The earliest temples and tombs built in Egypt are in Abydos in Middle Egypt. Egyptologists have been aware of these structures sincethe late 1890s. In the roughly 100 years that Egyptologists have discussed these sites, there were differing opinions on whether they were temples, tombs, or forts. Other discussions of them suggested that some of these buildings were cenotaphs, structures built only to honor certain kings but not to house their burials.
Most recently scholars have realized that these buildings represent the earliest royal tombslocated in the section of Abydos called in Arabic Umm el Gaab (“Mother of Pots”) and the earliest cult temples dedicated to deceased kings, located in the section of Abydos called in Arabic Kom es-Sultan (“Mound of the Ruler”) about two kilometers from the tombs. Moreover, the two sets of buildings can be divided into pairs that resemblelater funeral complexes consisting of a burial and a temple where the deceased king was eternally worshipped.
One of the first archaeologists to work in Egypt, the Englishman W. M. F. Petrie (1843–1942), excavated some of the earliest temples and tombs. Petrie worked all over Egypt, but during1899–1900 and 1902–1903, he concentrated his efforts on a site in Middle Egypt called Abydos. Several villages are now resident at the site formerly known as Abydos,including the village of Kom es Sultan and the village of Umm el Gaab. Petrie worked first in the village of Ummel Gaab, then two years later at the village of Kom esSultan. At Umm el Gaab Petrie found and identified thecemetery of kings of the First and Second Dynasties (3100–2675 B.C.E.). The underground portion of thesetombs was lined with wood protected by a surrounding wall of mud brick.
Some of the twelve known burials had more than one room, and some were lined with green faience tiles—an early glazed material. In later erassuch tiles resembled bundles of reeds that formed the earliest sorts of temporary buildings built by the Egyptians. Many Egyptologists assume that the Egyptians used these tiles in a similar way at the Umm el Gaabburials. Builders probably intended the entire underground burial to reproduce the king’s house on earth sothat he would have a home in the next world. Thus this pattern of designing the burial after houses on earth began with the very earliest royal tombs. Above ground was a platform, built of brick. The platform was marked bya stele (an upright slab of stone), that was inscribed with the king’s name. Similar but smaller tombs designed for the king’s courtiers were located around the king’s tomb.This practice marks the beginning of a tradition of including the king’s courtiers’ tombs on the same site that continued through the next thousand years.
Tombs in Saqqara
From 1936 to 1956, the English archaeologist Walter B. Emery excavated largeFirst-dynasty mastaba tombs at Saqqara in northernEgypt (Lower Egypt). These tombs contained manygrave goods including jars labeled as the king’s property.These labels led Emery to identify these Saqqaramastabas as the real tombs of the First-dynasty kingssince he believed that the tombs discovered by Petrieat Umm el Gaab were cenotaphs, memorials to the kings that never contained burials. After considerable debate, most Egyptologists believe that the Saqqara tombs belonged to high officials of the First Dynasty while the actual kings’ tombs were located in Abydos at Umm el Gaab. Even so, some books and articles written during the mid-twentieth century continue to refer to Saqqaraas the burial place of First-dynasty kings.
Funerary enclosures (“forts”) at Kom es Sultan
Petrie worked his second season at Abydos in1902–1903 at the area known as Kom es Sultan. There he found the mud brick foundations of five buildings with huge mud brick walls. The walls were up to eleven meters (36 feet) tall and were roughly 65 by 122 meters(213 by 400 feet) long. Petrie believed that these massive walls and large enclosed spaces could only beintended as forts. These structures were built completely above ground and had no underground chambers such as were found at the tombs of Umm el Gaab.
The patterned, mud brick walls were laid in what Egyptologists later came to call the “palace façade” pattern.This pattern was repeated throughout ancient Egyptian history, both in buildings and in representation in relief and on statues, and led Egyptologists to arrive ata better understanding of the function of these enclosures.The Egyptians used the walled enclosure withpanels, called the palace façade motif, in hieroglyphicwriting contemporary with the earliest temples discussedhere. A drawing of this motif surrounded the names of buildings the Egyptians called the “fortress ofthe gods” in hieroglyphic writing.
Egyptologists believe that this writing connects the names to the buildings found at Kom es Sultan in Abydos. The buildings were given names such as “Thrones of the Gods” and “Processionof the Gods” which suggests that the Egyptians thought of these buildings as places where the gods gathered. The Egyptians called these gods the “Followersof Horus.” Because the king himself was the incarnation of the god Horus the “Followers of Horus” were local gods from the provinces who gathered at the Fortress of the Gods to deliver taxes. The design of the surviving buildings indicates that this process would continue for the king even after he had died and gone to the next world.