Ancient Egypt may have risen from a small band of farmers into a powerful nation several hundred years faster than previously thought, new carbon dating evidence suggests.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, suggests that Egypt developed from a group of loosely connected farmers into a fully-functioning state within as little as 600 years, much earlier than previously believed. Until now, historians believed that Egypt evolved into a monarchy much more gradually.
"The formation of Egypt was unique in the ancient world. It was a territorial state; a state from which the moment it formed had established borders over a territory in much the same way we think of nations today,” lead researcher Dr. Michael Dee, University of Oxford, told the BBC.
"Trying to understand what happened in human history to lead people to establish this sort of polity we felt was a gap in understanding that needed to be filled."
Because there are no definitive historical records from this era, historians based their picture of ancient Egypt on the changing forms of pottery and ceramics found in burial sites. These estimates led historians to believe that settlers first began farming the area around the Nile sometime shortly before 4000 B.C. and that the society slowly evolved into a defined state over a thousand years.
However, after carbon dating human hair and bones as well as plants found in ancient burial sites, Dee and his team of researchers have determined that agriculture appeared in the area much later, between 3700 and 3600 B.C. Only a short time later, Egypt’s first king, Aha, emerged sometime between the years 3111 and 3045 B.C. The team also discovered dates for Egypt’s next seven monarchs: Djer, Djet, Queen Merneith, Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet and Qa'a.
"The time period is shorter than was previously thought -- about 300 or 400 years shorter. Egypt was a state that emerged quickly -- over that time one has immense social change,” Dee explained. "This is interesting when one compares it with other places. In Mesopotamia, for example, you have agriculture for several thousand years before you have anything like a state.”