From 8 Feb-30 March 2014, excavations were continued in the HK6 cemetery by the team of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, under the direction of Dr Renee Friedman (British Museum), resulting in the discovery of a nearly intact tomb (Tomb 72) set within a large wooden structure.

In 2013, the remains of a wall, 9 meters long, made of wooden posts, were uncovered (called Wall F). In 2014 we investigated this wall further to determine the full size of the structure to which it belonged. Excavating westward, we found that the structure is approximately 13m long (east to west) and 9m wide (N-S). The walls are made from a double row of small wooden posts (about 5cm in diameter) set within two different, but parallel trenches suggesting that the rows were made at different times.

t72 01hk6 overview web

Overview of Tomb 72 and surrounding structure.

The interior of the structure seemed very disturbed, but near the center a large pit filled with sand turned out to be a tomb, called Tomb 72. Surrounding this tomb were several columns of wood, roughly 20cm in diameter, set into deep pits, for supporting a superstructure above it. The columns around Tomb 72 had been burnt by fire, and reddened sand, ash, and charcoal were observed.

Tomb 72 measures 3.2m E-W by 2.0 m N-S. The body of the tomb owner was highly disturbed. Bones of a young person, 17-20 years of age, were found scattered in the upper fill and surrounding areas. Only some fingers and a part of the pelvis were found on the floor of the tomb. Despite the severe disturbance of the body, the contents of the tomb were found mostly in their original place and form a unique assemblage of materials for the Predynastic period.


The most impressive and important object found in the tomb was the nearly complete statuette of a standing bearded man carved out of hippopotamus ivory, 32cm high. Only the narrow arms are missing, which were originally carved free from the sides of the torso, with the hands resting on the upper legs. The original polished surface of the ivory has been destroyed by termites, but the features of the face, including an aqualine nose, very large ears, arched eyebrows, protruding lips and a short pointed beard can still be seen. These features strongly resemble the pottery masks known only from the HK6 cemetery. This similarity in facial features suggests that both the statue and the masks depict the same entity, but whether this is meant to be a Predynastic ruler or a god or spirit remains to be determined. This statue is unique in both its size and quality among excavated and datable material of the Predynastic period. Only the ivory statuettes of the Main Deposit at Hierakonpolis are comparable. This find shows that the tradition of fine ivory carving at the site goes back at least to the early Naqada II period. 

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Xavier Droux investigates the statue


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The ivory statue Detail of the statue's face
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One of the pottery masks previously discovered at HK6

This statue was found on the west side of the tomb, near the north corner, together with an intact pottery jar of brown polished Nile silt. This jar is decorated with the outline of a large lion, incised before the pot was fired. Degraded organic matter in the area suggests that the ivory figurine and the vessel had been placed within a wooden box or a basket. This material was subsequently eaten by termites.

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The 'Lion pot' from the tomb

On the east side of the tomb, at about the same level as the ivory statue, a series of flint bladelets were found together with originally 3 containers for yellow ochre made from the tips of hippopotamus tusks. The flint bladelets were possibly knapped by the side of the tomb, as several could be re-fitted together, showing that they came from the same stone. Below this group of objects, two diorite palettes, one of rhomboid shape and large, the other rectangular, were found together with five rubbing pebbles which were naturally formed river polished rocks, but specially chosen for their shape and polish. With them were small fragments of malachite. Traces of malachite were also identified on the flat side of the larger palette and on three of the rubbing pebbles, showing that the pebbles were used on the palette to grind green malachite for eye or body paint. Traces of red ochre were found on the smaller palette.

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Palettes and rubbing stones

Six ivory combs were found in the same area of the tomb. One of them has carved on its top the figurine of an animal with long legs and a prominent nose, but broken off ears. It is possibly a donkey. The other five combs have flat tops and are square or rectangular in shape. These are all made of hippopotamus ivory.

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The 'Donkey comb' and five flat-topped combs

Three more combs with flat tops were found together on the north side of the tomb. Near the center of the tomb was a comb with the figurine of a hippopotamus carved on its top. A spot on the top of the hippo figure’s back seems to have been intentionally burnt potentially as a way to protect against the danger the hippopotamus might pose. This comb was found just above the remains of the tomb owner’s pelvis.

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Carefully excavating the 'Hippo comb' in situ The 'Hippo comb'

On the west side of the tomb, at a level lower than the human figurines and the vessel, two finely serrated triangular flint knife blades were found near two quartzite grinding stones, a rubbing pebble, and a retouched flint flake. The grinding stones had been used in life and are a unique addition within a predynastic tomb. They are perhaps connected with food preparation in the afterlife.

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Working on the West side of the tomb

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Blades, flakes and rubbing stones

In the south-central part of the tomb was the shoulder blade of a cow. Immediately below it was a complete diamond-shaped flint spearhead of fine yellow flint.
Six flint transverse arrow-heads and one fragmentary flint hollow-base arrow-head were found in various places inside the tomb, as well as a few additional flint bladelets. Remains of food offerings were identified. Bones of juvenile sheep or goat rested on the floor of the tomb, while bones from cattle legs were found higher up in the fill of the burial.

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All the finds from Tomb 72

On the floor of the tomb were found traces of matting.
The objects date the tomb to the Naqada IIA-B period, roughly 3700-3600 BC.

The almost complete removal of the human bones from the floor of the tomb, while many objects were left in place suggests that the disturbance of the tomb took place in very ancient times, probably in the predynastic period. This seems to have been an act of aggression against the tomb owner, rather than merely robbery. The tomb’s superstructure was then burnt down, along with other posts within Structure F. It then seems that the tomb was covered with sand and gravels when Structure F was rebuilt, probably in the early First Dynasty. This involved a new external wall running parallel to, but at a higher level than the earlier one. Also several of the columns were replaced, but not those immediately around Tomb 72. Nevertheless the rebuilding may be a restoration of the tomb complex, but more research will be needed to determine this for certain.

The orientation of Structure F and Tomb 72 suggests that it was the main tomb for the complex of tombs on the eastern side of the cemetery, which included the burials of several young humans, a leopard, wild cattle, baboons, sheep with modified horns, goats, dogs and possibly an ostrich.  Thus the owner of Tomb 72 may have been one of ancient Hierakonpolis’ Predynastic kings. The discovery of this nearly intact tomb provides us with much new information about funerary ritual and practices and the later respect paid to the deceased ancestors.

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Overview of the site of Tomb 72

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Tomb 72 and the remains of its superstructure


Text by Renee Friedman: Text & Images (c) Hierakonpolis Expedition.

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