Damaged basalt head of a foreigner, from a door socket. Early Dynastic Period, 1st to 2nd Dynasties. From Thebes, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Before the unification of Egypt, the land was settled with autonomous villages. With the early dynasties, and for much of Egypt's history thereafter, the country came to be known as the Two Lands. The pharaohs established a national administration and appointed royal governors. The buildings of the central government were typically open-air temples constructed of wood or sandstone. The earliest Egyptian hieroglyphs appear just before this period, though little is known of the spoken language they represent.
By about 3600 BC, neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals. Shortly after 3600 BC Egyptian society began to grow and advance rapidly toward refined civilization. A new and distinctive pottery, which was related to the pottery in the Southern Levant, appeared during this time. Extensive use of copper became common during this time. The Mesopotamian process of sun-dried bricks, and architectural building principles—including the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect—became popular during this time.
Concurrent with these cultural advances, a process of unification of the societies and towns of the upper Nile River, or Upper Egypt, occurred. At the same time the societies of the Nile Delta, or Lower Egypt also underwent a unification process. Warfare between Upper and Lower Egypt occurred often. During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the Delta and merged both the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt under his single rule. Narmer is shown on palettes wearing the double crown, composed of the lotus flower representing Upper Egypt and the papyrus reed representing Lower Egypt - a sign of the unified rule of both parts of Egypt which was followed by all succeeding rulers. In mythology, the unification of Egypt is portrayed as the falcon-god, called Horus and identified with Lower Egypt, as conquering and subduing the god Set, who was identified with Upper Egypt. Divine kingship, which would persist in Egypt for the next three millennia, was firmly established as the basis of Egypt's government. The unification of societies along the Nile has also been linked to the drying of the Sahara.
Funeral practices for the peasants would have been the same as in predynastic times, but the rich demanded something more. Thus, the Egyptians began construction of the mastabas which became models for the later Old Kingdom constructions such as the Step pyramid. Cerealagriculture and centralization contributed to the success of the state for the next 800 years.
It seems certain that Egypt became unified as a cultural and economic domain long before its first king ascended to the throne in the lower Egyptian city of Memphis where the dynastic period did originate. This would last for many centuries. Political unification proceeded gradually, perhaps over a period of a century or so as local districts established trading networks and the ability of their governments to organize agriculture labor on a larger scale increased, divine kingship may also have gained spiritual momentum as the cults of gods like Horus, Set and Neith associated with living representatives became widespread in the country.
It was also during this period that the Egyptian writing system was further developed. Initially Egyptian writing had been composed primarily of a few symbols denoting amounts of various substances. By the end of the 3rd dynasty it had been expanded to include more than 200 symbols, both phonograms and ideograms.
According to Manetho, the first monarch of the unified Upper and Lower Egypt was Menes, who is now identified with Narmer. Indeed, Narmer is the earliest recorded First Dynasty monarch: he appears first on the king lists of Den and Qa'a. This shows that Narmer was recognized by the first dynasty kings as an important founding figure. Narmer is also the earliest king associated to the symbols of power over the two lands (see in particular the Narmer Palette, a votive cosmetic palette showing Narmer wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt) and may therefore be the first king to achieve the unification. Consequently, the current consensus is that "Menes" and "Narmer" refer to the same person. Alternative theories hold that Narmer was the final king of the Naqada III period and Hor-Aha is to be identified with "Menes".