Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The Scorpion Macehead
Fragments of a limestone macehead carved in low relief, restored
Hierakonpolis, `Main Deposit'; Dynasty '0', about 3100 BC
Quibell and Green excavations, 1897-98; gift of the Egyptian Research Account, 1898

One principal scene remains, organised in registers around the king, who is attended by fanbearers. He wears the White Crown, symbol of Upper Egypt, and a ceremonial tail. In front of him are two signs, a rosette and a scorpion emblem, hence the name 'King Scorpion' commonly given to him, although the signs are not enclosed in the palace facade (serekh) which normally identifies early royal names. In the top register are standards with regional emblems from which hang captive lapwings, the bird used to designate the word rekhyt, `the common people'.

Other standards are carried by men to the right of the king, and behind him are clumps of papyrus, suggestive of marshy ground. Beyond this are two lines of figures facing left, belonging to another scene which is now missing: a line of dancing girls and above them an attendant with a staff following women in carrying chairs similar to the single figure shown on the Narmer Macehead. Traces of boats appear below.

The king stands on the bank of a waterway, holding a mattock and facing a man holding a basket, behind whom is another man with a broom. This has been interpreted as a scene of cutting a foundation trench or water channel: in a country as dependent on the river and its annual flooding as was Egypt, control of irrigation was a function closely linked to royal power. Below the king is another channel on which three men are apparently working, followed by the prow of a boat; a tree in an enclosure and parts of other reedwork structures, including the top of a shrine, can be seen on the surrounding land.

In an isolated fragment further right at the top, another rosette appears, possibly indicating the existence of another scene with the king; the rosette is usually found in close connection with the king or the royal seal-bearer. It has recently been suggested that 'King Scorpion' may have been the last leader of the Protodynastic period, and the immediate predecessor of King Narmer; an alternative suggestion is that the figure may be identified with the legendary Menes, uniter of Egypt and founder of the capital Memphis.

This exhibit is temporarily on display in Room 1. The lighting is sub-optimal and the enclosing case casts large shadows. I'll try to obtain better pictures when the Griffith Room refurbishment is complete.

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last updated 20th February 2002

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