Archaeologists in 2005 announced the discovery
of the largest funerary complex yet to be uncovered, one which
dated from the earliest era of ancient Egypt, the pre-dynastic
or 'Archaic Period', which ended around 3100 BC with the
unification of north and south Egypt into one single kingdom.
The necropolis was discovered by a joint US and
Egyptian team in the Kom al-Ahmar region, around 600km (370 miles)
to the south of the capital, Cairo. Inside the tombs, the
archaeologists found a cow's head which had been carved from flint,
along with the remains of seven people.
They believed that four of the people had been
buried alive as human sacrifices.
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
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 forming into
a single nation.
The complex was thought to belong to a ruler of
the ancient city of Hierakonpolis of around 3600 BC, when it was
the largest urban centre on the River Nile.
Egyptologists said the city probably extended
its influence northwards, defeating rival entities along the way,
especially the smaller but still powerful rival centre in Lower
Egypt (nearer the Nile Delta and the Mediterranean).
The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt was
engineered by the earliest pharaohs, relatively minor rulers
who were not at all on a par with the later great pharaohs, whose
lives are generally a mystery, and in some cases whose names are
doubtful or open to question. This was a period in which there were
very sudden advances in craftsmanship and technology which was
filtering down from southern Mesopotamia's booming Sumerian