First Dynasty of Egypt

Map of the major sites and places in Early Egypt.

Egyptian Chronology
      Date          Culture          Duration     
8 600 - 4 400 BC Nabta Playa Neolithic 4 200 years
6 100 - 5 180 BC    Qarunian (formerly known as Fayum B)     920 years
5 200 - 4 200 BC Fayum A 1 000 years
4 800 - 4 200 BC Merimde 600 years
4 600 - 4 400 BC El Omari 200 years
4 400 - 4 000 BC Badarian 400 years
4 000 - 3 300 BC Maadi 700 years
4 000 - 3 500 BC Naqada I 500 years
3 500 - 3 200 BC Naqada II 300 years
3 200 - 3 100 BC Naqada III 100 years
3 100 - 2 670 BC Early Dynastic 586 years
2 670 - 2 181 BC Old Kingdom 505 years
2 181 - 2 025 BC First Intermediate Period 156 years
2 025 - 1 700 BC Middle Kingdom 325 years
1 700 - 1 550 BC Second Intermediate Period 150 years
1 550 - 1 077 BC New Kingdom 473 years
1 077 - 664 BC Third Intermediate Period 413 years
664 - 525 BC Late Period 139 years
525 - 404 BC First Persian Period 121 years
404 - 343 BC Late Dynastic Period 61 years
343 - 332 BC Second Persian Period 11 years
332 - 305 BC Macedonian Period 27 years
305 - 30 BC Ptolemaic Period 275 years

Table of dates for the history of Egypt, adapted from various sources.


First to Twentieth Dynasties
Date Dynasty Period Duration
3 100 - 2 890 BC First Dynasty Archaic/Early Dynastic Period 214
2 890 - 2 670 BC Second Dynasty Archaic/Early Dynastic Period 220
2 670 - 2 613 BC Third Dynasty Old Kingdom 57
2 613 - 2 494 BC Fourth Dynasty Old Kingdom - Golden Age 119
2 494 - 2 345 BC Fifth Dynasty Old Kingdom 149
2 345 - 2 181 BC Sixth Dynasty Old Kingdom 164
2 181 - 2 160 BC Seventh and Eighth Dynasties First Intermediate Period 21
2 160 - 2 134 BC Ninth and Tenth Dynasties First Intermediate Period 26
2 134 - 1 991 BC Eleventh Dynasty Middle Kingdom 43
1 991 - 1 802 BC Twelfth Dynasty Middle Kingdom 189
1 802 - 1 649 BC Thirteenth Dynasty
From Memphis, over Middle and Upper Egypt
Middle Kingdom 153
1 805 - 1 650 BC Fourteenth Dynasty
From Avaris, Nile Delta, over Lower Egypt
Second Intermediate Period 155
1 650 - 1 550 BC Fifteenth Dynasty
First Hyksos dynasty, ruled from Avaris,
without control of the entire land
Second Intermediate Period 100
1 649 - 1 582 BC Sixteenth Dynasty
Ruled the Theban region in Upper Egypt
The Hyksos ruled the delta
The Kingdom of Kush ruled Upper Egypt
Second Intermediate Period 67
1 580 - 1 550 BC Seventeenth Dynasty
Ruled Thebes, Hyksos ruled the delta
Second Intermediate Period / New Kingdom 30
1 543 - 1 292 BC Eighteenth Dynasty
Egypt reaches the peak of its power
New Kingdom 251
1 292 - 1 187 BC Nineteenth Dynasty
Conquests in Canaan
New Kingdom 105
1 187 - 1 077 BC Twentieth Dynasty End of the New Kingdom 110

Table of dates for the First to Twentieth Dynasties, from various sources, mostly via Wikipedia

The First Dynasty

The First Dynasty of ancient Egypt covers the first series of Egyptian kings to rule over a unified Egypt. It immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, possibly by Narmer, also known as Menes, and marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period, a time at which power was centred at Thinis.

The date of this period falls within the early Bronze Age. In a 2013 study based on radiocarbon dates, the beginning of the First Dynasty - the accession of Hor-Aha - was placed close to 3 100 BC.

Information about this dynasty is derived from a few monuments and other objects bearing royal names, the most important being the Narmer palette and macehead as well as Den and Qa'a king lists. No detailed records of the first two dynasties have survived, except for the terse lists on the Palermo stone. The hieroglyphs were fully developed by then, and their shapes would be used with little change for more than three thousand years.

Large tombs of pharaohs at Abydos and Naqada, in addition to cemeteries at Saqqara and Helwan near Memphis, reveal structures built largely of wood and mud bricks, with some small use of stone for walls and floors. Stone was used in quantity for the manufacture of ornaments, vessels, and occasionally, for statues. Tamarix - tamarisk, salt cedar was used to build boats such as the Abydos Boats.

One of the most important indigenous woodworking techniques was the fixed Mortise and tenon joint. A fixed tenon was made by shaping the end of one timber to fit into a mortise (hole) that is cut into a second timber. A variation of this joint using a free tenon eventually became one of the most important features in Mediterranean and Egyptian shipbuilding. I creates a union between two planks or other components by inserting a separate tenon into a cavity (mortise) of the corresponding size cut into each component."

Human sacrifice was practiced as part of the funerary rituals associated with all of the pharaohs of the first dynasty. It is clearly demonstrated as existing during this dynasty by retainers being buried near each pharaoh's tomb as well as animals sacrificed for the burial. The tomb of Djer is associated with the burials of 338 individuals. The people and animals sacrificed, such as donkeys, were expected to assist the pharaoh in the afterlife. For unknown reasons, this practice ended with the conclusion of the dynasty, with shabtis taking the place of actual people to aid the pharaohs with the work expected of them in the afterlife.

First Dynasty
Name Dates (uncertain, gaps exist, some overlap)
Narmer/Menes circa 32nd century
Hor-Aha starting 3 080 ± 30 BC
Djer  3 073 BC – 3 036 BC
Djet  3 008 BC – 2 975 BC
Merneith (mother of Den)  2 946 BC – 2 916 BC
Den  2 975 BC – 2 935 BC – 2 911 BC or  2 928 BC – 2 911 BC
Anedjib  2 916 BC – 2 896 BC
Semerkhet  2 912 BC – 2 891 BC
Qa'a (Kaa)  2 906 BC – 2 890 BC

Table of First Dynasty Rulers, adapted from Wikipedia

Seal of the Abydos royal necropolis listing the kings of the First Dynasty, courtesy of the German Archaeological Institute Cairo.

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery in Room 64 of the British Museum illustrates the beginnings of ancient Egyptian civilisation among nomads in the Sahara desert and the distinctive agricultural communities along the Nile.

By 3100 BC these cultures merged, forming the basis for the world's earliest unified state. Unification brought rapid social and technological advances, leading to the creation of the monumental pyramid tombs in the Old Kingdom, 500 years later.

Drilled Jar

Small pear-shaped limestone jar with flat base and narrow mouth, the drilling of the interior has only just begun.

In order to create a stone vessel, a stone block was first hammered and chiselled into a vessel shape. The interior was then bored out. For this a hollow copper tube was attached to the drill.

Using the crank to move the copper bit back and forth, a circular cutting was made in the centre with the aid of abrasive sand.

Calcite drill-core, tapering.

Figure-of-eight drill bit

Figure-of-eight drill bits of quartzite were needed for drilling harder stone and hollowing out the inside of stone vessels. Drilling with these bits left tell-tale grooves on the vessel walls and on the drill itself. Inhaling the fine dust produced during this process must have shortened many lives.

Drill-bit of hard crystalline sandstone with concave depressions on the sides for attachment to the shaft of the drill. Bears concentric circular marks from use, on both top and bottom, showing that the bit was used both ways up.

Stone Jar

Stone vessels became an important part of burial furnishing during the First Dynasty The strength and durability of stone containers lent permanence to the provisions provided for the tomb owner's afterlife. Bowls and jars carved from easily worked travertine and greywacke were widely available. Exotic varieties were reserved for royalty and the high elite.

Cylinder jar of calcite (travertine) with slightly concave sides and a rounded rim, below which there is a raised ridge of decoration. Interior completely hollowed. Restored from fragments.

Stone Jar

Tubular vase of calcite with thin lug-handles on the sides. The lip is rounded, below which the sides are concave down to the level of the handles, then they taper straight down to the flat base.

Stone Jar

Large bowl of grey schist with a flat base and incurving rim. The base is countersunk on the interior. The side of the bowl bears two small areas which have been greatly scratched, no doubt deliberately, perhaps in order to remove an incised inscription. Restored from fragments.

Pottery and palette

In contrast to earlier times, pottery and palettes in the First Dynasty were drab and utilitarian.

Cylindrical vessels for fats and oils and tall storage jars for food and drink were common within burials.

The small bowls were for serving or could be used as lids. Most of these objects come from one tomb at Mostagedda.

Ritual knife

It became traditional to use flint knives to sacrifice animals, even after copper became widely available. Functional knives with built-in handles were part of temple equipment. Other blades too large or delicate ever to have been used were dedicated probably by elite patrons.

Greywacke cosmetic palette

While rulers and kings donated large decorated palettes to the temples, smaller ones were rare, since they fell out of private use during the First Dynasty.

Typically rectangular in shape at this time, carved decorations at the corners were unusual. This palette might have been a treasured possession when offered, or even an heirloom.

Rectangular mudstone ( ? ) palette with projections at the corners, broken away in two instances. The sides are slightly convex and they are bordered by two parallel incised lines on the upper surface.

Lead figurine of a woman

Lead was a rare material, and this figurine was probably dedicated at a temple by an elite woman. It portrays a woman in the pose of supplication wearing the long skirt typical in the Early Dynastic period. Details of a fringed apron and zigzags accentuating her long wavy hair have been etched into the soft lead. Lead female figure, left arm across breast, right arm lost. Reportedly from Abydos, First Dynasty.

Hes jar

Jars of this shape were used for pouring libations in purification rites, essential before approaching the gods' shrines.

The upper body was blackened in conscious imitation of pottery styles popular hundreds of years earlier. This showed respect for tradition and reverence of the ancestors.

Called hes by the ancient Egyptians, the jar's image also stood for the word 'honour' or 'praise' in the hieroglyphic script.

Tall pear-shaped red burnished necked vase with black top, flat base, and turned rim (chipped), exterior surface worn, slightly warped.



Burial in the First Dynasty

First Dynasty kings were buried in large cedar shrines. Those of their subjects with sufficient means had small boxes made of native wood with just enough room to fit their contracted bodies. Most boxes were plain, like the one displayed here, but some were decorated to emulate shrines and became the prototypes for later coffins.

Cemetery B, Umm el-Qa'ab. Tombs of the pharaohs of the first and second dynasty of Egypt.

Grave goods now expressed status by their quantity, rather than their quality. In rich tombs numerous storage chambers were added both above and below ground to hold them all, The objects shown here are typical of the burial of a relatively wealthy person in the First Dynasty.

This is Walter Emery's reconstruction of the burial chamber of Saqqara 3503, a First Dynasty tomb of the highest elite. It may very well be a royal tomb belonging to Mer-Neith, who may have been the consort of Djer and could have even ruled Egypt for a short time. In this tomb, the substructure pit measures 1425 cm by 450 cm and was divided into five chambers. Again, the central one was the burial chamber, which measured 480 cm by 350 cm in size. When discovered, it contained fragments of a wooden sarcophagus and on its base was found a few human bones. Old (gold?) foil remains were found scattered about the chamber. The burial chamber also held the remains of a funerary meal, pottery vessels near the walls, traces of wooden and basketwork chests, and the fragments of wooden canopy poles.

The superstructure of this tomb contained nine niches on the longer side and three on the short ones, some of them still retaining traces of paint. Inside there were 21 magazines that were well preserved but plundered, though some were collapsed or had been set on fire soon after being plundered. Many of the stone vessels found in the tomb have been dated to the reign of Djer, and at least two seal impressions were found that alternated the serekh of Djer and a serekh-like device containing the name of Mer-Neith. This device was surmounted by a Neith standard rather than that of Horus.

First Dynasty tombs at Saqqara

This tomb was surrounded by an enclosure wall, and twenty to twenty-two subsidiary burials. Within the subsidiary burials, some boat models were found, and on the occupant of one was a copper blade that had apparently been strapped to the individual's ankle. Another subsidiary burial contained a wooden box that may have contained some sort of copper tool, perhaps for surgery. On the north side, a brickwork casing for a funerary boat was discovered beyond the subsidiary burials. Note that the boat containment was entirely above ground, rather than dug into a pit. The earliest burials of nobles can be traced back to the First Dynasty, at the north side of the Saqqara plateau. During this time, the royal burial ground was at Abydos. The first royal burials at Saqqara, comprising underground galleries, date to the Second Dynasty.




Narmer (Ancient Egyptian - "Striker") was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled in the 32nd century BC. Thought to be the successor to the pre-dynastic Serket, he is considered by some to be the founder of the First dynasty. It is thought by many archaeologists that Serket is actually identical with Narmer.


Narmer's name is represented phonetically by the hieroglyphic symbol for a catfish (n'r) and that of a chisel (mr). Other modern variants of his name include "Narmeru" or "Merunar", but convention uses "Narmer". Like other First Dynasty Kings, his name is a single word ("The Striker") and may be shorthand for "Horus is the Striker".

Narmer's Palette

Above, a detail from the palette's flip side, shown in full above, shows Narmer wearing Lower Egypt's Red Crown in a procession to view decapitated prisoners at Buto, in the western Delta.
Note the name of Narmer is shown as a catfish, his icon, along with the chisel, his other icon.

The southern king Narmer (perhaps the legendary Menes) wins a victory over the northern king which is immortalized by Narmer's Palette. The famous Narmer Palette, discovered in 1898 in Hierakonpolis, shows Narmer displaying the insignia of both Upper and Lower Egypt, giving rise to the theory that he unified the two kingdoms. Traditionally, Menes is credited with that unification, and he is listed as being the first pharaoh in Manetho's list of kings, so this find has caused some controversy.

Some Egyptologists hold that Menes and Narmer are in fact the same person; some hold that Menes is the same person with Horus Akha (aka. Hor-Aha) and he inherited an already-unified Egypt from Narmer; others hold that Narmer began the process of unification but either did not succeed or succeeded only partially, leaving it to Menes to complete.

Another equally plausible theory is that Narmer was an immediate successor to the king who did manage to unify Egypt (perhaps the King Scorpion whose name was found on a macehead also discovered in Hierakonpolis), and adopted symbols of unification that had already been in use perhaps for a generation. It should be noted that while there is extensive physical evidence of there being a pharaoh named Narmer, so far there is no evidence other than Manetho's list and from legend for a pharaoh called Menes. The King Lists recently found in Den's and Qa'a's tombs both list Narmer as the founder of their dynasty.

His wife is thought to have been Neithhotep A, a princess of northern Egypt. Inscriptions bearing her name were found in tombs belonging to Narmer's immediate successors Hor-Aha and Djer, implying either that she was the mother or wife of Hor-Aha.

His tomb is thought to have been comprised of two joined chambers (B17 and B18) found in the Umm el-Qa'ab region of Abydos.

During the summer of 1994, excavators from the Nahal Tillah expedition in southern Israel discovered an incised ceramic shard with the serekh sign of Narmer, the same individual whose ceremonial slate palette was found by James E. Quibell in Upper Egypt. The inscription was found on a large circular platform, possibly the foundations of a storage silo on the Halif Terrace. Dated to ca. 3000 BC, mineralogical studies of the shard conclude that it is a fragment of a wine jar which was imported from the Nile valley to Israel some 5000 years ago.

The name Narmer has been found all over Egypt including the local vicinities of Tarkhan to the South of Memphis, the Helwan cemeteries excavated by Zaki Y. Saad, immediately to the East and in the subterranean eastern shaft of Djoser's Step pyramid complex at Saqqara. Obviously he was remembered with some reverence in the area. Perhaps when the earliest site of the Capital is finally located (possibly to the North West) we will be in a much better position to evaluate Narmer's role with Memphis or Inbw hdj as it was then known.

Writing was fairly widespread during this period and although hundred of wooden and ivory labels have been found engraved with hieroglyphs little is known of the individual signs, for example ; the serech of Aha above is thought to feature mud brick paneling (early Palace facade) topped by an unknown structure with a curved roof. From a modern point of view this might seem to refer to the royal aviaries of Aha, where the mace or fighting stick substitutes for a perch and the arched hieroglyph a "pigeon hole" for the Pelegrine falcon to enter.

The arched hieroglyph however is more likely to be derived from the earlier roof shape which makes up the national shrine of lower Egypt which is partly seen on the 'macehead of King Scorpion'. Something quite similar in design to the Aha hieroglyph (a protected enclosure for a female) is also seen on the macehead of Narmer. The shape is also to be seen in the plant like form below.

The Mace Head of King Scorpion

The ritual mace head of 'Scorpion' is one of the rare artifacts to have survived from this king's reign, and is one of the oldest Egyptian works of art. It is a rounded piece of limestone, shaped like the head of a mace of 25 cm. high. Its dimensions and the fact that it is decorated both show that it was intended as a ritual artifact and not as a real mace head. The mace head was found by archaeologists Quibell and Green during their expedition of 1897/98 in the main deposit at Hierakonpolis. This main deposit also contained other artifacts from the Pre-dynastic and Early Dynastic Periods, among them a long narrow vase also showing the name of king 'Scorpion', as well as, perhaps, the Narmer Palette. It is now on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Note the Scorpion near the King.
No one is quite sure who united Egypt.
Information about the first dynasty is very sketchy.

Seated figure of a baboon with the cartouche of king Narmer.

According to Günter Dreyer 2013,this statue probably shows Narmer after his death as an ancestral god, 'the great white one', and may have originated in his as-yet-unidentified funerary enclosure at Abydos. According to Aston, Harrell and Shaw 2000, the material is more accurately described as travertine.

Jar sealing of Narmer

The name of Narmer, written as a catfish within a serekh (royal name box), has been impressed with a large cylinder seal several times onto this conical jar lid.

The chisel, the second element of Narmer's name and perhaps originally a title, appears as a decorative band between the two rows. The jar probably held wine, and three deep horizontal marks on one side of the lid may be an indication of its quality.

Narmer's ivory inlays and ebony label

Narmer was proud of his accomplishments and recorded them on many objects. Ivory inlays for a box depict bound prisoners and foreigners bearing tribute jars from Canaan. The same oil jar appears on the fragmentary ebony label. Above it is a representation of a walled town, which some believe housed Canaanite prisoners captured during Narmer's military campaigns.

Narmer's stone jar fragment and ivory piece

Under Narmer the writing of the king's name became an art form. Depending on the available space, Narmer's name could be written with the catfish alone, as on the ivory carving, or in more detail with a catfish and a chisel, as on the jar fragment and his palette.

Fragment of an ivory plaque with the name of Nar(mer) incised on one side. The inscription is well preserved, although the sides and back of the fragment are broken.

Narmer's stone jar fragment and ivory piece

Part of a jar-seal of dark grey clay, bearing the repeated impression of the name of Aḥa, together with two signs. The clay is slightly cracked but the inscribed surface is well-preserved.

Wooden coffin of a commoner

This coffin contains the skeleton of a young woman, originally in a tightly flexed position. Traces of linen are probably remnants of a shroud and not wrappings. In the First Dynasty, the practice of wrapping the body in linen strips was reserved for kings and the highest elite.

Game of the Snake

The popular Egyptian board game known as the 'Game of the Snake', with game pieces and dice. The game was called Mehen, after a snake-god.

Arrowheads of flint and rock crystal

Finely crafted stone arrowheads were mass produced in the First Dynasty royal workshops. Some were made from special stones like rock crystal. After more than 3 000 years of use, the skill needed to make these carefully flaked stone arrowheads was beginning to die out.

Kings showed respect for the ancestors by preserving this ancient tradition.




Menes was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the early dynastic period, credited by classical tradition with having united Upper and Lower Egypt, and as the founder of the first dynasty. The identity of Menes is the subject of ongoing debate, although mainstream Egyptological consensus identifies Menes with the protodynastic pharaoh Narmer (most likely) or first dynasty Hor-Aha. Both pharaohs are credited with the unification of Egypt, to different degrees by various authorities.

The almost complete absence of any mention of Menes in the archaeological record, and the comparative wealth of evidence of Narmer, a protodynastic figure credited by posterity and in the archaeological record with a firm claim to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, has given rise to a theory identifying Menes with Narmer.

The chief archaeological reference to Menes is an ivory label from Naqada which shows the royal Horus-name Aha (the pharaoh Hor-Aha) next to a building, within which is the royal nebty-name mn, generally taken to be Menes. From this, various theories on the nature of the building (a funerary booth or a shrine), the meaning of the word mn (a name or the verb endures) and the relationship between Hor-Aha and Menes (as one person or as successive pharaohs) have arisen.




Hor-Aha (or Aha or Horus Aha) is considered the second pharaoh of the first dynasty of ancient Egypt in current Egyptology. He lived around the thirty-first century BC. The commonly-used name Hor-Aha is a rendering of the pharaoh's Horus-name, an element of the royal titulary associated with the god Horus, and is more fully given as Horus-Aha meaning Horus the Fighter.

For the Early Dynastic Period, the archaeological record refers to the pharaohs by their Horus-names, while the historical record, as evidenced in the Turin and Abydos king lists, uses an alternative royal titulary, the nebty-name. The different titular elements of a pharaoh's name were often used in isolation, for brevity's sake, although the choice varied according to circumstance and period. Mainstream Egyptological consensus follows the findings of Petrie in reconciling the two records and connects Hor-Aha (archaeological) with the nebty-name Ity (historical).

The same process has led to the identification of the historical Menes (a nebty-name) with the Narmer (a Horus-name) evidenced in the archaeological record (both figures are credited with the unification of Egypt and as the first pharaoh of Dynasty I) as the predecessor of Hor-Aha (the second pharaoh).

There has been some controversy about Hor-Aha. Some believe him to be the same individual as the legendary Menes and that he was the one to unify all of Egypt. Others claim he was the son of Narmer, the pharaoh who unified Egypt. Narmer and Menes may have been one pharaoh, referred to with more than one name. Regardless, considerable historical evidence from the period points to Narmer as the pharaoh who first unified Egypt and to Hor-Aha as his son and heir.

Seals impressions discovered by G. Dreyer in the Umm el-Qa'ab from Merneith and Qa'a burials identify Hor-Aha as the second pharaoh of the first dynasty. His predecessor Narmer had united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom. Hor-Aha probably ascended the throne in the late 32nd century BC or early 31st century BC. According to Manetho, he became pharaoh at about the age of thirty and ruled until he was about sixty years old.

Hor-Aha seem to have conducted many religious activities. A visit to a shrine of the goddess Neith is recorded on several tablets from his reign. The sanctuary of Neith he visited was located in the north-east of the Nile Delta at Sai. Furthermore, the first known representation of the sacred Henu-barque of the god Sokar was found engraved on a year tablet dating from his reign.

Vessel inscriptions, labels and sealings from the graves of Hor-Aha and Queen Neithhotep suggest that this queen died during the reign of Aha. He arranged for her burial in a magnificent mastaba excavated by de Morgan . Queen Neithhotep is plausibly Aha's mother . The selection of the cemetery of Naqada as the resting place of Neithhotep is a strong indication that she came from this province. This, in turn, supports the view that Narmer married a member of the ancient royal line of Naqada to strenghten the domination of the Thinite kings over the region.

Most importantly, the oldest mastaba at the North Saqqara necropolis of Memphis, dates to his reign. The mastaba belongs to an elite member of the administration who may have been a relative of Hor-Aha as was customary at the time. This is a strong indication of the growing importance of Memphis during Aha's reign.

Few artifacts remain of Hor-Aha's reign. However, the finely executed copper-axes heads, faience vessel fragments , ivory box and inscribed white marbles all testify to the flourishing of craftsmanship during Aha's time in power.

Inscriptions on ivory tablet from Abydos suggest that Hor-Aha led an expedition against the Nubians. On a year tablet, a year is explicitely called 'Year of smiting of Ta-Sety' (i.e. Nubia). During Hor-Aha's reign, trade with the Southern Levant seem to have been on decline. Contrary to his predecessor Narmer, Hor-Aha's is not yet attested outside of the Nile Valey. This may point to a gradual replacement of long-distance trade between Egypt and its eastern neighbors by a more direct exploitation of the local ressources by the Egyptians. Vessel fragments analysis from an egyptian outpost at En Besor suggests that it was active during Hor-Aha's reign. Other egyptian settlement are know to have been active at the time as well (Byblos and along the Lebanese coast). Finally, Hor-Aha's tomb yielded vessel fragments from the Southern-Levant.

Legend had it that he was carried away by a hippopotamus, the embodiment of the deity Seth. Provided that Hor-Aha was the legendary Menes, another story has it that Hor-Aha was killed by a hippopotamus while hunting.

The tomb of Hor-Aha is located in the necropolis of the kings of the 1st Dynasty at Abydos, known as the Umm el-Qa'ab. It comprises three large chambers B10 B15 and B19 which are directly adjacent to Narmer's tomb. The chambers are rectangular, directly dug in the desert floor, their walls lined with mud bricks. The tombs of Narmer and Ka had only two adjacent chambers, while the tomb of Hor-Aha comprises three substantially larger yet separated chambers. The reason for this architecture is that it was difficult at that time to build large ceiling above the chambers. Moreoever timber for these structures often had to be imported from Palestine.

A striking innovation of Hor-Aha's tomb is that members of the royal household were buried with the Pharaoh. It is unclear if they were killed or committed suicide. Among those buried, were servants, dwarfs, women and even dogs. A total of 36 subsidiary burials were laid out in three parallel rows east of Hor-Aha's main chambers. As a symbol of royalty Hor-Aha was even given a group of young lions.


Aha's faience jar fragment

Aha built a large tomb complex for himself and his wives at Abydos. The name of one wife, Bener-ib meaning 'sweet heart', appears beside that of the king on this ivory box fragment.

His tomb complex also included graves for retainers (all young men) and one for seven lions possibly kept as pets.

A fragment of hippopotamus ivory, probably part of a box, bearing an incised inscription on one side giving the serekh of Aḥa and the name Ima-ib or Bener-ib. There are two holes through the fragment for fixing, as well as two holes in the bottom edge and one in each side, probably for dowels. The surface of the ivory is slightly cracked and the top right-hand corner is chipped.

Palette with ivory cover

This cosmetic palette set originally belonged to Aha's mother, Narmer's wife, Neith-hotep. Her name is etched on the cover's edge with her chief title as queen 'She who unites the two lords'.

Probably a royal gift, it was found with a female retainer buried within the tomb complex of King Djer, Neith-hotep's grandson.

Rectangular mudstone palette: restored from two fragments, with a small amount lost from the edges of the break. One side is stained a dark violet colour from use. The surfaces have been carefully smoothed and the edges are rounded.

Rectangular cover for a mudstone palette, recessed on the underside. The top is very slightly convex and has a handle, now broken, in the approximate centre. On one end of the cover there is an incised inscription of Neitḥotep. Good condition.




Djer was the second or third pharaoh of the first dynasty of Egypt, which dates from approximately 3100 BC. Uncertainty over the first pharaohs of this dynasty, Menes or Narmer, and Hor-Aha, and possible confusion with the final ruler of the Protodynastic Period, makes the numbering of the First Dynasty problematic. A mummified wrist of Djer or his wife was discovered by Flinders Petrie, but was discarded by Emile Brugsch.

The Abydos King List lists the third pharaoh as Iti, the Turin King List lists a damaged name, beginning with "it" while Egyptian priest Mantheo lists the name Athothis or Athothes.

Reign: His name was found in an inscription on the Wadi Halfa, south of the first Cataract, proving the boundaries of his reign. Hieroglyphs on Ivory and wood labels from Abydos and Saqqara say he reigned for 57 years. Modern research by Toby Wilkinson in Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt stresses that the near-contemporary and therefore, more accurate Palermo Stone ascribes Djer a reign of "41 complete and partial years." Wilkinson notes that Years 1-10 of Djer's reign are preserved in register II of the Palermo Stone, while the middle years of this pharaoh's reign are recorded in register II of Cairo Fragment One.

Military Campaigns: He probably fought several battles against the Libyans in the Nile delta.

Family: Djer was a son of a pharaoh Hor-Aha and his wife Khenthap. His grandfather was probably Narmer, and his grandmother was Neithhotep. Women carrying titles later associated with queens such as great one of the hetes-sceptre and She who sees/carries Horus were buried in subsidiary tombs near the tomb of Djer in Abydos or attested in Saqqara. These women are thought to be the wives of Djer and include:

  • Nakhtneith (or Nekhetneith), buried in Abydos and known from a stela.
  • Herneith, possibly a wife of Djer. Buried in Saqqara.
  • Seshemetka, buried in Abydos next to the king. She was said to be a wife of Den in Dodson and Hilton.
  • Penebui, her name and title were found on an ivory label from Saqqara.
  • bsu, known from a label in Saqqara and several stone vessels (reading of name uncertain; name consists of three fish hieroglyphs).

Burial: Like his predecessor, Hor-Aha, he was buried in the holy place Abydos. Close to his grave is another, that probably belongs to his wife Herneith, mother of the later king Den, and possibly his regent during his youth.

The evidence for Djer's life and reign:

  • Tomb in Umm el-Qa'ab, Abydos
  • Seal prints from graves 2185 and 3471 in Saqqara
  • Inscriptions in graves 3503, 3506 and 3035 in Saqqara
  • Seal impression and inscriptions from Helwan (Saad 1947: 165; Saad 1969: 82, pl. 94)
  • Jar from Turah with the name of Djer (Kaiser 1964: 103, fig.3)
  • UC 16182 ivory tablet from Abydos, subsidiary tomb 612 of the enclosure of Djer (Petrie 1925: pl. II.8; XII.1)
  • UC 16172 copper adze with the name of Djer (tomb 461 in Abydos, Petrie 1925: pl. III.1, IV.8)
  • Inscription of his name (of questioned authenticity, however) at Wadi Halfa, Sudan

The inscriptions, on ivory and wood, are in a very early form of hieroglyphs, hindering complete translation, but a label at Saqqarah may depict the early Old Kingdom practice of human sacrifice. An ivory tablet from Abydos mentions that Djer visited Buto and Sais in the Nile Delta. One of his regnal years on the Cairo Stone was named "Year of smiting the land of Setjet", which often is speculated to be Sinai or beyond.

Tomb: Similarly to his father Hor-Aha, Djer was buried in Abydos. Djer's tomb is tomb of Petrie. His tomb contains the remains of 300 retainers who were buried with him. Several objects were found in and around the tomb of Djer.

  • Sealings of a king named Khent.
  • Labels mentioning the name of a palace and the name of Meritneith.
  • Fragments of two vases inscribed with the name of Queen Neithhotep.
  • Bracelets of a Queen were found in the wall of the tomb.

In the subsidiary tombs excavators found:

  • Stela of several individuals
  • Ivory objects with the name of Neithhotep.
  • Ivory tablets.

From the 18th Dynasty on, the tomb of Hor-Aha was revered as the tomb of Osiris, and the First Dynasty burial complex, which includes both this and the tomb of Djer, was very important in the Egyptian religious tradition.

Manetho indicates that the First Dynasty ruled from Memphis - and indeed Herneith, one of Djer's wives, was buried nearby at Saqqara. Manetho also claimed that Athothes, who is sometimes identified as Djer, had written a treatise on anatomy that still existed in his own day, over two millennia later.

Similarly to his father Hor-Aha, Djer was buried in Abydos. Djer's tomb is tomb O of Petrie. His tomb contains the remains of 300 retainers who were buried with him. Several objects were found in and around the tomb of Djer. From the 18th Dynasty on, the tomb of Hor-Aha was revered as the tomb of Osiris, and the First Dynasty burial complex, which includes both this and the tomb of Djer, was very important in the Egyptian religious tradition.

Manetho indicates that the First Dynasty ruled from Memphis - and indeed Herneith, one of Djer's wives, was buried nearby at Saqqara. Manetho also claimed that Athothes, who is sometimes identified as Djer, had written a treatise on anatomy that still existed in his own day, over two millennia later.

Tomb of King Djer surrounded by retainer burials.

Copper tools buried with a retainer of Djer

Skilled retainers accompanied the king in the afterlife to provide all the services required. One of Djer's retainers was probably a craftsman, since he was buried with a set of copper tools. These include two chisels and an adze, used in carpentry, and a long pointed tool possible for cutting leather. One chisel bears the owner's name, 'Hem', meaning 'servant'.

Furniture leg from King Djer's tomb

Beds, stools and boxes with legs in the shape of bulls' feet were home furnishings for the king and the elite. The power of the bull conferred protection on the user. High quality carving marks this ivory leg as a product of the royal workshops. It was probably attached to a chest or coffer. Such fragments are all that remain of once rich funerary equipment in the royal tombs.

A hippopotamus ivory leg in the form of a bull's foot, standing on a cylindrical, grooved pedestal. The detail of the carving is very good, the veins being depicted and the surface carefully modelled. At the back of the upper surface are the remains of a small tenon, pierced by a single hole for attachment. The top of this tenon is broken but the remainder of the object is in a good state of preservation.


Board for the snake game.

Above left, the board for the snake game, and some of the pieces used.

The painting at left is of the playing pieces for the snake game depicted in the tomb of Hesy-ra, Saqqara, Third Dynasty.

Games were popular with the king and his court. This limestone board, carved in the shape of a coiled serpent, was for playing mehen, the snake game.


Almost all of the furnishings from the royal tombs were broken and burnt by robbers. This cylindrical jar is one of the few stone vessels to survive in one piece. Although burnt, the contents are still intact. It was found beneath a stairway in the tomb of Djer. Nearby, the wrapped arm with bracelets, illustrated elsewhere, was also discovered.

Cylinder, calcite jar, with concave sides and a rounded rim, below which there is a band of cord decoration. The entire jar has been blackened by fire and it is filled to the top with the charred remains of the original contents.

Ivory bead from a bracelet

Shaped like a falcon-topped serekh, the box for the king's name, this bead came from the tomb of King Djer. In the same tomb, a bracelet with identical beads made of turquoise and gold was found still in place on a linen wrapped arm, shown below. Whether it was the arm of the king or one of his queens is uncertain.

An ivory or bone bead in the form of a serekh, with the Horus falcon on the top, probably intended for use in a bracelet. The panels of the façade and the dots above are carved in sunken relief. The bead is pierced horizontally by two holes. The ivory is well preserved, although the object has been restored from three fragments, and the face of the hawk is missing.

A serekh was normally used as a royal crest, accentuating and honouring the name of the pharaoh. Its use can be dated back as early as the Gerzeh culture, circa 3 400 BC. The hieroglyphs forming the king's name were placed inside a rectangular extension atop the serekh, which represented the royal courtyard. Additionally, the falcon of the god Horus, or in a few cases the Set animal, topped the serekh, showing the celestial patron of the named king.



Falcon figures as staff heads


Ivory and ebony arrowheads - Tomb of Djer, First Dynasty

As supreme hunter and warrior, the king maintained cosmic order. Befitting this role his arrows were made of precious ivory and exotic ebony. Fitted into reed shafts, these aerodynamic arrows did not need feathers to stabilise them. Red ochre applied to the tips of some may represent poison or the blood of the victim, magically guaranteeing victory.

Arm with jewellery

Colourised black and white photograph of an arm from Djer's tomb, courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society, London, from a poster at the British Museum, © Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

There is an intriguing story to this photograph, which is all that now remains of the arm wrapped in linen, although the beads are preserved in the Cairo Museum.

The following is an extract from Cowie and Johnson (2001):

One early idea to preserve and mummify the body of the deceased was to wrap the body in cloth to protect it from the atmosphere and to coat the cloth with resin, which had two functions: as it dried it stiffened around the body, preserving its shape, and it also became airtight, like a shell.

One of the earliest attempts at mummification discovered to date was a First Dynasty King, discovered by Flinders Petrie at Abydos, some 150 km north of Thebes. Abydos was a sacred city, especially dedicated to the cult of Osiris. Petrie, with an assistant Mace, re-excavated the poorly performed first excavation of the site, at the tomb of King Zer (Djer), beginning in 1899.

The bracelets as they appear now, in the Cairo Museum.

Malachite jar with gold handles

This jar was precious not only because of the gold on its handles, but also because of the material it is made of: malachite. Only one other example is known. It came from the tomb of Djer, making it likely that this example also comes from a royal tomb.

Vase of green malachite with a rounded, lenticular body and two small handles, both pierced vertically and covered with a rectangular plate of gold. The narrow mouth is surrounded by a rounded rim. The interior is moderately well hollowed. Rim chipped in places.

Amazonite jar

Deep green ammonite was one of the ancient Egyptians' six most precious stones, on a par with turquoise and lapis lazuli. Enhancing its value, this jar originally had a gilded rim. The roughened area on the neck shows where a gold covering was once present.

Vase of green feldspar with a rounded, flattened body and a narrow neck. The rim was originally covered with gold, a band of unpolished stone shows the original position of the metal. Interior only partially hollowed, showing clear drill-marks.

Miniature basalt jar

An unpolished area just below the rim of this jar shows where gold leaf was once applied. Originally, gold also adorned the handles and was fastened to them with fine wire laced through small holes. Such a tiny jar may have had a ritual function or held valuable oil.

Miniature basalt vase with a small flat base and rounded rim, with wavy ledge-handles on sides, each pierced vertically by two holes. The area just below the rim exhibits a band of unpolished stone where a strip of gold-plating has been removed.

Double ended scrapers

It is unlikely that the king did menial tasks using flint tools in real life, but all eventualities were covered for the afterlife. These broad rectangular blades were once called razors, due to their similarity to later metal tools. Now they are considered to be all-purpose implements for slicing and scraping, and have been described as the 'Swiss Army knives' of their time.




Djet, also known as Wadj, Zet, and Uadji (in Greek possibly the pharaoh known as Uenephes or possibly Atothis), was the fourth Egyptian pharaoh of the first dynasty. Djet's Horus name means "Horus Cobra" or "Serpent of Horus". Little is known about his reign, but he has become famous because of his tomb stela. It is decorated with Djet's Horus name, and shows that the distinct Egyptian style had already become fully developed.

His stela is displayed at the Louvre in Paris. It is made of limestone carved by the sculptor Serekh. The stela was discovered near the ancient city of Abydos where Wadj's mortuary complex is located. The only other place that Egyptologists found a reference to him was in an inscription near the city of Edfu, to the south of Egypt.


Queen Mereneith

Queen Mereneith

Merneith was a consort and a regent of Ancient Egypt during the first dynasty. She may have been a ruler of Egypt in her own right. The possibility is based on several official records. Her rule occurred the thirtieth century B.C., for an undetermined period. Merneith's name means Beloved by Neith and her stela contains symbols of that deity. She was Djet's senior royal wife and the mother of Den.

Merneith is linked in a variety of seal impressions and inscribed bowls with Djer, Djet and Den. Merneith may have been the daughter of King Djer, but there is no conclusive evidence. As the mother of Den, it is likely that Merneith was the wife of King Djet. No information about the identity of her mother has been found. A clay seal found in the tomb of her son, Den, was engraved with "King's Mother Merneith". It also is known that Den's father was Djet, making it likely, therefore, that Merneith was Djet's royal wife.

Merneith is believed to have become ruler upon the death of her husband, Djet. The title she held, however, is debated. It is possible that her son Den was too young to rule when Djet died, so she may have ruled as regent until Den was old enough to be the king in his own right.

The strongest evidence that Merneith was a ruler of Egypt is her tomb. This tomb in Abydos (Tomb Y) is unique among the otherwise exclusively male tombs. Merneith was buried close to Djet and Den. Her tomb is of the same scale as the tombs of the kings of that period. Two grave stelae were discovered near her tomb. The stelae bear the name Merneith. However, her name is not surrounded by a serekh which was the prerogative of a king. Merneith's name is not included in the King Lists from the New Kingdom. A seal containing a list of pharaohs of the first dynasty was found in the tomb of Qa'a, the third known pharaoh after Den. However, this list does not mention the reign of Merneith.

A few other pieces of evidence exist elsewhere about Merneith:

  • Merneith's name appears on a seal found in the tomb of her son, Den. The seal includes Merneith on a list of the first dynasty kings. Merneith's name was the only name of a woman included on the list. All of the names on the list are the Horus names of the kings. However, Merneith's name is accompanied by the title "King's Mother".
  • Merneith's name may have been included on the Palermo Stone.
  • Items from the great mastaba (Nr 3503, 16 x 42 m) in Saqqara where her name has been found in inscriptions on stone vessels, jars, as well as the seal impressions. In particular, there is one seal from Saqqara which shows Merneith's name in a serekh.
  • Merneith Enclosure. This is a group of tombs from the cemetery at Shunet el-Zebib. These tombs are dated to the time of Merneith.
  • Merneith's name was found on objects in king Djer's tomb in Umm el-Qa'ab

At Abydos the tomb belonging to Merneith was found in an area associated with other pharaohs of the first dynasty, Umm el-Qa'ab. Two stela made of stone, identifying the tomb as hers, were found at the site.

In 1900 William Petrie discovered Merneith's tomb and, because of its nature, believed it belonged to a previously unknown pharaoh. The tomb was excavated and was shown to contain a large underground chamber, lined with mud bricks, which was surrounded by rows of small satellite burials with at least 40 subsidiary graves.

The servants were thought to assist the ruler in the afterlife. The burial of servants with a ruler was a consistent practice in the tombs of the early first dynasty pharaohs. Large numbers of sacrificial assets were buried in her tomb complex as well, which is another honor afforded to pharaohs that provided the ruler with powerful animals for eternal life. This first dynasty burial complex was very important in the Egyptian religious tradition and its importance grew as the culture endured.

Inside her tomb archaeologists discovered a solar boat that would allow her to travel with the sun deity in the afterlife.

Considered one of the most important archaeological sites of ancient Egypt (near the town of al-Balyana), the sacred city of Abydos was the site of many ancient temples, including Umm el-Qa'ab, the royal necropolis, where early pharaohs were entombed. These tombs began to be seen as extremely significant burials and in later times it became desirable to be buried in the area, leading to the growth of the town's importance as a cult site.

Handle of a vessel in the shape of a reclining gazelle

Frog in Rock Crystal

Small pot in the form of a frog.




Den, also known as Hor-Den, Dewen and Udimu, is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the 1st dynasty. He is the best archaeologically attested ruler of this period. Den is said to have brought prosperity to his realm and numerous innovations are attributed to his reign.

He was the first to use the title King of Lower- and Upper Egypt, and the first depicted as wearing the double crown (red and white). The floor of his tomb at Umm el-Qa'ab near Abydos is made of red and black granite, the first time in Egypt this hard stone was used as a building material. During his long reign he established many of the patterns of court ritual and royalty used by later rulers and he was held in high regard by his immediate successors.

The Greek historian (priest) Manetho called him "Ousaphaidos" and credited him with a reign of 20 years, whilst the Royal Canon of Turin is damaged and therefore unable to provide information about the duration of Den's reign. Egyptologists and historians generally consider that Den had a reign of 42 years. Their conclusion is based on inscriptions on the Palermo Stone.

Den's serekh name is well attested on earthen seal impressions, on ivory labels and in inscriptions on vessels made of schist, diorite and marble. The artifacts were found at Abydos, Sakkara and Abu Rawash. Den's name is also attested in later documents. For example, the Medical Papyrus of Berlin (ramesside era) discusses several methods of treatment and therapies for a number of different diseases. Some of these methods are said to originate from the reign of Den, but this statement may merely be trying to make the medical advice sound traditional and authoritative. Similarly, Den is mentioned in the "Ani's book of death" (also dated to ramesside times) in chapter 64.

Den's family has been the subject of significant research. His Mother was queen Meritneith; this conclusion is supported by contemporary seal impressions and by the inscription on the Palermo Stone. Den's wives were the queens Semat, Nakht-Neith and -possibly- Qua-Neith. He had also numerous sons and daughters, his possible successors to his heirs could have been king Anedjib and king Semerkhet.

Den's royal court is also well researched. Subsidiary tombs and palatial mastabas at Sakkara belonged to high officials such as Ipka, Ankh-ka, Hemaka, Nebitka, Amka, Iny-ka and Ka-Za. In a subsidiary tomb at Den's necropolis, the rare stela of a dwarf named Ser-Inpu was found.

The birth name of Den was misread in ramesside times. The Royal Table of Abydos has 'Sepatju' written with two symbols for 'district'. This derives from the two desert symbols Den originally had used. The Royal Canon of Turin refers to Qenentj, which is quite difficult to translate. The origin of the hieroglyphs used the Royal Canon of Turin remains unknown. The Royal Saqqara Tablet mysteriously omits Den completely.

According to archaeological records, at the very beginning of his reign, Den had to share the throne with his mother Meritneith for several years. It seems that he was too young to rule himself. Therefore Meritneith reigned as a regent or de facto pharaoh for some time. Such a course of action was not unusual in ancient Egyptian history. Queen Neithhotep may have taken on a similar role before Meritneith, while queens such as Sobekneferu and Hatshepsut were later female Egyptian rulers. Den's mother was rewarded with her own tomb of royal dimensions with her own mortuary cult.

An important innovation during Den's reign was the introduction of numbering using hieroglyphs. Prior to this, important year events were merely depicted in signs and miniatures, sometimes guided by the hieroglyphic sign of a bald palm panicle (renpet), meaning 'year'. From Den's reign onwards, the Egyptians used numbering hieroglyphs for a range of purposes including calculating tax collections and for annotating their year events.

Most religious and political happenings from Den's reign are recorded in the numerous ivory tags and from the Palermo Stone inscription. The tags show important developments in typographics and arts. The surface is artistically parted into sections, each of them showing individual events. For example, one of these tags reports on a epidemic then affecting Egypt. The inscription shows the figure of a shaman with an undefined vessel or urn at his feet. A nearby inscription begins with Henu ... but it is unclear, if that means provision or if it is the first syllable of the name Henu-Ka (a high official).

Another tag, known as the MacGregor Label, shows the first complete depiction of an Egyptian king with the so-called Nemes head dress. The picture shows Den in a gesture known as smiting the enemy. In one hand Den holds a smashing sceptre, in the other hand he grabs a foe by his hair. Thanks to the dreadlocks and the conic beard the foe has been identified as of Asian origin. The hieroglyphs at the right side say first smiting of the east. At the left side the name of the high official Iny-Ka is inscribed. It seems that Den sent troops to Sinai and the eastern desert a number of times. Plundering nomads, known by the early Egyptians as Iuntju ('peoples with hunting bows'), were regular foes of Egypt, often causing trouble. They are again mentioned in a rock inscription at Sinai under king Semerkhet, one of Den's successors.

Den was interred within a tomb ("Tomb T") in the Umm el-Qa'ab area of Abydos, which is associated with other first dynasty kings. Tomb T is among the largest and most finely-built of the tombs in this area, and is the first to feature a staircase and a floor made of granite.

His was the first tomb to have a flight of stairs leading to it, those of earlier kings being filled directly above from their roofs. It is possible that the tomb may have used as a storehouse for surplus produce during the king's lifetime, while also making it easier to add grave goods for later use in the afterlife by Den.

Tomb T is also the first tomb to include architectural elements made of stone rather than mud-brick. In the original layout for the tomb, a wooden door was located about half-way up the staircase, and a portcullis placed in front of the burial chamber, designed to keep out tomb robbers. The floor of the tomb was paved in red and black granite from Aswan, the first architectural use of such hard stone on a large scale.

Twenty labels made of ivory and ebony were found in his tomb, 18 of them were found by Flinders Petrie in the spoil heaps left by the less thorough archaeologist Emile Amelineau Among these labels are the earliest known depictions of a pharaoh wearing the double-crown of Egypt (see above), as well as running between ritual stele as part of the Sed festival. Also found are seal impressions that provide the earliest confirmed king list.

Tomb T is surrounded by the burial sites of 136 men and women who were buried at the same time as the king. Thought to be the king's retainers, an examination of some of the skeletons suggests they were strangled, making this an example of human sacrifice which is considered to be common with the pharaohs of this dynasty. This practice which seems to have ceased by the conclusion of the dynasty with shabtis taking the place of the bodies of actual people to aid the pharaohs with the work expected of them in the afterlife


Furniture inlays from the royal tombs.

Inlays of ivory were originally attached to wooden chests or other objects of furniture with resin or small gold or copper nails. Incised geometric patterns, filled with black paste, imitate basketry.

Pieces shaped like bundled reeds adorned the edges of boxes or stools.

EA32652: A piece of ivory inlay decorated on the face with vertical ribbing, broken off at the base. The back is cut into a dovetail tenon for secure fixing. One edge is rebated so that the decorated face extends beyond the rear of the tile, and the opposite edge is cut in the reverse manner, with the carved face inset, probably to allow a series of such pieces to be fitted together with overlapped joints. Length 45 mm, width 42 mm, thickness 10 mm. First Dynasty, Tomb of Den.

EA32654: A small piece of ivory inlay: decorated with deeply incised grooves running diagonally across the face to form a diamond pattern. Traces of dark pigment remain in the grooves. At one end there is a circular hole, bored through the strip. The reverse side is flat and smooth. Good condition, broken off at each end. Length 57 mm, width 20 mm, diameter of hole 3 mm. First Dynasty, Tomb of Den

EA32655: Rectangular fragment of ivory inlay, broken at each end, decorated with a pattern of incised diagonal lines. The pattern forms a series of diamond-shaped lozenges along the length of the piece, each bounded by three parallel lines and having a circular depression in the centre. Many of the grooves are filled with dark pigment. Length 59 mm, width 17 mm. First Dynasty, Tomb of Den

EA32657: Rectangular piece of ivory inlay, unbroken, decorated with incised lines in a diamond pattern. The piece is slightly curved and is pierced by a single hole, in the middle of the width. The edges and back are flat and smooth. Good condition. Length 24 mm, width 9 mm, diameter of hole 2 mm. First Dynasty, Tomb of Den

EA32661: Rectangular fragment of ivory inlay decorated with deeply incised lines running vertically and diagonally across the face. One end is broken away but the other end is preserved and is bevelled for inlaying. The grooves on the face still contain a small amount of dark pigment. First Dynasty, Tomb of Anedjib, length 56 mm, width 23 mm.

EA32663: Rectangular strip of ivory inlay, broken off at one end, decorated with vertical incised lines. The strip is pierced by two holes, 3 mm in diameter, at an interval of 35 mm. The reverse side is flat and smooth. Length 80 mm, width 16 mm. First Dynasty, Tomb of Anedjib

Label for gaming pieces.

Gaming pieces in the shape of towers provide important information about architecture at this time. This ebony label was probably attached to a box containing such tower shaped playing pieces, possibly for use in the board game, Senet.

Rectangular ebony label, pierced in the top right-hand corner. The front surface is incised with a design showing a tower with a crenellated top, almost certainly a representation of a game-piece, with faint traces of black paint in the outlines and red paint in the carving of the internal details. The top right-hand corner of the label has been broken and repaired.

Gold button and gold jar lid

The king had the monopoly on gold for his personal use and as gifts and payment. Gold was generally hammered into shape from sheets, as shown by this jar lid. The decoration was then punched into the soft metal. Once plentiful in the royal tombs, little gold survived the plundering. The small rounded knob of thin gold may have been used to decorate clothing or a shroud.

A small rounded knob of thin gold, with a tubular stem of the same material projecting 2 mm from the back. This stem is pierced on each side to allow for attachment. Length 9 mm, diameter 12 mm.

Gold lid, diameter 45 mm. This lid of sheet gold, decorated with punch marks, was acquired with the limestone vessel below. However it is not known whether the lid and vase originally belonged together, especially as the lid is a poor fit.

Stone Jars decorated with gold

Gold was applied to the rims and handles to heighten the beauty of stone vessels from Predynastic times into the Second Dynasty. Such jars were probably common in the royal tombs. The handles of the squat jars shown here have sheets of gold with cut out designs. Gilded copper wire, in the handle of one vase, was used to hang or carry it.

Barrel-shaped vase of grey and white striped limestone, with a flat base and two small tubular handles. The angular rim has been plated with gold, one strip of the metal being folded over the lip and another wrapped around the neck. A lid of sheet gold, decorated with punch marks, shown above, was acquired with the vessel, but it is not known whether the lid and vase originally belonged together, especially as the lid is a poor fit.

Spheroidal vase of black and white andesite porphyry, with a rounded base and two tubular handles. The rim is thin, flat-topped and sharp on the outer edge. Both handles are covered with rectangular plates of thin gold, cut out into an openwork cross. The interior is well-hollowed.

Spheroidal vase of variegated limestone, with pink, white and black veining. The rim is flat-topped with a sharp outer edge and the interior is fairly well hollowed. On the shoulder of the vase are two tubular handles, both covered by rectangular gold plates with an openwork cross cut in the middle. The handles still contain loops of copper wire, covered with gold foil. The base was drilled right through for ease of hollowing, and would have been plugged by a separate piece of stone, now missing.

Statuette of a king and a label of Den

This ivory statuette shows a king in a short, patterned robe, the special garment worn during the Sed festival. At the top of the ebony label, King Den wears this same robe, as he undertakes one of the festival's most important activities: demonstrating his vitality by running around markers representing Egypt's borders. He was then re-crowned in a special pavilion, his rule and claim to the land reaffirmed.

On the upper middle left we can see the outline of a flying bee at an angle, which signifies the King of the North of Egypt, a symbol first used in this context by Den. Later versions of the bee symbol were more detailed, and horizontally oriented.

Label of Den

One of the king's principal duties was to defend and expand the borders of Egypt.

This ivory label, once tied to a pair of sandals, depicts King Den smiting a foreigner from the east. Rock carvings of Den near the turquoise mines in Sinai show the same scene, proving this label celebrates an actual military and mining expedition.

Demonstrations of strength were required before a Sed festival.

Tomb of King Den

Floor plan of the tomb of King Den at Abydos.

Two figures of a woman with her child.

Wine jars of Den

Wine from the royal vineyards was bottled for distribution and storage in large tapered pottery vessels. Like modern wine labels, the conical mud stoppers used to close them were covered with the impressions from cylinder seals, naming the place of manufacture and the person responsible.

The fragment above the large wine jars names King Semerkhet's vineyard, written as a sloping trellis with wine jars below. Thousands of such jars were found in the royal tombs at Abydos. In Den's tomb alone there were more than 1 000 examples, containing nearly 250 000 litres of wine.

Tall jar of dull red pottery from the Tomb of Den with traces of a pale brown wash. The sides expand from the mouth to the shoulder, then converge to a narrow rounded base. Below the rim there is a raised ridge, close to which there are two incised marks.

The jar is sealed with a conical clay stopper, which bears the remains of four impressed inscriptions. Only one impression is now reasonably clear, the other three having disappeared except for slight traces.




Anedjib, more correctly Adjib and also known as Hor-Anedjib, Hor-Adjib and Enezib, is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the 1st dynasty. The ancient Greek historian Manetho named him "Miebidos" and credited him with a reign of 26 years, while the Royal Canon of Turin credited him with an implausible reign of 74 years. Egyptologists and historians now consider both records to be exaggerations and generally credit Adjib with a reign of 8-10 years.

Adjib is well attested in archaeological records. His name appears in inscriptions on vessels made of schist, alabaster, breccia and marble. His name is also preserved on ivory tags and earthen jar seals. Objects bearing Adjib's name and titles come from Abydos and Sakkara.

Adjib's family has only partially been investigated. His parents are unknown, but it is thought that his predecessor, king Den, may have been his father. Adjib was possibly married to a woman named Betrest. On the Palermo Stone she is described as the mother of Adjib's successor, king Semerkhet. Definite evidence for that view has not yet been found. It would be expected that Adjib had sons and daughters, but their names have not been preserved in the historical record. A candidate for being a possible member of his family line is Semerkhet.

According to archaeological records, Adjib introduced a new royal title which he thought to use as some kind of complement to the Nisut-Bity-title: the Nebuy-title, written with the doubled sign of a falcon on a short standard. It means "The two lords" and refers to the divine state patrons Horus and Seth. It also symbolically points to Lower- and Upper Egypt. Adjib is thought to have legitimatised his role as Egyptian king with the use of this title.

Clay seal impressions record the foundation of the new royal fortress Hor nebw-khet ("Horus, the gold of the divine community") and the royal residence Hor seba-khet ("Horus, the star of the divine community"). Stone vessel inscriptions show that during Adjib's reign an unusually large number of cult statues were made for the king. At least six objects show the depicting of standing statues representing the king with his royal insignia.

Stone vessel inscriptions record that Adjib commemorated a first and even a second Hebsed (a throne jubilee), a feast that was celebrated the first time after 30 years of a king's reign, after that it was repeated every 10th year. But recent investigations suggest that every object showing the Hebsed and Adjib's name together were removed from king Den's tomb.

It would seem that Adjib had simply erased and replaced Den's name with his own. This is seen by egyptologists and historians as evidence that Adjib never celebrated a Hebsed and thus his reign was relatively short. Egyptologists such as Nicolas-Christophe Grimal and Wolfgang Helck assume that Adjib, as Den's son and rightful heir to the throne, may have been quite old when he ascended the Egyptian throne. Helck additionally points to an unusual feature; All Hebsed pictures of Adjib show the notation Qesen ("calamity") written on the stairways of the Hebsed pavilion. Possibly the end of Adjib's reign was a violent one.

Adjib's burial site was excavated at Abydos and is known as "Tomb X". It measures 16.4 x 9.0 metres and is the smallest of all royal tombs in this area. Adjib's tomb has its entrance at the eastern side and a staircase leads down inside. The burial chamber is surrounded by 64 subsidiary tombs and simply divided by a cut-off wall into two rooms. Until the end of the first dynasty, it would seem to have been a tradition that the family and court of the king committed suicide (or were killed) and were then buried along side the ruler in his necropolis.




Semerkhet is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the 1st dynasty. This ruler became known through a tragic legend handed down by ancient Greek historian Manetho, who reported that a calamity of some sort occurred during Semerkhet's reign. The archaeological records seem to support the view that Semerkhet had a difficult time as king and some early archaeologists even questioned the legitimacy of Semerkhet's succession to the Egyptian throne.

Manetho credited him with a reign of 18 years, while the Royal Canon of Turin credited him with an implausibly long reign of 72 years. Egyptologists and historians now consider both statements as exaggerations and credit Semerkhet with a reign of 8 1/2 years. This evaluation is based on the Cairo Stone inscription, where the complete reign of Semerkhet has been recorded. Additionally, they point to the archaeological records, which strengthen the view that Semerkhet had a relatively short reign.

Semerkhet is well attested in archaeological records. His name appears in inscriptions on vessels made of schist, alabaster, breccia and marble. His name is also preserved on ivory tags and earthen jar seals. Objects bearing Semerkhet's name and titles come from Abydos and Sakkara.

Semerkhet's serekh name is commonly translated as "companion of the divine community" or "thoughtful friend". The latter translation is questioned by many scholars, since the hieroglyph khet (Gardiner-sign F32) normally was the symbol for "body" or "divine community".

Semerkhet's birth name is more problematic. Any artefact showing the birth name curiously lacks any artistic detail of the used hieroglyphic sign: a walking man with waving cloak or skirt, a nemes head dress and a long, plain stick in his hands. The reading and meaning of this special sign is disputed.

Egyptologists such as Toby Wilkinson, Bernhard Grdseloff and Jochem Kahl read Iry-Netjer, meaning "He belongs to the gods". This word is often written with single vowels nearby the ideogram of the man. Some ivory tags show the Nebty name written with the single sign of a mouth (Gardiner-sign D21). Therefore they read Semerkhet's throne name as Iry (meaning "one of them/he who belongs to...") and the Nebty name as Iry-Nebty (meaning "He who belongs to the Two Ladies").

This reconstruction is strengthened by the observation that Semerkhet was the first king using the Nebty title in its ultimate form. For unknown reason Semerkhet did not use the Nebuytitle of his predecessor. It seems that he felt connected with the 'Two Ladies', a title referring to the goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet, both the female equivalents of Horus and Seth. The Nebty title was thought to function as an addition to the Nisut-Bity title.

Scribes and priests of the Ramesside era were also confused, because the archaic ideogram that was used during Semerkhet's lifetime was very similar to the sign of an old man with a walking stick (Gardiner sign A19). This had been read as Semsu or Sem and means "the eldest". It was used as a title identifying someone as the head of the house.

Due to this uncertainty, it seems that the compiler of the Abydos king list simply tried to imitate the original figure, whilst the author of the Royal Canon of Turin seems to have been convinced about reading it as the Gardiner-sign A19 and he wrote Semsem with single vowels. The Royal Table of Sakkara omits Semerkhet's throne name. The reason for that is unknown, but all kings from Narmer up to king Den are also missing their throne names.

Virtually nothing is known about Semerkhet's family. His parents are unknown, but it is thought that one of his predecessors, king Den, might have been his father. Semerkhet was possibly born to queen Betrest. On the Cairo Stone she is described as his mother. Definite evidence for that view has not yet been found. It would be expected that Semerkhet had sons and daughters, but their names have not been preserved in the historical record. A candidate for a possible member of his family line is his immediate successor, king Qa'a.

An old theory, supported by Egyptologists and historians such as Jean-Philippe Lauer, Walter Bryan Emery, Wolfgang Helck and Michael Rice once held that Semerkhet was a usurper and not the rightful heir to the throne. Their assumption was based on the observation that a number of stone vessels with Semerkhet's name on them were originally inscribed with king Adjib's name. Semerkhet simply erased Adjib's name and replaced it with his own. Furthermore they point out that no high official and priest associated with Semerkhet was found at Sakkara. All other kings, such as Den and Adjib, are attested in local mastabas.

Today this theory has little support. Egyptologists such as Toby Wilkinson, I. E. S. Edwards and Winifred Needler deny the 'usurping theory', because Semerkhet's name is mentioned on stone vessel inscriptions along with those of Den, Adjib and Qa'a. The objects were found in the underground galleries beneath the step pyramid of (3rd dynasty) king Djoser at Sakkara.

The inscriptions show that king Qa'a, immediate successor of Semerkhet and sponsor of the vessels, accepted Semerkhet as a rightful ancestor and heir to the throne. Furthermore, the Egyptologists point out that nearly every king of 1st dynasty had the habit of taking special vessels (so-called 'anniversary vessels') from their predecessor's tomb and then replace their predecessor's name with their own.

Semerkhet not only confiscated Adjib's vessels, in his tomb several artifacts from the necropolis of queen Meritneith and king Den were also found. The lack of any high official's tomb at Sakkara might be explained by the rather short reign of Semerkhet. It seems that the only known official of Semerkhet, Henu-Ka, had survived his king: His name appears on ivory tags from Semerkhet's and Qaa's tomb.

Seal impressions from Semerkhet's burial site show the new royal domain Hor wep-khet (meaning "Horus, the judge of the divine community") and the new private household Hut-Ipty (meaning "house of the harem"), which was headed by Semerkhet's wives. Two ivory tags show the yearly 'Escort of Horus', a feast connected to the regular tax collections. Other tags report the cult celebration for the deity of the ancestors, Wer-Wadyt ("the Great White"). And further tags show the celebration of a first (and only) Sokar feast.

While the Cairo Stone reports the whole of Semerkhet's reign, unfortunately, the surface of the stone slab is badly worn and most of the events are now illegible.

Egyptologists and historians pay special attention to the entrance "Destruction of Egypt" in the second window of Semerkhet's year records. The inscription gives no further information about that event. But it has a resemblance to the Manetho's report. The Eusebius version says: His son, Sememspes, who reigned for 18 years; in his reign a very great calamity befell Egypt. The Armenian version sounds similar: Mempsis, annis XVIII. Sub hoc multa prodigia itemque maxima lues acciderunt. ("Mempsis, 18 years. Under him many portents happened and a great pestilence occurred."). Mysteriously none of the documents from after Semerkhet's reign is able to report which kind of "calamity" took place under Semerkhet.


Semerkhet's burial site was excavated in 1899 by archaeologist and Egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie at Abydos and is known as "Tomb U". While excavating, Petrie found no stairways like he did at the necropolis of Den and Adjib. He found a ramp, four metres wide and leading straight into the main chamber. The ramp starts around ten metres east outside the tomb and has a base slope of 12° .

Pottery sherd showing Semerkhet's serekh name

The burial chamber measures 29.2 x 20.8 metres and is of simple construction. Petrie found that the king's mastaba once covered the whole of the subsidiary tombs. Now the royal burial formed a unit with the 67 subsidiary tombs. Egyptologists such as Walter Bryan Emery and Toby Wilkinson see this architectural development as proof that the royal family and household were killed willingly when their royal family head had died. Wilkinson goes further and thinks that Semerkhet, as the godlike king, tried to demonstrate his power over the death and life of his servants and family members even in their afterlife. The tradition of burying the family and court of the king when he died was abandoned at the time of king Qaa, one of the last rulers of the 1st dynasty. The tombs of 2nd dynasty founder Hotepsekhemwy onward have no subsidiary tombs.

Flint knife

As chief priest to all of the gods, in theory the king prepared their daily offerings. Animal sacrifices were traditionally made with flint knives. The quality of the workmanship here shows the importance of this object to its royal owner.

Complete bifacial knife of brown flint, roughly flaked but not finally sharpened. The blade has a convex cutting edge and a slightly concave back, and is equipped with the usual style of hook-shaped handle. Very thick and clumsy compared with the best First Dynasty work.

Zigzag pattern fragment.

Fragment of a vase of pale brown pottery with decoration on the exterior in red paint, partly faded to orange. The paint has been applied over a smooth brown slip. Good condition.

Although registered as coming from the tomb of Semerkhet, this sherd bears the excavation mark T, probably indicating their true provenance as the tomb of Den.

Bands and dots pattern fragment.

Fragment of a vase of lightly-baked clay: the section is mostly black in colour. The exterior surface is decorated with purple and red painted designs over a pale grey slip. Slightly cracked.

Although registered as coming from the tomb of Semerkhet, this sherd bears the excavation mark T, probably indicating its true provenance as the tomb of Den.

Triangles, lines and points pattern fragment.

Fragment of a vase of pink pottery with painted decoration on the exterior in red. The designs include triangles, lines and points. There is a mark on the surface where a handle has been broken away. Good condition, decoration faded in places.

Wine jar seal

By Predynastic times the elite had already developed a taste for wine. As grapes were not native to Egypt, wine had to be imported from the Levant, making it rare and costly. To secure a supply, kings of the First Dynasty introduced the vines, and made their own wine on royal estates. Wine drinking soon spread, and by the end of the Old Kingdom the ideal funerary offerings included five different types.

Part of a jar-seal, of pale brown clay, with an impressed inscription giving the name of Semerkhet and the name of a building, possibly a wine-cellar. Good condition.



Most scholars believe that Qa'a was the last king of the 1st dynasty. We may also see his name as Kaa, or several other variations. Though Egyptologists often disagree on dating, our current best guess is that he lived from about 3100 to 2890 BC. According to Manetho he reigned for about 26 years.

Information on Qa'a is limited. He is mentioned on jar sealings and two damaged stela. One one of these stela he is shown wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt and being embraced by the God Horus.

Egyptologists have also discovered the stelae of two of Qa'a's officials, Merka and Sabef. These stelae have more complex inscriptions then earlier hieroglyphics, and may have signaled in increasing sophistication in the use of this writing.

Qa'a had a fairly large tomb in Abydos which measures 98.5 x 75.5 feet or 30 x 23 meters. Manetho gives him a reign of 26 years in his Epitome if this ruler was a certain Biechenes. A long reign is supported by the large size of this ruler's burial site at Abydos. A seal impression bearing Hotepsekhemwy's name was found near the entrance of the tomb of Qa'a (Tomb Q) by the German Archaeological Institute in the mid-1990s. This pharaoh's large Abydos tomb was excavated by German archaeologists in 1993 and proved to contain 26 satellite (i.e. sacrificial) burials. The discovery of the seal impression has been interpreted as evidence that Qa'a was buried, and therefore succeeded, by Hotepsekhemwy, the founder of the second dynasty of Egypt, as Manetho states.

The tomb of one of Qa'a's state officials at Saqqara - a certain noblemen named Merka - contained a stele with many titles. There is a second sed festival attested. This fact plus the high quality of a number of royal steles depicting the king implies that Qa'a's reign was a fairly stable and prosperous period of time. Qa'a's name translates as "His Arm is Raised".

A number of year labels have also been discovered dating to his reign at the First Dynasty burial site of Umm el-Qa'ab in Abydos. Qa'a is believed to have ruled Egypt around 2916 BCE. A dish inscribed with the name and titles of Qa'a was discovered in the tomb of Peribsen (Tomb P of Petrie).

Under Qa'a the officials Merka and Sabef had high positions in the palace administration


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