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Coordinates: 25°5′50″N 32°46′46″E / 25.09722°N 32.77944°E / 25.09722; 32.77944

Nekhen /ˈnɛkən/ or Hierakonpolis (/ˌhərəˈkɒnpəlɪs/; Ancient Greek: Ἱεράκων πόλις Hierakōn polis "Hawk City",[1] Egyptian Arabic: الكوم الأحمرel-Kōm el-Aḥmar "the Red Mound"[2]) was the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of prehistoric Egypt (c. 3200–3100 BC) and probably also during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100–2686 BC).

Nekhen is located in Egypt
Shown within Egypt
Alternate name Hierakonpolis
Location Aswan Governorate, Egypt
Coordinates 25°5′50″N 32°46′46″E / 25.09722°N 32.77944°E / 25.09722; 32.77944
Material possibly, oldest painted Ancient Egyptian tomb

in hieroglyphs

Some authors suggest occupation dates that should begin thousands of years earlier. The oldest known tomb with painted decoration on its plaster walls is located in Nekhen and is thought to date to ca. 3500-3200 BC. It shares distinctive imagery with artifacts from the Gerzeh culture.


Horus cult centerEdit

Nekhen was the center of the cult of a hawk deity, Horus of Nekhen, which raised one of the most ancient Egyptian temples in this city. It retained its importance as the cultic center for this divine patron of the kings long after the site had otherwise declined.

The first settlement at Nekhen dates from either the predynastic Amratian culture (circa 4400 BC) or, perhaps, during the late Badari culture (circa 5000 BC). At its height from about 3400 BC, Nekhen had at least 5,000 and possibly, as many as 10,000 inhabitants.

The ruins of the city originally were excavated toward the end of the nineteenth century by the English archaeologists James Quibell and Frederick W. Green.

Quibell and Green discovered the "Main Deposit", a foundation deposit beneath the temple,[3] in 1894.[4] Quibell originally was trained under Flinders Petrie, the father of modern Egyptology, however, he failed to follow Petrie's methods. The temple was a difficult site to excavate to begin with, so his excavation was poorly conducted and then poorly documented.[4] Specifically, the situational context of the items therein is poorly recorded and often, the reports of Quibell and Green are in contradiction.[4]

The most famous artifact commonly associated with the main deposit, the Narmer Palette, now is thought probably not to have been in the main deposit at all. Quibell's report made in 1900 put the palette in the deposit, but Green's report in 1902 put it about one to two yards away.[5] Green's version is substantiated by earlier field notes (Quibell kept none), so it is now the accepted record of events.[5]

The main deposit dates to the early Old Kingdom,[4] but the artistic style of the objects in the deposit indicate that they were from Naqada III and were moved into the deposit at a later date. The other important item in the deposit clearly dates to the late prehistoric.[6] This object, the Scorpion Macehead, depicts a king known only by the ideogram for scorpion, now called Scorpion II, participating in what seems to be a ritual irrigation ceremony.[7] Although the Narmer Palette is more famous because it shows the first king to wear both the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Scorpion Macehead also indicates some early military hostility with the north by showing dead lapwings, the symbol of Lower Egypt, hung from standards.[7]

More recently, the concession was excavated further by a multinational team of archaeologists, Egyptologists, geologists, and members of other sciences, which was coordinated by Michael Hoffman until his death in 1990, then by Barbara Adams of University College London and Dr. Renee Friedman representing the University of California, Berkeley and the British Museum until Barbara Adams's death in 2001,[8] and by Renée Friedman thereafter.

Possible ritual structuresEdit

The structure at Nekhen known by the misnomer "fort" is a massive mud-brick enclosure built by Pharaoh Khasekhemwy of the Second Dynasty.[9] It appears to be similar in structure and ritual purpose as the similarly misidentified 'forts' constructed at Abydos, all without apparent military function. The true function of these structures is unknown, but they seem to be related to the rituals of kingship and the culture.[10] Religion was interwoven inexorably with kingship in Ancient Egypt.

The ritual structure was built on a prehistoric cemetery. The excavations there, as well as the work of later brick robbers, have seriously undermined the walls and led to the near collapse of the structure. For two years, during 2005 and 2006, the team led by Friedman was attempting to stabilize the existing structure and support the endangered areas of the structure with new mudbricks.[11]

Oldest known Egyptian painted tombEdit

An ancient Nekhen tomb painting in plaster with barques, staffs, goddesses, and animals - possibly the earliest example

Other discoveries at Nekhen include Tomb 100, the oldest tomb with painted decoration on its plaster walls. The sepulchre is thought to date to the Gerzeh culture (ca. 3500-3200 BC).

The decoration shows presumed religious scenes and images that include figures featured in Egyptian culture for three thousand years—a funerary procession of barques, presumeably a goddess standing between two upright lionesses, a wheel of various horned quadrupeds, several examples of a staff that became associated with the deity of the earliest cattle culture and one being held up by a heavy-breasted goddess. Animals depicted include onagers or zebras, ibexes, ostriches, lionesses, impalas, gazelles, and cattle.

Oldest known zooEdit

The oldest known zoological collection was revealed during excavations at Nekhen in 2009 of a menagerie that dates to ca. 3500 BC. The exotic animals included hippopotami, hartebeest, elephants, baboons, and wildcats.[12]

Continuous activityEdit

There are later tombs at Nekhen, dating to the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, and New Kingdom. In the painted tomb of Horemkhauef a biographical inscription reporting Horemkhauef's journey to the capital was found. He lived during the Second Intermediate Period. Because it had a strong association with Egyptian religious ideas about kingship, the temple of Horus at Nekhen was used as late as the Ptolemaic Kingdom,[13] persisting as a religious center throughout the thousands of years of Ancient Egyptian culture.


  • Barbara Adams: Ancient Hierakonpolis Warminster 1974. In: Bibliotheca Orientalis 33, 1976, ISSN 0006-1913, pp. 24–25.
  • Barbara Adams: The Fort Cemetery at Hierakonpolis. (Excavated by John Garstang). KPI, London 1987, ISBN 0-7103-0275-4, (Studies in Egyptology).
  • Guy Brunton: The Predynastic Town-site at Hierakonpolis. In: S. R. K. Glanville (Hrsg.): Studies presented to F. Ll. Griffith. Oxford University Press, London u. a. 1932, pp. 272–276.
  • John Coleman Darnell: Hathor Returns to Medamûd. In: Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 22, 1995, ISSN 0340-2215, pp. 47–94.
  • Walter A. Fairservis: Excavations of the Temple Area on the Kom el-Gemuwia. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie NY 1983, (The Hierakonpolis Project, season January to March 1978), (Occasional papers in Anthropology 1).
  • Renée Friedman / Barbara Adams: The followers of Horus. Studies dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman. 1944-1990. Oxbow Books, Oxford u. a. 1992, ISBN 0-946897-44-1, (Egyptian Studies Association Publication 2), (Oxbow monograph 20).
  • John Garstang: Excavations at Hierakonpolis, at Esna and in Nubia. In: ASAE. Annales du service des antiquites de l'Égypte 8, 1907, ISSN 1687-1510, pp. 132–148.
  • Michael Allen Hoffman: Egypt before the Pharaohs. The prehistoric foundations of Egyptian Civilization. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London u. a., ISBN 0-7100-0495-8.
  • Michael Allen Hoffman: The Predynastic of Hierakonpolis. An Interim Report. Cairo University Herbarium, Faculty of Science u. a., Giza u. a., 1982, (Egyptian Studies Association Publication 1).
  • James Quibell: Plates of discoveries in 1898. With notes by W. M. F. P. Bernard Quaritch, London 1900, (Hierakonpolis 1), (Egyptian Research Account Memoir 4), (Reprint: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd, London 1989).
  • James Quibell / F. W. Green: Plates of discoveries, 1898-99. With Description of the site in detail. Bernard Quaritch, London 1902, (Hierakonpolis 2), (Egyptian Research Account Memoir 5), (Reprint: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd, London 1989).
  • A. J. Spencer: Early Egypt. The Rise of Civilisation in the Nile Valley. Press, London 1993, ISBN 0-7141-0974-6.
  • Toby A.H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, New York NY 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1.


  1. ^ Strabo xvii. p. 817
  2. ^ Richardson, Dan (2003). Egypt. London: Rough Guides. p. 429. ISBN 9781843530503. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  3. ^ Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. p197. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  4. ^ a b c d Shaw, Ian. Exploring Ancient Egypt. p.32 Oxford University Press, 2003.
  5. ^ a b Shaw, Ian. Exploring Ancient Egypt. p.33 Oxford University Press, 2003.
  6. ^ Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. p254. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  7. ^ a b Gardiner, Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs. p. 403. Oxford University Press, 1961
  8. ^ Obituary, Harry Smith, The Guardian, 13 July 2002, Retrieved 11 October 2016
  9. ^ "Interactive Dig Hierakonpolis - Fixing the Fort". 
  10. ^ Renee Friedman, "The 'Fort' at Hierakonopolis", Ancient Egypt June/July 2006, page 31
  11. ^ Renee Friedman, "The 'Fort' at Hierakonopolis", Ancient Egypt June/July 2006, page 36
  12. ^ World's First Zoo - Hierakonpolis, Egypt, Archaeology Magazine,
  13. ^ Hoffman, Michael Allen; Hamroush, Hany A.; Allen, Ralph O. (1 January 1986). "A Model of Urban Development for the Hierakonpolis Region from Predynastic through Old Kingdom Times". Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. 23: 186. doi:10.2307/40001098. JSTOR 40001098. 

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