ORAU > Research > Formation of the Egyptian State

A New Chronology for the Formation of the Egyptian State

C ware D ware
Predynastic “C-ware” (Pitt Rivers 1901.29.94) Predynastic “D-ware” (Pitt Rivers 1901.29.70)

What is Radiocarbon Dating?

Radiocarbon dating is the technique used to determine the age of an object by measuring its radioactive carbon concentration. It is the most widely used scientific method for dating archaeological artefacts and contexts.

The Formation of Ancient Egypt

Egypt was unique in the ancient world because it was defined by its territorial boundaries and not just by cultural or economic relationships. Hence it can be regarded as the prototype for modern nations. The origins of Egypt can be traced well back into the Neolithic period in northeast Africa, and the process of integration continued beyond the political unification of the state around 3000 BC.

Project Objective

Despite more than a century of excavation and scholarship the formative period in Egypt remains poorly understood. The central obstacle to any coherent model of state formation is the lack of a reliable chronology. The goal of this project is to use both new and existing radiocarbon dates in combination with Bayesian modelling to resolve the impasse.

Wider Implications

Predynastic Egypt Google
Some key sites of the Formative Period

Improving the chronological framework within which the Egyptian state emerged will help archaeologists arrange a considerable amount of cultural information. Moreover, as Egypt can be regarded as the first nation-state, a clearer picture of the social, cultural and political changes that led to its formation will allow a deeper understanding to be gained of the origins of nationhood.

Sampling & Analysis

We are procuring samples from major international collections which relate to specific cultural phases at individual locations, as identified by museum curators, site directors and similar experts. These samples will be subjected to high-performance Accelerator Mass Spectrometry radiocarbon dating at Oxford. The cultural and radiocarbon information will be combined using Bayesian statistical modelling. Published dates from other high-quality radiocarbon studies will also be employed in the analysis enabling a precise chronology to be obtained.

Project Team

Academic Staff:

Collaborating Academic Staff and Students:

Research Technicians: