Tell el-Farkha: Discovering a treasure of the early pharaohs

A hoard of over 60 objects from the reigns of the first rulers of Egypt (c. 3000 BC) was discovered recently at Tell el-Farkha, a site in the Eastern Nile Delta in Egypt.

The Polish Archaeological Expedition working in association with the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of Warsaw University is in the middle of fieldwork, which started in March 2006. The joint heads of the team, Prof. Krzysztof Ciałowicz of Jagiellonian University in Kraków and Dr. Marek Chłodnicki of the Archaeological Museum in Poznań, believe that the find contributes further evidence for a cult center functioning on the site in the early years of the existence of Ancient Egyptian statehood.

Traces of this religious center had been discovered already in earlier explorations.The objects making up the hoard, mostly figurines of humans and animals, but also plaquettes, cylindrical seals, models of tools and miniature vessels, are more than just confirmation of the importance of this site in the late fourth millennium BC. They are veritable masterpieces of art, made of valuable ivory, but also of stone and metal. The figurines of men are among the finest and exquisitely carved objects from the period. Few pieces of the like have ever been found outside Upper Egypt, which is considered the cradle of Ancient Egyptian civilization. Just as exceptional in character are the ornaments in the shape of uraeus-cobras, commonly associated as symbols of royal authority.Another deposits discovered this season proved even more sensational. It consists of two golden figurines of standing men, each about 50 cm high, accompanied by ritual flint knives.

The assemblage is dated to c. 3100 BC, that is, before the currently accepted date for the first unification of Egypt. They are the oldest known statues of the kind from Egypt and the precision of execution warrants the assumption that the figurines were intended as representations of some still nameless early monarch. This would suggest an earlier (than currently considered) date for the emergence of Ancient Egyptian monarchy and point to a significant role played in this process by the Nile Delta. The figurines, which were made down to the minutest details of facial features, eyes and finger nails out of gold foil, and decorated with strings of shell and carnelian beads, could have belonged to an early Egyptian aristocrat or else they could have constituted the furnishing of one of the first Ancient Egyptian temples. The discovery will doubtless change the way we look at events taking place in the Land of the Pharaohs at the time of its emergence into history.

The presence of such fine objects in the Nile Delta is proof of the still underestimated role of this agricultural region in the structure of Early Egyptian monarchy. It is also tangible evidence for the existence of a long artisan tradition on the spot. Many of these animal figurines and some of the representations of humans will contribute to our knowledge of Ancient Egyptian beliefs from this early period, helping to determine which of the later and well known deities and cults had their origins in the Nile Delta.Most recently, the expedition uncovered two undisturbed tombs from the reign of the First Dynasty. Opening the first of these tombs revealed a rich set of ceramic and stone vessels, burial gifts placed with the dead, presumably a man of aristocratic status. The expedition plans to work for another few weeks.

Tell el-Farkha has been systematically explored by a team working in association with the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of Warsaw University since 1998. To date, the site has yielded evidence of the oldest brewery ever found in Egypt, a residence dating to Predynastic times and a temple and burial ground from the reign of the First Dynasty. The excavations at Tell el-Farkha are currently among the most important projects carried out in Egypt, bringing new evidence to bear on one of the greatest issues of modern Egyptian archaeology, that is, the emergence of the state of the pharaohs.