, deities wearing feathered head-dresses, family groups, and hundreds of boats. Some of the sites have extraordinary quantities of images, some are hidden away behind rocks, some are under overhanging shelters, some are only visible at dawn, some only at sunset, but they are all a ‘written’ account of the lives of the most ancient Egyptians.
One is the question of the origin of the royal ‘ka’ and the other concerns the origin of the red and white crowns. Wilkinson presents strong evidence that Naqada I was an archetypal representative of the traditional African cattle-culture, a type of society that still exists in a remarkably pure form in the southern Sudan, despite years of civil war. Among Sudanese Nilotes, cattle are raised as symbols of wealth, as the medium for all social transactions (like marriage), and as sources of renewable food (blood and milk).
The people rarely kill cattle for meat, which they obtain by hunting wild game. Wilkinson’s overview of the evidence for Naqada I transhumance and cattle burial, coupled with his analysis of the rock art, suggests that Egyptian civilization sprang from a society of broadly similar characteristics. Cows with artificially deformed horns, so common among Nilotes today, are often featured in the early rock art of Egypt and Sudan as well as in Egyptian dynastic art (Kendall 1989, 680–88, fig. 1, 9–12). Even the historic Egyptian symbols of royal office — the crook and the flail — recall a time when the king was seen as the chief herdsman of his people.
Wilkinson draws striking parallels between elements of iconography in the rock art and Egyptian art motifs even two thousand years later in date. From this he concludes not only that these motifs must have had common meanings throughout this time span but also that the rock artists were themselves Egyptians. In one case, I think, we can push Wilkinson’s thesis even farther.
Some of the interrelated motifs of the rock art have meanings that in dynastic art were based on word-play. This not only suggests that the words were the same in the early Predynastic but also that the rock artists spoke Egyptian. This can be demonstrated by the apparent petroglyphic allusions to the word ‘ka’, one of the primary concepts of ancient Egyptian civilization.
Ironically, the earliest certain images of the white crown come not from Egypt but from Qustul in Lower Nubia, about 300 km up-river from Hierakonpolis. These images occur on two incense burners of uniquely Nubian type, which depict kings seated in archaic high-prowed boats wearing abnormally tall crowns with knobs, accompanied by bulls and Horus falcons (Williams 1980; 1986, pls. 33, 34).
They date to about 3300 BC. The same crown then appears not long afterwards in Egypt: on an unprovenienced ivory knife handle in the Metropolitian Museum and, later still, on the Scorpion mace head and Narmer palette (Wilkinson 1999, 194–5). The evidence can be interpreted several ways:
a) The white crown was exclusively Egyptian, and it is Egyptian kings who are represented on the Qustul incense burners;
b) The white crown was used simultaneously by competing rulers in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia; or
c) The white crown was first used in Nubia and spread northwards.
Rock art dating to 5000 BC corroborates what the radar equipment revealed. In Libya, Egypt, and Mali, petroglyphs depict not only grazing animals, but also aquatic life such as crocodiles. This indicates that the desert was inhabited during a time prior to 4000 BC and as far back as 8000 BC, when the climate was wet.
Egypt In Prehistory:
"All the data at our disposal suggest that the process of Nilotic adaptation favoured partial sedentism and encouraged food storage. It was therefore part of the beginning of a long evolutionary process through which the people of the Nile valley embarked on the Neolithic period."
Midant-Reynes, 2000, p.59.
On the basis of the evidence to date, the majority of scholars subdivide Egypt's unwritten history (ca. 5000 - 3000 BCE) in three major phases :
The pre-Neolithic Period (ca. 7000 and earlier) : early settlers in the Nile Valley and in the western desert contributing to the historic Egyptian reality - the "process of Neolithicization" (Midant-Reynes, 2002) ;
The Neolithic Period (ca. 5000 - 4000 BCE) : the first traces of village settlement on the banks of the Nile. The crucial myths of these Nilotic cultures are dominated by Lunar ideational features. However, because of the fixed horizon, awareness of the Solar cycle, and the seasonal changes brought about by it, rose ;
The Predynastic Period (ca. 4000 BCE - 3000 BCE) : incipient stages of the centralization of power go hand in hand with the "Solarization" of the old Lunar myths. This new, fixed reference point, allows psychomorph projections of stability, authority and continuity. The enduring order of the sedentary farmer is guaranteed by sacred kingship, and the latter is engendered by the great goddess herself. The period comes to a close when the male king assimilates the sacred power of the great goddess and initiates Solar ideation.
There is no room for doubt : Dynastic Egypt did not emerge "ex nihilo", but the decisive features of the Egyptian way of life (the own-form of the cultural form) we have on record are already established a millennium earlier, whereas the emergence of regional kingship (ca. 3600 BCE) builds on the managerial approach of the Badarians (ca. 4000 BCE). The great change at the beginning of history is the theo-political notion of divine kingship : Two Lands united by the incarnation of a single, re-incarnating sky-god, descending in a male body, forming a dynasty of divine kings, ruling a united state of divisions.
"The kings who crafted the Egyptian state from the competing powers of the Predynastic period succeeded in formulating a concept of rule which guaranteed an absolutely pivotal role for the monarchy. The institution of kingship was projected as the sole force which held the country together, and the dual nature of the monarchy was expressed in the king's regalia, in his titulary, and in royal rituals and festivals. This concept -the harmony of opposites, a totality embracing paired contrasts- chimes so effectively with the Egyptian world-view that the institution of kingship acquired what has been called 'transcendental significance' (Frankfort, 1948)."
Wilkinson, 2001, p.185.
The Predynastic kings of Nekhen identified with Horus, "the distant one" (did he originate in Arabia ?), the overseer with the horizon of horizons. The kings of the first dynasties (Early Dynastic Period) consolidated this major change. It also implied the cognitive leap from mythical to pre-rational organizations, from notions to pre-concepts. Aided by writing, the cultural form developed rapidly and exteriorized its "canon". This Old Kingdom canon would dominate Egyptian thought until the end. Qua contents, this multi-layered texture returned to common Predynastic themes and another, new layer, was put on the mythical foundation.
The great Moon goddess of prehistory
In the Neolithic & Predynastic mind, at work in the mythical mode of cognition, natural cycles like the Lunar, were very entrenched. Its phases represented the divine feminine as the truly enduring part of nature outside man, and psychomorph projections on the Lunar stations were common. Cycles related to birth, growth, death & rebirth (healing), as well as plants, domestic animals and hunting were associated with this great goddess of the sacred. In Ancient Egypt, we see her appear ca. 4000 BCE.
Her important and enduring role of the sacred feminine is confirmed by the frequent representations of female figures in late Naqada II iconography. The complex, composite nature of some of the Predynastic female deities (like Hathor, both Cow- and Sky-goddess) is a manifestation of the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic great goddess, who combined many of the functions later assigned to other deities. The crucial role of the sacred feminine persisted though, but when history dawned, the great goddess had lost her dominant position. She did not disappear. This is demonstrated by the prominent role played by goddesses in the later pantheon, by the equal status women enjoyed in Early Dynastic society and by the link between women and the sacred domains of existence (birth, fertility, creation, death, healing, rebirth).
Indeed, in the Old Kingdom, the mother of the royal heir was his official consort and on the Palermo Stone, the name of the divine king was directly followed by that of his mother. Women played a crucial role in dynastic changes, and man had his "heart" from his mother. Neither were the tombs of some of the early queens essentially different from those of the king. During his life, the latter was permanently protected by the "Two Ladies", the goddess Nekhbet -a vulture- and Wadjet -a cobra-, representing Upper and Lower Egypt respectively. In the tomb of Pepi I (ca. 2316 - 2284 BCE), we read :
So in Egypt, the unorganized, Lunar religious culture of the Neolithic hunters (5th millenium and earlier), Predynastic semi-nomads and settlers (4th millenium) had remained dominant until the end of prehistory (ca. 3000 BCE). During the Late and Terminal Predynastic Period, i.e. between ca. 3600 and 3000 BCE, the archetypal representation of male power and kingship steadily became more important and heralded the emergence of history.