Rock inscription of Sanakht

From Wadi Maghara, Sinai
3rd Dynasty, around 2680 BC

Commemorating an expedition to the turquoise mines

From the Early Dynastic Period (about 3100-2613 BC) onwards, the Egyptians were active outside their traditional borders. Sinai to the east was valued because of its mineral resources, primarily turquoise and copper. The mines at Wadi Maghara were a source of turquoise at least until the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC). None of the mines have been excavated recently, although nineteenth-century records include a description of visiting such a mine and some clearance.

Quarrying expeditions sent by the state often left an official record inscribed on the nearby rocks. This example is one of the earliest of these royal inscriptions (that is, in the king's name, not his presence). It shows Sanakht, the first king of the Third Dynasty (about 2686-2613 BC), smiting a figure (now destroyed) of an enemy chief. Relatively little is known about Sanakht, the predecessor of the more famous Netjerychet (Djoser). He seems to have been buried in a large mud-brick tomb at Beit Khallaf, north of Abydos in Upper Egypt.

The rectangle with a hawk on top is a serekh, a container for the king's Horus name. To the right is the earliest example of the Egyptian word for turquoise. Later expedition inscriptions might include a list of the members of the expedition and a description of their activities, but this is not the case in this early example.

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More information


D. Arnold, C. Ziegler and C.H. Roehrig, Egyptian art in the age of the (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999)

A.H. Gardiner, T.E. Peet and J. Cerny, The inscriptions of Sinai, Part I (London, Egypt Exploration Society, 1952)

A.J. Spencer, Catalogue of Egyptian antiqu-4 (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt, The rise of civil (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 33.000 cm (max.)
Width: 47.000 cm (max.)

Museum number

EA 691


Gift of the Egypt Exploration Society


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