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Scientific American Supplement, No. 1178, June 25, 1898

by Various

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TOMBS OF THE FIRST EGYPTIAN DYNASTY. By LUDWIG BORCHARDT, Ph.D., Director of the German School in Cairo.

For many years various European collections of Egyptian antiquities have contained a certain series of objects which gave archæologists great difficulty. There were vases of a peculiar form and color, greenish plates of slate, many of them in curious animal forms, and other similar things. It was known, positively, that these objects had been found in Egypt, but it was impossible to assign them a place in the known periods of Egyptian art. The puzzle was increased in difficulty by certain plates of slate with hunting and battle scenes and other representations in relief in a style so strange that many investigators considered them products of the art of Western Asia.

The first light was thrown on the question in the winter of 1894-95 by the excavations of Flinders Petrie in Ballas and Neggadeh, two places on the west bank of the Nile, a little below ancient Thebes. This persevering English investigator discovered here a very large necropolis in which he examined about three thousand graves. They all contained the same kinds of pottery and the same slate tablets mentioned above, and many other objects which did not seem to be Egyptian. It was plain that the newly found necropolis and the puzzling objects already in the museums belonged to the same period. Petrie assumed that they represented the art of a foreign people—perhaps the Libyans—who had temporarily resided in Egypt in the time between the old and the middle kingdoms. He gave this unknown people the name "New Race." But his theory met with little approval, least of all from German Egyptologists; and even at that time, an opinion was expressed that this unusual art belonged before the known beginning of Egyptian culture. However, in spite of much discussion, the question could not then be decided.

About the same time another riddle was presented to Egyptologists by the results of the excavations made in Abydos by the French scholar Amélineau; and another hot discussion was raised. Amélineau had excavated several large tombs and had also found objects which could not be arranged in the known development of Egyptian art. The fortunate discoverer ascribed these to the dynasties of the demigods, who, according to Egyptian tradition, reigned before the kings; but of course this idea met with determined opposition, and indeed especially among his French colleagues. The tomb of Abydos offered, however, on quiet consideration, more material for establishing its date than those of Ballas and Neggadeh. In Abydos a number of inscriptions had been found which, rude as they were, showed that the people buried in the tombs had known the hieroglyphic system of writing. The occurrence of so-called "Horus names" in these inscriptions was especially important. For every old Egyptian king had a long list of names and titles, and among them a name surmounted by the picture of a hawk (i.e., Horus), and called on that account the "Horus name." As the name is, at the same time, written on a sort of standard, it is also called the "Banner name." Such "Horus" or "Banner names" occur, then, on the objects found by Amélineau....