Egyptian early-era
Egyptian middle-era
Egyptian high-era
Egyptian final-era



Ancient Egyptian Artifacts
Early Dynastic

3050BC to about 2686BC




The Early Dynastic Period covers the three and a half centuries represented by the first two dynasties.


Early Dynastic Period


The Unification of Egypt


The Early-Dynastic period lasted from 3050, the start of the first dynasty, to 2649 the end of the second dynasty, a period of about 250 years with about 15 kings.

The map to the left represents a plausible sequence for the early history of Egypt. No one really knows the details of this sequence. Abydos, marked by a square with a red center, is the major royal burial for the early dynastic period. Much of our knowledge of this period comes from exploring tombs at these sites.

In the first dynasty a new capital city, Memphis, was created at the apex of the Delta. But the ruling family came from the South and some scholars believe they returned there to be buried at Abydos. Others believe that only a cenotaph was created at Abydos and they were really buried at Saqqara.

In this period the basis for much of what was to become Egypt was developed. For example the country was divided into districts called Nomes and a bureaucracy was developed to administer them. While the Pharaoh was the single king of all Egypt, his identity as a separate king of Upper and Lower Egypt was developed. He wore two different crowns, and ceremonies were repeated for each of the two 'countries'.



Little is known of the early dynasties. However, Narmer, a king in the pre-dynastic period, seems to be the first to have united Egypt into one rule. There is evidence of him being a real person, not a later myth. Hor-Aha, his successor was probably his son. He took the name Men as his royal name; this may have been the basis of the name Menes used in Greek histories of early Egypt. Hor-Aha is considered the first king of the first dynasty.

Hor-Aha founded Memphis as the capital city, just above the apex of the Nile delta. This city lasted down to Roman times and was one of the great cities of antiquity.

There seems to have been some religious controversy in the 2nd Dynasty involving Seth and/or Horus as the divine patron of the Pharaoh. Horus seems to have won out or at least co-opted the function of Seth. In the future of Egypt Horus is commonly represented as the protector of the Pharaoh and the imagery of Horus omnipresent.



Seth in Animal Form



Horus as a God


Horus as a Pharaoh wearing the combined crown of Upper and Lower Egypt

 Egypt New Kingdom: [sculpture] Horus as a Hawk

Horus represented in animal form.
Sculpture from 19th Dynasty


Burial Practices

In early periods people were just buried in the sand of the desert. But as kings grew in power and control burial practices also changed. In the early dynastic period mastabas, places of the dead, were a common construction as a tomb. Within the solid building were open chambers which contained supplies and equipment for the dead.



Egypt Early Dynastic: [diagram] Scheme of a Mastaba

Scheme of a Mastaba

The mastaba is solid with a facade that looks like a royal palace. Most mastabas are made of either solid mud, or some composite material covered by a mud layer. In the center of the mastaba is a pit providing space for the king's mummy to reside. The ka of a king is something like his ghost or spirit. It seeks nourishment and spiritual sustenance from prayers. So, in the side of the mastaba are cut spaces where the ka of the king can be contacted and prayers said and offerings made. On the North side of a mastaba tomb in Abydos ascribed to Hor-Aha was a pit which once held a wooden solar boat for the use of the pharaoh. Later in the burials in the Old Kingdom we will see another example of a solar boat discovered in the 1950s.

Early mastaba were not decorated as were later tombs so the only artifacts found excavating them were clay seals, pot shards and other such things. However by the Second Dynasty some tomb decoration began to appear. The fine furnishing and other valuable objects buried with the dead in these early tombs have long since been taken by grave robbers.


Egypt Early Dynastic: Plan of Abydos Tombs

Plan of Abydos Tombs/Memorial Sites

It is believed by some scholars that human sacrifice was practiced by the Egyptians in the pre- and early dynastic periods as a part of the funeral ceremony. This was abandoned and much later mummy-like objects called ushabi were buried with the person to perform services for the dead in the afterlife.



Art of the Early-Dynastic Period:

Egypt Early Dynastic: Stella with name of King Djet d1

Stella with name of King Djet
1st Dynasty
Louvre, Paris

Egypt Early Dynastic: King offering to the Gods 2d

Tomb Relief
2nd Dynasty


Tomb painting exhibits an idea that characterizes all image making from cave painting to modern pornography: that visual images are magic and they cause emotional responses in the viewer. In Egyptian belief powerful art is potent and repeats itself forever. The art physically represents belief. In this picture the pharaoh makes an offering to a god. The offering is arrayed before him. The culture believed that offerings made through a image were effective as long as the image existed. The painting was magic, it represented the real feeling of the person that he was willing to offer many goods to the gods. As long as people believed in the magic, they felt satisfied looking at the picture because it expressed the pharaoh's continuing commitment to praise the god for himself and for the people; he was a good person.

In cave drawings animals were captured. Over and over are the scenes of the successful hunt. The magic of art is to give easily that which may be hard to win in reality. One could get the successful feel of the hunt from the drawings.

In modern pornography the poses and structure of the picture are just as stylized as the offering picture above. The effects are similar, one, in fantasy, can capture the quarry, just as the cave man captured his bear. This principal of the transference of emotional response is the fundamental magic of image making.


Egypt Early Dynastic: [statue] King Khasekhem in a Sed Robe d2

King Khasekhem
in a Sed Robe
2nd Dynasty
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK

Egypt Early Dynastic: [Ivory carving] King in a Sed Robe

King carved from Ivory
in a Sed Robe
1st Dynasty
British Museum
London, England


The Sed festival was a festival of renewal for the current king. Much like an English monarch's Jubilee Year festivities. An Egyptian king's first Sed festival was usually five years after his ascension of the throne, then every ten years, until he was older. As an old man the celebration happened every two or three years. The Sed festival was to renew the energy of the gods in the king. The king was a living god and the administration and defense of the country required much human energy. This energy was renewed in the pharaoh by the gods at the Sed festival. During the festival, the king wore a special costume, the Sed robe. The kings in the two statues are wearing the Sed robe. This festival started in earliest dynastic times and continued through to the Ptolomeys.

Egypt Early Dynastic: Comb

1st Dynasty - King Djet

Egypt Early Dynastic: Jewelry

1st Dynasty - King Aha

Egypt Early Dynastic: Ritual Dish in the form of an Ankh

Ritual Dish
in the form of an Ankh
1st Dynasty

Egypt Early Dynastic: Executive Toy?

Executive Toy(?)
1st Dynasty - King Den


Art of the Old Kingdom


Egyptian early-era
Egyptian middle-era
Egyptian high-era
Egyptian final-era