Gerzeh culture

The Gerzeh culture, also called Naqada II, refers to the archaeological stage at Gerzeh (also Girza or Jirzah), a prehistoric Egyptian cemetery located along the west bank of the Nile. The necropolis is named after el-Girzeh, the nearby present day town in Egypt.[1] Gerzeh is situated only several miles due east of the oasis of Faiyum.[2]

Gerzeh culture/ Naqada II
(3500—3200 BC)
Gerzeh culture/ Naqada II
Datescirca 3,500 BC — circa 3,200 BC
Major sitesal-Girza
Preceded byNaqada I (Amratian)
Followed byNaqada III

The Gerzeh culture is a material culture identified by archaeologists. It is the second of three phases of the prehistoric Nagada cultures and so is also known as Naqada II. The Gerzeh culture was preceded by the Amratian culture ("Naqada I") and followed by the Naqada III ("protodynastic" or "Semainian culture").

Historical context

Sources differ on dating, some saying use of the culture distinguishes itself from the Amratian and begins circa 3500 BC lasting through circa 3200 BC.[3] Accordingly, some authorities place the onset of the Gerzeh coincident with the Amratian or Badari cultures, i.e. c.3800 BC to 3650 BC even though some Badarian artifacts, in fact, may date earlier. Nevertheless, because the Naqada sites were first divided by the British Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in 1894, into Amratian (after the cemetery near el-Amrah) and "Gerzean" (after the cemetery near Gerzeh) sub-periods, the original convention is used in this text.

The Gerzeh culture lasted through a period of time when the desertification of the Sahara had nearly reached its state seen during the late twentieth century.

The primary distinguishing feature between the earlier Amratian and the Gerzeh is the extra decorative effort exhibited in the pottery of the period. Artwork on Gerzeh ceramics features stylised animals and environment to a greater degree than the earlier Amratian artwork. Further, images of ostriches on the pottery artwork possibly indicate an inclination these early peoples may have felt to explore the Sahara desert.

Proto-hieroglyphic symbols

Some symbols on Gerzeh pottery resemble traditional Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were contemporaneous with the proto-cuneiform script of Sumer. The figurine of a woman is a distinctive design considered characteristic of the culture.

Contacts with Western and Central Asia

Mesopotamian king on the Gebel el-Arak knife
Naqada II period Gebel el-Arak Knife ivory handle (back), in the Departement of Pre-Dynastic Egyptian antiquities, Louvre Museum.[6]
Mesopotamian king as Master of Animals on the Gebel el-Arak Knife at the top of the handle, dated circa 3300-3200 BC, Abydos, Egypt. This work of art both shows the influence of Mesopotamia on Egypt at an early date, in an example of ancient Egypt-Mesopotamia relations, and the state of Mesopotamian royal iconography during the Uruk period.[7][8]

Distinctly foreign objects and art forms entered Egypt during this period, indicating contacts with several parts of Asia. Scientifc analysis of ancient wine jars in Abydos has shown some there was some high-volume wine trade with the levant during this period.[4] Objects such as the Gebel el-Arak knife handle, which has patently Mesopotamian relief carvings on it, have been found in Egypt,[9] and the silver which appears in this period can only have been obtained from Asia Minor.[10]

Lapis lazuli trade, in the form of beads, from its only known prehistoric source Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan also reached ancient Gerzeh.[11] Other discovered grave goods are on display here.


Burial sites in Gerzeh have uncovered artifacts, such as cosmetic palettes, a bone harpoon, an ivory pot, stone vessels, and several meteoritic iron beads,[12] Technologies at Gerzeh also include fine ripple-flaked knives of exceptional workmanship. The meteoritic iron beads, discovered in two Gerzean graves by Egyptologist Wainwright in 1911,[13] are the earliest artifacts of iron known,[14] dating to around 3200 BC[15] (see also Iron Age).

One burial uncovered evidence of dismemberment in the form of decapitation.[16]

The end of the Gerzeh culture is generally regarded as coinciding with the unification of Egypt, the Naqada III period.

See also


  1. Falling Rain Genomics, Inc. "Geographical information on Jirzah, Egypt". Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  2. University College London. "Map of the area between Meydum and Tarkhan". Digital Egypt for Universities. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  3. Shaw, Ian, ed. (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 479. ISBN 0-19-815034-2.
  4. Scarre, Chris; Fagan, Brian M. (2016). Ancient Civilizations. Routledge. p. 106. ISBN 9781317296089.
  5. "The seal impressions, from various tombs, date even further back, to 3400 B.C. These dates challenge the commonly held belief that early logographs, pictographic symbols representing a specific place, object, or quantity, first evolved into more complex phonetic symbols in Mesopotamia." Mitchell, Larkin. "Earliest Egyptian Glyphs". Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  6. "Site officiel du musée du Louvre".
  7. "Site officiel du musée du Louvre".
  8. Cooper, Jerrol S. (1996). The Study of the Ancient Near East in the Twenty-first Century: The William Foxwell Albright Centennial Conference. Eisenbrauns. pp. 10–14. ISBN 9780931464966.
  9. Shaw, Ian. & Nicholson, Paul, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, (London: British Museum Press, 1995), p. 109.
  10. Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 16.
  11. University College London. "Gerzeh, tomb 80". Digital Egypt for Universities. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  12. University College London. "Finds in Gerzeh tomb 67". Digital Egypt for Universities. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  13. Great Pyramid of Giza Research Association. "The use of meteorites by the Ancient Egyptians". Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  14. "metalwork: Early history". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  15. Jambon, Albert (2017). "Bronze Age iron: Meteoritic or not? A chemical strategy" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Science. Elsevier BV. 88: 47–53. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2017.09.008. ISSN 0305-4403.
  16. University College London. "Gerzeh, tomb 67". Digital Egypt for Universities. Retrieved 2008-03-22.


  • Petrie/Wainwright/Mackay: The Labyrinth, Gerzeh and Mazghuneh, British School of Archaeology in Egypt XXI. London 1912
  • Alice Stevenson: Gerzeh, a cemetery shortly before History (Egyptian sites series),London 2006, ISBN 0-9550256-5-6

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