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Artifact: Egyptian Falcon Volume 60 Number 6, November/December 2007
by Renée Friedman, Hierakonpolis Expedition
Falcon figurine and wings

Predynastic period, about 3700 B.C.

Elite cemetery, Hierakonpolis, Egypt, 2007

Malachite-veined basalt

2.4 inches from tip to tail


From Hierakonpolis--the "city of the falcon"--comes the earliest depiction of this bird of prey ever discovered. The falcon is one of the few clear examples of a motif known in Egypt's Predynastic times that continued into the Dynastic period, after 3100 B.C., when it symbolized the king as an embodiment of the falcon-headed god Horus, the patron deity of kingship. This newly found figurine pushes back the falcon's royal connotations by more than half a millennium.

My team and I discovered the sculpture in one of several structures surrounding the largest known early Predynastic tomb. Previous finds, including a buried African elephant and an ivory carving of hippopotamuses, suggest the tomb's owner was a powerful king. The falcon now seems to clinch it.

Masterfully carved, the falcon's shape and profile are familiar from later representations; but unlike any others, its wings are carved free of the body, remaining attached at only a single point. Based on this detail, we have identified a few enigmatic artifacts from the same area--earlier thought to possibly be ears from sculptures of people-- as wings from other falcon statuettes.

Hierakonpolis, 400 miles south of Cairo, was home to Narmer, the semi-legendary king whom scholars once credited as Egypt's founding father, unifying the country and inaugurating the First Dynasty around 3100 B.C. The discovery of falcon figurines with a royal burial at Hierakonpolis centuries before Narmer is further evidence that the birth of the Egyptian state was a longer process than previously thought, and that Hierakonpolis played a leading role.

Photos: Courtesy Renée Friedman

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America