Top Ten Old Kingdom Egyptian Artifacts

Top Ten Old Kingdom Egyptian Artifacts

        The Old Kingdom is the name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called “Kingdom” periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley (the others being Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom). The term itself was coined by 19th century historians and the distinction between the Old Kingdom and the Early Dynastic Period is not one which would have been recognized by Ancient Egyptians. Not only was the last king of the Early Dynastic Period related to the first two kings of the Old Kingdom, but the ‘capital,’ the royal residence, remained at Ineb-Hedg, the Ancient Egyptian name for Memphis. The basic justification for a separation between the two periods is the revolutionary change in architecture accompanied by the effects on Egyptian society and economy of large-scale building projects. The Old Kingdom is most commonly regarded as the period from the Third Dynasty through to the 6th Dynasty (2686 BC – 2181 BC). Many Egyptologists also include the Memphite Seventh and Eighth Dynasties in the Old Kingdom as a continuation of the administration centralized at Memphis. While the Old Kingdom was a period of internal security and prosperity, it was followed by a period of disunity and relative cultural decline referred to by Egyptologists as the First Intermediate Period. During the Old Kingdom, the king of Egypt (not called the Pharaoh until the New Kingdom) became a living god, who ruled absolutely and could demand the services and wealth of his subjects. The numerous references to the Old Kingdom kings as pharaohs in this article stems from the ubiquitous use of the term “pharaoh” to describe any and all Ancient Egyptian Kings. Under King Djoser, the first king of the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, the royal capital of Egypt was moved to Memphis, where Djoser established his court. A new era of building was initiated at Saqqara under his reign. King Djoser’s architect, Imhotep is credited with the development of building with stone and with the conception of the new architectural form—the Step Pyramid. Indeed, the Old Kingdom is perhaps best known for the large number of pyramids constructed at this time as pharaonic burial places. For this reason, the Old Kingdom is frequently referred to as “the Age of the Pyramids.”

  1. The Sphinx

    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African Sculptures, Top Ten Sphinx Statues,
  2. The Sphinx of Tanis

           The sphinx of Tanis joins to a lion’s body and a head carved in the likeness of the sovereign, thus symbolizing the majesty of the pharaohs. Here the monarch wears the royal headdress-nemsit-ornamented with ureus, or sacred cobra, but free of the frontal band. Three kings, Apophis, Mineptah, the son of Ramses II, and Osorkon, would subsequently inscribe their names (an act Egyptians called “usurpation”) upon the rose granite of the sphinx, whose nobility and power incontestably mark it as a work of the Old Kingdom.
    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African SculpturesTop 100 Egyptian Sculptures, Top Ten Sphinx Statues,
  3. Trinity of King Menkaure with Goddess Hathor and the Goddess Diospolis Parva (2,680-2,565 BC)

           This statue depicts the trinity of King Menkaure (Mycerinus) with the Goddess Hathor (left), and the goddess of the nome of Diospolis Parva (right). This 4th dynasty statue is carved in green slate and stands 37.25”. It currently resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African SculpturesTop 100 Egyptian Sculptures,
  4. Seated Scribe

           The sculpture of the Seated Scribe is one of most important examples of ancient Egyptian art. It represents a figure of a seated scribe at work. The sculpture was discovered at Saqqara in 1850 and dated to the period of 4th Dynasty, 2,620-2,500 BC. It is currently part of a permanent collection of Egyptian antiquities in Louvre Museum in Paris.
    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African SculpturesTop 100 Egyptian Sculptures,,
  5. Statue of Memi and Sabu (2,575–2,465 BC)

           Pair statues, usually depicting a husband and wife, were frequently placed in a serdab, the hidden statue chamber often found in non-royal tomb chapels of the Old Kingdom. The Egyptians believed that the spirit of the deceased could use such a statue as a home and enter it in order to benefit from gifts of food that were brought to the offering chapel of the tomb. The inscription on the front of this statue identifies these individuals as the Royal Acquaintance Memi and Sabu. Although the text does not specify a relationship, they were probably husband and wife, as is common for pair statues where a relationship is recorded. The pose is unusual because Memi is returning Sabu’s embrace by draping his arm around her shoulders. This restricting gesture may account for the fact that he stands with his feet together, rather than striding forward in the normal masculine pose. Until recently, this statue was dated to Dynasty 5, but the figures have many features in common with Fourth Dynasty statues found in the non-royal cemeteries surrounding the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) at Giza. In addition, the pose has only two known parallels, both from Giza and both datable to Dynasty 4.
    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African SculpturesTop 100 Egyptian Sculptures,,
  6. Relief

    Links: Relieves and Petroglyphs, Top Ten African Relieves, Top Ten Egyptian Relieves,
  7. Rahotep and Nofret

           These statues of Rahotep and his wife Nofret date from the Old Kingdom and contain some of the oldest texts on this website. They were discovered in 1871 at Meidum near the pyramid of the 4th Dynasty King Sneferu (ca. 2625 – 2585 BCE). It is possible that Rahotep was Sneferu’s son. The statues are made of painted limestone, about 122 cm high, which makes the images of Rahotep and Nofret basically life-sized. The paint is amazingly fresh and bright. The eyes of the statues are made of inlaid crystal, which frightened the first workers to open the tomb. Rahotep’s neat moustache and close-cropped hair give him a very modern look. This style of adornment apparently did not survive into later ages. Nofret wears a wig, and if you look closely at her hairline, you can see her natural hair peeking out from under it. There are six lines of text around Rahotep’s statue, arranged in three columns on each side. The text is read from top to bottom, right to left. The last column in each group is the same, so I have written it only once. Beginning with the text on the left side of the statue (over Rahotep’s right shoulder), the hieroglyphs read Great One of Buto, Overseer of Transporters, Overseer of the Army, Controller of Archers, King’s Son of his own body, Rahotep. The text on the right reads Great One of the Seers of Heliopolis Unique One of the Great Ones of the Hall Hewer of the Ames mace Eldest2 of the Palace1 Unique One of the Great Ones at the Place of the Beer Measurers.
    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African SculpturesTop 100 Egyptian Sculptures,
  8. Standing Figure from Saqqara (2,498-2,345 BC)

           This standing statue from Saqqara is made out of stone and dates back to the 5th dynasty. It is currently located in the Cairo Museum.
    Links: Sculptures, Top 100 African Sculptures, Top 100 Egyptian Sculptures,
  9. Painting


    Links: Top 100 Paintings,
  10. Relief from the Tomb of Thenti (2,524-2,400 BC)

           This is a wall fragment from Tomb of Thenti, which dates to the 5th Dynasty.
    Links: Top Ten Tombs,
  11. Relief

    Links: Relieves and Petroglyphs, Top Ten African Relieves, Top Ten Egyptian Relieves,
  12. Hieroglyphics

    Links: Top Ten Examples of Ancient Writing,
  13. Portrait Panel of Hesy-ra, Saqqara (2,660 BC)

           This third dynasty wood panel portrait of Hesy-ra was found at Saqqara and stands 45”. It currently resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
  14. Archer Relief (2551–2494 BC)

           This relief depicts a battle scene in which two rows of archers, one group standing, the other kneeling in front, are shown ready to fire. In the detail illustrated here, the beautifully carved head and shoulders of one archer are partially obscured by the left forearm and right hand of a second man who is drawing a bow. His fingers steady an arrow in the bowstring while his thumb and forefinger clutch two more arrows, which he can flick quickly into place.
    Links: Relieves and Petroglyphs, Top Ten African Relieves, Top Ten Egyptian Relieves, Top Ten Archers, Top Ten Bows,
  15. Links: Artifacts, Top 100 African Artifacts, Top Ten Egyptian Artifacts, Pyramids, Top Ten Egyptian Pyramids,

Recommendations for Expeditions in Egypt