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That chronology revised the time of the shift between two prehistoric periods — a crucial transition between earlier nomadic herding societies of the Badarian and the later Naqada society, settled and practicing intensive agriculture in the Nile Valley, that would give rise to the Egyptian state.

Establishing a New Timeline When estimating the course of events in prehistoric Egypt, archaeologists traditionally had worked with a relative chronology based on the evolution of pottery styles.

Buckley believes the marine-based fats in the mummification of Badarian-era bodies represented the connection the nomadic herders had to the sea, scores of miles from the Nile Valley.

“You could see in the culture they already shared the start of what would become a culture around the king, entombing him in grand pyramids.” Buckley agrees, noting that the ingredients he identified in the mummification materials — including some sourced from as far away as modern-day Turkey — indicated a sophisticated culture with established rituals and symbolic values attached to materials used in preparing the dead for burial.

Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), Buckley hoped to succeed where two previous attempts by chemists had failed: to extract and identify the components of a dark golden-brown substance that had been applied to the funerary fabrics in preparation for burial.

“GC-MS is great for separating out a complex mixture into individual compounds and then giving you a fingerprint of each separated compound,” Buckley says, acknowledging his work was still difficult due to contamination by 20th century materials applied during conservation work.

They pinpointed the start of the Naqada period to approximately 3800 to 3700 B. When looking back over millennia, a couple of centuries might seem like a modest change.

But the absolute chronology’s new start date of the Naqada period, 3800 to 3700 B.

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A key to understanding the surprising new chronology of ancient Egypt’s foundation can be found in tiny, “toffee-like” shards of material, some of which are more than 6,000 years old.

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