Dynasty 0
1st Dynasty
2nd Dynasty
3rd Dynasty
Stone Vessels

"Dynasty 00"
Naqada IIc (IIC) - IIIa2 (IIIA2)

by Francesco Raffaele


Related pages
Cracow 2002 Conference: Origin of the State in Egypt

You can find an authorized Spanish Translation of the present page* in the website
(*as it is in 23 November 2002 and with some differences in the images)


 PART 0 - PRELIMINARY NOTE (On the Terms "Dynasty 0" and "Dynasty 00" - Cf. also text below)
"Dynasty 00" is a term which has not gained general acceptance in Egyptology (see below); some authors use it to indicate the rulers of the period before Dynasty 0; but, alike for this latter term, there isn't any family relation among many of the rulers within "Dynasty 00", because they are local chiefs of different centers and they did not consider themselves as being part of the same ruling family except at the single local levels.
Although unproper (but this also applies to most of the later "true" dynasties), the term provides a useful subdivision of or distinction between the sovereigns or chiefs of the period when Egypt was in the process of cultural unification (late Naqada II- early III) and the kings of Naqada IIIB ('Dynasty 0'), when the political unification of the whole Egypt was accomplished.
In the former period Upper Egyptian independent regional chiefdoms, then proto-states (Hierakonpolis, Naqada, Abydos) shared similar cultural traits, and probably had some kind of relations (trade, marriages, warfare) among each others.
The period covered starts with the ruler (?) buried with the Gebelein cloth kept at present in Turin Museum (early Naqada II), the owner of HK tomb 100 (loc. 33, Naqada IIC period), those of some (possibly royal) tombs in Naqada cem. T (Kemp, JEA 59, 1973, 36-43 ; Wilkinson, 1999 p. 52) and finally those buried in Abydos cem. U (tombs of local chieftains in late Naqada IID- to late IIIA, especially some of the mudbrick ones of Naqada IIIa2) and the contemporary ones from Hierakonpolis loc.6 (tomb 11); of the end of this period should be also the tomb L24 at Qustul and 137,1 at Seyala in Nubia (end Naqada IIIa2 for B. Williams; but these have been recently considered slightly later, in Naqada IIIB).

A far more correct terminology would be one involving the period and geographical designation of the ruling lines: e.g. ...Scorpion I, a late Naqada IIIA1 (middle stufe IIIa2 in Kaiser's chronology) ruler of Abydos (... buried in tomb U-j, Umm el-Qaab, Abydos)...

A new series of possible royal names has been recently evidenced and reconstructed by Günter Dreyer from inscriptions on some bone tags and ceramic vessels deriving from the U cemetery of Abydos, on certain Naqada IId1-IIIa2 sealings, on the Tehenu Palette, and on the graffiti incised on the Coptos Colossi.
The complete (still provisional) list and discussion of Dreyer (Umm el Qaab I, 1998 p. 173-180) includes the following probable royal names or rulers' indicators (loc. cit. p. 178; also see TABLE 1, below) : Oryx, Shell, Fish, Elephant, Bull, Stork, Canid (?), Cattle-head standard, Scorpion I, Falcon I, Min standard + plant, ?, Falcon II (?), Lion, Double Falcon, Irj-Hor, Ka, Scorpion II, Narmer. More local rulers (mostly of dynasty 0, Naqada III pariod) are Nb (or R ?), Hedjw(-Hor), Pe + Elephant, Nj-Hor, Hat-Hor, Crocodile (the Subduer), Falcon + Mer (Tarkhan, also read as P.N. 'Mer Djehwty'), and Qustul L2 Pe-Hor. The last ones (from Double Falcon on) are discussed in Dynasty 0 page; the older ones will be dealt with below.

Within the time interval covered by "Dynasty 00" there are enormous differencies (the socio-political situation in which did live the mentioned chiefs of Gebelein and Hierakonpolis t. 100 on one hand, and that of the Naqada IIIA2 Abydene kings of cemetery U on the other one, is somewhat large); we are considering a period of c. 300 years; certainly further findings and studies will bring into this phase more order and new criteries of chrono-geo-political subdivision are going to be provided.
The first serious use of the term "Dynasty 00", by van den Brink (in id. ed 'The Nile Delta in Transition' 1992 p. vi, n. 1) was related to the 'members of the ruling class buried in cemetery U at Abydos Umm el Qaab' who were 'possibly the predecessors of the Dynasty 0 Kings'.
G. Dreyer had already jokingly used the term to indicate the rulers earlier than Naqada IIIB Dynasty 0.
Also "Dynasty 0" is either used to designate only the Abydos dynasty buried in cemetery B, or the whole Egypt Naqada III B kings; moreover others apply this term to all the rulers of the Late Predynastic period (= "Dynasty 00 + 0").
There is no need to further remark that these terms are both nearly ridiculous (although Dynasty 0 is rather more accepted by scholars than "Dynasty 00", yet equally misleading) and applied here only in a distinction, temporary (?) and Internet search-engines purpose/reasons.

Summarizing, 'Dynasty 00' (less misleading would be «DYNASTIES 00») is henceforth used here as a descriptive term which indicates a period in the protodynastic, not a single line of rulers from a specific place; the period covered is Naqada IIC-IIIA2 (Kaiser's stufen IIc, d1-2 and IIIa1-2).
A discussion on the term 'Dynasty 0' will appear on the EEF archives (October 2002 zip file).
See also the Synthesis page in this site, the discussion below and the Table 2 at the bottom of this page.


"Dynasties 00":
The proto-states of Naqada IIC-IIIA2 period
(c. 3500-3220 BC)


I have already introduced the main chronological subdivisions and problems of the Naqada culture (Petrie's Sequence Dates -SD-, Kaiser's and Hendrickx's improvements), which I won't rehearse here. (cf. F. Raffaele, Dynasty 0, in: AegHelvet 2002; the Dynasty 0 page <Pt. II, note 1>; also see this synthesis of earlier predynastic cultures as Fayyum, Merimde, Badarian).

In a very summary way, Naqada I (formerly 'Amratian') was characterized by some diagnostic pottery types and by a large production of crafts-objects like human figurines, amulets, decorated ivory combs, animal shaped cosmetic palettes; to this 'figurative' repertory we must add stone vessels, flint blades, weapons and other tools which suggest a transparent progress in technology (division of labour, advanced food production, artifacts masterpieces) and, above all, in the broader ambit of thought. It's important to precise that Naqada I-II are main phases of the same cultural Unit (further divided into more subphases): therefore the elements of continuity between respectively phase I-II, II-III and III-Early Dynastic (= Naqada IIIC1/D) are to be considered much more relevant than the detected breaks between contiguous phases; and the 'cold' terms Naqada I-III are actually more apt to render the idea of one civilization in evolution than Petrie's terminology.
The Naqada civilization developed in a core-area stretching, during Naqada I, from the Abydos to the Hierakonopolis regions, having its heart in the eponymous site of Naqada (Nubt, Ombos).

Naqada II objectsIn the following phase II (Petrie's Gerzean) the impact of the Naqadian influence had already reached the Upper Nubia, the East Fayum region (Gerzeh) and the Delta (Buto); the period IID-IIIA marks the culmination of the cultural superimposition of this southern civilization into the Delta, where it definitively replaced the local (Maadi-Buto) tradition; the following phases (IIIA2-IIIB) are an age of political contrasts, a long series (about two centuries) of struggles and alliances which led to the supremacy of the Thinite regional (proto-) state that finally realized the Unification of Egypt.
But we have only sketchy fragments of the complicate puzzle; and we must not disregard the fact that the unequal knowledge of the main sites of that period is a heavy bias onto our reconstructions; furthermore the evidence for violent competition amongst the early U.E. chiefdoms or proto-states is, for now, almost entirely based on the artifacts iconography.

There is not yet a univoque terminology (cf. above, Preliminary note) for the Late Predynastic phases; "Protodynastic" is employed as a synonym for Dynasty 00 and 0, which are in turn not true dynastic lines as those of Manetho, but rather designations of periods or of the contemporary local ruling lineages thereof; for distinction purposes I will provisionally follow the (playful) indication of Dreyer, labelling the Naqada IIC-IIIA2 sovereigns as "Dynasty 00" and the Naqada IIIB ones as "Dynasty 0" (but note that most of the Egyptologist means 'Dynasty 0' as either all the late predynastic kings or only the Abydos line buried in cemetery B and -eventually- U). The denomination of "Dynasty 00" is however still very rarely adopted in Egyptology.

The emergence of the earliest rulers is only one aspect of the State formation in Egypt; kingship has its roots in the archaic African folklore substratum, although some accessory elements of the Dynasty 00-0 sovereignty and culture were borrowed from ancient Uruk and Susa civilizations. Scholars have individuated two main periods of Near Eastern influence on the emerging Egyptian proto-state(s): one during Dynasty 0 (c. 3200-3050 BC) culminating with Narmer and Aha's reigns, and an older one around 3500/3400 BC, thus in the middle-late Naqada II.
However the reception of Near Eastern influences was only in terms of some forms (figurative motifs, palace façade device) and practices (use of cylinder seals, writing ?), but these elements were always re-elaborated according to the Egyptian own culture, beliefs and ideological needs: these external influences were never a decisive input onto the Egyptian state formation and evolution; I've already shown (F. Raffaele, TM 2, 2002, 27) that the origin of the state is a multi-faced complex process which involves several causal components and thus entails a polimorphic explanation based on the analysis of different factors (population, territory /environment resources, war, trade, technology, beliefs/thoughts) and the multiplicatory effect of their interaction.
In this period we can draw the development of the basic components of the future State mechanism, namely an homogeneous set of beliefs concerning the afterlife and the origin of the chiefs' power: a series of mythical and material corollaries to these subsystems furnished the justification and legitimisation of the inner inequalities of a society with an already deep fault between the ruler and the ruled: the construction of monumental buildings in the towns and of richer tombs on holy grounds (conspicuous consumption), the availability of luxury and exotic materials (display) through the monopoly of long distance trade, the production of artifacts symbolizing and reinforcing their status, the possibility to dominate large masses of populations with violent coercive methods and with subtle mythological/ religious strategies, were some of the devices adopted by the élite to proof, motivate, confirm and strengthen their superiority and supremacy.

The divine kingship and its ideological background was one of the pillars of the Egyptian state, and the union of secular and supernatural power within a single individual was a decisive factor for its success.
The other key innovation was specialization: to build up the imponent state-machine and make it work, it was necessary to subtract parts of the population from the food production and destine them to other full-time activities: administration, army, religion and cult, building of tombs and temples (and their decoration), crafts, trade, mining. These unproductive classes and the royal court were sustained by the large mass of the population which practised agriculture; the yield was in fact coercively gathered by the State as taxes, then stored and unequally redistributed.
In a State-system, specialization spans all the sectors of the society and its structural components: labour, food and crafts production, war, technologies, religion, perhaps even ideas (see I. Takamiya 2002).
Artefacts were status symbols which conveyed a coded message the élite could comprehend; but they have also an external aspect, a visual impact which the masses are subjugated with (think about monumentality of structures or splendour of art masterpieces) and which contributes to the creation, definition and persistence of the roles of the masters and servants.

Someone has tried to compare on a general level, early Naqada III polities with Archaic Greece or classic Maya city-states; both the Greek as well as the Maya situations are better known than the Late Predynastic Egyptian one. Certainly there must have been a hierarchy in the cities around each Egyptian proto-nome capital, and some interrelation among the different regional states. At one point some of them (especially those with bordering territories) must have been engaged into military competition, for territorial exploitment, trade monopoly or further reasons, while others possibly united through alliances stipulated by gifts exchanges, cross-marriages, construction of monuments, celebration of public ceremonies and feasts.
In Egypt there's evidence of an organization in form of city-states or archaic regional proto-states as early as late Naqada II: one sealing possibly dates Naqada I and further ones from Naqada IIB,C are known. Most of the oldest Egyptian seals (Naqada, Naga ed-Der) have been considered as possible imports from (rather than copies of) ancient Uruk (VI-V) examples.
Writing did emerge in early Naqada III mainly within two spheres: Royal display (particularly kingship-symbolism, kings' names and properties) and Administrative practices (seals, labels and other systems to count, control and recognize incomes, stored and forwarded goods).
Cross-comparison among different cultures of the World at a similar phase of development are certainly helpful and welcome; however these are often limited to the general features of the paralleled subjects, because, actually, it is very difficult for one and the same person to have an in-depth knowledge of two proto- or advanced- State cultures.
Yet, also on a general level, it has been shown that there are interesting comparisons to be further researched [Trigger, 1993].

One of the earliest representations of an Egyptian ruler is to be found in the scene painted on the wall of a Naqada IIC tomb (in Locality 33) at Hierakonpolis, the famous tomb 100.Hieraconpolis100  (Naqada IIc-d1) Cairo Museum (Quibell-Green, Hieraconpolis  I)
The scene is constituted by two processions with large boats and various subsidiary motifs (animals taming and entrapment, chief smiting captives and other isolated hunting and clashing scenes).
The interpretations attempted have been manifold, ranging from actual reports of warfare victories with related ceremonies, to ritual and symbolical generic evocations of triumph; Williams and Logan proposed to integrate most of the scenes, like the present one and those carved on ivory knife handles, into a broader cycle of representation of the (proto-) Heb Sed royal ritual [But cf. Hendrickx, CdE 74, 1998, 203ff. esp. p. 220-224, for an alternative interpretation of a part of the painting].

Gebelein Textile, Museo Egizio di Torino S. 17138 (Naqada II b-c)A similar depiction with boats processions, struggles, hippo hunting and fishing scenes is found on the painted fragments of a textile from Gebelein (Turin Mus., suppl. 17138) dated to Naqada Ic-IIb (fig. >).

Naqada I and II witness the origin of many beliefs connected with the later Dynastic era: in particular the first signs diagnostic of a coherent (?) tradition of the Kingship seem to remount to these two phases: a recently found C-ware vessel from Abydos tomb U-239 (Naqada Ic-IIa) shows a ruler smiting groups of enemies (the same pictorial symbol present -more than a century later- in tomb 100 and -nearly half a millennium later- on Narmer palette); a B-ware sherd with a red crown in relief was found by Petrie in tomb 1610 at Naqada; whole series of traits, emblems, attributes and ritual actions of the ruler as the false tail, penis sheath, crowns, maces, reed, sceptres, ritual race, gazelle- and hippopotamus-hunt and further ones have been since long time identified [Fattovich, in: RSO 45, 1970, 133-149]; these are the African-log backbone of the divine kingship institution.

Therefore we know a good number of constitutive elements of the Pharaonic state which were inherited from late prehistory; one could try to excerpt similar patterns of developments of kingship, administration and iconography into other sectors of the archaic Egyptian civilization as mortuary beliefs and practices, cult/religion/myths, 'art', technology, economy and trade, subsistence.

Among the most important recent achievements in our knowledge of the 'history' of the early Naqada III period ("Dynasty 00") there are Dreyer's excavation and publication of king Scorpion I's tomb U-j at Abydos and the Darnells' discovery of some graffiti of the Gebel Tjauty, in the Desert west of Thebes (recently discussed by Friedman and Hendrickx).
Scorpion I: ink inscriptions on jars and jar fragments from Abydos tomb U-jAbydos Tomb U-j (from east)The impressive amount of funerary goods gathered in the Abydos tomb U-j (mid Naqada IIIa2 = late Naqada IIIA1), among which nearly seven hundred Palestine-imported jars, plus few thousand wine and beer jars (many Wavy-handled jars are inscribed with painted signs), an Heka scepter (in the N corner of the burial chamber), scores of bone/ivory labels (173) with short inscriptions (the earliest written evidence presently known from Egypt), some fine artefacts (obsidian hands-bowl, pieces of furniture, very fragmentary ivories with animal reliefs) and the same size of the tomb, have caused some scholars to suggest the possibility that Egypt would have been politically unified since Naqada IIIa2/A1. One needs to be very cautious in these statements for it often happens (as with Dreyer's discovery or also with Williams' publication of the excavations at Qustul cemetery L in Nubia) that the astonishing character of new finds can lead to underestimate other eventualities.
In case of Egypt, there is no further evidence of a Royal cemetery of Early Naqada III period except at Hierakonpolis (loc. 6) (Naqada cem. T declines in that period) [cf. Wilkinson, MDAIK 56, 2000]; therefore the possibility that the owner of tomb U-j, Scorpion I, might have already reigned over a united Egypt has only the strength of the lack of similar attestations from other sites.Scorpion I: ivory tags from tomb U-j 11
Indeed, despite the cultural uniformity which enveloped the whole country already in late Naqada II, and the shared belief in an early beginning and long lasting process of political unification, the present data suggest that the final transformation of the Egyptian Nile Valley, from a land with different regional polities into one ruled by the same sovereign, was only accomplished in late Naqada IIIB; probably by Narmer and/or by one of his nearest predecessors (Ka, Iry Hor) of the same Abydene ruling line buried in Abydos cemetery B; this necropolis is the continuation of the few northerly cemetery U, and thus we can affirm that Narmer was a late successor of Scorpion I and that the Thinite élite had a major role in the development and completion of the Unification.
This is in part also based on a negative evidence, namely the lack of attestations of Naqada IIIA ("Dynasty 00") rulers outside the Thinis/Abydos territory. Only since Naqada IIIB ("Dynasties 0") there are the first royal serekhs [1] from various zones of Egypt as Double Falcon (whether this was a single king's name; cf. below) and, later, Ka and Narmer (see F. Raffaele, op. cit.; also cf. Dynasty 0 page).

An important point about the tomb U-j is the fact that the substructure plainly reproduces a model palace (cf. Dreyer, Umm el-Qaab I, p. 6f., fig. 5-6); some slits provide the access to the various chambers of the tomb, surely imitating the true doors in the royal palace (and on the other hand possibly anticipating the false doors in later tombs); near the top of each slit two holes supported a wooden stick on which a rolled mat was wrapped; at least six more mudbrick tombs in the cemetery U had their chambers connected by lists.
Recently S. Hendrickx has proposed a possible explanation for the marked difference in the size of the tomb U-j compared to almost all the others in the cemetery: it might be thought that soon after the reign of Scorpion I the separation between the tomb and its funerary enclosure did happen; an offering court (Opferplatz) is located just south of tomb U-j and U-k (vessels found in it dated from Naqada III to early 1st Dynasty); on the other hand the earliest funerary enclosures (c. 1 and 1/2 Km North of Umm el Qaab) are known only from the time of Djer (or Aha); but these were built in mudbrick, whereas it can be supposed that the older ones were simple palisades made with perishable materials as wooden poles, which would be disappeared with the passing of time. At Hierakonpolis the roughly contemporary (élite or royal) tomb 11 in Locality 6 was also provided with a fence (as did the late-Dynasty 0 tomb 1, which Hoffmann tentatively attributed to Scorpion II).
Certainly it can be supposed that Scorpion I had a prosperous reign; tomb U-j (dated just later than U-k and earlier than U-i) had its substructure built in two phases: to the first one the W burial chamber (U-j 1) and the nine E magazines (U-j 2-10) do belong (c. 10 x 20 cubits in size); in a later period the two S chambers (U-j 11-12) were added and the tomb came to measure 10 x 16 cubits; however no large span of time must have separated the two building phases (same size of bricks).
The sheer size and the amout and kind of gravegoods indicates that the owner of this burial, Scorpion I, must have been a relevant personality of that time, and certainly responsible of major achievements.

But it must be rehearsed that (in my opinoion) the political Unification was really brought to completion only with Narmer, when the sparse and relatively few regional powers were probably subjugated or annihilated by the Thinite family; however the incipit of this process is undoubtedly to be found in the so called 'Dynasty 00'.

Djebel Tjawty graffito of King Scorpion I (J.C. Darnell - D. Darnell,  1995-96 Annual Report in the Abzu Chicago Oriental Institute page)
A preliminary report of the Exploration of Luxor-Farshut road in the ABZU site (O.I.)

In this respect it assumes a great value the evidence of the Gebel Tjauty graffiti, with their possible narration of a military victory by Scorpion I over the ruler of a nearby regional state (Naqada ?) whom he captured (the defeated personal name or region/city name was possibly written with a Bull head over a standard, an emblem also recurring on tomb U-j ink inscribed jars).
Before the captured person (who's followed by the victorious ruler with a mace) there is the figure of a wading- (or secretary ?) bird pecking a serpent (a symbolographic label for "victory" or an emblem of a nome/region ?) which is also found on Davis comb, Brooklyn and Pitt-Rivers knife-handles and on a painted vessel from Qustul tomb L23. Beyond the bird there's a figure carrying a staff preceded by a standard (?) and further on the right a falcon over a scorpion (royal name?; cf. fig. above). The defeated chief on the left side has his hands bound behind his back and held with a rope by the winner; the latter is pictured at higher level (and scale) on the extreme left of the scene.
The interesting character of the graffito is, in my opinion, in its evenemential narrative; on the same level as the Gebel Sheikh Suleiman graffito, near Wadi Halfa in Nubia, the scene appear to represent the celebration of a real victory. The scenes on Late Predynastic objects (originally destined to temples and tombs) are mostly considered to be ritual or symbolic in character (tomb 100, decorated ceremonial palettes) whereas the scenes carved on the rocks of the Gebel Tjauty and Gebel Sheikh Suleiman may instead have been true "reports" of historical events.
In particular the Tjauty one has been speculatively related by Wilkinson [op. cit., 386] as possibly signifying the victory of the Thinite ruling line over the one of the decadent polity of Naqada.
Gebel Tjauty was perhaps a short-cut for the Thinite traders and armies to double the Naqada territory on the way towards the Hierakonpolis or the Lower Nubia regions (Sayala and Qustul are A-Group capital centres which had their apogee in that period and slightly later; when late Dynasty 0/ early Dyn. 1 kings aimed at the direct exploitation of the Nubian territory, the A-group culture disappeared; see the Dynasty Zero page; a similar pattern might be hypothesized in relation with the demise of the Maadi-Buto cultural complex in the Delta).

All this tells us relatively few on the organization of the proto-states previously to the 'Unification'; perhaps a pattern of rough correspondence between the Nile Valley macro-regions in Naqada III and the later subdivision into Nomes could reasonably be followed (the emblems of many of the later nomes already appear in the late IIIrd Dyn early IVth oldest "Biographies" as those in the tombs of Metjen and Pehernefer; some of the D-ware vessels standards on the boats and some of those on the Hunters-, Battlefield-, Bull-, Narmer- palettes and Scorpion- and Narmer-Maceheads have been tentatively interpreted as proto-nomes or ruling lineages' emblems). This would depend on the strategic location of the early settlements which can be explained by the presence of easily accessible resources (minerals in the Desert widian as at Nubt and Nekhen, wide flood-plain as at Abydos), factors that we can assume to have continued to be relevant in the following periods; the religious/cultual importance of settlements and cemeteries of ancient local chiefs would be another reason for the later (Nome-) capitals to arise nearby or upon the old ones.
The scarcity of data from protodynastic urban centers in the Nile Valley is indeed an important and often stressed lack in our knowledge of this period (as also in the dynastic age); but during these last decades the situation is getting better (Delta sites).

The reconstruction provided by Dreyer [in: Umm el-Qaab I, 1998, 173-180; id., in: SDAIK 28, 1995] of a possible line of about 15 rulers from early Naqada IIIA1 to late IIIA2 (nine kings before and five after Scorpion I; cf. below, table 1) is still tentative and to be checked with/against further evidence; this argument is a central one for the history of this period and is the object of the following discussion. For a different view and in particular a possible total of only 2 or 3 reigns between Scorpion I and Iry-Hor cf. A. Jimenez-Serrano, Los reyes del predinàstico Tardìo, in: BAEDE 10, 2000, 33-52.
Dreyer's theory is based on the interpretation of two main sources: the reliefs on the three fragmentary statues known as 'Koptos Colossi' and the hieroglyphs on the Tehenu palette; further confirmation of the royal names would be some of the inscriptions on vessels and labels from tomb U-j.

Min Colossi from Coptos in Ashmolean Mus. (2) and Cairo Mus. (1)The colossal limestone statues of Min were found by Petrie in the temple of Koptos in 1894; they had been fashioned with hammering technique (no chiselling) and represented the god standing with erected phallus; only the torso and part of the legs was preserved and the head of one of the statues in Oxford, although almost entirely effaced; some signs in relief were noted on the statues showing animals, plants, shells and standards.
In an article published in 1988 [JARCE 25, 35-60], B. Williams suggested the presence of a fragmentary trace of the name of Narmer on the Cairo statue; this gave an important clue about the long disputed question of the date of the statues (which in the past had ranged from Predynastic to 1st Intermediate Period according to the opinions of different Egyptologists). [For reconstructions of the colossi and temple see this page in the Petrie Museum website: Digital Egypt].

In 1995 Dreyer (loc. cit. above) proposed that the graffiti on the statues were the names of older rulers, and Narmer had been the last one to make his name be carved on those statues; therefore the colossi probably dated well before his reign, down to Naqada IIIa, and the signs carved onto them would be perhaps something similar to a king list. I must notice that the Nar-fish and the Mer-chisel are very fragmentary -only the left end preserved- and, as suggested by Kemp, the upper sign is rather the tail of a bird than that of the Nar cat-fish, thus suggesting a falcon on a perch or on a standard [cf. B.J. Kemp, CAJ 10.2, 2000, 211-242, fig. 10; H. Goedicke, MDAIK 58, 2002, 253].
Basing on the reciprocal placement and superimposition of the signs on the colossi, Dreyer seems to have found a possible sequence of the stages in which the graffiti were incised (cf. table): Animal-head standard, Shell, Elephant, Bull, Stork, Canid, Min-standard, Plant, Lion and Narmer (for the Tehenu palette, see below).

TABLE 1 - Abydos succession "Dynasty 00-0" (according to G. Dreyer)


Min statues Coptos
Tomb U-j Abydos
Tehenw palette
Sequence of Rulers
Oryx standard
   Oryx standard
Bull (W-ware)
(Bucranium standard?)
  (= Bucranium standard ?)
Stork (?)
Bucranium standard (^)
   Bucranium standard (^)
Scorpion I
  Scorpion I
(= MMA palette ?)
Falcon (I)
Min standard +plant
ink on net-painted cylinder jars
Min standard +plant
N.2 (lost)
N.3 (Falcon II?)
 ? (Falcon II)
Lion in the
Hunters palette
Double Falcon
incised on jars
Double Falcon
Iry-Hor (B1/2)
Ka (B7/9)
Scorpion II
Scorpion macehead
Scorpion II
Narmer (B17/18)

List of Naqada IIIA1-early IIIC1 rulers of  Thinis/Abydos* reconstructed by G. Dreyer (cf. above) in Umm el-Qaab I, 1998, p. 178

* This table only considers the Naqada III Thinite/Abydene ruling line; the kings whose serekhs have been found only elsewhere (as Hedj-Hor, Hat-Hor, Ny-Hor, Pe-Hor, Ny-Neith, Djehwty-Mer/Falcon-chisel, Crocodile and few others) are thus excluded. In this respect it's Dreyer's opinion (one on which not all the scholars do agree) that Scorpion II was also originary of the Thinite nome. Cf. DYNASTY 0 page for detailed informations on these Naqada IIIB (IIIb1-2) rulers.
For a lexico-grammatical-iconographical approach to these inscriptions see: A. Anselin, "Notes pour une lecture des inscriptions des Colosses de Min de Coptos", in CCdE 2, 2001, 115-136 (-Downloadable in PDF format in this site). For a linguistic and morphological analysis of the structure of hieroglyphic writing in this period, cf. J. Kahl, Hieroglyphic Writing During the Fourth Millennium BC: an Analysis of Systems, in: Archéo-Nil 11, 2001, 102-134; for a critic to the reading of the animals-signs as predynastic sovereigns' names, cf: F.A.K. Breyer, Die Schriftzeugnisse des Prädynastischen Königsgrabes U-j in Umm el-Qaab: Versuch einer Neuinterpretation, in: JEA 88, 2002, 53-65.

For the main contra-opinion to Dreyer's reconstruction (presented in: "Die Datierung der Min-Statuen aus Koptos", in: Kunst des Alten Reiches = SDAIK 28, 1995, 49-56, Pl. 9-13; and in "Umm el-Qaab I", Mainz 1998, p. 173-180), see: B.J. Kemp's (et al.): "The Colossi from the Early Shrine at Coptos in Egypt" in: CAJ 10/2, 2000, 211-242; J. Kahl, in: Archéo-Nil 11, 2001, 102-134; id., in: GM 192, 2003, 47-54.
Note that in Kahl's (rather convincing) hypothesis, also the hieroglyph of the Scorpion, drawn on wavy-handled jars' painted marks and incised bone and ivory tags from Abydos tomb U-j and recently found at Djebel Tjauti, could represent a god (or a place where it was worshipped, likely Hierakonpolis) instead of the name of the owner of the tomb and the victorious sovereign of the Tjauti tableau 1.
Also other symbols such as those on Coptos Colossi and Towns palette should not be related to royal names but probably indicate centres or regions of religious/political importance, or religious emblems, most probably gods' names.
In my opinion, it seems that before Naqada IIIB, territorial designations (on decorated artifacts, jars, rock inscriptions and other documents of either political or economical relevance) where far more important than the specifical names of the leaders commanding these polities.
There are various sources that more or less clearly attest this aspect. It is open to mistakes the fact that early place-names could have been indicated with the main divinity which was worshipped there, but also kings' names have always been theophorous or someway related to gods.
Cf. now L.D. Morenz, Bild-Buchstaben und symbolische Zeichen (2004, passim) for a discussion of this question.

The number of rulers who would have reigned, in Dreyer's reconstruction, between Scorpion I and Iry-Hor could be object of criticism: cf. A. Jimenez-Serrano, in: BAEDE 10, 2000, 33-52 (in which only 3 reigns are postulated for this lapse of time).
I would consider a time span of c. 150-200 years between the owner of Abydos tomb U-j and Narmer: this should allow for about 9-12 kings in the only ruling line of Thinis/Abydos. Whether and where more proto-kingdoms have to be located, and until which period would have their kings competed with those of Hierakonpolis and Abydos, it is still difficult to tell. For now the latter two centres appear to have been where the two most powerful Upper Egyptians élites of Late Predynastic resided, the main powers of early Naqada III that started the long process of political unification which was (probably) definitively accomplished only by Narmer.
We are not yet provided with sufficient informations and details to describe with scientific certainty the last steps which made of the whole Egyptian Nile valley a state. Despite the evidence for some struggles, it seems clear that a good part of the violence and of the expressions of hostility 'frozen' on Late Predynastic sources could concern "foreign" peoples and/or have a different sense than that of purely "historical accounts".

On the other hand there are good proofs for similar proto-states to have existed in Lower Nubia (Seyala, Afieh, Qustul) during a period (classical and terminal A-group) corresponding with Naqada IIIA1-C1 in Egypt (c. 3350-2950BC).
Possibly other local proto-states had developed in Late Predynastic, contemporarily with the Abydos Dynasty 00-0 kings, elsewhere in the North, as in the Fayyum, Memphite and Delta regions (Abusir el-Meleq, Tarkhan, Fayyum sites, Tura, Helwan, Sais, Buto, East-Delta) but it is still impossible to establish the cultural and especially the political relations of these unities with both the contemporary Upper Egyptian ones and with the precedent ones which predominated in those areas.

In the earlier part of the period in object, other iconographic devices were adopted to convey the idea of sovereignty, but we are still unable to detect them with full confidence.
Surely one of these symbols was the scepter: Heka-scepters have been found at Abydos in cem. U (tomb U-547, U-j) and a Naqada IID palette from el-Amrah tomb B62 (in London, BM 35501) was decorated with a "Min-emblem" over a Heka-scepter in relief: perhaps the name of a local chief ?

Gallery of decorated knife-handles, mace-heads, combsAnother element which preceded the serekh (and in part coexisted with it, as in Lower Nubia) was the rosette; this symbol appears since late Naqada II on seal impressions [cem. U: Dreyer, op. cit., 1998, fig. 72c], gold and ivory knife-handles, an ivory comb, the Scorpion II mace-head and the Qustul tomb 24 incense burner [cf. the author's website page on Dynasty 0]. The rosette/flower/star has been linked by H.S. Smith to the concept of (divine) kingship and to the Sumeric and especially Elamite glyptic [id., in: Friedman-Adams eds., The Followers of Horus, 1992, 235-246].
B. Kemp [op. cit., 233f.] has also individuated other "control signs" (at the end of animals rows on some knife-handles) with possible relations to kingship or to other social institutions and groups.
The "reading" of several proto-hieroglyphs like those carved or painted on tomb U-j labels and jars, on seal impressions, on the Koptos Colossi, on the decorated knife handles and palettes is still a riddle; but as the number of finds is increasing with new discoveries, more clues to their real purpose and meaning are hoped to be achieved.

I must once again stress the central role of the royal cemetery U of Abydos (especially for the importance of the in-situ finds which can provide useful means of datation of already known unprovenanced and thus undated objects) [cf. G. Dreyer, in: C. Ziegler (ed.) "L' Art de l'Ancien Empire ègyptien..." 1999, 195-226; H. Whitehouse, in: MDAIK 58, 2002]; cemetery U was started in Naqada I but it became the local élite burial ground only by late Naqada IId; the first (anonymous or plain) serekhs known in Egypt come from the early Naqada IIIa tombs U-s and U-t, which are located 40-50m N.E. of Iry-Hor's chambers B1-2; also the modern excavations in the Delta sites and those at Hierakonpolis have a key role, as well as the revisions, systematizations and publications of old unpublished excavations and material.

The Tehenu palette (or Towns palette) in Cairo (C.G. 14238) is named after a sign on its verso: this shows three registers with domestic animals files and a fourth lower one with plants (trees) and the hieroglyph of the throwing stick on an oval (which means 'region', 'place', 'island'), thus a toponym of Libya or Western Delta (THnw, Tjehenw). The recto of the palette is of great importance, showing the feet of some persons and, below the register line, two rows of four and three groups respectively; each group is constituted by an animal grasping the Mer-hoe on the crenellated wall of a town; the name of each town is is written within the wall [see my Corpus of Late Predynastic Decorated Palettes].
Since the publication of the palette (unprovenanced but said to be from Abydos) the action of the animals (interpreted as numinose aspects of the kingship or as true kings) was said to be a destructive one; but, comparing the use of the hoe by king Scorpion II on his macehead, Nibbi (1977) and Wildung (1981) moved the first criticism to this generally followed interpretation, proposing that a constructive action was implied, namely the foundation of the named towns (indeed the same interpretation of Scorpion's Macehead ritual as the foundation of a temple or the inauguration of a channel's excavation is still debated).
Barta, and more recently Dreyer, have rejected this view; Dreyer interprets the names over the walled towns as Dynasty 00/0 kings' names: Lion, Scorpion (II) and Double Falcon (right to left, lower row) and Falcon, [Seth ?], Falcon (?), [lost] (upper row).
The German archaeologist correctly emphasized that, being the palette very similar in character (relief style, register lines, hieroglyphs) to the Narmer Palette, it was possibly from the reign of King Scorpion II, a near predecessor of Narmer (whose name in fact doesn't appear on the palette); the Scorpion king appears in a prominent position at the center of the lower row; the other rulers were ancient predecessors of Scorpion II in the Dynasty 00-0 (Abydos ?) royal line.

Falcon (see table above) was possibly the follower of the owner of tomb U-j, Scorpion I; Dreyer hypothesized that Falcon's name also appears on the Metropolitan Museum palette serekh (MMA 28.9.8; cf. TM 3, fig. pag. 28). The relief on an alabaster vessel from Hierakonpolis showing a frieze of falcons and scorpions was perhaps a tribute of King Falcon to his own father Scorpion I [Quibell-Green, Hierakonpolis I, pl. 19.1].
King Elephant property ? Abydos: Tag from Tomb U-i sud (K 840; n. 59) Naqada IIIa2King Lion is, in Dreyer's opinion, named on a seal impression from Mahasna; Dreyer thinks that many of the royal names of that period (since king Elephant), do appear in the names of royal properties/domains: thus a tree beside a lion would be 'King Lion's plantation' (or property; in the Dynastic period there are plenty of examples of places named after kings' names or after royal domains names). The same author advanced that the lion on the Battlefield (or Vultures) palette was just this Lion king, by the same way as the Bull palette must show a (later) king Bull (Bull II, distinct from the Bull I identified on the Koptos colossus).
The two falcons on standards would relate to Double Falcon: this is one of the first attestations of serekhs known, early in Naqada IIIB (Dynasty 0); he's known from Southern Palestine, Sinai, East Delta, Memphite region (Tura) and Upper Egypt (Abydos, Adaima); not all the scholars do agree in the interpretation of his serekhs (with different graphical variants: cf. F. Raffaele, op. cit.; id., Dynasty 0; id., TM 2, fig. pag. 29, n. 8-12) as a single ruler's royal title.

Dreyer has postulated that, given the mentioned late-Dynasty 0 manufacture of the Tehenu palette (which in my opinion is in fact later than the Battlefield and Bull palettes but earlier than the Plover and Narmer palettes), it could never neither celebrate nor narrate the foundation of the towns by those kings: the town of the Heron (Djebawty), probably Buto, which is currently being excavated by T. Von der Way, was founded much earlier than Naqada IIIA. Therefore the action performed by the royal entities on the palette could eventually be the foundation of fortresses in the respective centers (cf. the example from Elephantine), or more probably it was the (symbolic ?) destruction of the centers after their defeat by the Southern Kings; this progressive military expansionism and submission of the Delta by the Thinite sovereigns, which is echoed in the scenes of battle and of their aftermath represented on Naqada III palettes and ivories, was probably a relatively common scenario until the country unification (cf. M. Campagno 2002). As quoted above, and always with the due cautions, it can be supposed that a parallel warfare-pattern should have been followed by the Dynasty 00-0 kings in respect of the Nubian antagonists; perhaps also in the Delta the Maadi-Buto decline hadn't happened (Naqada IIC-D) without some conflict; the EB I Canaan colonization is instead a different matter (although some scholars hypothesized, in the past, massive military interventions of the Egyptians there): the difference between Egypt and Canaan at that time was too large to favour the assumption of any possible competition between them; Egyptians must have found no resistance in their infiltration into those territories, contributing to their evolution towards the EB II Urbanization [cf. the interesting and still valid synthesis 'The relations between Early Bronze I age Canaanites and Upper Egyptians' by Branislav Andelkovic, 1995].

The amount of data on predynastic regional-states is rapidly increasing in the last decades.
I am sure that our knowledge on many aspects of this phase of Egyptian proto-history is going to further augment in the next years. Once it was the Thinite period (Dynasty I-II) to be considered the egg from which the Dynastic Egypt Civilization sprang out; but indeed, as we have seen, also and already during the late Gerzean (Naqada IID) and Naqada III (Petrie's Semainean) we can find clear signs of the outset of the future Dynastic state peculiarities.

Abydos Cemetery U statuettesWe have rapidly passed by some of the "faces" of the Egyptian Predynastic and through the ages of the most ancient kings of Egypt and of the whole humanity. I have tried to outline in this paper the way in which the Neolithic villages acquired more and more aspects diagnostic of a progress towards complex associative units to finally become regional states governed by the paramount leaders of Dynasty 00, on which I've focussed the discussion. Many factors contributed to the constitution of the Dynastic Egypt tradition. The kingship and 'arts' canons (the rules of J. Baines' concept of decorum), religious, philosophical and funerary beliefs, first appeared before, during and few after the Dynasty 00; early Naqada III provides the link between the more egalitarian and less developed societies of the previous periods and the rise of the warrior kings that opened up the path leading to the State of Dynasties 0-2.

The civilization which developed since this period, through the reign of "Menes" and up to the time of the great pyramids, saw heavy transformations and achievements, obscure ages of crisis, brilliant reprises; but along these phases the underlying continuity and the "archetypal" elements of the "Dynastic culture" can be followed as I have tried to do in this article; Dynasty "00" and "0" are metaphorically the foundation stones of that magnificient monument which Ancient Egypt was; maybe they are for most part hidden beneath the sands, not as apparent as the Old and New Kingdom 'constructions' above them, but at least as much fascinating and mysterious.
They are the precious keys to understand where, why and how it all began!

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Most of this page was (originally) part of my article (in print - French translation) in: TM 7, 2002
However this page has been (and will be) updated, enlarged, modified. Francesco Raffaele, 2002
NOTA BENE: the copyright of the images is of the respective publishers and authors.
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1 - It has been hypothesized that the serekh device might have originated from some of the representations on the tags from cem. U, or that they had the same referent (cf. Dreyer, Umm el-Qaab I, tags 127, 128,129, X188). The earliest ones known are from tombs U-s, U-t, but some motifs which resemble serekhs are much older (as the one painted on a C-ware sherd from Hierakonpolis loc. 6: cf. B. Adams, in CCdE 3/4, 2002, p. 8, fig. 5; this one has been considered as a 'proto-serekh' by the late Adams and some dotted patterns beside it as fences; but it is hard IMO to credit hers more than one of the possible interpretations).
For serekhs in general: Wignall, in: GM 162; O'Brien, in: JARCE 33, 1996, 123-138; also cf. Dreyer, in: MDAIK 55, 1999, 4f.; for important considerations on the Delta origin of Serekh and mudbrick architecture (palace-façade features possibly reflecting the existence of relevant Maadi-Buto élites): Jimenez-Serrano in GM 183, 2001, 71ff., interestingly commented on by van den Brink, in: GM 183, 2001, and disputed by Hendrickx, who proposes arguments for an independent Upper Egyptian origin of both the iconographical and architectural devices, in: GM 184, 85-110, 2001. For a study of pottery incised serekhs in relation to the jar types cf. van den Brink in Spencer ed. 1996; id., Archéo-Nil 11.

-Essential Bibliography (recent studies)-

J. Baines, Origins of Egyptian Kingship, in: D. 'Connor - D. Silverman (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Kingship 1995, 95-156

K. Bard, The Egyptian Predynastic: A review of the Evidence, JFA 21/3, 1994, 265-288

K. Cialowicz, La naissance d'un royaume, Krakow 2001

G. Dreyer, Umm el-Qaab I, Mainz 1998

F. Hassan, The Predynastic of Egypt, JWP 2, 1988, 135-185

S. Hendrickx, Arguments for an Upper Egyptian Origin of the Palace-Facade and the Serekh during Late ..., GM 184, 2001, 85-110

M. Hoffman, Egypt before the Pharaohs, New York 1979 (1990²)

A. Jiménez Serrano, Chronology and local traditions: the Representations of Power and the Royal name in the Late Predynastic Period, in: Archéo-Nil 12, 2003, in press

W. Kaiser, Einige Bemerkungen zur ägyptischen Frühzeit, ZÄS 91, 1964, 86-125

id., Zur Entstehung des gesamtägyptischen Staates, MDAIK 46, 1990, 287-299

L.D. Morenz, Bild-Buchstaben und symbolische Zeichen. Die Herausbildung der Schrift in der hohen Kultur Altägyptens, Fribourg/Göttingen, 2004

F. Raffaele, Early Dynastic Egypt (Internet site)

id., La fin de la période pré-dynastique et la Dynastie 0, TM 1, 2001, 20-23; TM 2, 2002, 26-29; TM 3, 26-29

A.J. Spencer (ed.), Aspects of Early Egypt, London 1996

J. Vercoutter, L'Egypte et la vallée du Nil, vol. I, Paris 1992

S. Vinci, La Nascita dello stato nell' Antico Egitto: La Dinastia "Zero", Bologna 2002

T.A.H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, London/New York 1999

id., Political Unification: towards a reconstruction, MDAIK 56, 2000, 377-395.


Text © Francesco Raffaele, 2002
Images © of the respective authors

TABLE 2 - Naqada I-early IIIc1 Chronology
Period - years
Phase (Kaiser)
Tombs - objects types- Rulers
(c. 3900)
Naqada Iabc, IIa
Abydos tomb U-239
Hierakonpolis Loc. 6, tombs 3, 6

B-, P-, C- class pottery
Gebelein painted textile (Turin Museum)
Early rhomboidal palettes, undecorated or with incised drawings
(c. 3600)
Naqada IIb
Decorated Pottery (D-class)
Naqada tombs 1411, T4
From rhomboidal shapes to fusiform, with appendices and animal heads on the edge

Naqada IIc/d1,2
Wavy handled pottery (W-class)
Hierakonpolis tomb 100
Brooklyn, Carnarvon knife handles (Naqada IIc-IIIa)
(NOTE: Abu Zeidan t.32, which contained the Brooklyn knife-handle, dates early Naqada III)
Abydos t. U-q, U-547; knife handle in t. U-503 and fragments from U-127
Zoomorphous palettes
(fishes, turtles, mammals)
Ostrich palette
Gerzeh palette
  Min palette
Late Predynastic
(c. 3300)
Naqada IIIa1,2
Hierakonpolis Loc. 6, tomb 11
Abydos U-cemetery kings (cf. TABLE 1)
Abydos tomb U-j (Scorpion I ?)
Louvre palette
Oxford palette
Hunters palette


Naqada IIIb1
Seyala tomb 137.1; Qustul tomb L24
Horizon A
Anonymous Serekhs, Double Falcon,
Ny-Hor, Pe-Hor, Hat-Hor, Hedj-Hor; (Iry-Hor)

Gebel Sheikh Suleiman graffito
Hierakonpolis Loc. 6, tomb 10
Metropolitan Mus. palette
Battlefield (Vultures) palette
Bull palette
Tehenu palette
Plover palette
Narmer Palette
(end of Narmer's reign c.3000)
(c. 3150-3000)
Naqada IIIb2/c1
Horizon B
Tarkhan Crocodile, Hk (?) Scorpion (II), Abydos: Iry Hor, Ka, Narmer
Hierakonpolis Loc. 6, tomb 1