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Predynastic Town Introduction

Today Hierakonpolis appears as two separate archaeological zones. One is the low grass covered mound
located in the midst of the cultivation. This is the remains of the town and temple mound of the Dynastic site
of Nekhen. The other zone is the collection of inter-related localities stretching across the low desert
representing the multi-component Predynastic occupation of Hierakonpolis. Recent geological testing has
shown that, until extensive land reclamation activities in the Classical period separated them, the two
archaeological zones were part of one contiguous settlement expanding and contracting over time. The
incredible diversity and sheer volume of Predynastic remains make Hierakonpolis a singularly unique
phenomenon in Egypt. A site of many localities, each one has an interesting story to tell.
The site of Hierakonpolis has been continuously inhabited since at least the Badarian period (c 4500BC) as
deep coring up to 4m below the water table in the town mound at Nekhen (square 10N5W) has shown.It was
clearly at its greatest at about 3700-3500BC when the settlement was not limited to the floodplain location
where the Palette of Narmer was found (which may have been an island at the time), but spread out into the
low desert where remnants of predynastic occupation stretch for over 3km along the edge of the desert and
back almost 2.5km into the great wadi (Wadi Abu Suffian) that bisects the site. Coring and geological
examinations show that predynastic occupation was present in the cultivated zone, but is now unfortunately
deeply buried and its full extent is unclear.
Although little of the low desert settlement is now visible above ground,explorations on-going since 1978
are producing insights into a complex urban and cultural landscape unmatched at any other site of this age,
providing glimpse at domestic areas, industrial zones for pottery and beer production, cultic and
administrative centers, trash disposal areas and more.
This is just a sample of the settlement sites examined to date.

On the outskirts of the town center stood the semi-subterranean dwelling of a potter who burned his house
down with his own kiln (HK29), thus insuring its fine preservation down to the charred roofing timbers and
wall beams, found in 1978 just as they had fallen 5500 years earlier. While up the wadi, out in the suburbs,
excavations within a roomier estate (see HK11: Settlement features) has revealed a variety of domestic
features including hearths, storage pits and food preparation areas enclosed by a fence that still retains its
mud-coated reed matting after all these years.
Pot-making appears to have been a growing occupation in the Predynastic period. Stratified deposits within
the HK11 house show a rather rapid change from the home-make cooking pots used earlier to the relatively
inferior (straw tempered) product that was mass produced at the time of the citys peak by the potter at HK29
and elsewhere. Others specialised in making the fine polished red and black-topped red vessels,
characteristic of the Naqada I and early Naqada II phase of the Predynastic and some of the finest pottery
ever made in Egypt. Production sites for this type of pottery were tucked away in the cliffs lining the great
wadi (HK59 etc), possibly to keep secret the specialized knowledge needed for its manufacture. The piles of
cracked, over-fired and melted pots which identify these production sites indicate that much skill was
required to form, dry and fire these elegant thin-walled vessels and that it was not easy to master.
Another great industry at the site was apparently beer. Evidence for Egypts first industrial scale breweries
come in the form of huge pottery vats arranged in installations to allow them to be heated up together. A
major zone for beer production was located near the edge of the cultivation at HK24 with another set of
breweries located in the wadi at HK11C. Outfitted with large vats capable of holding at least 20 gallons each,
it is estimated that even the smallest of these early brewery complexes could have produce about 300
gallons of beer a day (or every other day depending on whether it was fermented in the vat). The secret to
Hierakonpolis greatness may well have been the early development of the redistributive economy that kept
Egypt alive.
Control of this enterprise may have emanated from the administrative and cultic center located in the midst of
the densest accumulation of settlement remains in the low desert (HK29A/B). Here a palisade wall of woodlog posts (HK29B), over 50m long, may form part of the temenos wall enclosing an area potentially of one
hectare, which included workshops for lithic and stone vessel manufacture, mysterious stone mounds,
believed to be the remnants of administrative structures and a ceremonial establishment (HK29A). Refuse
from the rituals undertaken here includehundreds of fine vessels and thousands of bones of sacrifice
animals, including crocodile, hippopotamus and gazelle along with prized domestic stock, providing us with a
unique glimpse at actual religious practices in the Predynastic age.
These discoveries and more have put Hierakonpolis on the map as a pre-eminent site for the study of the
remains of the living at the dawn of history. Read on to learn more about these settlement localities and what
we have learned from them.

Predynastic Cemeteries Introduction

Over the years, surveys of the site have detected numerous cemeteries of Predynastic/ Early Dynastic date
within the desert portion of Hierakonpolis. In 1982 and again in 1987 Michael Hoffman published a list of
these localities with summaries of estimated area covered, date, status and number of graves. However this
information was supplied almost entirely on the basis of surface indications. In the intervening years,
excavations at several of these cemeteries (HK43, HK6, HK27) combined with archival research had led to a
revision of this table, which is provided here. The localities are listed in roughly chronological order. While
full details about all of them cannot be determined without excavation, as a group the cemeteries and their
distribution still have much to tell us about predynastic Hierakonpolis and its development over time.

The cemeteries active in the Naqada IC-IIB period are: the elite cemetery at HK6 and its satellites at HK12
and HK13 located in the Wadi Abu Suffian; HK11E in a tributary wadi; HK43-44 on the southern border
adjacent to Wadi Khamsini; and HK20A on the north side by the Wadi Terifa. HK11E, HK43 and HK20A

appear to be positioned in order to service the large settlement localities most proximal to them (cf. HK11;
HK54; HK22). Located roughly 2.5km apart, the placement of these non-elite cemeteries corresponds to the
distribution observed in the Abydos and Naqada regions, where settlements and cemeteries were found fairly
evenly spaced at 2km intervals and this even distribution suggests that ease of access for a community/clan
was the rational for their existence. On the other hand, the cemetery at HK6 (and its satellites) is a separate
entity, and served as a burial ground restricted to the elite probably since its inception in Naqada IC-IIA.
In the Naqada IIC period there is a notable change in cemetery location. The cemeteries in the Wadi Abu
Suffian were abandoned and new cemeteries were established on former settlement area along the edge of
the flood plain at HK27 (Fort Cemetery), HK31 (Painted Tomb Cemetery) and HK33.
While the Painted Tomb has generally been considered to lay within the HK33 cemetery, there is no reason
to doubt the map of F.W. Green, which places it at the far southeastern tip of the desert site (Quibell and
Green 1902: pl. lxxiiia). In this same location Fairservis (1972: fig. 1) noted a discrete cluster of mortuary
remains which he labelled as HK31, when it was still extant; the site has since been overtaken by cultivation
and housing.
The inception of the Fort Cemetery (HK27) indicates the shrinkage of desert occupation in Naqada IIC, but if
HK33 was also an extensive cemetery at this time, then a relatively rapid abandonment of the desert
settlement must have occurred. The nucleation of the population into floodplain settlements and the
commensurate shift in cemetery location has been noted at numerous sites throughout Upper Egypt, and its
causes much discussed (see Hoffman et al. 1986). The cemetery development at Hierakonpolis is further
illustration of this process.
The number of cemeteries operational in the Naqada III period, when the desert was almost completely
abandoned by the living, is harder to assess. We know that burial at HK6 was resumed, the Fort cemetery
continued to grow in a south and westward direction, and activity at HK30G appears to have commenced.
Other cemeteries are date only on the basis of surface observations or the brief reports of Quibell. All of
these need to be re-confirmed.
Hierakonpolis is one of the few sites at which widely separated and distinct cemeteries for the different
segments of society have been found. Extensive excavations by the current Expedition at the workers
cemetery at HK43 and the elite cemetery at HK6 provide a unique opportunity to study the remains of
individuals of different social status all from this same site and all dating to the same time. As a result we can
see what it really meant to be rich and poor at about 3600BC. The differences are profound.

Explore the most remarkable features of these two cemeteries. Discussions of the Painted Tomb and the
Fort cemetery will be coming soon.

For more information on the cemeteries of Hierakonpolis see:

Friedman, R., 2008.The cemeteries of Hierakonpolis, Archeo-Nil, 18: 8-29.

The ceremonial enclosure of Khasekhemwy: The Fort at Hierakonpolis

Dominating the low desert of Hierakonpolis is an imposing, if enigmatic, structure built of sun dried mud-brick we
call the Fort. Our only standing structure, it is also the oldest freestanding monumental mud-brick structure in
the world and one of the earliest upstanding remnant of Egypts long and rich tradition of mud-brick construction,
which paved the way for its more famous stone architecture. Measuring 67m by 57m (c.220ft x 185ft) in
dimensions, with walls 5m (16ft) thick at their base, the Fort is still preserved in places to near its original height
of 10m.Decorated on its exterior with a series of raised pilasters creating the niched palace-faade familiar from
Early Dynastic royal serekhs, it was originally coated with a gleaming white plaster, traces of which still survive. It
must have been a striking sight in its time, and 4600 years later this monument stands as a testament to the
abilities of its builder, King Khasekhemwy, the last king of the Second Dynasty (c. 2686BC).

Thanks to a laser scan in 2012 you can now see the Fort from all sidesat
Although we still called it the Fort, as it was first described, this imposing structure had no military function. Its
actual purpose remains a mystery. It is certainly related to the ceremonial enclosures that were erected near the
royal burial grounds of the Early Dynastic kings at Abydos to house their mortuary cults, but differs from them in
many aspects. Khasekhemwy was among those who built a mud-brick funerary enclosure at Abydos. His is the
largest. Covering an area of 1.07 hectares, it too still stands to near its original height, and is known as the
Shunet es Zebib (the storehouse of the raisins). Over twice the size of the Hierakonpolis Fort, it accompanies an
equally immense desert tomb. These three structures alone earn this king the right to be called the first of
Egypts great builders and there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that this was not all he was capable of.

In form and monumentality Khasekhewmys enclosures are direct ancestors of the great stone pyramid
complexes of Egypt. As the Fort took approximately 4.82 million to build according to recent calculations
(see Nekhen News 24), (and the Shunet far more), it is perhaps no surprise that the lessons learned in
marshaling manpower and materials allowed Khasekhemwys immediate successor Djoser to build the first of
thesethe Step Pyramid at Saqqara.

But why Khasekhewmy needed two enormous mud-brick enclosures is not clear.The standard explanation has
been that during the shadowy and transitional period of the Second Dynasty Egypt was experiencing the first test
of its unity, and in the second half of the dynasty the country was ruled by rival kings. It has been suggested that
Khasekhem (meaning the power appears), as he was initially known, first ruled as one of these kings perhaps
from a power base at Hierakonpolis given the number of fine statues, stone vessels, stela and architectural
features bearing his early name found at the temple at Nekhen. He may originally have planned to be buried at
Hierakonpolis and began to build his funerary enclosure, but when he defeated his rivals and assumed control of
all Egypt he changed his name to Khasekhemwy (meaning the two powers appear), and built a new enclosure
and tomb at Abydos, the traditional burial place of the Early Dynastic kings, of which he was the last.

This is a plausible theory, but the identification of two building phases for the Fort suggests the story may not be
that simple. Deep within the walls, it is possible to detect a Fort within the Fort: an earlier version, with walls only
2.1m (4 cubits) thick, but complete with niches and pilaster intrinsic to the construction. The walls of this first
phase had only reached about 2.5m in height when plans were evidently changed and the walls were enlarged
to 5m in thickness by adding addition bricks to both sides and then carried up to their final height as one fully
integrated construction. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to determine the length of time, if any, between the
two phases. Although the bricks used in the two phases differ in size and especially in recipe (discussed in detail
in Nekhen News 24), the architectural plan and details of the decorative masonry remained exactly the same,
suggesting that the same ruler was responsible for both. Only the low perimeter wall that originally surrounded
the monument on all sides (a feature shared only with Khasekhemwys Shunet at Abydos) was a later addition,

being built exclusively with second phase bricks. Running across the main entrance, it prevented an axial
approach and just how the complex was entered is still unclear. The location of the opening in the perimeter wall
and its trajectory along the east side of the monument are just two of the many mysteries we still need to solve.

While it is possible that the construction of the Fort began in the early part of the kings reign for one reason and
was completed later for another, from the outset the Fort had many features that are unique and suggest it may
never have been intended for funerary use. Unlike the rectangular enclosures at Abydos, the Fort is nearly
square in plan, and has a single projecting entrance way, which was decorated in both phases with a complex
pattern of niched brick work. To either side of the entrance are narrow chambers that presumably once held
stairways allowing access to the ramparts. This projecting gateway and its flanking chambers are features not
found in any other monument of this type, but bear a similarity to niched-faade palace discovered in the
Dynastic town of Nekhen in the flood plain (Weeks 1972), to date, the only niche architecture known from a nonmortuary setting.

Also unique to the Fort are the elaborately carved stone embellishments that graced the enigmatic structure
within it. Remnants include a sizable pink granite column base (amongst the earliest examples of the
architectural use of granite), which is currently the focus of rituals performed by local women to insure the birth of
a male child (seven leaps over, followed by the distribution of sprouted grain). Originally one of a pair, these
bases each had a recessed center to hold a hefty wooden column to support the roof of a now poorly preserved
internal structure. Located near the center of the enclosure, investigations in 1999 and 2008 revealed it to be a
mud-brick structure about 20m NE-SW by at least 10m NW-SE and possibly originally square, with walls at least
1.85m thick. Interestingly, the lowest course of the wall was made with the distinctive bricks of the first phase of
construction, suggesting that this structure was planned from the outset.

Like the so-called model palaces or shrine built in the southeast corner of the enclosures at Abydos, the Forts
internal structure also has an orientation slightly skewed to the main walls. However, at Hierakonpolis, this
structure may also have been embellished with further stone fittings as investigations in 1999 revealed many
fragments of worked red granite. Although none were decorated or in situ, the stone is identical to that of the
decorated lintel inscribed for Khasekhemwy discovered near the Fort by Ambrose Lansing in 1934. Lansings
brief report states that the fragments had probably been re-used in the walls of a pottery kiln, thus their origins
were unclear, but the recovery of granite fragments near this internal structure presents the exciting possibility
that the lintel may have come from it. If so, it was a sumptuous building indeed.
The lintel, though shattered and fragmentary, features the king prominently, showing him engaged in ritual
activities, in the company of the gods, and as the focus of processions and offerings. It is one of the earliest
examples of royal propaganda on a permanent architectural scale. It was not long before the Egyptian kings took
this to new heights, covering every inch of temple walls with images to their glory.

The scenes on the lintel, especially those of the king dressed in Heb Sed garb suggest what type of activities
took place in the Fort, but dont tell us when: in life or in death? The fittings of the internal structure suggest that
the Fort is not a replica for use in the next world, but the real thing for use in this one and this conclusion is
supported by the pottery recovered during the 1999 excavations, which dates Second Dynasty activity in the Fort
to the middle of the reign of Khasekhemwy. As no pottery characteristic of the end of his 30+-year reign was
found, it seems unlikely that the Fort was a cenotaph, or second funerary establishment. Instead this imposing
enclosure may have been built to commemorate the kings rejuvenation festival or perhaps even the reunification
of land under his command and the grand festival when Khasekhem was reborn as Khasekhemwy. Indeed, what
could be a better place for such a celebration than the home of the patron god of Egyptian Kingship, Horus of
Hierakonpolis. Proof for this theory, however, is hard to come by mainly because we are not the first to look at
the Fort.
Almost without exception, those who came to explore Hierakonpolis could not resist the temptation to probe in
and around the Fort, as the disheveled state of its interior attests. They more successfully fought off the urge to
publish their results, and other than brief notes and archival photographs we have little information about what
has been done. We know that the enclosure was already disturbed by looters in 1897, when Quibell mounted
the first scientific excavations at Hierakonpolis and the architect Somers Clark made the first plan. At this time
the southern wall and gate were still covered by collapse. In 1905, John Garstang cleared this away while also
making excavations within the enclosures on behalf of the University of Liverpool. We know he uncovered 166
late Predynastic graves some 1.5m below the level of the Fort's walls and in the process trenched around the
walls of the internal structure, destroying connections and contexts. Only briefly reporting on this work, his notes
on the cemetery excavation were published much later by Barbara Adams (1987) and although he roughly
planned the structure, an accurate map of the Fort was not completed until 2000! (seeNekhen News 12). In
1934 Ambrose Lansing excavated further predynastic burials around the exterior of the monument, some partly
beneath the Forts walls. Together these excavations have done extensive damage to the structure, lowering the
ground level around and within the walls and exposing the foundations to the erosion, subsidence and more.

Weakness in the foundation is a particularly serious issue given how the structure was built. When the Fort was
enlarged, the masonry of the first phase was encased by six rows (1.5m) of brick on the exterior and five rows
(1.2m) on the interior, but this additional brickwork only abuts and does not bond with the original. Once the
height of the first wall was reached, construction then continued upward as one massive wall, transversely
bonded throughout. Thus, the lower 2.5m of the Fort is in essence three separate structures standing side by
side, but not joined together. As a result, any damage to the foundations causes the added bricks to fall away,
exposing the wall at the core while leaving the fully bonded masonry above dangerously unsupported. This is
amply illustrated by the archival photographs showing catastrophic losses in just the last 100 years, the most
recent being the collapse of the northeast corner in 2002.Thus, it was clear that if we had any hope of unlocking
the mysteries of this enigmatic monument, it was critically in need of conservation and protection.

Luckily, a grant from the World Monuments Watch, a program of the World Monuments Fund, with additional
and generous donations from the Friends of Nekhen, made it possible to undertake the most critical fixes
necessary to stabilize this structure. Work on the emergency repairs began in 2004 and concluded in 2010,
although, like old building everywhere, maintenance is on-going and there is always more work to be done. In
2012, in addition to essential maintenance and the repair of an expanding crack, the Fort was laser scanned,
allowing us not only to rotate its image, but measure it with accuracy and assess its future needs.

Repair of the Fort came with a steep learning curve. You can follow our voyage of discovery at Interactive Dig
Our first task was to figure out just how to go about this vast undertaking and perfect our brick recipe, which was
not as easy as it might sounds. See:

We then began our first fix: the repair of the southwest

But a wall is only as good as its foundations, so we had to strengthened the deflated ground surface to protect
exposed foundations and bring the ground back up to its original level and higher. The fragile nature of the walls
meant everything had to be done by hand (and donkey), one bucket at a time. It was slow work, but this low tech
approach paid high dividends, improving both safety and appearance.

Before we could really get started we had to test our new bricks and our brick laying patterns.
Having worked out the kinks we then got down to business, with conservator, Richard Jaeschke at the helm
devising the treatments based on close study of the surviving masonry. Most critically in need of attention was
the area at the center of the west wall, where a large gap about 15m long and 3m high on the exterior was
actively shedding bricks. Overall, repairs proceeded incrementally. As each area of collapse was usually

accompanied by a disturbance of the underlying desert surface, reinforcement of the foundation is necessary. A
monumental task, it took us two seasons!

Once the exterior had been repaired, we could now tackle the more complicated interior. Here the surface was a
lunar landscape of heaps and depressions that needed to be leveled, while the large gap in the center of the
interior west wall proved to be every bit as ugly and difficult as it first appeared. It gave us some sleepless nights
but we eventually consigned it to history with great relief.

The damage that destabilized the monument also provided a view into its interior and allowed a better
understanding of how it was built and how best to treat it. As most large mud brick constructions in Egypt, its
walls are composed of transversely bonded stacked headers, with only a surface veneer of headers and
stretchers. This type of construction allows the long walls of the structure to flex and settle, but relies on the
corners to provide longitudinal support. With the loss of the corners, the walls begin to separate and lean
outward, creating large cracks running through the matrix, which are then exacerbated by water flow and wild life
habitation. Thus, one of the priorities of the work was to repair the corners. We were successful in repairing the
crumbling southwest corner.

The northeast corner proved to be more of a handful, as only isolated tower of masonry remains here, the rest of
the north wall having blown away with the prevailing wind ages ago. Its eastern face has been extensively
eroded, while the second phase construction on its north face finally lost its grip in 2002 leaving a large mass in
the upper walls unsupported. As at the other corners, the deep pits cut into the underlying desert surface by
treasure hunters had to be reinforced with compacted earth to form a firm base. New masonry was then laid
following the original extent of the second phase build. Although this looked a little excessive, it was necessary to
provide support to the remaining original brick work. In the end we opted for a sloping buttress, which follows the
ancient brick pattern at a slight incline inward. In future we hope to continue this work and make the repairs look
more sympathetic to the monument, but for the moment it serves its purpose to keep this part of the Fort
standing for some time to come.

In future we also hope to be able to attend to the northwest corner, lost in its entirety, and requiring about 80,000
bricks to repair. Relatively stable at the moment, its reconstruction is still crucial for the long term survival of the

While the major focus of the work has been to stabilize the structure against further deterioration, in so doing we
have striven to revive some of the original grandeur of this imposing monument. Where surviving evidence
permits, the new masonry was built flush with the original faade and the decorative pilasters were
reconstructed, but only where evidence for their placement is clear and where the conservation work would

otherwise have obscured their presence. The overall effect we wish to achieve is one of both actual and visual
strength, which will make the condition of the monument easier to monitor and maintain into the future. The
enclosure is still actively visited by the local community on holidays and weekends, a practice we seek to
encourage, as only local interest and respect for the structure will ward off the depredations of brick miners and
insure its survival.

It took dedication, a lot of work and a lot of bricksaround 100,000 of them. Now able to withstand the future,
the Fort still needs our help. An unstable section of wall near the main gate needs stabilizing soon. This is our
next major project. But it will require more scaffolding than we now own and many more bricks. So please dont
leave us holding the Fort.

Join the Friends of Nekhen and help us make a difference. Conservation is not just a buzz word, but an
important responsibility for all of us who cherish Egypts ancient heritage.

For more on the Fort as we explore and repair see Nekhen News volumes 11, 16-22, 24

For further information on the Fort see:

Alexanian, N. 1998. Die Reliefdekoration des Cheschemui aus dem sogenannten Fort in Hierakonpolis [in:]
Grimal, N. (ed.), Les critres de datation stylistiques l'Ancien Empire. Institute Francaise d'Archologie
Orientale, Bibliothque d'tude 120: 3-21.
Friedman, R. 2007. New Observations on the Fort at Hierakonpolis.[in:] Hawass, Z. and Richards, J. (eds.) The
Archaeology and Art of Ancient Egypt. Essays in Honor of David B. OConnor. Annales du Service des Antiquits
de l'gypte Cahier 36. Cairo: 309-336
Garstang, J. 1907. Excavations at Hierakonpolis, at Esna, and in Nubia. Annales du Service des Antiquits de
l'gypte 8: 132-148.
Jaeschke, J.L & Friedman, R.F., 2011. Conservation of the Enclosure of Khasekhemwy at Hierakonpolis, Upper
Egypt: Investigation, Experimentation and Implementation [in:] Rainter, L., Rivera, A.B. & Gandreau, D.
(eds.), Terra 2008. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on the Study and Conservation of Earthen
Architectural Heritage, Bamako, Mali February 1-5, 2008. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles: 189-193.
Kemp, B.J. 1963. Excavation at Hierakonpolis Fort 1905: A Preliminary Note,Journal of Egyptian
Archaeology 49: 24-28.
Lansing, A. 1935. The Egyptian Expedition 1934-1935. The Museum's Excavations at Hierakonpolis. Bulletin of
the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York 30: 37-45.

Nubians at Hierakonpolis: Introduction

Surface surveys undertaken by Michael Hoffman in 1978 and Fred Harlan in 1983 revealed the
presence of three discrete cemeteries with Nubian traits. HK21A and HK47 located at opposite
edges of the site; and HK27C in the center, near the Fort. In the winter of 2001 (with continuing
excavations in 2003 and 2007) the Hierakonpolis Expedition made preliminary investigations
into this Nubian presence in order to understand its significance for the history of the site and
this region of the Nile Valley as a whole.

All three were assumed to belong to the Pan Grave culture--Nubian mercenaries, probably the
Medjay of Egyptian sources, who were brought in to defend Egypt during the troubled times of
the Second Intermediate Period. However, to our surprise HK27C turned out to belong to the
Nubian C group, representing the northernmost occurrence of this culture in Egypt, and dated
to the Middle Kingdom, a time about which we know little at Hierakonpolis. Study of the
Egyptian pottery in these cemeteries, indicates that the Pan Grave cemeteries(HK21A and
HK47) date to the 13-17th Dynasties (Second Intermediate Period), while the C-Group
cemetery (HK27C) can be dated to the 11th to mid 12th Dynasty, with diminishing activity

Our excavations of the Pan Grave and C-Group Nubian cemeteries, the first to be undertaken
since the Nubian salvage campaign in the 1960s have augment the record for both of these
poorly understood populations and revealed many intriguing details about their presence at

For an overview on the Nubian cultures at Hierakonpolis see:
For evidence of A-Group Nubians at Hierakonpolis see:

Decorated Dynastic tombs

The site of Hierakonpolis is primarily known for its Predynastic and Early Dynastic remains; however, it
contains a number of important monuments dating to later periods, which, until recently, have been unjustly
overshadowed and neglected. Among them is a series of decorated rock cut tombs dating to late Old
Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate period, and the early and very late New Kingdom. These
tombs are in many respects unique and have, with few exceptions, been consistently misunderstood. Dating
to period underrepresented at most other site in Upper Egypt, they form an important addition to the corpus
of decorated tombs in ancient Egypt. Open and unprotected until gates were installed by the Expedition in
1996, the tombs have been subject to damage from a variety of vectors, both natural and man-made.
Although sadly battered and much abused, with a little coaxing, they still have much to tell us.
Four of the decorated tombs were the focus of an intensive program of conservation and
documentation undertaken from 1998 to 2001 with funds provided by Egyptian Antiquities
Project (EAP) of the American Research Center in Egypt, Inc. (ARCE) under its USAID Grant for
the "Restoration and Preservation of Egyptian Antiquities". During this project, the tombs were
cleaned and stabilized, detached decorative elements were remounted and their decoration
was fully documented with photographs and facsimile drawings, some of the first ever made of
these tombs. With these resources we can now begin to tell their story and appreciated their
full content and its significance.

The dynastic rock-cut tombs at Hierakonpolis are located on two sandstone inselbergs placed
approximately 1.5 km apart. The earlier (so-called lower) tombs are found in a low hill about
150m to the west of the Second Dynasty enclosure of Khasekhemwy (the Fort). Several tomb
chapels of various size and complexity are cut into the southern and eastern faces of this hill,
but only two retain their painted decoration: the late Old Kingdom tomb of Itjefy, later usurped
in the Middle Kingdom by the governor, overseer of priests, and treasurer of Horus, Ny-ankhPepy; and the neighboring tomb of the Second Intermediate Period supervisor of priests and
overseer of the fields, Horemkhawef. This is also the location where the earliest documented
zombie virus outbreak may have been recorded, but this remains to be proven. For discussion

The second group of (upper) tombs is located approximately one kilometer further into the
desert, at the edge of the Wadi Abu Suffian, in the round topped knoll known as the Burg el
Hammam (Pigeon Hill). Here are the tombs of the New Kingdom officials, three of which are still
richly decorated. These are the tombs of the overseer of the stone carvers, Djehuty and his
neighbour Hormeni (early 18th Dynasty), and the tomb of the First prophet of Horus of Nekhen,
Hormose and his wife Henuta'o (end of the 20th Dynasty). All are of especial interest as nearly
unique examples of tombs that can be tightly dated by royal cartouches respectively to the
reigns of Thutmose I and Ramses XI.

Hierakonpolis was demonstrably an

important central place in Predynastic and Early Dynastic times, but for reasons that are not
entirely clear, during the course of the Old Kingdom it appears to have lost its population to its
sister city Elkab, across the river. It was often stated that by the Middle Kingdom, it was all but
abandoned; its continued existence based only on the Temple of Horus, which retained
significance as the cult center of the patron god of Egypts early kings. However, examination
of the decorated tombs contradicts this reconstruction of the sites later history. It was far from
abandoned and officials of considerable status choose to build their tombs there. The artistry,
quality and textural evidence from the tombs attest to a close connection and interchange with
Elkab, indicating that the river was no boundary. Not only did the same artist paint the tombs of
Horemkhawef in Hierakonpolis and the governor Sobeknakht at Elkab, but the chief priest
Hormose was also able to claim cultic necessities from the temple at Elkab. Highly trained
artisans, like the Stone Carver Djehuty, were clearly deeply attached to the site and its local
deities, and officials like Hormeni may have been charged with important administrative task in
Nubia. Hierakonpolis was clearly not the sleepy provincial town the dearth of dynastic
settlement remains would lead one to believe.
Although their current condition obscures the workmanship, the decorated tombs at
Hierakonpolis are of high quality and appear to have been completed (or nearly so). In each
case, the painted decoration followed the current fashion, yet distant from court circles the
tomb owner or the artist was able to exercise a freedom of expression in text and scenes rarely
seen elsewhere. Refreshingly, the focus was not so much on royal favor and achieved titles, but
rather on personal deeds and experiences to justify the high regard with which the tomb owner
hoped to be remembered for eternity. The number of early New Kingdom visitor inscriptions in

the lower tombs attests to their success in this desire. These tombs provide unique diachronic
insights into provincial values, beliefs, tastes and styles distinct from court centered cemeteries
and shed interesting new light on the history of Egypts southern region.
Created at different times, using different techniques, and subsequently exposed to differing
circumstances, each tomb has suffered the ravages of time in different ways. In all cases,
however, the geology of the sandstone into which the tombs were cut has been an important
factor in the preservation of decorated surfaces. The quality of the stone in the two hills chosen
for tomb-building is generally poor, often interbedded with shales to which the painted plaster
has not adhered well. Fissures and faults within the rock, apparent when the tomb was carved,
were filled with plaster, which has in many cases fallen away, taking with it the overlying
painted plaster and often leaving the tomb open to the elements.
Following the geological setting, the next most destructive agent has been man. The tomb of
Hormose has suffered from subsequent use in the Coptic period and more recently as an abode
by Quibell and Green. As a result, its walls were coated with thick layers of soot, but this proved
to be relatively easy to remove. More damaging have been the thefts and vandalism that
occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially in the tombs of Horemkhawef and
Djehuty. Careful clearance of the debris within the tombs netted many fragments of the
forcefully removed decoration and, where possible, these were restored to the tomb walls with
some notable success.

For general overview see:

Friedman, R.F., 2010. The Decorated Dynastic Tombs at Hierakonpolis [in:] Danforth, R.
(ed.), Preserving Egypts Cultural Heritage. The Conservation Work of the American Research
Center in Egypt 1995-2005. Cairo: 19-22.

The Lower Tombs

The Tomb of Itjefy/Ny-ankh-Pepy

The tomb of Itjefy/Ny-ankh-Pepy, the earliest decorated rock-cut tomb at the site that we know
of, has been the least affected by human intervention subsequent to its discovery in 1893 by JJ
Tylor and Somers Clarke. A usurped tomb, with two levels of decoration, it proved to be quite a
challenge for both conservation and documentation. Its first owner, an official of the late 6th
Dynasty named Itjefy, adorned his tomb with painting and carved relief. Little of his decorative
scheme is now visible except for the entrance jambs, the false door and part of an offering list,
which his usurper Ny-ankh-Pepy retained with modifications for his own use. When Ny-ankhPepy took over the tomb in the late 11th -early 12th Dynasty, it was already in a neglected state
judging from the number of insect burrows he was forced to grout before he shaved down the
raised relief and painted over the earlier decoration, making it his own.

While the majority of the scenes are dedicated to agriculture and daily life pursuits typical of
tomb decoration, the scene on the prominent west wall is unique, as it depicts an event that
actually must have happened. Presumably meant to be humorous, it shows Ny-ankh-Pepy
seated in his traveling boat(s) setting out on a pilgrimage with a huge trussed cow on deck as

an offering. Yet, however peaceful the owner may appear, his boat has become stuck on a
sandbank, shown as a yellow mound between the two boats. Various crew-members have
jumped into the water to try to dislodge it, while others haul it by rope from the riverbank.
Apparently all is going well until the crocodile is spotted (lower right). Then it is pandemonium,
as those in the water desperately try to scramble back on deck with the help of their mates,
who at the same time are busy capturing the crocodile in a net. The sadly destroyed labels on
this scene suggest that the rescues were successful and the crocodile was netted so we can
assume that all members of the journey lived to dine out on the story for years to come.

Other scenes in the tomb include a fight between three large cats, apparently a lion and two
leopards, as Ny-ankh-Pepy looks on along with a row of Nubian and their hunting dogs, who can
be assumed to have captured the cats for their masters enjoyment. Equipped with bows and
wearing feathers in their distinctive hair, these hunters may be some of the same Nubians we
find buried in the contemporary Nubian cemetery at HK27C.

Adjacent to Ny-ankh-Pepy, the tomb of Horemhawef is one of only three painted tomb known
from the Second Intermediate Period. Nearly intact at the time of its initial clearance in 1893,
the decoration had gradually deteriorated over time, but in the early 1990s vandalism left less
than 20% of the original decoration in place and no scene preserved in its entirety. Several
hundred fragments were recovered from the tomb floor, 117 of which could be remounted on
the wall. This helped to restore several mutilated scenes including the self-portrait of the artist
who painted the tomb, Sedjemneteru, in the important act of censing the offerings before the
tomb owner, a position that indicates the high regard in which this master artist was held.

An artist of considerable inventiveness and wit, his talents can be seen in his clever solution to
the protrusions in the wall caused by boulders of intractable stone that could not be removed.
Jutting out at various angles, the boulders were plastered over and painted, but left awkward
spaces around them. These he ingeniously filled with a figure of a squatting mason, chisel and
mallet in hand, pecking away at the protrusion for eternity. So pleased with this idea,
Sedjemneteru continued to used the working mason motif even in the perfectly cut tomb of
Sobeknakht, the governor of Elkab, across the river, where his authorship is also celebrated
with further self-portraits and songs of praise. This self-aggrandizement could not have been
done without the owner permission, and Sedjemneterus obvious status and celebrity should
serve to dispel the still commonplace view of the Egyptian artist as an anonymous artisan.

Although his tomb has been relatively ignored, Horemkhawef is well known for his limestone
biographical stela which was found outside the tomb by Lansing in 1934. Now in the
Metropolitan Museum in New York, the stela records Horemkhawefs trip to the Middle Kingdom
capital of Itj-tawy (Lisht) to receive a new cult statue of Horus and Isis from an unnamed king. A
painted version of the same tale appears in his tomb and this event was clearly the high point
of his career. At any other site, this would simply be a nice story, but at Hierakonpolis, where an
actual cult statue of Horus was found carefully buried in a brick lined pit by J.E. Quibell (in just
his first week of work!!), it raises several questions. With its copper body and gold head, it is a
statue of superb craftsmanship and beauty. During the course of recent conservation, Chris
Eckmann has presented good arguments for a late Old Kingdom date for the metal fittings
which were added to an even more ancient wooden original. So why was Horemkhawef
fetching its replacement?

The recent discovery in the above-mentioned tomb of Sobeknakht at Elkab of an inscription

mentioning raids by Nubian tribes may provide an answer. The large number of Egyptian
artifacts, including pieces from Hierakonpolis, in the royal tombs at Kerma shows that these
raids were effective and the Pan-Grave/Medjay peoples stations at Hierakonpolis (see Nubian
cemeteries) were probably there not just for show. Putting the pieces together, it seems that
either because they had been defiled during a raid or as a precaution against feared incursions,
the valuable and portable objects in the Horus temple were honorably and safely buried in
special pits by the priests. But once interred, they were effectively dead and in need of
replacement. In these troubled times, the task of installing a new image needed to be
entrusted to a very loyal guardian, and it is little wonder that Horemkhawef was so proud of his

Horemkhawef was probably the last to build a rock cut tomb in this part of the hill. Thereafter,
due either to lack of useable rock or lack of resources, a series of brick chapels were
constructed. Having been explored (but not published) by earlier investigators, we could only
assume their function and date, but in 2006 we were able to see for ourselves, when a hole
suddenly opened up, revealing a labyrinth of burial chambers of late Second Intermediate /
early New Kingdom date. Considering we had walked over this exact area thousands of times
during the conservation of the tombs, this new discovery, caused by the collapse of the ceiling,
was a big and rather frightening surprise.

The extremely poor quality of the rock meant we could only explore a limited area within in
relative safety, and it frankly wasnt a place you wanted to spend too much time in, but we still
managed to recover the micro-faces from two mummy masks and part of a limestone statue in
and amongst the remains of 36 people in this family tomb. Attempts to shore up the ceiling to
allow further exploration were thwarted when the floor of the chamber turned out to be the
collapsing ceiling of another chamber below! We always suspected the hill was honey-combed
with tombs and now we can be sure.

For more information see:

Nekhen News 11 (1999)
Nekhen News 12 (2000)
Nekhen News 18 (2006)

To follow along with the discovery of the underground labyrinth see:

Davies, W. V., 2001. The dynastic tombs at Hierakonpolis: the lower group and the artist
Sedjemneteru [in:] Davies, W.V. (ed.), Colour and Painting in Ancient Egypt. London: 112-125
Fischer, H.G. 1963. Varia Aegyptiaca. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 2: 1751
Hayes, W.C. 1947. Horemkhacuef of Nekhen and his Trip to It-towe,Journal of Egyptian
Archaeology 33: 3-11.
Houlihan, P. 2001. Wit and Humour in Ancient Egypt. London.
Kees, H. 1921. Studien zur Aegyptischen Provinzialkunst. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs
Lansing, A. 1935. The Museum's Excavations at Hierakonpolis, BMMA30: 37-45

Majer, J. and R. Friedman, 2008. Rock Cut Tombs of the Second Intermediate Period. In R.
Friedman et al., The 2005-2006 Field Season the The Hierakonpolis Expedition. Annales du
Service des Antiquits de l'gypte 82: 99-100.
Smith, W.S. 1949. A history of Egyptian sculpture and painting in the Old Kingdom, Oxford.
Wreszinski, W. 1927.Bericht ber die photographische Expedition von Kairo bis Wadi
Halfa. Schriften der kngisberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, 4 Jahr Geistwissenschaftliche Heft 2.
Halle: Max Neimeyer

The Upper Tombs

Djehuty and Hormeni

The lack of space in the lower tomb knoll may have been the real reason for the move upwadi
to the Burg el Hammam (Pigeon Hill) in the New Kingdom, but the stone carver Djehuty chose
to couch it in different terms. In his biographical inscription he claims that he was instructed
by his god about the enduring upland necropolis, thus beginning the local tradition that was to
continue throughout the New Kingdom. This early 18th Dynasty tomb is heavily carved as befits
a tomb of an Overseer of Stone Carvers.

Carved inscriptions and figures frame its entrance facade and statue niche, but the tombs best
feature is the lengthy and beautifully carved biographical inscription. This inscription was the
object of crow-bar wielding thieves in 1989, but the horizontal bedding of the sandstone caused
its right corner to shatter rather than scale off into salable artifacts and the culprits were
apprehended before further damage was done. The shattered fragments were collected,
reassembled and finally restored to the tomb in 2000.

At pains in his biography to state that he did not abuse his status and personally paid for all the
work, at first glance it seems that the carved decoration was all he could afford. Yet, during the
conservation process, painted decoration was found throughout the tomb, masked by a thick
layer of fine clay. Removing this revealed among others, scenes of the voyage to the sacred
precinct culminating in greeting by a beautiful figure of the goddess of the west with a
multicolored falcon on her head.

The neighboring tomb of Hormeni yielded similar results when subjected to a good cleaning.
Although scant remains of decoration were initially visible, once the dust was gone, the
painting was revealed, including a lively scene of dancing musicians. More intriguing is the
depiction of the tomb owner offering to a magnificent hawk headed Horus of Nekhen seated in
a throne, with limbs painted an intense blue. Behind him stands a slim goddess in a tight fitting
turquoise beaded dress. Identified by the accompanying inscription as Isis the Great, yet she
has a scorpion on her heada special and apparently local manifestation that may harken back
thousands of years and help explain the prevalence and near exclusive presence of scorpion
figurines in the Main Deposit of Early Dynastic Horus temple and the more recent discoveries of
scorpions in the elite cemetery at HK6.

Both Hormeni and Djehuty can be securely dated by cartouches to the reign of Thutmose I and
form an important addition to the art history of the early 18th Dynasty, as tombs of this date are
very rare in Luxor, where decorated tomb only become frequent with the reign of Hatshepsut.
Particularly of interest the figures of the tomb owners carved on the door jamb at the entrance
to the tombs. Shown in the attitude of worshipping the rising sun, they are the earliest dated
examples of this motif in Egypt!

The most elaborate of the surviving tombs, the tomb of Hormose dates to the reign of Ramses
XI, and preserves a rare record of high-quality private tomb painting at a time when the
production of royal tombs was about to cease. Composed of two rooms set in the typical
Theban T-shaped plan, it was almost certainly painted by artisans brought in from Thebes
based on the style, the variety of pigments and the pureness of the drafting capabilities. For
this Hormose no doubt had his wifes family to thank. Henutaos father, who held important
posts at Karnak, was also overseer of the army and this is probably not accidental. As the
empire crumbled, with Nubia already in revolt, the strategic position of Hierakonpolis came to
the fore. It is perhaps no surprise that a marriage into a loyal family was arranged, a fine tomb
constructed and to sweeten the deal, the temple built centuries earlier by Thutmose III was
given a refurbishment. But the dye was already cast for Ramses IX in his battle to control the
increasingly independent priesthood. Although Hormose loyally wears the royal seal, the king is
no where depicted or thanked. It is Hormose alone who is shown in the main chamber
dedicating the new furnishings in the temple, intricately depicted down to minute detail. Nor
was he averse to claiming the credit. Unfortunately stolen before the tombs could be secured,
an archival image shows a golden falcon statue above which it states in no uncertain terms
that this was a statue that Hormose had made.

The rise of female participation and power in the temple cults characteristic of post New
Kingdom Egypt also find early expression in this tomb. While the main chamber showed
Hormose at work in the temple, in the antechamber it is Henutao who is the star. Here she is
shown in the important act of nursing the infant Horus in the presence of Isis, an expanded
version of a scene also know from Herihors decoration of the Khonsu Temple at Karnak.
Serenading her, elegant ladies beat the tambourine while 10 charming young girls dance,
clappers in hand, their limbs flung wide to accentuate the suggestion of movement.

In depth study of the painting techniques by Betsy Bryan suggests only three or four artists
may have been responsible for the decoration; a master and his apprentice in the main
chamber, with perhaps a specialist in the antechamber to paint the figures in movement and

another adept at figures in miniature, no doubt drafted in from the ranks of papyrus painters
for this final flourish of tomb painting before style and circumstances changed forever.

For more information see:

Nekhen News 9 (1997)
Nekhen News 10 (1998)
Nekhen News 11 (1999)
Nekhen News 12 (2000)
Nekhen News 13 (2001)

Friedman, R., 2001. The Dynastic tombs at Hierakonpolis: painted tombs of the early
Eighteenth Dynasty. [in:] Davies, W.V. (ed.), Colour and Painting in Ancient Egypt. London: 10612.
Friedman, R.F., 2010. The Decorated Dynastic Tombs at Hierakonpolis [in:] Danforth, R.
(ed.), Preserving Egypts Cultural Heritage. The Conservation Work of the American Research
Center in Egypt 1995-2005. Cairo: 19-22.
Friedman, R.F., 1999. The Dynastic Tombs [in:] Friedman, R.F.; Maish, A.; Fahmy, A.G.; Darnell,
J.C. & Johnson, E.D, Preliminary report on field work at Hierakonpolis: 1996-1998. Journal of the
American Research Center in Egypt 36 (1999): 29-34.
Bouriant, U. 1885. Les tombeaux d'Hieraconpolis, tudes archologique, linguistiques et
historique dedices M. de Dr. C. Leemans. Leiden
Renouf, P. 1887. Inscriptions at Kum el Ahmar. Proceedings of the Society of Biblical
Archaeology 10: 73-78
Walters, E.J., 2003., Women in the Cult of Isis at Hierakonopolis [in:] Hawass, Z (ed), Egyptology
at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Volume 2: History, Religion. Cairo: 558-565
Wreszinski, W. 1927.Bericht ber die photographische Expedition von Kairo bis Wadi
Halfa. Schriften der kngisberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, 4 Jahr Geistwissenschaftliche Heft 2.
Halle: Max Neimeyer

Rock Art
For a long time it was believed that, unlike its sister city Elkab on the east bank, Hierakonpolis
had relatively few examples of Predynastic rock art (petroglyphs). Thanks to the dedicated rock
art survey initiated in 2009, this is no longer true.
Coming soon, Fred Hardtke (rock art survey leader) will take us on a tour of some of his new
rock art revelations, often detected in the most unlikely places. In the meantime, follow along
with Fred during his first season of survey

The best known cluster of Predynastic petroglyphs is found on one side of a prominent hill at
the junction of a side wadi and the Wadi Abu Suffian. (Locality HK61). The beautiful boat that
forms the logo for the Expedition was discovered there in a natural rock cleft in 1979. This cleft
formed when a large boulder rolled down the side of the hill and cracked in two. On the
opposing walls of the cleft are three sickle shaped boats with elaborate with animal headed
prows. Above two of them are carved animals, one at least is clearly a bull. Also in the cleft is a
finely carved giraffe, but it is unclear whether it was made at the same time as the boats or
was already present when the boats, all believed to be of late Predynastic date, were created.
Similar boats are known in the Eastern Desert, especially at Kanais, however the ones at
Hierakonpolis represented some of the few examples of such boats this far north and on the
west side of the Nile.

Further exploration of HK61 revealed another cleft rock nearby which has complex scenes of
boat processions with similarly elaborate boats and animals, but on a smaller scale. These now
faint pictures were made by pecking the rock surface rather than by carving. Unfortunately
they were damaged by rock miners before the decoration could be fully recorded. The locality
also includes a tiny elephant and a human figure carrying a yoke.

Petroglyphs and inscriptions of later date are found at other prominent and not so prominent
locations throughout the site. In a crevice by the HK6 cemetery, priests of the New Kingdom
carved their names and titles, while on the far southern border of the site (Flint City) another
set of priests names have been found. However it is the petroglyphs and inscriptions together
with the surrounding campsite on the far northeastern edge of the site (see HK64) that are
perhaps the most intriguing.

For more information see:

Nekhen News 11 (1999) - Concession Survey
Nekhen News 20 (2008) - Flotilla
Nekhen News 21 (2009) - Rocky Start;
Nekhen News 22 (2010) - Donkey Days.

See also:
Berger M., 1982. The Petroglyphs at Locality 61 in Hoffman, M.A. (ed.),The Predynastic of
Hierakonpolis. (ESA 1) Cairo and Illinois: 61-65
Berger, M., 1992. Predynastic Animal-headed Boats from Hierakonpolis and Southern Egypt, in
Friedman, R. and B. Adams (eds.). The Followers of Horus. Studies dedicated to Michael Allen
Hoffman. Oxford: 107-120.

Site HK64
HK64 is an isolated sandstone outcropping on the north side of Hierakonpolis overlooking the Wadi Tarifa.
Scarcely 30m in diameter and rising only some 4-10 meters above the barren desert, this remote hillock was
the focus of a number of activities, the elements of which when put together archaeologically and
epigraphically tell an exciting and very unexpected story.

In 1987 brief excavation of the site

revealed a surprisingly dense array of petroglyphs (carved rock art), several hieroglyphic
inscriptions and a painted boat manned by five human figures with a horned animal (bovid or
Barbary sheep?), also in black pigment, placed below it. This is one of the few petrographs
north of the First Cataract. Even more intriguing was the discovery of a campsite of people of
clearly non-Egyptian material culture (i.e., Nubian) who were most certainly responsible for
some of the petroglyphs. Further excavation of the site in 1996 and analysis of the rock art has
shown that these images are not idle doodlings, but insights into personal and popular religion
that can illuminate enigmatic religious texts of centuries later.

In order to determine what brought people

to this barren hillock in the first place, careful study of the petroglyphs was necessary. Painstaking copying of
all the carvings made it possible to see how the individual petroglyphs related to one another and to
distinguish distinct scenes or units. Several patterns among the non-random sets of symbols emerged. Most
suggestive was a recurrent unit of 1) scooped out area or natural crevice; 2) several small circular pecked
holes; 3) sandal outline or name in hieroglyphs; and 3) an ostrich. The depressions were no doubt to receive
libations from the individual signified by name or sandal-print for the deity symbolized by the ostrich. But it
was not until the excavations were resumed at the foot of the outcropping in the campsite that the
significance of these units finally became clear.

The campsite was composed of a

series of adjacent and superimposed fireplaces. These "camp fires" were filled with charcoal and surrounded
by a scattering of pottery of Nubian type, bone and a large amount of chipped quartz debris typical the
Nubian lithic industry. Although a small amount of ostrich feathers had been found throughout the course of
excavation, it was quite a surprise when a large circular mass of feathers appeared. Gingerly excavating
around the mass, it soon became clear that it was a deposit of feathers, carefully laid within a circular pit
some 50cm in diameter and 20cm deep. The pit had been lined all around with the long tail feathers placed
quill end up. Within it were several layers of smaller feathers and nestled between them was a small
inscribed stone which provides an unexpected explanation for this deposit and the recurrent visits to this
remote site.

Three hieroglyphic signs carved on the

stone read: "The Golden one, she appears in glory" and they refer to the goddess Hathor in her solar
function. As the Eye of the Sun, Hathor left Egypt in anger and roamed the deserts of the far south in the
form of a bloodthirsty lioness. Various deities had to seek her out and entice her back to Egypt. Rituals texts
relate that when Hathor finally agreed to return a large entourage was assembled. Among those who
escorted her back to Egypt were Nubians and Libyan tribesmen who lived in the desert to the west of the
Middle Nile. They danced for her and made specific offerings in her honor. A stanza from one ritual papyrus
reads: "Let us take for her feathers off the backs of ostriches which the Libyans slay with their throw sticks..."
The return from the south of the distant goddess was a popular celebration and corresponded with the
coming of the Nile inundation in late June/early July. The hymn, as well as graphic representation from the
site itself of an ostrich and throw stick, makes it easy to see the ostrich feather deposit as an offering from
the desert tribesmen and their Egyptian associates who were celebrating the annual return of Hathor. The
unique discovery of the actual remains of this popular celebration is an exciting new explanation for the
activities at the site.

The middle of the desert may

seem an odd place to celebrate the coming of the Nile flood, but new research on the geomorphology of the
Nile Valley and religious iconography suggests that a desert location such as HK64 was in fact the natural
place to greet the inundation. The millennia of silts deposited by the Nile on its banks meant that the flood
plain was actually higher than the low desert that surrounded it. Before the Nile would flood its banks, a rise
in ground water would be noticeable in the low desert, particularly where the high plateau of the desert was
not distant. Even today at HK64 the high water table is evident and there is a perennial well near the edge of
the Wadi Tarifa, about a half a kilometer from the site. The waters of this well are reputed to be effective in
curing skin complaints and those who make use of it are still in the habit of leaving behind offerings of soap
and combs.

Hathor's return, during the

hottest part of the year, would have coincided with the northern seasonal migration of desertpastoralists. The rapid growth of desert flora induced by the rising ground water would have
been a magnet to parched pastoralists and a potent signal to their urban neighbors. Ritual
celebration of this event provided the circumstances in which the desert and urban populations
could interact in a prescribed way and on a mutually beneficial basis. The ritual texts suggest
that, although officially despised, the desert inhabitants themselves eventually became
symbols of Hathor's return and came to play key roles in this and other celebrations.
The site also features the name and titles of a number of high ranking persons of the Second
Intermediate period, the names and titles of various artisans as well as two cartouches of
Amenhotep I. Pottery at the site also indicates that it was recurrently visited from the
Predynastic period to the early New Kingdom, and many of the petroglyphs and inscriptions are
superimposed. The specific reasons for their visits to this remote spot remain unclear, but let
us hope they were mainly on joyous occasions.

For more information:

Nekhen News 4.1 (1988) Well Kept Secret
Nekhen News 8 (1996) New Secrets
Nekhen News 24 (2012) available to Friends of Nekhen
Friedman, R. et al., 1999. Preliminary Report on Field Work at Hierakonpolis 1996-1998, JARCE 36:1-35.
Friedman, R., 1992. Pebbles, Pots and Petroglyphs: Excavations at Hk64, [in:] Friedman, R. and Adams, B.
(eds.), The Followers of Horus. Studies Dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman. Oxbow Books, Oxford: 99-106.
Friedman, R., 2000 "Pots, Pebbles and Petroglyphs part II: 1996 excavations at Hierakonpolis Locality
HK64. [in:] Leahy, A, and Tait, J. (eds.), Studies on Ancient Egypt in Honour of H.S. Smith, Egypt
Exploration Society Occasional Publication 13, London: 101-108.
Huyge, D., 2003. Grandeur in Confined Spaces: Current Rock Art Research in Egypt. [in:] Bahn, P.G and
Fossato, A. (eds.), Rock Art Studies. News of the World 2.Oxford: 59-73.

El Kab (Nekheb) and Kom el-Ahmar (Nekhbet), along

with the Temple of Thoth in Egypt
El Kab and El Ahmar

In general, this area is called El Kab but it is really the two ancient cities of Nekheb El Kab on the east bank
of the Nile River and the older Nekhen, now known as Kom el Ahmar (the Red Mound) on the opposite bank.
Both cities were religious centers that date from the pre-Dynastic period.

Nekheb was the Greek city of Eileithyiapolis. The City was very important prior the building of Memphis, and
was later the capital of the local nome. It was the birthplace of the nobles of the Middle Empire who retook
Egypt from the Hyksos invasion. The city was protected by the goddess Nekhbet (the white goddess).
There are actually two sections to Nekheb, which lies on a plain situated at the mouth of a wadi. The first is
the ancient city, which is surrounded by a huge (1740 feet square), thick (38 feet thick) wall, where visitors
enter from a west gate. Within lies a Roman temple and a sacred lake, which is a depression to the east of
the town. In a smaller enclosure is the Temple of Nekhbet (attached to a Temple dedicated to Thoth) , with its
several pylons, hypostyle hall in front, a mamissi (birth house) dedicated to Nekhbet (the embodiment
of Hathor). The temple was begun around 2700 BC, and enlarged in by later pharaohs of the 18th
through 30th dynasties, including Tuthmosis III, Amenophis II, and the Ramessids The second part of the
ruins is the necropolis, which is situated on a rocky outcrop. There, the most important tombs are those of
Ahmose, Renni, Paheri and Se, which date from the 18th Dynasty and the Ramesside period.
About 1 1/2 miles away at the entrance to Wadi Hellal at a place which is locally known as El-Hammam (the
bath) is the Temple of Thoth. The chapel here was built by Setau, viceroy of Nubia during the rule
of Ramesses II, restored by the Ptolemies, and dedicated to a number of deities. There is also a cave-temple
up a nearby flight of rock hewn steps dedicated to Nekhbet, who became the lioness Hathor-Tefnut. Here
there are two vestibules which finally lead into a vaulted chamber. In the early Christian period, this was
converted into a Coptic monastery. Beyond this speos deeper into the wadi is a rock outcrop known as
Vulture Rock which has drawings and inscriptions dating as for back as pre-Dynastic times. Further on is the
Temple of Amenhotep III, which was built by him and Tuthmosis IV, dedicated to Nekhbet-Hathor. The portico
is gone, but inside are reliefs that were largely destroyed by Amenhotep IV but restored by Seti I. North of
here are several rock-cut tombs with good reliefs.
Nekhen, also called Kom el-Ahmar, which was the Greek city of Hieraconpolis, lies on the other side of the
Nile (west bank). Nekhen predates Nekhbet as the capital of the Nome. Here, there is a vast necropolis
which dates from pre-Dynastic times and stretches for miles as well as the ruins of the ancient city itself. In
the nearby wadis there are tombs from the Middle and New Kingdom. Nekheny, in the form of the falcon with
long plumes on his head and who was associated with Horus was worshipped as the local god.

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