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Searching for the Lost Footsteps of the Scorpion Kings

Searching for the Lost Footsteps of the Scorpion Kings

In the pre-dynastic period of ancient Egypt, there were two rulers by the name of ‘Scorpion’. They were long forgotten for most of the world until Dwayne Johnson played one of the rulers in the famous movie ‘The Scorpion King’. While the character depicted in the movie bears little resemblance to the real pharaohs, their history is even more thrilling.

The name ‘Scorpion’ probably comes from Serqet (also spelt Serket), the goddess of medicine, magic, nature and animals. It is unknown when her cult appeared but she had always been depicted as a scorpion. It is not surprising that the scorpion would be revered in one way or another, as these small poisonous arachnids have lived among the sands of Egypt longer than the Egyptian civilization existed.

The Egyptian goddess Serqet with a scorpion on her head.

The Egyptian goddess Serqet with a scorpion on her head. ( GFDL)

Scorpion 1

Scorpion I lived one or two centuries before the rule of the better-known Scorpion II, but is not known whether they were related to each other. Scorpion I ruled over Upper Egypt during Naqada III (the last phase of the Naqada culture of ancient Egyptian prehistory, dating from 3200 to 3000 BC), but it is not known exactly when he started his rule and if he was a native or a foreigner. His name is depicted by a golden flower-like sign. It doesn't make him unique because it is a very popular motif on artifacts dated back to the pre-dynastic period and the First Dynasty. The symbol disappeared from ancient Egypt by around the 3rd dynasty, but with time it started to be celebrated by some kings as the sign of great times in the history of Egypt.

The Scorpion Macehead, Ashmolean Museum.

The Scorpion Macehead, Ashmolean Museum. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 de )

His tomb is like a beautiful letter from the forgotten past, an ‘archaeological heaven’ for the researchers that have investigated the story about this king whose face was lost a long time ago. Inside the tomb, located in Abydos, researchers unearthed one of the oldest evidences of ancient wine – the chamber consisted of dozens of jars with remnants of the wine, as well as grape seeds, skins, and dried pulp. Due to this biological material, it was possible to date the tomb back to c. 3150 BC.

Pre-dynastic Kings

Before research related to the pre-dynastic period started to expand and thrive, the kings who ruled before the famous pre-dynastic king Narmer had been completely ignored. As Jimmy Dunn explained:

''We traditionally place the advent of writing and the unification of Egypt at the beginning of the 1st Dynasty at the same point, though the reality of this is somewhat confused. Egyptian writing clearly evolved, and in fact, one must question exactly what constitutes "writing". Clearly, very early pre-dynastic kings left behind primitive stylized symbols and signs that conveyed more information than simply a picture image. In fact, some left evidence of short phrases, though we currently cannot completely translate their meaning. For example, bone and pottery vessels from tomb U-j at Abydos were inscribed, some in ink with the figure of a scorpion and this has been interpreted as the owner's name (not to be confused with the later King "Scorpion" who commissioned the ceremonial macehead found at Hierakonpolis). Other vessels from this tomb bear short ink inscriptions consisting of a combination of two signs. Some of these inscriptions have common signs. The real problem with calling this period "Dynasty 0" is that the term "dynastic" is not consistent with the words later use. Egyptian dynasties attempt to group either a family of rulers or at least those who ruled from a specific place. However, the Naqada III Period takes none of this into account. We cannot establish family lines during this period, and the term "Dynasty 0" attempts to take in rulers in different locations ruling different territories. Nevertheless, the term "Dynasty 0" has come into general use and is unlikely to be discarded.''

Narmer Macehead Centre left: Pharaoh Narmer seated in a naos.

Narmer Macehead Centre left: Pharaoh Narmer seated in a naos. ( Public Domain )

At this point, it is necessary to say that Egyptologists still discuss the names, biographies, and events that relate to the period before Narmer and during the reign of the First Dynasty. The most skeptical researchers negate the existence of many of them.

However, due to the very few traces left by the people whose lifetime took place during the reign of King Scorpion, it appears that the lands that belonged to his kingdom flourished. It seems that he was a great warrior, as well as a skilled politician. It is known that during his reign the cult of Bast (Bastet) flourished. However, all other details of Bast cult worship during this period have been lost.

Scorpion II

The reign of Scorpion II seems to be related to an outstanding and more advanced civilization from Mesopotamia. Researchers found enough evidence to confirm trade and political contacts among these two kingdoms. For example, the methods used to build burial places during Scorpion II’s reign are clearly inspired by Mesopotamian constructions. Moreover, evidence suggests Egyptians used architectural ideas from builders of Euphrates and Tigris in their own constructions.

Clay mark with the name of king Scorpion II (after Dietrich Wildung).

Clay mark with the name of king Scorpion II (after Dietrich Wildung). ( GFDL)

The tomb of King Scorpion II may still be covered by the golden sands of the desert. Without new research, it is impossible to know whether the tomb even still exists.

Top image: King Scorpion, detail from his mace head, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Wilkinson, Toby Alexander Howard, Early Dynastic Egypt, 2001.

Midant-Reynes, Béatrix, The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to the First Pharaohs, 2000.

Grimal, Nicolas, A Hisory of Ancient Egypt, 1988.

Naqada III Dynasty 0 by Jimmy Dunn, available at:
http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/hdyn00.htm

Comments

So much of history, indeed prehistoric sciences in general, seem to be based on assumption and imagination given the lack of substantive evidence.

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