Somewhere still follows ancient Egyptian religions

Compare Egypt with the Stone Age: Where Are the New Education Plans Leading?

Prehistory and early history are used in numerous federal states and types of schools as an introductory topic in history lessons in grades 5 and 6. In the most recent curriculum for Baden-Württemberg, the era is no longer a separate teaching unit, but forms the end of the chapter on Ancient Egypt. By Miriam Sénécheau

With the introduction of the new curriculum for secondary level I, the students of Baden-Württemberg have been dealing with prehistory for the first time since this school year in class 5 for the first time in the history lesson - at least that's how the new “standards for content-related competencies” see it - Classes 5/6 “before. A general introduction to the new subject is immediately followed by the unit “Egypt - Culture and High Culture” as the first historical topic.

Giza Pyramids, photo from the 19th century (Source:

The subject of this unit is (1) the significance of the flood of the Nile for ancient Egypt and (2) the special features of Egyptian high culture, supplemented by a (3) "Window to the World: the Importance of Law using the Example of the Rule of Hammurabi". Prehistory and early history follow as the last part (4) with the following target competence: “The pupils can [...] describe life in the Paleolithic and Neolithic and compare Ancient Egypt with Europe during the Stone Age (Paleolithic, New Stone Age , Neolithic Revolution) ”(Bildungsplan 2016, 17 f.).
Already in the trial phase for the new educational plans, this extensive renunciation of - in terms of time - over 99% of human history was indicated as a separate chapter. For this purpose, didactic reasons were mainly given: 1. Exemplary procedure instead of a wealth of material facilitate competence-oriented learning. 2. Many pupils are already familiar with what is on the doorstep. 3. The more exotic subject of Egypt is more motivating for entry than prehistory, which is already dealt with in elementary school. 4. Should there be a need to deal with it more broadly, the teachers are free to set their own priorities. Whether this actually happens and in what way is the question, however.

School books are expensive, and every printed page is a cost factor for the publisher. However, for strategic market reasons, a textbook may not cost more than a certain amount. It follows that what the curriculum does not prescribe usually does not find its way into the textbook. And: School books go through an approval process in which it is checked whether they adequately implement the contents of the curriculum. The more closely the history book follows the curriculum, the easier it seems to teach according to the curriculum.
This means: If the prehistory and early history is reduced in the curriculum, it is usually also reduced in the corresponding textbook. The teachers not trained in archeology (see Samida 2016) who want to teach the unit in more detail then have to fall back on older textbooks or other materials. Previous research has shown that this does not make sense (Sénécheau 2008).

Various technical objections must be raised against the comparative approach.
Point 1: The didactic reduction of a complex topic to a few, also inapplicable, terms leads in this case to unacceptable imprecision. What is “Europe during the Stone Age”? Europe is big, 'the Stone Age' an epoch that lasted almost 800,000 years! During certain periods of time, very different cultures and ways of life sometimes coexisted. “The Stone Age”, as it is called in the education plan, does not exist, but rather “Stone Ages” in the plural: The education plan names the Old Stone Age and the New Stone Age, meaning two forms of life that are fundamentally different from each other. The outdated term “Neolithic Revolution”, which is also mentioned, refers to the fact that the content is actually supposed to be about the transition from the nomadic (hunter-gatherer) to the sedentary way of life (first farmers). However, this takes place in the Mesolithic, which in the curriculum - as in most school books - does not appear as a term at all. So what is actually to be compared with Egypt?
Point 2: The comparison of the Egyptian high culture with "Europe during the Stone Age" is, regardless of how you fill it in terms of content, a comparison of apples with pears. To give you numbers: for Egypt the period of approx. 3000 BC is assumed. Until around 100 BC Considered. The Stone Ages in Europe span the years from 800,000 to 2200 BC. At the same time as the Egyptian civilization - and exclusively with its beginning - only the end of the Neolithic in Europe took place.

Stone transport for the construction of a Neolithic large stone grave. Model from the Musée des Mégalithes de Wéris, 1994 (source:

The perspective from Egypt inevitably leads to a comparison of “high culture” versus “less developed culture”. This suggests an exemplary teaching unit for orientation for teachers; there the explicitly formulated goal of the double lesson reads: “[The students] recognize that at the time of the Egyptian high culture, approx. BC the people in Central Europe lived on a less developed level of civilization, which we call the (Young) Stone Age ”(Landesakademie n.d., slide 3). The Neolithic Age, developed using the example of the South Tyrolean glacier corpse 'Ötzi', appears as a "lower level of development" compared to the "high culture" of Egypt (ibid., Slide 19). What sense does such a valuation make for historical learning in the 21st century?
If you really want to compare Egypt with Central Europe, the European Bronze Age (2200 BC - 800 BC) and the Iron Age (800 BC - around the birth of Christ) are more appropriate. Interesting parallels between Egypt and Europe can be drawn here, using the example of the development of metalworking, elites, rule and social structure.

The arguments outlined above prompted a publisher to deviate from the curriculum: In Das Were Zeiten (Buchner 2016), the introduction to the subject of history is followed by a separate unit on prehistory and early history, with a clear accentuation of the Mesolithic as a phase of transition between ancient and early history Neolithic. The chapter also includes aspects of the Bronze and Iron Ages, which run parallel to the Egyptian civilization. Only then does the unity with Egypt follow. It closes with two double pages which, based on material evidence, enable a comparison between the cultural phenomena of Egypt and Central Europe. The examples of prehistory and early history follow a clear chronology (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age). A timeline graphically illustrates the relationship between these epochs and the culture of ancient Egypt - and that the latter also preceded the Stone Ages. Thematically, the examples are assigned to phenomena of human culture: Art; Connection between climate, way of life and economy; Inventions; social structure of societies; Faith; Domination.
In this way, instead of an awareness of history shaped by progressive thinking and cultural evolutionism, precisely what the new educational plan formulates in the guiding principles for acquiring skills can be promoted: the recognition of "constants of human existence" that are "of central importance for the formation of identity"; "Education for tolerance and acceptance of diversity"; the acquisition of solid professional competence which, as the basis of historical thinking, “leads to an orderly and networked historical knowledge” (Bildungsplan 2016, 3–7).

Miriam Sénécheau
University of Freiburg

Baumgärtner, Ulrich (2015): Guide to historical didactics. Historical learning in school, Paderborn 2015.

Education plan 2016: History, ed. from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport Baden-Württemberg.

State Academy for Further Education and Personnel Development in Schools (no year): Teaching suggestion Stone Age.

Buchner (2016): Those were the times of Baden-Württemberg. Textbook for history at grammar schools, ed. by Dieter Brückner and Julian Kümmerle. Vol. 1, Bamberg 2016, 24-43, 66-69.

Samida, Stefanie (2016): Why prehistory and early history in teacher training? Therefore!.

Sénécheau, Miriam (2008): Archeology in textbooks. Topics of prehistory and early history in the area of ​​tension between curriculum requirements, specialist discussion and popular ideas of history. School books, educational films, literature for children and young people, Freiburg 2008 (Univ. Diss. Freiburg 2006).