A woman observes a decorated jar which has been painted with square shapes and scorpions

Room 64

Early Egypt

11000–2600 BC
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily 10.00–17.30 (20.30 on Fridays)

Free daily eye-opener tour

14.30 in gallery, 30–40 minute tour

Free spotlight tour

Fridays 18.30 and 19.00, 20-minute tour

Explore the beginnings of ancient Egyptian civilisation, which developed along the Nile from about 11000 BC.

The annual flooding of the Nile created fertile land ideal for growing crops. Rapid advances in technology and social organisation during the fifth millennium BC produced a material culture of increasing sophistication.

Toward the end of the Predynastic period, (about 3300 BC), regional rulers began competing for power and territory. This conflict ultimately led to the unification of Egypt under one king at about 3100 BC.

The strong central control and increase in wealth led to dramatic achievements in architecture, writing and fine goods, culminating in the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza in about 2600 BC.

Gallery facts

  • Much of early Egypt was populated by small farming communities living along the Nile Valley.
  • Powerful city states such as Hierakonpolis and Abydos in the south played a significant role in defining a distinct Predynastic culture, which laid the foundations for the later pharaonic state.
  • King Narmer was the most famous king credited with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
  • The first royal tombs were built in the Upper Egyptian desert at Abydos, 56 miles (90km) north of Luxor.
  • Funerals at this point of Egyptian history were simple and didn't involve mummification, a practice that began about 2500 BC.
  • Egyptians hieroglyphs were invented about 3200 BC, in the first place for the purpose of administration, and were in use for almost 4,000 years.

Early Egypt timeline

About 8000 BC

The Predynastic period

People living in permanent settlements along the Nile develop distinct cultures reflecting surplus and social development as a result of agricultural advancements.

About 4000 BC

The Predynastic period – the Naqada I period

Hierakonpolis in the south, the largest Predynastic settlement known, is the centre of political control and will play a significant role in the unification of Upper Egypt.

About 3200 BC

The Predynastic period – the Naqada IIIA2 period

Hieroglyphic writing emerges in Egypt. The first hieroglyphs that represent phonetic writing have been discovered at the site of Abydos in Upper Egypt.

About 3100 BC

The Predynastic period – the Naqada IIIC1 period

The separate Predynastic peoples of Upper and Lower Egypt were united under a single ruler, described later by title 'pharaoh'.

About 3050 BC

The Early Dynastic period – the 1st Dynasty

King Djer expands his royal tomb at Abydos in the south to unprecedented proportions including more than 300 subsidiary graves for male and female courtiers to accompany him into the afterlife.

About 2890 BC

The Early Dynastic period – the 2nd Dynasty

The royal necropolis is moved to Saqqara, closer to the state capital at Memphis. Many administrative reforms are carried out and the practise of human sacrifice is abandoned.

About 2750 BC

The Early Dynastic period – the 3rd Dynasty

King Djoser builds the first six-stepped pyramid of Egypt surrounded by a festival court to celebrate his jubilees. The complex is considered a milestone in building with stone.

About 2580–2560 BC

The Old Kingdom – the 4rd Dynasty

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built during this period.

Accessibility

  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language guide handset, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Step-free access.
  • View sensory map (opens in new window).

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.