The culture of Egypt

The culture of Predynastic Egypt shows us the transition from the use of stone implements to that of copper and the gradual development of the latter. Throughout Badarian and Amratian times the making of flint implements reached a stage of marvelous precision and skill, while copper, although known, appears only in small quantities which the craftsman was learning to utilize for practicable weapons and tools. With the Gerzean Period we begin to find the practical use of metal with all the possibilities of development in every craft which it implies, as well as the consequent decline of the flint industry. The in- fluence of invention can be clearly seen in the rise and decline of other crafts. Thus the development of handmade pottery continues side by side with a some- what limited working of stone vessels until toward the end of the Predynastic Period when the invention of the stone borer made the manufacture of splendid stone vessels much more rapid and cheap. There is then a gradual deterioration in the forms and decoration of pottery until the invention of the potter’s wheel toward the end of Dynasty II caused the potter’s craft to regain its ascendancy. The first villages seem to have been formed mainly of reed shelters with an oval-shaped ground plan. These were open at one end and must have resembled the light constructions set up in the fields at the present day to protect the peasant from the hot noon sun and from the wind at night when he is camping out away from his village at harvesting time. In addition to these, the villager at Merimde sought additional protection for his sleeping place by hollowing out oval holes in the ground and banking them up with a rim of clods of patted mud. A pot sunk in the floor drained off any rain water that seeped in, while a hippo- potamus bone served as a step down into the depression. Some kind of a matting roof must have covered this and in one case there was a cross pole to help sup- port the layers of matting. Although the earliest huts of reed and wattle had a round or oval shape, by the Gerzean Period the ground plan became rectangular. In the settlement at Maadi small huts were built with a sheltering wall which projected out in front of the entrance to serve as a windbreak. Although very little is left of these early buildings they give us a hint of what lay behind the quite elaborate system of architecture in mud brick and light ma- terials which appears in Dynasty I. Of this little has survived except for the enormous brick tombs with their panelled outer walls which awaken our respect for the large scale of the work which the architect was prepared to undertake. Pictures of some of these early buildings appear in contemporary carvings, while the Dynasty III temples at the Saqqarah Step Pyramid show us this light con- struction quite literally translated into stone. The stone mason has imitated col- umns formed of mud-plastered bundles of reeds, palm-log ceilings, and mud- brick walls. Picket fences and projecting wooden elements were carved in relief in the small stone masonry. Even the wooden doors are shown, as though thrown back against the wall. Naive as is this adaptation into stone, the result is beauti- fully proportioned, light, and very pleasing. It represents a sophisticated archi- tectural development in the handling of brick, wood, and light materials. The proficiency of the stonecutter which enabled Zoser’s architect to execute this daring conception entirely in stone was apparently a Memphite development. Even as early as Dynasty I the workmen had learned how to cut chambers in the rock for the large tombs at Saqqarah, while across the river at Helwan large slabs of masonry were used to line the burial chambers. Perhaps more remark- able is the flooring of granite blocks in the central chamber of the tomb of Wedy- mu at Abydos. The Palermo Stone records a temple built of stone by King Kha- sekhemuwy at the end of Dynasty 11, while that king’s tomb has the burial cham- ber built of small limestone blocks, although the rest of the construction is of brick. A large door-jamb of granite executed for this king at Hierakonpolis is even decorated with reliefs. Such work in hard stone is an achievement more to be expected in Dynasty IV or V than in the archaic period. It makes one realize how much we have still to learn about the architecture of Dynasties I and 11.