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Ruined city
Location in Egypt
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Country  Egypt
Time zone EST (UTC+2)
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in hieroglyphs
Hieraconpolis redirects here; for the ancient fortress in Egypt called Hieracon, see Hieracon

Nekhen /ˈnɛkən/ or Hierakonpolis (/ˌhərəˈkɒnpəls/; Ancient Greek: Ἱεράκων πόλις hierakōn polis, "city of hawks",[1] Arabic: الكوم الأحمر‎‎, Al-Kom Al-Aħmar, "red mound"[2]) was the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of the Predynastic period (c. 3200 – 3100 BC), and probably also during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100 – 2686 BC). Some authors suggest occupation dates that should begin thousands of years earlier.

Horus cult center

Nekhen was the center of the cult of a hawk deity Horus of Nekhen, which raised in this city one of the most ancient temples in Egypt, and it retained its importance as the cult center of this divine patron of the kings long after it had otherwise declined.

The original settlement on the Nekhen site dates from the culture known as Naqada I of 4400 BC or the late Badarian culture that may date from 5000 BC. At its height from about 3400 BC, Nekhen had at least 5,000 and possibly as many as 10,000 inhabitants.

The ruins of the city originally were excavated toward the end of the nineteenth century by the English archaeologists James E. Quibell and F. W. Green.

Quibell and Green discovered the Main Deposit, a foundation deposit beneath the temple,[3] in 1894.[4] Quibell was originally trained under W.M.F. Petrie, the inventor of modern archaeology, however he failed to follow Petrie's methods, and the temple was a difficult site to excavate to begin with, thus his excavation was poorly conducted and poorly documented.[4] Specifically, the situational context of the items therein is poorly recorded and often the reports of Quibell and Green are in contradiction.[4]

The most famous artifact commonly associated with the main deposit, the Narmer Palette, is now thought to have probably not been in the main deposit at all. Quibell's report made in 1900 put the palette in the deposit, but Green's report in 1902 put it about one to two yards away.[5] Green's version is substantiated by earlier field notes (Quibell kept none), so it is now the accepted record of events.[5]

The main deposit was located in an early Old Kingdom period,[4] but the artistic style of the objects in the deposit indicate that they were from Protodynastic times and were moved into the deposit at a later date. The other important item in the deposit clearly dates to late Predynastic times.[6] This object, the Scorpion Macehead, depicts a king known only by the ideogram for scorpion, thus known as King Scorpion, participating in what seems to be a ritual irrigation ceremony.[7] Although the Narmer Palette is more famous because it shows the first king to wear both the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Scorpion Macehead also indicates some early military hostility with the north by showing dead lapwing birds, the symbol of the north, hung from standards.[7]

More recently, the concession was excavated further by a multinational team of archaeologists, Egyptologists, geologists, and members of other sciences, which was coordinated by Michael Hoffman until his death in 1990, then by Barbara Adams of University College London and Dr. Renee Friedman representing the University of California, Berkeley and the British Museum until Barbara Adams's death in 2001, and by Renee Friedman thereafter.


The structure at Nekhen with the misnomer, "fort",[8] is a massive mud-brick enclosure, built by King Khasekhemwy of the Second Dynasty. It appears to be similar in structure and purpose as the 'forts' constructed at Abydos, and has no apparent military function. The true function of these structures is unknown, but they seem to be related to the rituals of kingship and the culture.[9]

The ritual structure was built on a Predynastic cemetery. The excavations there, as well as the work of later brick robbers, have seriously undermined the walls and led to the near collapse of the structure. For two years, during 2005 and 2006, the team led by Renee Friedman was attempting to stabilize the existing structure and support the endangered areas of the structure with new mud-bricks.[10]

Oldest known Egyptian painted tomb

The painted tomb of Nekhen.

Other discoveries at Nekhen include the Tomb 100, the oldest tomb with painted decoration on its plaster walls. The tomb is thought to date to the Naqada II c period from 3500 BC until 3200 BC. The decoration shows presumed religious scenes and images that include figures that will appear in Egyptian culture for three thousand years—a funerary cortege of barques, possibly a goddess standing between two upright lionesses, a wheel of various horned quadrupeds, several examples of a staff that became associated with the deity of the earliest cattle culture and one being help up by a heavy-breasted goddess, asses or zebras, ibex, ostriches, lionesses, impala, gazelles, and cattle.

Oldest known zoo

The oldest known zoological collection was revealed during excavations at Nekhen in 2009 of a menagerie that dates to ca. 3500 BC. The exotic animals included hippos, hartebeest, elephants, baboons and wildcats.[11]

Later activity

There are some later tombs at Nekhen, dating to the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period and New Kingdom. In the tomb of Horemkhaef was found a biographical inscription reporting Horemkhaef's journey to the capital of Egypt. Because it had a strong association with Egyptians' religious ideas about kingship, the temple of Horus at Nekhen was used as late as Ptolemaic times.[12]


  • Barbara G. Adams: Ancient Hierakonpolis Warminster 1974. In: Bibliotheca Orientalis 33, 1976, ISSN 0006-1913, pp. 24–25.
  • Barbara Adams: The Fort Cemetery at Hierakonpolis. (Excavated by John Garstang). KPI, London 1987, ISBN 0-7103-0275-4, (Studies in Egyptology).
  • Guy Brunton: The Predynastic Town-site at Hierakonpolis. In: S. R. K. Glanville (Hrsg.): Studies presented to F. Ll. Griffith. Oxford University Press, London u. a. 1932, pp. 272–276.
  • John Coleman Darnell: Hathor Returns to Medamûd. In: Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 22, 1995, ISSN 0340-2215, pp. 47–94.
  • Walter A. Fairservis: Excavations of the Temple Area on the Kom el-Gemuwia. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie NY 1983, (The Hierakonpolis Project, season January to March 1978), (Occasional papers in Anthropology 1).
  • Renée Friedman / Barbara Adams: The followers of Horus. Studies dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman. 1944-1990. Oxbow Books, Oxford u. a. 1992, ISBN 0-946897-44-1, (Egyptian Studies Association Publication 2), (Oxbow monograph 20).
  • John Garstang: Excavations at Hierakonpolis, at Esna and in Nubia. In: ASAE. Annales du service des antiquites de l'Égypte 8, 1907, ISSN 1687-1510, pp. 132–148.
  • Michael Allen Hoffman: Egypt before the Pharaohs. The prehistoric foundations of Egyptian Civilization. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London u. a., ISBN 0-7100-0495-8.
  • Michael Allen Hoffman: The Predynastic of Hierakonpolis. An Interim Report. Cairo University Herbarium, Faculty of Science u. a., Giza u. a., 1982, (Egyptian Studies Association Publication 1).
  • J. E. Quibell: Plates of discoveries in 1898. With notes by W. M. F. P. Bernard Quaritch, London 1900, (Hierakonpolis 1), (Egyptian Research Account Memoir 4), (Reprint: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd, London 1989).
  • J. E. Quibell / F. W. Green: Plates of discoveries, 1898-99. With Description of the site in detail. Bernard Quaritch, London 1902, (Hierakonpolis 2), (Egyptian Research Account Memoir 5), (Reprint: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd, London 1989).
  • A. J. Spencer: Early Egypt. The Rise of Civilisation in the Nile Valley. Press, London 1993, ISBN 0-7141-0974-6.
  • Toby A.H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, New York NY 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1.


  1. Strabo xvii. p. 817
  2. Richardson, Dan (2003). Egypt. London: Rough Guides. p. 429. ISBN 9781843530503. Retrieved February 19, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. p197. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Shaw, Ian. Exploring Ancient Egypt. p.32 Oxford University Press, 2003.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shaw, Ian. Exploring Ancient Egypt. p.33 Oxford University Press, 2003.
  6. Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. p254. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gardiner, Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs. p. 403. Oxford University Press, 1961
  8. [1] Nekhen "Fort"
  9. Renee Friedman, The "Fort" at Hierakonopolis p.31, Ancient Egypt June/July 2006
  10. The "Fort" at Hierakonopolis p.36, Ancient Egypt June/July 2006
  11. World's First Zoo - Hierakonpolis, Egypt, Archaeology Magazine,
  12. Hoffman, Michael Allen (1986), "A Model of Urban Development for the Hierakonpolis Region from Predynastic through Old Kingdom Times", Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 23, pp 186.

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