Ivory Comb with the name of King Djet

Some important artifacts were found in the tomb of the 1st Dynasty king Djet, at Abydos in Petrie’s Tomb Z. Such as this wide-toothed comb, which is made of hippopotamus ivory.

The king’s name is engraved inside the serekh, or palace facade. It is the earliest surviving depiction of the heavens symbolized by the outspread wings of a falcon. The wings carry the barque of Seker. Below the celestial barque Djet’s serekh, is surrounded by two ‘was’ scepters and one Ankh-sign.

Comb with the name of Djet
Comb with the name of Djet

The upper part of the pictorial area is occupied by a pair of wings. A boat rests on the wings and a falcon perches on the cabin of the boat. This is an allegorical image showing the sky (the wings), transversed by the sun (the boat), thought to navigate the heavens each day from east to west.

The boat is very similar to those painted on vases of the Naqada II period. It is also comparable to the boat of Khufu, discovered in a pit of the south side of his pyramid.

At the center of the decoration is the serekh symbol surmounted by a falcon, within which is inscribed the name of Djet. The serekh is flanked by two was scepters symbolizing power. On the right, there is also an ankh, the symbol for life.

Djet’s comb is the oldest known example of this decorative motif. Transformed into the canonical image of the winged solar disc, the same theme was found frequently in succeeding periods, especially on steles and architraves.

In ancient Egypt, any object could be charged with symbolic value irrespective of its normal function. In all periods of pharaonic history, for instance, there is a predilection for producing artifacts that resemble naturally occurring objects which were thought to possess special protective powers.

This was especially true of items for personal grooming as they came into direct contact with the body. It is no surprise also to find that a simple comb such as this example from Abydos, is inscribed with the name of a king.

Simply the mention of the king’s name was thought to confer apotropaic properties on the object. In this case, the comb was perhaps once part of Djet’s funerary goods, which would equally justify the presence of his name.

Early Dynastic Period, 1st Dynasty, around 2980 BC. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 47176