Archaeology

The following notes follow on from the section on Anthropology, which dealt with the biological evolution of human beings, and their spread and settlement, to the formation of the first civilisations. We now come to a period of further population growth, conflict between different regions, development of more hierarchical political organisations, covering larger areas, forming nations and empires. We also consider the broad outlooks on life that have been adopted, as shown in cultures, religions, worldviews and customs. Prehistory can only study humans en masse. History begins to study individuals, although at the earliest times these tend to be those who became prominent as rulers, war leaders, law-givers or those who promoted ethical and religious worldviews, i.e. philosophers and prophets.

Almost all of the evidence for this early history comes from the methods of Archaeology: the study of physical remains of human activities, such as buildings, pottery, and waste and from the study of human remains such as burials and bones. This is a matter of piecing together, often literally, very small traces by careful detective work. Methods of doing this forensic work have greatly advanced in recent years thanks in part to improved knowledge in chemistry, physics and biology, leading for example to accurate methods of chemical analysis, methods of radioactive dating, and detailed information extracted from samples of DNA.

Regrettably there seems to be no fully agreed chronology of ancient Egypt. The dynasty numbers don't help much since at times they seem to have ruled in parallel. For dates in the Egyptian chronologies I have relied on this listing from University College London. It is admitted that: "Dates are only certain after 664 BC. The earliest dates are often very unsecure."


Colour coding: China India Egypt and Africa Persia, Mesopotamia and Near East Greece and Europe America, Australia and Pacific


Methods of Archaeology

"For most of the human past, archaeology is the only source of information, as written records are a comparatively recent innovation." [TAA] "Our knowledge of the vast period stretching back from the present day to the emergence of the first tool-making hominids some 2.5 million years ago is based predominantly on the remains of settlements, burials and artefacts. It is the study of these traces that is the domain of archaeology." [TAA] "Archaeology's unique perspective ensures its importance in the study of events even of recent periods, alongside history, covering major aspects of life on which historical records may be silent." [TAA]

Dating

"It is only within the last fifty years that scientific methods have become available which allow the true antiquity of prehistoric sites and artefacts to be determined with confidence." [TAA]

Materials. "In about 100BC the Chinese scholar Yuan Kang wrote of successive ages of stone, jade, bronze and iron and in the century that followed the Roman writer Lucretius described the use first of stone then of bronze and finally of iron for weapons. With modifications - notably the subdivision of the Stone Age into the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods - this sequence has remained an important featuure of archaeological chronology over the centuries." [TAA]

Stylistic analysis. Where sufficient examples of artefacts, such as hand axes and pottery, have been produced over a long time period, classification according to their style of manufacture can provide clues to the time they were made.

Stratigraphy. "The use of stratigraphy (a chronological sequence formed by accumulated deposits) was also important from the 19th century on." [TAA]

Dendrochronology. Study of the variations in the relative thickness of the rings of annual growth in trees, begun in 1901, has made it possible to develop a chronology of tree-ring changes, known as dendrochronology, stretching back over 7000 years.

Thermoluminescence.

Radiocarbon.

Inscriptions and Written records.

Preservation


Early History: Dynasties and Empires

−3000

King Narmer, unified Upper (south) with Lower (north) Egypt, and founded capital at Memphis. Some identify him with the legendary King Menes, recorded in Greek sources as the first King of Egypt, others identify him with King Aha. First dynasty (−3,000 to −2,750) Kings: Aha, Djer, Djet, Queen Merytneit, Kings: Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet, Qaa. The earliest surviving religious scriptures, the Pyramid Texts, produced by the Egyptians. Egyptian "Old Kingdom" period (−2,780 to −2,181). Africa: Lake Chad begins to dry up. Sahara becomes a desert.

Building of Stonehenge, England, begins.

Middle East: Cuneiform script alphabet of some 600 signs developed from earlier pictograph system, Sumeria. Complex diet of meat cooked with herbs, cultivation of figs, grapes, honey, cucumbers. Copper smelting and potter's wheel introduced to China from Middle East.

India: Cotton weaving developed in the Indus valley.

South America: Potatoes grown, alpacas and llamas domesticated in Andes. Agriculture develops in Mexico. Towns built on the coast of Peru.

Copper mines in Sinai (−2,920;). Sumer: Cuneiform script formalised in its final form (−2,900;). Sumeria: Rich burials with human sacrifice in the 'Royal Cemetary' at Ur. (−2,600;)

Egypt: Second dynasty (−2,750 to −2,686) Kings: Hotepsekhemwy, Raneb, Ninetjer, Sekhemib (= Peribsen?), Sened, Weneg, Khasekham (= Khasekhemwy?), also possibly Sneferka and Ba.

China: −2700 shell, bone, bronze, wood, silk, bamboo used for art. Chinese yang and yin theory applied to acupuncture and herbal medicine.

−2,700; Olive trees grown in Crete, exports olive oil.

Egypt: Third Dynasty (−2,686 to −2,600) Kings: Netjerkhet (= Djoser), Sekhemkhet, Khaba, Sanakht, Huni. Djoser was the builder of the step pyramid at Saqqara, whose architect, physician and advisor was Imhotep & (−2,630). Preservation of fish and poultry by sun-drying (−2,600;).

−2,600; India: Urban civilisation develops in Indus valley, with pictographic writing.

S. America: Pacific coast, monumental ceremonial centres of Aspero tradition.

−2,600 to −2,450; Egypt conquers Nubia and Lybia. Fourth Dynasty: Snefru, Khufu, Djedefre, Khafre, Nebka (= Bikheris), Menkawre, Shepseskaf, Thampthis. Pyramids were built by pharaohs for 1000 years, over 100 are known. The founder of the 4th dynasty Snefru & built at least four. The three great pyramids at Giza were built for other rulers of the 4th dynasty.

−2,580; Khufu &, aka Cheops, becomes ruler of Egypt, builder of the Great pyramid.

−2,560; Djedefre built a pyramid but on a different site, now poorly preserved.

−2,540; Khafre, aka Chephren (fl.c.−2525), builder of the second of the Great Pyramids of Giza, and possibly of the Great Sphinx &, although this may still be uncertain.

−2,510; Menkaure becomes ruler of Egypt, builder of the third and smallest of the Great Pyramids at Giza. Papyrus first used c.−2500, continued to +900.

−2450 to −2300; Egypt: Fifth Dynasty. Userkaf, Sahure, Neferirkare, Shepseskare, Neferefre, Niuserre, Menkawhor, Djedkare, Unas.

−2400; Four-wheeled wagons are used for warfare in Mesopotamia.

"In Lothal (c. −2400), the ancient port city of the Harappan civilization, shell objects served as compasses to measure the angles of the 8-12 fold divisions of the horizon and sky in multiples of 40-360 degrees, and the positions of stars." [source?]

−2350; Ptahhotep & & &, according to the first two sites linked to here, was an advisor at the court of Isesi (or Izezi) of Egypt, the 8th king of the 5th Dynasty (ruled −2388 - −2356), though dates given vary considerably. The Prisse papyrus, now in the Louvre Paris, contains the Maxims of Ptah Hotep (also termed the 'Precepts' or 'Instruction') which is a short manual of moral counsels, written in his old age to advise his son and successor on principles of good, and politic, conduct, and based on traditional sayings.

−2350; Earliest known code of laws by King Urukagina of Lagash, Sumer.

−2300 to −2181; Egypt: Sixth Dynasty. Teti, Pepy I, Merenre, Pepy II.

−2334; Sargon I of Akkad, conquers Mesopotamia, Akkadian empire dominates for 150 years. Sargon of Akkad Legend & c.−2,300 (similar to Moses basket story).

−2300; China: Rice introduced to N. China from the Indus valley.

Mesoamerica: Permanent farming villages and pottery appearing.

India: Indus valley civilisation flourishes until −1,750).

−2250; Babylonian Laws and Contracts & (c.−2250 - −450). Akkadian Precepts & c.−2,200 (similar to Ptahhotep).

−2200; China: Domestication of dogs, goats, pigs, oxen and sheep; milling of grain. Start of Xia (Hsia) dynasty (−2205) ruling most of Chinese territory.

−2193; Collapse of Akkadian empire, due to invasion of Gutian tribes from Zagros Mts.

−2181 to −2,025; Egypt: First Intermediate Period. Dynasties 7 to 11. Many minor Kings. Egypt suffers famine and unrest as Nile flood fails for several years in succession. −2150; (?biblical?)

−2136; Chinese astronomers, record a solar eclipse.

−2134; Egypt: Collapse of power ends the Old Kingdom period. First Intermediate Period of local struggles.

−2125; King Utukhegal of Erech (Uruk), Sumerian King List. Sumer: −2100; Ur-Nammu founds 3rd dynasty of Ur (−2112). First ziggurats built at Ur, Eridu, Uruk, Nippur. Sumerian renaissance.
Legend: dates ranging from −2100 to −1700 are suggested for when Abraham, first Hebrew patriarch, left Ur to found new nation in Canaan (between Syria and Egypt); monotheism; son Isaac, grandson Jacob.

−2,040: to −1,786 (or −2025 to −1,700) Egypt: Middle Kingdom. Dynasties 11 and 12. Mentuhotep II (11th dynasty) reestablished unity of Egypt.
Literary composition: The Prophecy of Nerferty set in the reign of Shefru. Egyptian heiroglyphs and demotic script develop −2000. Abortive attempts to domesticate the gazelle, antelope and oryx. Arabia: Figs. Africa: Watermelons. Migration of Bantu south from Central Africa. First settlers reach New Guinea.

−2004 to −1,950: Empire of Ur goes into decline after attack by the Elamites.

−2000

Sumer: −2000: The Epic of Gilgamesh & & & & & & the first written myth, survives in fragmentary form on Sumerian tablets c.−2000, but in its most complete form on Assyrian tablets c.−650. Proverbs, Hymns and Poems, & & & & & & c.−2000 and earlier.

India: Tea, Bananas, Apples, cultivated.

Crete: −2000: Emergence of the Minoan palace civilisation; ships with single square sails. Greece: Merchants from Phylakopi on the island of Milos trade in the local volcanic glass obsidian. Britain: Stonehenge megalithic circle completed.

China: States appeared in the late −3 and early −2 millennia. Urban societies may have developed from −2500, but the first dynasty to be identified by archaeology is the Shang Dynasty.

−1982; Egypt: Death of King Amenemhet (Ammenemes) II, succeeded by his son Senusret I.

−1900

−1900; Babylon: Plimpton 322 & clay tablet of Old Babylonian period −1900/−1600 showing figures relating to the right triangle rule (now known as 'Pythagorean triples').

−1872 to −1,853; Egypt: Reign of King Senusret III (Sesostris). Digs canal through the first cataract of the Nile. Egyptian forces invade Palestine and Syria to protect trade.

−1842; Egypt: King Amenemhet III, reigns 45 years (to −1,797;). Develops mines in Sinai, and irrigation systems.

−1813; Assyria: Emerges as major power under King Shamshi-Adad I (to −1,781).

−1800

−1800; India: Indus valley civilisation declines; cities of Mahenjo-daro and Harapa collapse (c.−1,750).

S. America: Pacific coast irrigation agriculture begins. U-shaped ceremonial centres built.

−1800 Middle East: Prohibitions against eating pork develop. Babylonian script developed.

−1797; Egypt: Amenemhet IV rules 10 years as last King of the 12th (Theban) dynasty.

−1792; Babylon: Hammurabi & (−1810 - −1750) (6th King of the 1st dynasty) accedes, makes Babylon capital, codifies system of law. The Code of Hammurabi & & & −1780.

−1766; China: King Tang founds the Shang dynasty (to −1,122), overthrowing Xia rule.

−1700

−1700; Crete: Knossos becomes dominant centre of Minoan &, civilisation.
Europe: Rye, grown in E. Mediterranean, becomes main bread grain for Celts, Slavs and Teutons of Northern Europe where growing season is shorter.

Middle East: Two-wheeled horse-drawn chariot invented. Babylon: The Ludlul Bel Nimeqi c.−1700 (similar to the Hebrew Book of Job).

Egypt: Moscow papyrus −1700, contains results on volume of truncated pyramid. Leavened or raised bread invented.

Egypt: −1650; Ahmes or Rhind papyrus & & & (c.−1,650) papyrus, scribed by Ahmes (aka Ahmose) and collected by Rhind, copied from an earlier work (c.−2,000?), our chief source of information on Egyptian mathematics. Edwin Smith papyrus −1650, oldest known medical document (based on earlier work c.−3,000?).

−1640; Egypt: Hyksos tribesmen from Syria and Palestine invade and conquer lower Egypt, starting Second Intermediate Period; introduce wheel and bronze.

−1626; Crete: Minoan civilisation seriously affected by eruption on Thera (Santorini).

−1600

−1600, or earlier. Emergence of Mycenaean civilisation in northern Greece, a culture of heroes and warfare.

Middle East −1600: Canaanites (modern Lebanon and Israel) invent the first alphabet; syllabic script of 28 letters.
Babylon: Babylonian Proverbs.

China −1600: There is evidence of a fully developed pictographic Chinese writing system.

Egypt −1600: Cat domesticated.

−1595; Babylon: sacked by the Hittites (Indo-Europeans from Turkey) under King Mursilis I (d.−1,590). The beginning of Hittite dominance of the Eastern Mediterranean region.

−1557; China: Shang dynasty makes Zhengzhou its capital.

−1550; Egypt: Hyksos driven out by Kamose and his brother Ahmose, aka Ahmosis I who was the last pharaoh to build a pyramid, and is first king of the 18th dynasty. Start of New Kingdom Period. (also dated −1,567 to −1,085). Literature: Book of the Dead earliest c.−1,550, describes initiation ceremonies into the mystery of the afterlife.

−1500

−1500; Egypt: Djehutymes (Thutmose or Tuthmosis) I & becomes ruler (−1,504). Extends conquests to Palestine, Syria, Upper and Lower Nubia. Development of geometry for reestablishing field boundaries after annual floods.

India: Aryan nomads from Eurasian steppes enter India.

China: Use of horse-drawn vehicles. Silk-weaving. Shang dynasty based at Anyang on the Yellow river (Huanghe); royal burials there include human sacrifice.

Central America: Stone temples built in Mexico.

−1492; Egypt: Thutmose II becomes King and reigns with his wife/half-sister Hatshepsut; successful military campaigns aganst the Syrians and Nubians. Egypt: −1479; Hatshepsut & & rules as regent for Thutmose III; builds two obelisks at Karnak and great temple near Thebes, portraying an expedition to the Land of Punt.

−1458; Egypt: Tuthmosis III & & rules. The title pharaoh meaning great house becomes established. Defeats the rebel ruler of Kadesh in Syria at the battle of Megiddo (c.−1,456). Fought 17 campaigns in Palestine and Syria, built temple at Karnak (and 'Cleopatra's needle').

−1450; Crete: Conquered by the Mycenaeans bringing Minoan period to an end. Linear B script used (Minoan/Greek).

−1440; South America: Waywaka, Peru, metalwork tools and ornaments of beaten gold.

−1425; Egypt: Amenhotep (Amenophis) II is new ruler. Campaigns in Judea and on the Euphrates.

−1400

fl.−1,400 - −1,390 Tuthmosis IV, allies Egypt with Babylon and the Mittani by marriage, campaigns in Phoenicia and Nubia.

Mesoamerica: Olmec civilisation, farming maize.

Middle East: industrial smelting of iron in Asia Minor, beginning of 'Iron Age'.

−1391 Amenhotep III, builds temple of Amun in Luxor, Egypt, development of Thebes.

Pharaoh Akhenaten & & aka Amenhotep IV, ruled −1379 - 1362 [CBD]; and his queen Nefertiti & &, built new capital at Amarna, c.−1373; and tried to institute a new religion of sun-worship; but the project was abandoned under their successors.

Asia Minor: Hittite king Suppiluliumas expands empire from Anatolia to borders of Lebanon.

−1350; China: war chariot introduced.

c.−1358 - c.−1340 [CBD] Tutankhamun & & &, 18th dynasty), tomb discovered 1922 by Carnarvon and Howard Carter.
−1323(?); The priest Ay, vizier and advisor to the Tutankhamun, marries his widow and becomes pharaoh.
−1319(?); The soldier Horemheb becomes pharaoh, by military coup, and marrying the sister of Nefertiti. Returns capital to Thebes and restores the old religion.

−1317(?); Rameses I, 1st king of 19th dynasty, Egypt.
c.−1318 - c.−1304 Seti I aka Sethos, 2nd king of 19th dynasty. Built the temple of Abydus and the hypostyle hall at Karnak, Egypt.

−1304 - 1237 [CBD] Rameses II & &, 3rd king (−1292) of 19th dynasty, King Lists & narrowly avoids defeat by Hittites under Muwatalli II at battle of Kadesh in Syria (−1285) and makes peace by marriage. The treaty of Kadesh is the world's oldest recorded peace treaty. Enhances Luxor, Karnak, Thebes, builds the rock temples at Abu Simbel. It is thought by some historians that during his reign the Israelites fled from slavery in Egypt to settle in Canaan (c.−1200), led by Moses according to "Exodus" in the Pentateuch.

−1300

−1300: First settlers reach Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

c.−1236 - c.−1223 Merneptah, Egyptian paharaoh, quells uprisings in Syria and Palestine. He is succeeded by a series of relatively insignificant pharaohs, ending the 19th dynasty. The last of these is a woman, Tausat (Tawsert).

−1200

−1200; Egypt: Sethnakhte begins 20th dynasty. Making of fine linen from stalks of flax.

−1200; Mesoamerica: Olmec ceremonial centre built at Tres Zapotes (S. Veracrux) featuring huge stone heads (excavated 1930s). Olmecs continued to −600.

−1200 Early Phoenician script developed.
Scientific ideas in medicine begin to replace magic.

−1198 - −1166 Rameses III, 2nd pharaoh of 20th dynasty, 32-year reign. Repels invasions by Lybians and 'Sea Peoples' (−1187).

−1184; Traditional date for the sack of Troy by the Mycenaean Greeks under Agamemnon.

−1125; Babylon: Nebuchadnezzar I becomes king.

−1122; China: King Wu of Zhou overthrows chinese emperor Di-xin. Zhou (Chou) dynasty founded, lasts until −256. Chinese calligraphy develops.
−1115; "In −1115, the Chinese invented the first geared mechanism, the South Pointing Chariot, which was also the first to use a differential gear." (??)

−1100

−1100 - −612: (Neo)-Assyrian empire. Tiglath-Pileser I conquers Hittites, confronts Phoenicians, conquers Bablylon −1116.

−1100 Greece: Early alphabet developed. Legend of Cadmus.
End of Minoan civilisation on Crete. Dorians invade Greece.

−1070 End of New Kingdom Period in Egypt; 21st-23rd dynasties struggle against internal disorder for 350 years (?).

−1020; Israel: Hebrew leader Saul (11th century) first king of Judea.
−1006; Saul kiled in battle with Philistines at Mt. Gilboa. David (died between −1018 and −993) king of Israel until c.−965.
−965; Solomon (c.−1015 - −977) king of Judea until −928; Queen of Sheba. Rehoboam succeeds, but Judea splits, Jeroboam king of Israel.

−1000

−1000; South and Central America: Maya settle the Yukatan peninsular; Maize introduced in the Andes. Civilizations such as the Maya, Zapotec, Moche, and Nazca emerged in Mesoamerica and Peru at the end of the −1 millennium.

Europe: Iron Age reaches Hallstatt region (Austria).

−945 Shoshenq I the first of nine pharaohs of Lybian origin [22nd dynasty −935 - −730], may be the pharaoh Shishak mentioned in the Bible; −924 invades Judea and loots Jerusalem.


For more on human history from −900 go to: History of Ideas