The “Royal Tomb” of Naqada

The “Royal Tomb” at Naqada is a mastaba with an elaborate niched facade, sixteen small chambers and five deeper and larger chambers, the middle of which is considered to be the burial chamber. It was first discovered by De Morgan in 1896. A smaller mastaba in the vicinity was too damaged to be investigated but was thought by De Morgan to be contemporary with the Royal Tomb.

The initial investigation by De Morgan (and follow up excavations by Borchardt in 1891 and Garstang in 1904) were not particularly thorough with only cursory notes taken on the locations of finds, only a few items sketched, and many items not deemed to be sufficiently interesting left on site. The tomb had also been robbed in antiquity, making it difficult to confirm who was buried in this tomb.

Plan and sketch of the Royal Tomb at Naqada produced by De Morgan, now known to be fairly inaccurate

Given the size and elaborate construction of the tomb it was originally hailed as the “Tomb of Menes” (the founder of the first dynasty). It was later ascribed to Neithhotep, the wife or daughter of Narmer, in part because of the number of labels bearing her name found within it. There is now some doubt over that attribution (even though it remains the prevailing view).

The tomb contained a selection of beads and amulets made from faience, ivory, and semi-precious stones as well as rings and bracelets made of shell and ivory. Large amounts of ceramic vessels and stone vessels were found in the other chambers, as well as ivory and copper objects and stone palettes. A single gold bead formed by wrapping a piece of gold wire into a barrel shape with tapered ends was also uncovered. It is thought it was once part of a necklace entirely composed of similar beads.

Fifteen small ivory fish recovered from the tomb were probably amulets which may have been placed in a small ivory box also found on site. Alternatively, the box may have contained bracelets of necklaces which were stolen by tomb robbers some time ago. Eight small bone labels with numbers inscribed on them may relate to tomb contents as two also depict necklaces. Five of these labels (including the two which depict necklaces) are inscribed on the other side with the name of Neithhotep.

The name most prevalent on objects in the tomb is that of Aha, most likely because the tomb was constructed during his reign (he is already credited with a tomb at Abydos, Umm el-Qaab and a cenotaph at Saqqara). Two labels bear the name Meri-iti. The identity of Meri-iti is not clear. Wilkinson suggested it refers to Djer, who also used the name Iti, but this has not been substantiated.

The name of Rekhyt appears on a total of fifteen objects (seals and other items) in the tomb, outnumbering references to Neithhotep whose name appears on ten objects. Rekhyt’s name also appears on items found in the tomb of Aha at Abydos. He was clearly a member of the royal household, most likely the son of either Narmer or Aha. Other items in the tomb were inscribed with the names of Narmer and Het (identity unconfirmed). The large number of references to Rekhyt, along with its position as a likely tomb for a provincial governor, have prompted van Wetering to propose that this was his tomb rather than that of Neithhotep.

  • Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
  • Bagh, Tine (2004) “First Dynasty jewelry and amulets, finds from the Royal Naqada Tomb” from Egypt at Its Origins: Studies in Memory of Barbara Adams Ed Stan Hendrickx
  • Dodson, Aiden (2016) The Royal Tombs of Ancient Egypt
  • van Wetering, Joris (2012) “Relocating De Morgan’s Royal Tomb at Naqada and Identifying Its Occupant” pp91 – 124 from Prehistory of Northeastern Africa New Ideas and Discoveries
  • Wilkinson, Toby (1999) Early Dynastic Egypt

Copyright J Hill 2018