Sandstone figure of a sphinx

From Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai, Egypt
Middle Kingdom, around 1800 BC

Inscribed in both hieroglyphic and proto-Sinaitic scripts

This sphinx was found by Flinders Petrie in the temple in the mining settlement at Serabit el-Khadim. The semi-precious stone turquoise was extracted here from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1750) onwards. Hathor, the goddess associated with turquoise, is named in the hieroglyphic inscription on the right shoulder of the sphinx. The proto-Sinaitic inscription includes a name composed of a similar shape; the name is of a goddess similar to Hathor. This suggests that the inscriptions are bilingual, giving the same information in both languages, as on the Rosetta Stone.

Proto-Sinaitic script has been found on a small number of objects and in inscriptions in the Sinai, Palestine and the deserts around Egypt. It consists of at least twenty-three signs, half of which seem to be derived from hieroglyphs. The appearance of the script in the later Middle Kingdom coincides with Egyptian trading interests in Palestine and it is likely that the script originated in Palestine or Syria to write a West Semitic language. It is not certain whether it has yet been fully or correctly deciphered, although pioneering work was carried out by the scholars Alan H. Gardiner and W.F. Albright and has been continued by Benjamin Sass.

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More information


T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museu (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)

R. Parkinson, Cracking codes: the Rosetta St (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Museum number

EA 41748



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