The oldest known representation of a pharaoh has been found carved on rocks at a desert site in southern Egypt, a new study into long forgotten engravings has found.
Found on vertical rocks at Nag el-Hamdulab, four miles north of the Aswan Dam, the images depict a pharaoh riding boats with attendant prisoners and animals in what is thought to be a tax-collecting tour.
Maria Carmela Gatto, associate research scholar in Egyptology at Yale University, said that the researchers don't know with certainty who the king represented at Hamdulab is but can only guess on paleographic and iconographic grounds, Discovery News reported.
The style of the carvings suggests that the images were made at a late Dynasty date, around 3200-3100 B.C, which would have been the reign of Narmer, the first king to unify northern and southern Egypt, thus regarded by many scholars as Egypt's founding pharaoh.
Dating back more than 5,000 years, the rock drawings appear to feature the earliest known depiction of a pharaoh, according to Gatto and colleagues.
According to John Darnell from Yale University, there are depictions of local rulers since the first half of the fourth millennium B.C., but Hamdulab seems by date to be the earliest datable representation of a king wearing one of the recognizable crowns of the ruler of all Egypt, engaged in a labelled royal ritual.
Discovered in the 1890s by the archaeologist Archibald Sayce, the carvings remained unnoticed for over a century. In the 1960s, Egyptian archaeologist Labib Habachi photographed Sayce's drawings of the rock images, but never published them.
When one of Habachi's pictures resurfaced in 2008, Gatto investigated the site, discovering an entire rock art gallery.
The researchers investigated a total of seven carvings, which feature scenes depicting hunting, warfare, and nautical festival events.
The most extensive rock art picture, which is nearly 10 feet wide, shows five boats, one of which carries an anonymous king holding a long sceptre and wearing the White Crown, a conical shaped headpiece that symbolized rulership of southern Egypt.
The king is followed by a fan-bearer and preceded by a dog and two standard-bearers. A falcon standard appears below the king, while three of the boats boast a standard with bull horns.
At the bottom of the tableau, another boat features a decorated vaulted cabin, which according to the researchers represents a shrine. The vessel is then transformed into a divine boat, placing the tableaux in a religious context.
In front of the royal boat are four bearded persons holding a rope, likely representing people towing the ship.
A four-sign hieroglyphic inscription labelled the imagery as a "nautical following."
The researchers believe that this is likely related to a royal and ritual event known as the "Following of Horus" - a biennial tax-collection tour of the king and his court to demonstrate royal authority throughout the land. (ANI)