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Name and Form

The oldest “place name sign” in the world 

Egyptologists at the University of Bonn decipher a rock inscription from the late fourth millennium B.C. 

Together with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, researchers from the University of Bonn have deciphered the oldest place name sign in the world. An inscription from the time of the emergence of the Egyptian state in the late fourth millennium B.C. from the Wadi el Malik east of Aswan, which is still barely explored archaeologically, bears four hieroglyphs: “Domain of the Horus King Scorpion”. 

“This ruler called ‘Scorpion’ was a prominent figure in the phase of the emergence of the first territorial state in world history,” says Egyptologist Prof. Dr. Ludwig D. Morenz from the University of Bonn. The ruler lived around 3070 B.C., his exact dates and the length of his reign are not known. The name “Scorpion” is written together with three other hieroglyphs on a rock inscription discovered more than two years ago in a side wadi of the Wadi Abu Subeira to the east of Aswan: “Domain of the Horus King Scorpion”. A circular hieroglyph indicates that it is a place name. “This makes it the oldest known place name sign in the world,” says Morenz.

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.”


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