Oldest place name sign deciphered

An inscription on a rock from the late fourth millennium B.C. has been discovered to be the oldest known place name sign. The four hieroglyphs read “Domain of the Horus King Scorpion,” whose name was used in vain in several The Mummy spinoffs in the early oughts. The four symbols are a leafy plant, a scorpion, a solar disk and two concentric circles on the right. The circular hieroglyph is what marks it as a place name.

The inscribed rock was discovered two years ago in the Wadi Abu Subeira, the bed of an extinct river in the desert east of Aswan. The site is known for its profusion of Late Palaeolithic petroglyphs and is under constant threat from erosion and mining activities. Archaeological exploration of the location is still in comparative infancy. University of Bonn researchers led by Egyptologist Dr. Ludwig D. Morenz have been working with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities for several years to document ancient and prehistoric rock carvings.

There are very few sources about the political, social and economic conditions under which people lived more than five thousand years ago. “This is precisely why the new discovery of the rock inscription is so valuable,” says the Egyptologist. The very early use of the cultural practice of writing in this rather remote place is unusual for the fourth millennium B.C. Despite its brevity, the inscription opens a window into the world of the emergence of the Egyptian state and the culture associated with it. Morenz: “For the first time, the process of internal colonization in the Nile Valley becomes more visible by writing.”

According to the researcher, Egypt was the first territorial state worldwide. “There were already ruling systems elsewhere before, but these were much smaller,” says Morenz. It has been known for some time that the north-south extension of Egypt at that time was already around 800 kilometers. “In fact, several rival population centers merged into the new central state,” says Morenz. Royal estates, known as domains, were founded on the periphery of the empire in order to consolidate the pharaonic empire. […]

Various names of economic entities (domains) are already known from smaller text carriers such as labels for goods deliveries, cylinder seals and container labels. The rock inscription makes such a royal domain tangible as a concrete archaeological place for the first time. In addition to various rock carvings, other early rock inscriptions were discovered here and found together with pottery from this period. “This area is still in the early stages of archaeological investigation,” says Morenz. The researchers see this as an opportunity to take a closer look at the momentous process of the world’s first state emergence. This included the expansion and securing of the dominion at the edges in the Nile valley and the consolidation of the then new kind of kingship.