Archaeologists say they have found the largest funerary complex
yet dating from the earliest era of ancient Egypt, the Pre-dynastic
or Archaic Period which ended in around 3100
The necropolis was discovered by a joint US and Egyptian team in
the Kom al-Ahmar region, around 600km (370 miles) south of the
Inside the tombs, the archaeologists found a cow's head carved
from flint and the remains of seven people.
They believe four of them were buried alive as human sacrifices.
The remains survived despite the fact that the tombs were
plundered in ancient times.
Egypt's chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, said the discovery
would add greatly to knowledge of the elusive pre-dynastic period,
when Egypt was first becoming a nation.
The complex is thought to belong to a ruler of the ancient city
of Hierakonpolis in around 3600 BC, when it was the largest urban
centre on the River Nile.
Egyptologists say the city probably extended its influence
northwards, defeating rival entities along the way, especially the
smaller but still powerful rival centre in Lower Egypt.
The unification of Upper and
Lower Egypt eventually led to the establishment of rule by the
pharaohs during a period in which there were very sudden advances in
craftsmanship and technology which was filtering down from southern
Mesopotamia's booming Sumerian civilisation.
Excavations at the site started in 2000 under the leadership of
Egyptologist Barbara Adams, who died in 2002.
The site contains some of the earliest examples of mummification
found in Egypt.