Egypt Archaeology – The Old Kingdom

By | January 3, 2022

The Egypt predynastic and protodynamic

Remains of villages, necropolis and evidence of rock art attest to the presence in the Nile Valley of sedentary populations in the 5th millennium BC, and in the 4th millennium BC, and in the 4th millennium BC, and in the 4th millennium BC, the latter period which is identified as ‘predynastic’. In the 4th millennium, the Naqadian culture appears in the Upper Egypt, spreading first in the Middle Egypt and subsequently in the eastern Delta of the Nile; the main sites are Abido, Naqāda and Hieraconpolis. At the end of this culture, a protostate emerged with the capital Abydos (the first capital even after the unification), where the most ancient royal tombs, in raw bricks, consisting of rooms closed in a rampart wall, were brought to light. Of all, that of Den (fifth king of the 1st dynasty) is the most elaborate, with the floor of the burial chamber in red and black Aswan granite. In Abido we can recognize the first forms of funerary worship of the sovereign, which will give rise to the great complex of the step pyramid of Saqqara. Ceremonial slate tables, such as the Narmer Palette, which celebrates a king’s victory, show the emergence of an early form of palatine art. Possible Mesopotamian influences in the late predynastic period are evidenced by the flint knife of Jebel Arak. At the same time, the cultural complex of Possible Mesopotamian influences in the late predynastic period are evidenced by the flint knife of Jebel Arak. At the same time, the cultural complex of Possible Mesopotamian influences in the late predynastic period are evidenced by the flint knife of Jebel Arak. At the same time, the cultural complex of Maadi -Buto, characterized by an urban type of society (Maadi, near Cairo, and Tell el-Farain).

The Old Kingdom

At the beginning of the Memphite dynasties, with Djoser (III dynasty) there was a real revolution in architecture. The wooden buildings, known for some hieroglyphic pictographic signs, are replaced, in the tomb that the king has built in Saqqara, by a stone architecture destined to challenge eternity. The king’s architect, Imhotep, conceived for his sovereign a monument made up of several superimposed pyramid trunks, placed on a complex of underground chambers that constitute the tomb of the royal family, surrounded by various buildings for funeral worship. Very high columns, curved roofs, caryatids, open-air stairways: a sumptuous and complex fantasy which, even if carried out through evident successive tests, has its own unmistakable physiognomy and which in this form will not be followed in Egypt. A mighty statue of the king, found in this complex, it testifies how even the sculpture of the time was part of this climate. Also in Saqqara the tombs of the officials of the 1st dynasty had already been erected, with their monumentality close to that of kings, testifying to the great importance that this caste held within a highly centralized state. For Egypt 2016, please check

With the IV dynasty architecture has its most impressive monuments in the perfect pyramids (typology in use up to the XII dynasty): colossal works of ideal formal purity, designed according to three modules, which contrast with the spontaneity of Imhotep’s work, born from experience on the construction site, the abstractness of their immutable proportions, translation into visible forms of the ideology of the sovereignty of divine right. Next to the pyramid, the funerary architecture also adopts the typology of the maṣṭaba: a low parallelepiped of masonry tapering upwards, with a small chapel on the eastern side in the older examples, with numerous rooms with decorated walls in the later examples. At Giza, S of the Sphinx, Egyptian archaeologists have explored some mastabas dating back to the reign of Cheops; among these, some are divided into two levels and are reserved for the pyramid craftsmen and above all for the ‘supervisor of the construction of the pyramids’, a title present in the inscriptions. In the vicinity of Giza the tomb of a carpenter was found (designated on the inscriptions with the name Jntdy-sdw), datable to the end of the 4th dynasty: inside four statues representing the same person in different ages have been found. The sensitivity for geometric shapes is the most vivid characteristic of the architecture of the period; also in sculpture the figure is felt as a unity that is molded in space by large and undifferentiated elements. Some works that illustrate this taste are the group with Prince Rahotpe and his consort Nofret of Cairo, the two statues of Raneferef, the diorite statue of Chefren. Numerous statues and groups from the period of Micerino show, in comparison with the austere inspiration of the works mentioned up to now, a certain manner and a pleased to settle on schemes of wise elegance. However, in this same environment, works of the highest order are still born, like the scribe of the Louvre and the Sheik el-balad. Another very important series of monuments of the time is constituted by the decorative reliefs of the funerary structures that represent the life that the deceased led, his campaigns and his possessions. The subjects soon became canonical – hunting, fishing, cattle breeding, agricultural work, etc. -, but the imagination finds outlet in full-fledged descriptions, with anecdotal details and characteristic features. Even in this case, however, the freedom of expression is wisely recomposed in a formal scheme of extreme rigidity. The characters – placed on a single plane, with frontal torso, head and legs in profile – differ from each other for the lively polychrome contrasts that create clear lines of demarcation between one and the other, made more marked by a line of embossed outline.

The excavations of the end of the 20th century. have unearthed an Old Kingdom necropolis in Monshaet Ezzat, near Tell el-Rabī‛a (ancient Mendes), which among other finds has returned some exquisitely crafted tablets depicting symbolic animals. In the Western Desert, in the Oasis of Dakhla, in Balat, the tomb of Khentika, governor of the oasis under the reign of Pepi II, was found by French researchers.

With the fall of the Memphite kingdom, the center of artistic production, which was essentially of the court and was located around the capital, moves to the provincial schools that express a freer figurative style and new iconographic themes. Of the provincial architecture of the first intermediate period, some necropolises remain in which local princes and state officials are buried, such as, for example, in Assiut, in Gebelein, in Benī Ḥasan, where the tombs are carved into the rock. Here, alongside traditional themes linked to funeral offerings, new motifs appear such as fights or sports wrestling scenes, expressed in a language freer from the traditional ‘courtly’ schemes.

Egypt Archaeology - The Old Kingdom