Database of Early Dynastic inscriptions

By Ilona Regulski



The current database assembles all available Early Dynastic inscriptions, covering the first attestations of writing discovered in tomb U-j (Naqada IIIA1, ca. 3250 BC) until the earliest known continuous written text in the reign of Netjerikhet–more commonly known as Djoser (ca. 2700 BC).[1] The database originated as a computerized Access document containing the collection of sources on which the author’s publication “A Palaeographic Study of Early Writing in Egypt” was based.[2] The latter was kindly reformed into a web compatible application by Prof. Erhart Graefe, former head of the Department of Egyptology and Coptology at the Westfalische-Wilhelms Universität, Münster, Germany, which hosts the database. I wish to express my sincere gratitude to him. Additional information on bibliography, reading and interpretation of signs and whereabouts of the inscriptions have kindly been provided by: Eva-Maria Engel, Annelies Bleeker, Catherine Jones, Kathryn Piquette, the students of the third MA semester 2012-2013 from the FU Berlin (Stephanie Bruck, Dominik Ceballos Contreras, Viktoria Fink, Stephan Hartlepp, Ingo Küchler, Soukaina Najjarane, Niklas Schneeweiß, Melanie Schreiber, Dina Serova, Elisabeth Wegner).[3]


The database contains more then 4500 inscriptions and is constantly updated. Each inscription was assigned a source number. The source list, published by J. Kahl in Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift in der 0.-3. Dynastie, 171-417, was the point of departure.[4] The sequence of the Kahl list is chronological but this could not be followed when new sources were added as they were found. About 700 sources could be added to his collection starting with number 4000. Multiple impressions from the same cylinder seal were incorporated as one source since they are copies of one inscription.


The upper left button SEARCH will give you access to the three forms, which contain all the information collected in the database:

1.       The main search table (left): contains detailed information regarding the date (cfr. Infra), provenance, type of inscription, dating criterion, and some bibliographical references. Some of these metadata will be explained in more detail further down. This table will also give you the source number of the objects, which facilitates the search in the 2 sub-forms.

2.       The depository sub-form (upper right): contains information regarding the present depository of the object.

3.       The sign sub-form (lower right): contains all the signs labelled with the Gardiner or the Kahl sigla and placed between round brackets: for example (E1). The database does not include hieroglyphs.


The upper left button INDEX will help you with finding the used spelling for royal names, sites, etc.:

-          Date / Period

-          Date / King

-          Site

-          Region

-          Locality

-          Depository




The date is indicated by period –for example “Dyn. 1”– and/or by the reign of the king when this is known. The starting point of the palaeographic survey was tomb U-j at Umm el-Qa‘ab since it contained the earliest known attestations of writing in Egypt.[5] The duration of the period in between, occasionally referred to as “Dynasty 0”[6] and corresponding to Hendrickx’s Naqada IIIA-B period, cannot yet be assessed with any degree of accuracy. It seems, therefore, more feasible and appropriate to restrict the term “dynasty” to the First and Second Dynasties when rulers can be identified with more certainty, and when a certain degree of historical and political continuity can be observed. Before the reign of Narmer, the more specific Naqada phases are therefore used. We follow the relative Naqada chronology of Hendrickx and Kahl’s System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift regarding the succession of kings:[7]

Naqada IIIA1-A2

Naqada IIIB / Iri-Hor

Naqada IIIB / Sekhen/Ka

Naqada IIIB / Scorpion[8]

Naqada IIIC1 /Dyn. 1 / Narmer[9]

Dyn. 1 / Aha

Dyn. 1 / Djer

Dyn. 1 / Djet

Dyn. 1 / Meretneith

Dyn. 1 / Den

Dyn. 1 / Adjib

Dyn. 1 / Semerkhet

Dyn. 1 / Qaa

Dyn. 1 / ‘bird’?

Dyn. 1 / Seneferka?[10]

Dyn. 2 / Hetepsekhemwy

Dyn. 2 / Raneb/Weneg[11]

Dyn. 2 / Ninetjer



Dyn. 2 / Peribsen/Sekhemib[13]

Dyn. 2 / Khasekhemwy

Dyn. 3 / Netjerikhet[14]


The date entry also gives a first indication regarding the reliability of the date of the inscription. When the king’s name is placed between brackets, the inscription does not mention a royal name. Dating Early Dynastic inscriptions without a royal name reference within this chronological time frame is a matter of caution since only a small number of them have been found in their original archaeological context. The following other criteria have therefore been used in this work:

1.       association with a royal name

2.       typological comparison

3.       the appearance of personal names

4.       the appearance of well-dated institutions

5.       inscriptions for which exact parallels have been found in better dated contexts

6.       archaeological context, when no other is applicable

Inscriptions which could not be dated on the basis of these criteria are not used at the outset but some of them have been reconsidered and re-evaluated based on the established chronology of palaeographic development.




Information about provenance can be narrowed down by “region”, “site” or “locality”. Contrary to later periods, the bulk of the Early Dynastic inscriptions are concentrated around two sites. From the first rulers onwards, the dynastic elite had two large cemeteries; the royal tombs of Umm el-Qa‘ab/Abydos in the south, and another elite cemetery at Saqqara, in the vicinity of the state capital at Memphis.[15] If we consider the quantity of inscriptions on other Early Dynastic cemeteries, a marked contrast in number becomes apparent. The Abydos and Saqqara tombs provide more than three quarters of the inscribed material. Less than a quarter comes from sites other than Abydos and Saqqara. This uneven distribution is a reflection of the highly centralized administration during the period under discussion.





Upper Egypt

Abu Roasch

Memphite region

Abu Umuri

Upper Egypt


Memphite region

Abusir el-Meleq

Memphite region


Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt

Alamat Tal Road

Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt

Batn el-Baqara

Memphite region

Beit Khallaf

Upper Egypt




Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt

Ezbet el-Tell



Upper Egypt


Memphite region


Memphite region


Memphite region


Middle Egypt


Upper Egypt

Kom el-Hisn



Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt


Memphite region

Minshat Abu Omar


Minshat Ezzat


Naga ed-Deir

Upper Egypt


Upper Egypt

Near East

Near East



Qaw el-Kebir

Upper Egypt


Memphite region


Middle Egypt


Upper Egypt




Memphite region

Tell el-Farkha


Tell Hassan Dawud


Tell Ibrahim Awad


Tell Iswid



Memphite region

Tura el-Ismant

Memphite region



Wadi Abbad

Upper Egypt

Wadi Abu Madawi

Upper Egypt

Wadi el-Qash

Upper Egypt

Wadi Umm Balad

Upper Egypt

Zawiyet el-Aryan

Memphite region



Type of inscription, background material and writing technique


No selection on the basis of material or type of inscription was made; every single text within the above-mentioned time frame was considered. The material of the object on which the texts were applied and the writing technique used is specified. The main types are:

·         Inscription on vessel (with specification of the vessel type)

No less than half of the Early Dynastic inscriptions were applied to vessels, mostly made of pottery or hard stone. Vessels were also frequently manufactured in soft stone, bone, or copper. Inscriptions are incised, written in ink, or executed in relief.

·         Inscription on label

The various written bone and wooden tags of the First Dynasty indicate that bone- and woodworking were highly developed. Many of the bone labels could be identified as ivory. Strictly speaking, the term “ivory” designates the dentine of elephant tusks alone; but a somewhat looser definition encompasses the dentine of other large mammals, such as hippopotamus.[16] Hippopotamus tusk and bone are both available in Egypt, while elephant tusk had to be acquired abroad.[17] Wood is a relatively scarce natural resource in Egypt but it was used in the construction of tombs and in domestic and religious architecture. For labels, ebony is often used, a harder wood that was imported in small quantities from Ethiopia.[18]

·         Seal (cylinder or impression)

The earliest cylinder seals found in Egypt (Naqada IIC/D)l[19] are not included because their relation to the early writing system is obscure.[20] The numerous surviving inscriptions are the result of impressing an inscribed cylinder on the wet clay. Most of the surviving cylinders are made of black steatite or wood, mainly ebony.[21] A few were executed in pottery, bone and limestone.

·         Inscription on stela

Four major groups can be distinguished within this corpus.

1. The royal stelae, executed in soft stone–mostly limestone–or in hard stone such as granite or quartzite from the end of the First Dynasty onwards.

2. By far the largest group in this category is the small private stelae that marked the graves of male and female courtiers, dwarfs and pet dogs from subsidiary tombs around the royal tombs at Umm el-Qa‘ab. Apart from Abydos, some similar contexts were discovered by Quibell in Saqqara and a few stelae were found in Abu Roash. They were mostly made of limestone and originally often colourfully painted.

3. The third group of stelae are the so-called “slab stelae” from Helwan, Saqqara and Abusir.

4. At the beginning of the Third Dynasty, a different and more elaborate type of inscribed slabs was introduced. These large panels could be executed in raised relief or made of wood  decorating tomb walls.

·         Other (always as ‘inscription on x’ in the database)

- Inscriptions on walls are rare in the Early Dynastic period.

- Sculpture in the round is represented by only a few large-scale monuments antedating the reign of Netjerikhet.

- Rock inscriptions from the eastern and western deserts and the Sinai provide valuable information about the extent of Early Dynastic activity in Egypt’s peripheral regions and the ability of the court to organise expeditions outside the Nile valley.

- Slate palettes and mace heads belong to the group of Predynastic prestige objects that survived into the Early Dynastic period.

- Chisels, knives, adzes and axes are occasionally provided with an inscription.

- Exceptionally, jewellery, combs, spoons, marbles and spindle whorls, two pieces of faience, a game board and a gaming piece, an incense burner, a jar stand are inscribed.




The bibliographical entry does not give an extensive list of all publications regarding the inscribed object but is limited to the first or main publication of the source.


The Sub forms


A first, “Depository” (upper right), gives information on the present location of the inscribed object (museum, catalogue number, state of preservation). The way in which the original was handled and studied with regard to the palaeographic study is specified in the field “illustration”. The database was initially constructed on the basis of existing publications. However, publications of hieroglyphic inscriptions are sometimes erroneous or insufficiently detailed. For the initial palaeographic study, originals were therefore used as much as possible.[22] With regard to seal impressions, the different surviving impressions are listed when these are legible and identifiable. Because sealings were mobile, copies of the same seal could be scattered over different sites. In addition, they could have ended up in different collections. The type of sealing is also included.[23]


A second sub-form “Signs” (lower left) contains references to the hieroglyphs appearing in the particular inscription. In the Early Dynastic period, the hieroglyphic script drew on an inventory of more than 900 different signs.[24] The compilation of early hieroglyphs thus provides a set of signs that is larger than in the Old Kingdom. Many of the early signs fit neatly into the existing “classical” corpus of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Others present new and sometimes puzzling images that appear to have dropped out of the repertoire after the Early Dynastic period.[25] The latter have consequently not been included in the sign-list of Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar, but have been incorporated by lower-case letters in Kahl’s Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift in der 0.-3. Dynastie, 171-417. Because the latter can thus be considered the most extensive one available for the period under discussion, the letter and number prefixed to the individual hieroglyphs of this sign-list will be followed.


Drawings and photographs are not (yet) incorporated as this would have seriously delayed the online publication. The palaeography is published in the OLA series: I. Regulski, A Palaeographic Study of Early Writing in Egypt (OLA 195). Leuven - Paris - Walpole MA, 2010.

The aim of this database is to provide an updated corpus of all available Early Dynastic inscriptions. As a result the database will be under constant development. Many of the entries are still empty because the information is not (yet) available. For example, the present depository and register number could not be checked for every source. It is hoped that such additional information can be added in the future. Your help, corrections or remarks are welcome!


Ilona Regulski

[1] See I. Regulski, Online Database of Early Dynastic inscriptions, GM 219 (2008), 79-87, for a more extended version of this text. The database works best in Mozilla Firefox. More practical guidelines will follow at the end of this introduction.

[2] I. Regulski, A Palaeographic Study of Early Writing in Egypt (OLA 195). Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA, 2010.

[3] A work of this kind, which has involved the study of many inscribed objects excavated over a century ago and now housed in museums all over the world, depends greatly upon the cooperation and goodwill of the staff in those museums. I have met with unfailing courtesy and professional assistance in all the institutions I visited, and I extend my deepest gratitude to their members of staff:

The Royal Museums for Art and History in Brussels.

The National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool.

The Museum of the School of Archaeology and Oriental Studies (SACOS) in Liverpool.

The Museum and Art Gallery in Bolton.

The Petrie Museum in London.

The British Museum in London.

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin.

The Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden.

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

A special thanks should also go to Dr. Günther Dreyer from the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo and Dr. Luc Limme, head of the Department of Egypt and the Ancient Near East at the Royal Museums for Art and History in Brussels for allowing me to use a large amount of unpublished material.

[4] J. Kahl, Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift in der 0.-3. Dynastie (GOF IV. Reihe Ägypten 29), Wiesbaden, 1994: 171-417. His sources dated to the later part of the Third Dynasty were left out since they were not part of the initial Ph.D. study.

[5] G. Dreyer, Umm el-Qa‘ab I, Das prädynastische Königsgrab U-j und seine frühen Schriftzeugnisse (ÄV 86), Mainz, 1998. Dated to stage IIIA1 (ca. 3250 BC) of Hendrickx’s system, S. Hendrickx, The relative Chronology of the Naqada Culture: Problems and Possibilities, in A.J. Spencer, Aspects of Early Egypt, London, 1996: 59.

[6] J.E. Quibell & W.M.F. Petrie, Hierakonpolis I, 5; W. Kaiser, MDAIK 41 (1985), 71. A “Dynasty 00” has been introduced by E.C.M. van den Brink, The Nile Delta in Transition: 4th. - 3rd. Millennium B.C. Proceedings of the Seminar held in Cairo, 21.-24. October 1990, at the Netherlands Institute of Archaeology and Arabic Studies, Jerusalem, 1992: vi, n.1, to designate a period preceding Dynasty 0 but also partly overlapping it. This term has not been generally accepted because its significance cannot yet be clearly defined; T.A.H. Wilkinson, State Formation in Egypt. Chronology and Society (BAR International Series 651; Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology 40), Oxford, 1996: 11; S. Hendrickx, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 88-90.

[7] S. Hendrickx, in Aspects of Early Egypt, 36-69 and more recently in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 55-93; J. Kahl, Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift, 7.

[8] This is a chronological position rather than a genealogical one. More recently, J. Kahl, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 95ff, interprets Scorpion as another ruler opposed to the Thinite rulers and Sekhen/Ka should be seen as the predecessor of Narmer.

[9] The generally accepted sequence of First Dynasty kings from Narmer onwards is confirmed by seal impressions discovered by the German expedition at Umm el-Qa‘ab mentioning the Horus names of all First Dynasty kings in this order (sources 1553 and 4048); G. Dreyer et al., MDAIK 43 (1987), 36, figs. 2-3; W. Kaiser, MDAIK 43 (1987), 115-119, fig. 2; G. Dreyer et al., MDAIK 52 (1996), 72, fig. 26, pl. 4b-c; S. Roth, Die Königsmütter des Alten Ägypten von der Frühzeit bis zum Ende der 12. Dynastie (Ägypten und Altes Testament 46), Wiesbaden, 2001: 11, 14, 18, 20; M.L. Bierbrier, Genealogy and Chronology, in E. Hornung, R. Krauss & D. Warburton (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Chronology (HdO 83), Leiden - Boston, 2006: 39; J. Kahl, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 96-98.

[10] W.B. Emery, Tombs of the First Dynasty III, 31 saw Seneferka as a successor of Qaa. Lacau and Lauer, by contrast, suggested that Seneferka might be identical with Qaa, who would then have changed his Horus name at some point in his reign; PD IV/1, 15; PD IV/2, 40. This interpretation is followed cautiously by T.A.H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, London, 1999: 82, while that of Emery is followed by P. Kaplony, ZÄS 88 (1963), 12; idem, MDAIK 20 (1965), 3; idem, Steingefässe mit Inschriften der Frühzeit und das Alten Reiches (MA 1), Bruxelles, 1968: 33; N. Swelim, Horus Seneferka, An Essay on the fall of the First Dynasty, Archaeological and Historical Studies 5 (1974): 67-77; J. Kahl, Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift, 305. For a recent summary of the different possibilities, see J. Kahl, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 99; K. Ryholt, JEH 1.1 (2008): 159-173; cfr. also S. Roth, Egyptian Phyles in the Old Kingdom. The Evolution of a System of social Organization (SAOC 48), Chicago, 1991: 155; D. Gould, A Study of the Relationship between the different dynastic Factions of the Early Dynastic Period and the Evidence for internal political Disruptions, in S. Bickel & A. Loprieno (eds.), Basel Egyptology Prize 1 (Aegyptiaca Helvetica 17). Basel, 2003: 38.

[11] J. Kahl, Ra is my Lord, Searching for the Rise of the Sun God at the Dawn of Egyptian History, (MENES 1). Wiesbaden, 2007: 7-27.

[12] J. Kahl, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 104; J. von Beckerath, Königsnamen, 43, interprets Nebunefer as the nsw-bit name of Raneb but given the new reading by Kahl (see previous footnote), this can be excluded.

[13] W. Kaiser, GM 122 (1991), 54 (n.16); J. Kahl, Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift, 7; T.A.H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 90; see J. Kahl, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 105 for a summary. Other scholars have suggested that Sekhemib is a separate king, to be placed between Peribsen and Khasekhemwy; W. Helck, Thinitenzeit, 103-104; G. Dreyer, MDAIK 59 (2003), 115. The recent discovery of numerous seal impressions bearing the name of Sekhemib to the north of the tomb of Peribsen forces a reevaluation of this idea.

[14] Sealings of Netjerikhet found in the tomb of Khasekhemwy in Abydos (RT II, pl. XXIV.211; IÄF III, figs. 768, 798; G. Dreyer, MDAIK 54 (1998a), 164-167, Tf. 15b) and further examples from the Shunet ez-Zebib (P.E. Newberry, LAAA 2 (1909), pl. XXIII; IÄF III, figs. 800-801) suggest that Netjerikhet, as son and heir, oversaw the burial of Khasekhemwy. This leaves no doubt that Netjerikhet must have been Khasekhemwy’s successor; G. Dreyer, Der erste König der 3. Dynastie, in H. Guksch & D. Polz (eds.), Stationen. Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte Ägyptens Rainer Stadelmann gewidmet, Mainz, 1998: 31-34; J. Kahl, in Ancient Egyptian Chronology, 106; S.J. Seidlmayer, The relative Chronology of Dynasty 3, in E. Hornung, R. Krauss & D. Warburton (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Chronology (HdO 83), Leiden - Boston, 2006: 116-123.

[15] This is the general consensus at present; recently summarized by E.M. Engel, Tombs of the Ist Dynasty at Abydos and Saqqara: Different Types or Variations on a Theme?, in J. Popielska-Grybowska  (ed.), Proceedings of the Second Central European Conference of Young Egyptologists. Egypt 2001: Prospectives of Research. (Warsaw 2001), Warsaw, 2003: 41-49; cfr. D. Wengrow, The Archaeology of early Egypt. Social Transformations in North-East Africa, 10,000 to 2650 BC. Cambridge, 2006: 227ff and note 10 with further references. Arguments in favor of Saqqara as a royal burial place have recently been gathered by F. Morris, On the Ownership of the Saqqara Mastabas and the Allotment of Political and Ideological Power at the Dawn of the State, in Hawass, Z.A. & Richards, J. (eds.), The Archaeology and Art of Ancient Egypt. Essays in Honor of David B. O'Connor, I (CASAE 36), Cairo, 2007: 171-190.

[16] P.T. Nicholson & I. Shaw, Ancient Egyptian Materials, 320.

[17] R. Friedman, Elephants at Hierakonpolis, in S. Hendrickx, R.F. Friedman, K.M. Cialowicz & M. Chlodnicki (eds.), Egypt at its Origins. Studies in Memory of Barbara Adams. (OLA 138), Leuven, 2004: 157.

[18] R. Gale et al., in P.T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge, 2000: 338.

[19] U. Hartung, SAK 26 (1998), 46-50; J.A. Hill, Cylinder Seal Glyptic in Predynastic Egypt and Neighboring Regions, 1-3, contra P.V. Podzorski, JNES 47 (1988), 259.

[20] I. Regulski, The Origin of Writing in relation to the Emergence of the Egyptian State, in Midant-Reynes B. & Tristan Y. (eds.); Rowland J. & Hendrickx S. (col.), Egypt at its Origins 2. Proceedings of the International Conference “Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt”, Toulouse (France), 5th-8th September 2005 (OLA 172), Leuven, 2008: 983-1008.

[21] For a technical description, see J.A. Gwinnett & L. Gorelick, JARCE 30 (1993), 128.

[22] See footnote 2. Recent excavations by the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo (DAIK) at Umm el-Qa‘ab and Saqqara, led by Günter Dreyer, have yielded copious amounts of new data concerning areas previously thought fully investigated; Cfr. Preliminary reports in MDAIK since 1982 onwards. A study season in Abydos in March 2005 yielded almost 200 new sources and many more different versions of known sealings. Since the beginning of 2007, I am involved in the study and publication of the inscribed material from the royal tomb of Ninetjer at Saqqara under the auspices of the DAIK.; I. Regulski & J. Kahl, MDAIK 64 (2009), in press. However, this material is currently still under investigation and therefore not yet fully accessible.

[23] Based on the typology of E.M. Engel & V. Müller, GM 178 (2000), 31-44.

[24] J. Kahl, Entwicklung der frühen Hieroglyphenschrift, in W. Seipel (eds.), Der Turmbau zu Babel, Ursprung und Vielfalt von Sprache und Schrift IIIA: Schrift. Museum Catalogue Graz (5/04-5/10 2003), Graz, 2003: 129.

[25] Cfr. L.D. Morenz, Bild-Buchstaben und symbolische Zeichen. Die Herausbildung der Schrift in der hohen Kultur Altägyptens (OBO 205), Göttingen, 2004: 220ff.