By SARAH GRIFFITHS
PUBLISHED: 23:17 GMT, 3 September 2013 | UPDATED: 23:24 GMT, 3 September 2013
British archaeologists found the first ruler, King Aha acceded to the throne between 3111 BC and 3045 BC - 500 years later than previous estimates
A new timeline shows the original territorial state developed from primitive beginnings in as little as six hundred years
The University of Oxford research also shed new light on the origins of Egypt began a millennium before the pyramids were built
British archaeologists have pinpointed when the original 'pharaohs' ruled Ancient Egypt for the first time.
Using mathematical models, radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence, researchers found the first ruler, King Aha acceded to the throne between 3111 BC and 3045 BC - up to five hundred years later than some previous estimates.
A new timeline shows the original territorial state developed from primitive beginnings in as little as six hundred years.
The pharaohs, who are understood to have started with King Aha, ruled Ancient Egypt for more than three thousand years and the story of the very last pharaoh, Cleopatra, is famous to this day.
But it will be another thousand years before we are as far removed from her as she was from her earliest predecessors who remain shrouded in legends and conjecture, known only from a handful of frustratingly incomplete sources.
Archaeologist Dr Michael Dee, of the University of Oxford, 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 study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, also found the Predynastic period when inhabitants along the River Nile started to form permanent settlements was probably closer to 3700 BC than 4000 BC, with the stone age Neolithic era preceding it lasting longer and finishing later.
Dr Dee said: '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.
'This new study provides new radiocarbon dating evidence that resets the chronology of the first dynastic rulers of Ancient Egypt and suggests Egypt formed far more rapidly than was previously thought.'
Aha is believed to have become pharaoh at the age of 30 and ruled until he was about 62. Legend has it that he was killed by a hippopotamus while hunting.
His 'chief wife' was Benerib, whose name was written on his tomb at Abydos, but he also had another wife, Khenthap, with whom he became father of Djer, Egypt's second king.
Then came King Djet, Queen Merneith, King Den, King Anedjib, King Semerkhet and King Qa'a whose reign began between 2906 BC and 2886 BC.
Dr Dee said they would have ruled over a territory spanning a similar area to Egypt today 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.
This is the first robust timeline for the first eight dynastic rulers of Egypt because until now there have been no verifiable records for this period or the process leading up to the formation of the state.
The chronology of early Egypt between 4500 and 2800 BC has been reset thanks to more than 100 fresh radiocarbon dates obtained from hair, bone and plant samples excavated at several key sites including the tombs of the kings and surrounding burials.
Egypt was the first territorial state to be brought under one political ruler and the new dating evidence suggests this period of unification happened much faster than previously known.
Until now scholars had relied on archaeological evidence alone, using 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.
For example, among the most significant pieces of evidence surviving today are two mud seals excavated at the royal tombs at Abydos, containing lists in successive order of the First Dynasty kings.
Using the fresh radiocarbon dates combined with existing archaeological evidence, the researchers' mathematical model pinpointed the likeliest date for each king's accession. The date for each king is thought to be accurate to within 32 years.
The data supports a shortening of the Egyptian Predynastic; the period over which state formation occurred, to between 600 and 700 years.
'This finding accentuates a contrast with neighbouring southwest Asia, where the transition from cereal production to state formation took somewhere between four to five millennia,' the researchers said.
'It reinforces the suggestion that, despite their geographical proximity, prehistoric societies in Africa and Asia followed very different trajectories to political centralisation,' they added.
Dr Linus Girdland Flink, co-author and postdoctoral research assistant at the Natural History Museum, London said the museum houses human remains from the First Dynasty royal tombs of Abydos, Egypt, many of which were excavated in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
'We were surprised to see how well preserved the specimens are. Preservation of organic materials from hot desert climates is usually poor but we were able carryout radiocarbon dating using organic residue from most of the specimens.'
He said Abydos is a key archaeological site for understanding the prehistory of Egypt as most of the early rulers are buried there.
'The remains housed at the Museum come from the burials of courtiers who were likely sacrificed to accompany their king into the afterlife. Importantly, this practice was unique to the First Dynasty and these remains provide a unique opportunity to gain broad understanding of life during that time.'
Source: Daily Mail
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