"What I like to tell kids is that 3,000 years ago, 4,000 years ago and even 5,000 years ago people were just as interconnected as we are today," says National Geographic Archaeology Fellow Fredrik Hiebert. Artifacts from the past also connect to the present. The balanced shape of this amphora (an ancient vase) gives archaeologists like Hiebert evidence that ancient Egyptians were adept at forming sophisticated pottery without pottery wheels.

Photograph by Victor R. Boswell, Jr.
  • This clay pot is an artifact from ancient Egypt. It is predynastic, the earliest period in Egyptian history. The pot was created during what is known as the Naqada II period (3500-3200 BCE), long before the pyramids were built.

    This pot was probably made without use of a pottery wheel. The potter most likely pressed the damp clay between his or her hand and a large, flat tool held in the other hand. This created a thin-walled vessel, which could be easily carried and stored.

    The decoration on the pot is typical of the Naqada II style. The top decoration is a large boat with many oars. The birds below the boat are probably flamingos, common wading birds. These decorations illustrate the importance of the Nile River to the Naqada II culture.

    1. This pot is made out of clay. Where did the ancient Egyptian potter probably obtain his or her clay?

      The banks of the Nile River probably provided the clay used to make this pot.

    2. Why doesn't the decoration on the pot resemble the hieroglyphs or tomb paintings associated with the Egyptian pyramids?

      This pot was made by the Naqada II culture, hundreds of years before the pyramids were constructed.

    3. This pot was probably a carrying or storage vessel. What do you think ancient Egyptians kept in this pot?

      A large vessel like this could hold a wide variety of materials. The most likely uses were for water or other liquids (such as wine or beer) and foods, such as grains.

    4. The boat and flamingo decorations illustrate the importance of the Nile to Naqada II culture. How do you think the people of Naqada II depended on the Nile?

      The people of Naqada II probably relied on the Nile as their source of freshwater, for drinking, hygiene, and irrigation. The Nile also provided habitats for plants and animals used for food—such as the flamingos depicted on the pot. The people of Naqada II also used the Nile for trade, exploration, and communication. The Nile's role as a transportation corridor is represented by the boat.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    artifact Noun

    material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Artifact
    clay Noun

    type of sedimentary rock that is able to be shaped when wet.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    Nile River Noun

    (5,592 kilometers/3,473 miles) river in East Africa.

    predynastic Noun

    period before the first major unification of Egypt, around 3100 BCE.

    Pyramids Plural Noun

    three large pyramids outside Giza, Egypt: the Pyramid of Khufu (2560 BCE), the Pyramid of Khafre (2532 BCE) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (2515 BCE). Also called the Pyramids of Giza.

    wading bird Noun

    bird with long, thin legs adapted for walking and feeding in shallow water.