Pre-dynastic tomb sheds light on Egyptian life before Pharaohs
Earlier this month, archaeologists announced the discovery of an extremely rare tomb containing a preserved mummy and numerous artifacts, which date back to a period which predates the First Pharaonic Dynasty. Now researchers have released more details of the discovery and have revealed how the incredible finding is shedding new light on the ancestors of the pharaohs, according to a National Geographic report.
The Pre-dynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3,100 BC) is traditionally the period between the Early Neolithic and the beginning of the Pharaonic monarchy beginning with the rule of King Narmer, the founder of the First Dynasty who unified Upper and Lower Egypt. With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Abydos to Memphis where the Egyptian ‘god-king’ ruled a unified polity that extended from the Nile Delta to the first cataract at Aswan.
The newly discovered pre-dynastic tomb dates back to around 3,600 BC and was found at the ancient site of Nekhen, Hierakonpolis, a vibrant and bustling city that stretched over 3km along the Nile River. Nekhen was the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of the Predynastic period (c. 3200 – 3100 BC), although some experts suggest occupation began thousands of years earlier. The tomb contained the remains of a young man, as well as a hoard of artifacts, including a rare figurine carved from a single hippopotamus tusk, combs, spearheads, and arrowheads, making it one of the richest predynastic burials ever uncovered.
Ivory combs, tools, blades and arrowheads discovered in the tomb. Credit: AFP.
The grave goods suggest the man was an elite member of society and held an important position, though interestingly, evidence suggests his grave had been desecrated soon after burial, indicating that he may also have held a few enemies. According to Renee Friedman, a British Museum archaeologist who is director of the expedition, the occupant's skeleton had been scattered, and the tomb's wood posts show evidence of fire damage. The many grave goods left inside indicate that the vandals’ goal wasn't to loot, but was done as some sort of act of vengeance.
"The owner of the tomb had been yanked out, while the other objects had been left alone," Friedman says. "That's not plundering—this was an act of aggression. The point wasn't to take goodies, it was to destroy this person."
Also supporting the view that this was an elite burial was the discovery of twenty additional burials surrounding the man’s tomb, believed to have been human sacrifices made upon his death. They also found a plethora of exotic animals buried around him, including a leopard, an ostrich, a hartebeest, six baboons, nine goats, and ten dogs with leather leashes.
Archaeologists at the Egyptian site of Hierakonpolis have uncovered evidence of the ancestors of the pharaohs. Credit: Renee Friedman
The presence of social divisions, including elite tombs with rich artifacts versus burials of ordinary citizens, as well as grave goods that suggest a belief in the afterlife, demonstrates the foreshadowings of the mighty civilization that followed and shows that the roots of ancient Egyptian civilization stretched back many centuries.
Featured image: Artistic representation of the pre-dynastic settlement of Nekhen. Photo source.