Early Dynastic / Predynastic Flint Animal

This artifact comes from an Italian collection, assembled during the 1930. It was stored together with some artifacts from the late Nagada-period from Gebelein. Gebelein (Arabic: الجبلين, Two Mountains; Egyptian: Inerty or Per-Hathor; Greek: Pathyris or Aphroditopolis) was a town in Egypt. It is located on the Nile, about 40 km south of Thebes.This piece is formally a handled scraper, but  has the appearance of a bird.

Fig. 2 shows a very similar piece, photographed during an exhibition in the Metropolitan Museums many years ago. There are more sophisticated pieces of flint animals, than the examples shown here, exhibited in several important Egyptian Museums worldwide  (search via google : flint & animal & Egypt).

Flint animals are a halmark of late Predynastic and early Dynastic times, when flintknapping in old Egypt was at its height . Hendrickx et al. (1997–1998) list some 56 provenianced flint animals, mainly from these Periods.

Flint animals are usually classified as non- utilitarian. However, it is difficult to see any overarching ritual purpose for them. To summarize the findings:– As over half the examples known are attributable to Hierakonpolis), Friedman (2000) has suggested this may be a local industry. It is possible that, although most are found on burial sites, they may not have been destined for the grave. They are not a normal feature of burials, but rather occur in a limited number of royal graves. Hendrickx concludes that they may serve multiple purposes. Those from elite tombs are perhaps politico-religious (e.g. the bulls’ heads, falcons, hippopotami and giraffes); some may be apotropaic (e.g. the crocodile, snakes and scorpions); others may be offerings (e.g. fish and birds). It is even possible that they may be toys, but wooden toys would surely have been easier to make.

As there appears no utilitarian reason for their manufacture, their relevance may lie in the non-utilitarian aspects surrounding either animals or flint. Animals are often associated with particular gods and goddesses, and in themselves animals portray a variety of traits. They may also represent particular nomes. The wide variety of animal forms represented by the Pre-Early Dynastic flint animals makes any generalisation impossible.

The ideological significance of animals has long been studied in Egyptology and these items could have any number of meanings. One cannot deduce any special link with flint, particularly as during the Predynastic  many items were still made of flint.

Suggested Readings: 

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?– Simple Predynastic lithic industies from Upper Egypt–

Gebelein in: Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt

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