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7 January 2006
Study traces Egyptians' stone-age roots

Some 64 centuries ago, a prehistoric people of obscure origins farmed an area along Egyptís Nile River. They produced simple but well-made pottery, jewelry and stone tools, and carefully buried their dead with ritual objects. These items often included doll-like female figurines with exaggerated sexual features, thought to possibly symbolize rebirth.
     Despite the simplicity of their possessions, a new study suggests these people, the Badarians, may have ultimately given rise to the Egyptian civilization some 14 centuries later. Indeed, the Egyptians seem to have been basically the same people from the end of the Stone Age through late Roman times, the research found.†In the study, Joel Irish of the University of Alaska Fairbanks analyzed similarities among teeth from almost 1,000 people from various eras of Egyptian history and prehistory and found, he wrote, "overall population continuity" over this roughly 5,000-year span.
     Irish noted that while the finding backs up views that some archaeologists have voiced before, itís partly at odds with some other studies of skeletal remains, so further tests are needed.†On the whole, the findings provide a window into a poorly understood question, Irish said: Who were the ancient Egyptians? By providing a glimpse into their possible prehistory, he said, the study may help explain how the Egyptians developed their world-renowned culture, including the great pyramids that still stand.
     The Badarians ó and even more so, members of a later culture called Naqada ó are widely believed to have been cultural contributors to Egyptian civilization. But it hasnít been clear whether they were the same people. Their practice of burying objects with the dead was like that of the later Egyptians, though not nearly as elaborate, archaeologists say. Their burial customs indicate a belief in the afterlife, wrote Margaret Alice Murray in The Splendor That Was Egypt. Badarian potters had exceptional skill, wrote Michael Rice in the 2000 book Egypt's Making. "Early Badarian vessels are fired to a hardness which approaches that of metal and they are often eggshell-thin," he wrote.      
     Among the Badarians, metal was known but tools were still made of stone. The later Naqada culture made wider use of metal. Also, while the Badariansí artistic sense was not highly developed, Naqada culture had more advanced artistic abilities and a better standard of living, wrote Murray ó putting them on a path to a achievements that, like the pyramids, still stand.

Source: World Science (21 December 2005)

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