There can be no question as to the truthfulness of the saying "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." This very same scenario of early man being forced to live together in River Valleys, because of harsh conditions in the surrounding areas, is played out again and again, for each of the other founding civilizations. The Tigress and Euphrates River Valleys in Sumer. The Indus River Valley in India. The Yellow River Valley in China.
The beginnings of civilization:
In Egypt, sometime around 40,000 to 15,000 years ago, the rains started to diminish, and the Sahara, which had been a fertile land, started to dry up, and was becoming a desert. Fleeing the advancing desert, many of the people that were living in the area started to migrate closer to the only dependable source of fresh water - the Nile River. Over the following thousands of years, the Sahara became a total desert, completely incapable of supporting human life except for the Oasis'. By then, the people of the area had already moved to the Nile River Valley. And it is here in the Nile Valley, where as these early human groups are forced to live closer and ever closer to each other, they start to cooperate with each other, and to learn from each other.
Over time, they begin to form the first pools of collective knowledge, (as an example of collective knowledge: no one person knows how to build a car by himself - it takes thousands of people, each pooling their individual knowledge and skills to build a car). With this collective knowledge, early man first learns how to make better tools for fishing, hunting and butchering his kill, (in time, this knowledge would grow to the point where they can build the Pyramids). Then the early forms of farming begin to appear. At a few sites, there is evidence that fishing was abandoned by some people, possibly because farmed grains (barley, most likely), together with the large herd animals that they still hunted, created a diet that was more than adequate for their needs.
The Qadan culture
Soon we begin to see the first signs of "true" culture emerging, such as the Qadan culture (13,000 - 9,000 B.C.). These Qadan sites, which stretch from the Second Cataract of the Nile to Tushka (just above Aswan), actually have cemeteries and evidence of ritual burial. It is also during this time, that true agriculture begins, grinding stones and reaping blades have been found in great numbers there. It is also about this time that they learn to domesticate animals. But as is always the case with man, there is always conflict and war.
A statistical analysis of the main cemetery at Jebel Sahaba, gives a figure of 40 percent of the people buried there, died from wounds due to thrown projectiles; spears, darts, and arrows. Now lets look at these ancient people in terms of their cultural phases: that is to say, how man was thinking, living and working at a given time in a given place. (as always, these cultural phase names are taken from the place where the evidence and artifacts were found, we never know what they called these places or themselves).
The Badari are believed to be the ancestors of the pre-dynastic Egyptians. They lived in Upper Egypt, on the eastern bank of the Nile near the village of Badari, which is south of Asiut. Here archaeologists have found both, a series of settlement sites, as well as various cemeteries.
These people lived before 4400 B.C, though they were a semi-nomadic people, they started to cultivate grain and domesticate animals. They had a series of small villages in the flat desert which borders the flood plain created by the Nile. Their burial grounds were found on the outskirts of their villages. They performed ritual sacrifice of cattle and sheep, and then gave these animals ceremonial burial.
The graves of these people were simple - the dead were laid to rest on their left side facing the west in a fetal position and wrapped in matting. They were buried with fine grave goods - such as beautiful ceramics, decorated plates, bowls and dishes. Also cosmetic utensils, which included makeup palettes, ointment spoons, decorative combs and bracelets, necklaces, copper beads and pins. They also usually had an ivory or clay female figure, (which may have been a fertility doll or idol), placed in the grave with the deceased. This all indicates a highly evolved funerary system, the dead were buried with their finest possessions for use in the next world. Unfortunately, many of these graves were robbed.
Succeeding the Badari, the Amratian/Naqada people took over. They were one of the most important prehistoric cultures in Upper Egypt, and their development can be traced to the founding of the Egyptian state. The Amratian (Naqada I), started as a parallel culture to the Badari, but eventually replaced it. These then were the people commonly thought of, as the first "true" Egyptians, about 4500-3100 B.C.
Like the Badari, they lived in villages, and cultivated the fertile Nile valley. Each village had it's own animal deity, which was identified on the clan ensign. From this came the different Egyptian Nome's (districts), with their own local totems, later these totems would become the gods of the dynastic pantheon.
As the artistic abilities of the people grew, they started making pottery decorated with animals and humans engaged in hunting or worshiping. Female idol figures continue to appear - but now in greater numbers and in a wider variety.
And now bearded male figures, also started to appear on pendants and ivory sticks, these seem to have a magical or spiritual purpose. In the Amratian graves, the deceased were buried with statuettes to keep them company in the afterlife. These were the forerunners of ushabti figures, which are found in later Egyptian tombs. Along with these figures, the dead person was buried with food, weapons, amulets, ornaments, and decorated vases and palettes.
In the middle of the fourth millennium B.C, the Gerzean/Naqada II culture superceded the Naqada I.
They had by now, mastered the art of agriculture and the use of artificial irrigation (canals and dykes).
With this and their domesticated animals, they no longer needed to hunt for their food.
The people started to live in towns, not just villages.
The Gerzean people continued to grow in the artistic area also, creating new styles of pottery and more elegant artwork.
Metalworking increased - the Gerzean people made great use of copper knives.
They also created their own cast-metal implements and weapons.
They also traded with far distant peoples and places, such as Mesopotamia and Asia, for copper, silver, lapis lazuli, lead, and cylinder seals.
Soon foreign influences brought in through their trading activities, began to show in their style of dress, ornaments and various implements.
Radical changes in the design of knives, daggers and pottery were made by the Gerzeans because of these influences, which were of course two-way.
It was also at this time, that they introduced the Sun God "Ra" (later Horus).
Whose symbol was the falcon, and the love goddess Hathor, whose symbol was the cow.
There were also significant changes in their type of burial.
Whereas before, the corpse was generally wrapped in some sort of covering, and buried in a contracted position facing the west.
Now those in Gerzean graves, showed no particular orientation at all, but the graves were now much more elaborate.
Here also is evidence of an elite social class, from the grave goods found.
These more elaborate funerals have larger rectangular graves, with walls lined with either masonry or wood.