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Astronomical ceiling from the tomb of "Seti I showing stars and constellations used in calendar calculations

The majority of "Egyptologists agree on the outline and many details of the "chronology of "Ancient Egypt. This scholarly consensus is the so-called Conventional Egyptian chronology, which places the beginning of the "Old Kingdom in the 27th century BC, the beginning of the "Middle Kingdom in the 21st century BC and the beginning of the "New Kingdom in the mid-16th century BC.

Despite this consensus, disagreements remain within the scholarly community, resulting in variant chronologies diverging by about 300 years for the "Early Dynastic Period, up to 30 years in the "New Kingdom, and a few years in the "Late Period.[1]

In addition, there are a number of "alternative chronologies" outside scholarly consensus, such as the ""New Chronology" proposed in the 1990s, which lowers New Kingdom dates by as much as 350 years, or the ""Glasgow Chronology" (proposed 1978–1982), which lowers New Kingdom dates by as much as 500 years.



Scholarly consensus on the general outline of the conventional chronology current in Egyptology has not fluctuated much over the last 100 years. For the Old Kingdom, consensus fluctuates by as much as a few centuries, but for the Middle and New Kingdoms, it has been stable to within a few decades. This is illustrated by comparing the chronology as given by two Egyptologists, the first writing in 1906, the second in 2000 (all dates in the table are BC).[2]

Dynasty "Breasted (1906) "Shaw (2000)
"Early Dynastic Period of Egypt "1st 3400–2980 c. 3000–2686
"Old Kingdom "3rd 2980–2900 2686–2613
"4th 2900–2750 2613–2494
"5th 2750–2625 2494–2345
"6th 2623–2475 2345–2181
"First Intermediate Period "7th 2475–2445 2181–2160
"9th 2445–2160 2160–2025
"Middle Kingdom of Egypt "11th 2160–2000 2125–1985
"12th 2000–1788 1985–1773
"Second Intermediate Period "13th? 1780–1580 1773–1550
"New Kingdom of Egypt "18th 1580–1350 1550–1295
"19th 1350–1205 1295–1186
"20th 1200–1090 1186–1069
"Third Intermediate Period "21st 1090–945 1069–945
"22nd 945–745 945–715
"23rd 745–718 818–715
"24th 718–712 727–715
"25th 712–663 747–656
"Late Period of ancient Egypt "26th 663–525 664–525

The disparities between the two sets of dates result from additional discoveries and refined understanding of the still very incomplete source evidence. For example, Breasted adds a ruler in the Twentieth dynasty that further research showed did not exist. Following Manetho, Breasted also believed all the dynasties were sequential, whereas it is now known that several existed at the same time. These revisions have resulted in a lowering of the conventional chronology by up to 400 years at the beginning of "Dynasty I.

Regnal years[edit]

'Diagonal star table' from the "11th Dynasty coffin lid; found at "Asyut, Egypt. "Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim

The backbone of Egyptian chronology are the "regnal years as recorded in Ancient Egyptian king lists. Surviving king lists are either comprehensive but have significant gaps in their text (for example, the "Turin King List), or are textually complete but fail to provide a complete list of rulers (for example, the "Abydos King List), even for a short period of Egyptian history. It is further complicated by occasional conflicting information on the same regnal period from different versions of the same text; thus, the Egyptian historian "Manetho's history of Egypt is only known by extensive references to it made by subsequent writers, such as "Eusebius and "Sextus Julius Africanus, and the dates for the same pharaoh often vary substantially depending on the intermediate source.

Regnal periods have to be pieced together from inscriptions, which will often give a date in the form of the regnal year of the ruling pharaoh, yet only provides a minimum length of that reign and may or may not include any "coregencies with a predecessor or successor. In addition, some Egyptian dynasties probably overlapped, with different pharaohs ruling in different regions at the same time, rather than serially. Not knowing whether monarchies were simultaneous or sequential results in widely differing chronological interpretations.

Where the total number of regnal years for a given ruler is not known, Egyptologists have identified two indicators to provide that total number: for the "Old Kingdom, the number of cattle censuses; and for later periods, the celebration of a "sed festival. A number of Old Kingdom inscriptions allude to a periodic census of cattle, which experts at first believed took place every second year; thus records of as many as 24 cattle censuses indicate "Sneferu had reigned 48 years. However, further research has shown that these censuses were sometimes taken in consecutive years, or after two or more years had passed.[3] The sed festival was usually celebrated on the thirtieth anniversary of the Pharaoh's ascension, thus rulers who recorded recording one could be assumed to have ruled at least 30 years. However, once again, this may not be the usual practice in all cases.[4]

In the early days of Egyptology, the compilation of regnal periods was also hampered due to a profound biblical bias on the part of the Egyptologists. This was most pervasive before the mid 19th century, when Manetho's figures were recognized as conflicting with "biblical chronology based on Old Testament references to Egypt (see "Pharaohs in the Bible). In the 20th century, such biblical bias has mostly been confined to alternative chronologies outside scholarly mainstream.


A useful way to work around these gaps in knowledge is to find "chronological synchronisms, which can lead to a "precise date. Over the past decades, a number of these have been found, although they are of varying degrees of usefulness and reliability.

Alternative chronologies[edit]

A number of suggestions for alternatives to the consensus on the conventional chronology have been presented during the 20th century:

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ K. A. Kitchen, "The Chronology of Ancient Egypt", World Archaeology: Chronologies, 23, (1991), p. 202
  2. ^ Breasted's dates are taken from his "Ancient Records (first published in 1906), volume 1, sections 58–75; Shaw's are from his Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (published in 2000), pp. 479–483.
  3. ^ Miroslav Verner, "Contemporaneous Evidence for the relative chronology of DYNS. 4 and 5", Ancient Egyptian Chronology Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss, and David A. Warburton (editors), (Leiden: Brill, 2006) pp. 124–8
  4. ^ Erik Hornung, "Introduction", Ancient Egyptian Chronology Hornung, et al., pp. 10f
  5. ^ Kitchen, "Chronology", p. 203
  6. ^ William Stevenson Smith: Interconnections in the Ancient Near East: A Study of the Relationships Between the Arts of Egypt, the Aegean, and Western Asia, Yale University Press, 1965
  7. ^ Set forth in "Excursus C: The Twelfth dynasty" in his The Calendars of ancient Egypt (Chicago: University Press, 1950).
  8. ^ One example is Patrick O'Mara, "Censorinus, the Sothic Cycle, and calendar year one in ancient Egypt: the Epistological problem", Journal of Near Eastern studies, 62 (2003), pp. 17–26.
  9. ^ Redford, "The Dates of the End of the 18th Dynasty", History and Chronology of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt: Seven studies (Toronto: University Press, 1967), pp. 183–215.
  10. ^ Kate Spence, "Ancient Egyptian chronology and the astronomical orientation of pyramids", Nature, 408 (2000), pp. 320–324. She offers, based on orientation of the "Great Pyramid of Giza with circumpolar stars, for a date of that structure precise within 5 years.
  11. ^ Michael Dee; David Wengrow; Andrew Shortland; Alice Stevenson; Fiona Brock; Linus Girdland Flink; Christopher Bronk Ramsey (2013). "An absolute chronology for early Egypt using radiocarbon dating and Bayesian statistical modelling". Proceedings of the Royal Society A. 469 (2159): 20130395. "doi:10.1098/rspa.2013.0395. 
  12. ^ Friedrich, Walter L; Kromer, B, Friedrich, M, Heinemeier, J, Pfeiffer, T, and Talamo, S (2006). "Santorini Eruption Radiocarbon Dated to 1627–1600 B.C". Science. "American Association for the Advancement of Science. 312 (5773): 548. "doi:10.1126/science.1125087. "PMID 16645088. Retrieved 2007-03-10. 
  13. ^ Warren P.M. (2006). Czerny E, Hein I, Hunger H, Melman D, Schwab A, eds. Timelines: Studies in Honour of Manfred Bietak (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 149). Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Peeters. pp. 2: 305–321. "ISBN "90-429-1730-X. 
  14. ^ Balter, M (2006). "New Carbon Dates Support Revised History of Ancient Mediterranean". Science. 312 (5773): 508–509. "doi:10.1126/science.312.5773.508. "PMID 16645054. 
  15. ^ "The date of this [volcanic] event is of critical importance to the synchronisations of the civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean. The solution of this matter is the key to most of our synchronisation problems". Bibliotheca Orientalis 61, #1–2 January – April 2004: Book review of W. Manning's "A Test of Time", 1999, Oxbow Books
  16. ^ In 2012 one of the proponents of an archaeological date, Felix Höflmayer, argued that archaeological evidence could be consistent with a date as early as 1570 BCE, reducing the discrepancy to around fifty years. Höflmayer, Felix (2012). "The Date of the Minoan Santorini Eruption: Quantifying the "Offset"". Radiocarbon. 54 (3-4): 444. Retrieved 3 November 2013.  Conversely, the radiocarbon dates have been argued to be inaccurate by "Malcolm Wiener, Radiocarbon dating of the Theran eruption", Open Journal of Archaeometry, 2 (2014). DOI 10.4081/arc.2014.5265
  17. ^ Kuniholm et al. Nature 1996, 782
  18. ^ S. Manning et al., "High-precision dendro-14C dating of two cedar wood sequences from First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom Egypt and a small regional climate-related 14C divergence", Journal of Archaeological Science 46 (2014), 401–416.[1][2]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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