Gebel el-Arak Knife

Pre-historic Egypt, Naqada II
(3500-3100 B.C.)

Petrie, W.M. Flinders. The Making of Egypt, London. New York, Sheldon Press; Macmillan, pp. 65-66, 1939. Petrie famously known as "The Father of Pre-history".

Chapter VII. The Dynastic Conquest

Conflict of Races

We now have to view as a whole the tumultuous age of dynastic invasion. For some centuries we may see large movements going on, threats from the south and east, and influences from other quarters--one of the great ages of unrest and admixture like the ages of the XIII-XVIIth or XXIIIrd-XXVth dynasties. This troubled time occupied the Semainean age.

For a demonstration of the invasion by the dynastic race, one of the greatest events in the history of Egypt, we turn to a single sculpture in ivory, the knife handle from Gebel el-Arak, probably presented to some great chief. The flint blade of the knife was a fine example of parallel flaking. The ivory handle is carved in relief on both sides. On the top of the first side is shown a combat between short-haired men with bullet heads and long-haired men. The bullet heads, like the followers of Narmer, are in all cases getting the better. Both parties are unclothed, but wear a waist cord to hold up a dagger sheath. The invaders only are armed, using a truncheon. In the lower scene are two lines of ships, and drowned men lying in the sea between them. The upper line is of vessels with high prow and stern, the lower has vessels with cabins like the Egyptian. This is Egyptian history what the Bayeux tapestry is to English history, a national monument of conquest. Happily this is not the only representation of these opposing people, but they are shown also on the one painted tomb at Hierakonpolis. There are also combats of black men overcoming red men.

Source of the Conquerors

Adding to the history, there is on the other side of the knife handle a figure of a hero or divinity subduing two lions. Such a group is widely spread, anciently, with lions in Elam, Mesoptamia and Greece; tigers in the Harappa of India; winged bulls or horses in Assyria; ibex in Arabia and deer in Italy; wolves at Athens; swans in Greece. For various animals we see that the idea is not the restraint of violence, but the assumption of power over all Nature, however untamable. Such then is the purpose of this group, and the source of it is a cold country, for the hero has a thick coat and cap, and the lions have thick hair under the whole body as a protection in snow. It must be from mountainous Elam and not from the plains of Mesopotamia that the figures come. The two beautiful figures of dogs belong to the Babylonian myth of Etana on the flying eagle, with two dogs looking up after it. Below these are exquisitely spirited figures of animals, the connection of which we cannot realize in the broken connection.
Here is an historic monument of the highest value, but badly wreaked by the Government policy of seizing discoveries. In a free system of rewards, the tomb where this lay would have comes under official care, all collateral objects would have been preserved, and every fragment of such an ivory could be recovered by sifting. But this object was never known officially till in the hands of the dealer.

The ships on the ivory knife handle are distinguished by having an animal head on the prow, probably as a figurehead. These are the bull's head and the oryx head, and they possibly signify the names of the vessels. Below is the black ship at Hierakonpolis, belonging to the black men who are shown as conquering the red men; and the other ship of these conquering invaders on the knife handle, with the similar high prow and round-topped cabin. The subjects of the invasion and conquest carved on this knife handle, and depicted with such vigour . . . . serve to clear away the distorted view of supposing all the history to have been a smooth uniform development of a single people. Even the earlier settlements of this and other lands were the result of the mixture of half a dozen races fighting for supremacy.-- W.M. Flinders Petrie
Ancient Africa

Egyptologist W.M. Flinders Petrie, famously known as "The Father of Pre-history". Petrie, excavations at Nagada and Ballas in Upper Egypt nearly 100 years ago unearth nearly 2200 ancient graves. He wrote over a thousand books, articles and reviews reporting on his excavations and his finds.