By Jo Marchant. Early Egypt might have been ruled by individual kings, some of their names are inscribed on the Palermo Stone. The powerful civilisation of ancient Egypt took just a few centuries to build, according to a radiocarbon dating study that sets the first solid chronology for the period. It lasted for millennia and set a template that countries still follow today. Archaeologists have assumed it developed gradually from the pastoral communities that preceded it, but physicist Mike Dee from the University of Oxford and his colleagues now suggest that the transition could have taken as little as years.