Early Period Skeleton

Human skeleton, likely dating from the 1st Dynasty, buried within a reed basket. Discovered at Tarkhan.

Early Period Skeleton
British Museum. EA52887

This human skeleton of an adult was discovered in Tarkhan, laying in a fetus pose in a cane basket.

Tarkhan is an ancient Egyptian necropolis located on the Nile’s west bank, approximately 50 km south of Cairo. Flinders Petrie excavated the cemetery over two seasons. Tombs from practically every period were discovered, although the majority belonged to the Early Dynastic period, which occurred approximately 3100 BC, when the Egyptian state was formed. Petrie discovered around 2,000 graves, the majority of which were simply holes in the earth that belonged to ordinary individuals. However, few First Dynasty mastabas were decorated with a palace facade.

The most significant discoveries were King Narmer’s tomb with several seal impressions and the Tarkhan garment, one of Egypt’s oldest outfits.

Of the skeleton, there are no visible fractures to the skull and all teeth are presumably present. The skull’s mouth is gaping.

Many ribs are displaced at the costovertebral junction, but not shattered. The spinal column is displaced in the lower dorsal region, and there are prominent osteoarthritic alterations with lipping in the lumbar region. There are no abnormal alterations in the intervertebral discs. Long bones have no clear fractures seen. The right foot is displaced. Lines of stopped growth on the lower extremities of the tibiae.

Model Boat with Figurine in a Fetal Position
Predynastic Period, Naqada III, c. 3500-3100 B.C.
Pottery, length: 25.3 cm.
From Asyut.
Now in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden. F 1962.12.1

Remains of a basketwork casket, indicate it was created just big enough for a contracted burial. The reeds used for the coffin’s sides and ends were placed into bundles before the final assembly. The entire upper half of the casket is missing. The excavator used paraffin wax to solidify the remaining components, which included the bones.

The length of the coffin is 117cm long and 58.5cm wide. The skeleton itself is, approximately, 158cm.

The coffin and skeleton is in the British Museum collection (EA52887), but is currently not on display.