Merimde clay head

This clay head found in one of the most recent levels of the settlement at Merimde Beni Salama, a village in the Western Delta is enigmatic. This is one of the earliest known representations of a human head in Egypt.

The perfectly oval face has features in the form of depressions of various shapes and sizes to represent the eyes, nostrils and mouth. Only the nose is in slight relief. It has been suggested that small holes scattered around the head, the chin and the cheeks once held tufts of real hair, which would have given the head a male identity.

Neolithic Clay Head
The Merimde clay head. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 97472

Traces of paint remain on the head and there is a deep hole in the neck into which a rod would probably have been fixed. If the head was attached to a rod in this way it is possible that it served as the terminal of a scepter used in magico-religious ceremonies, thus conferring a kind of life-force.

This interpretation is based exclusively on anthropological parallels with present-day rituals. In fact, there is a scarcity of similar objects from such ancient times, and no parallels can be found in prehistoric Egypt. The dating of its manufacture makes this one of the oldest representations of the human figure ever to have been discovered in Egypt.

Predynastic Period, 4th millennium BC. Terracotta with traces of paint. Excavated by D. Polz for the German Archaeological Institute Cairo (DAIK) in 1982. From Merimda Beni Salama. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 97472