The oldest-known representations of a pharaoh are carved on rocks near the Nile River in southern Egypt, researchers report.
The carvings were first observed and recorded in the 1890s, but only rediscovered in 2008. In them, a white-crowned figure travels in ceremonial processions and on sickle-shaped boats, perhaps representing an early tax-collecting tour of Egypt.
The scenes place the age of the carvings between 3200 B.C. and 3100 B.C., researchers report in the December issue of the journal Antiquity. During that time, Egypt was transitioning into the dynastic rule of the pharaohs.
"It's really the end of prehistory and the beginning of history," in Egypt, study researcher Maria Gatto told LiveScience.
Gatto, a Yale University researcher, led the archaeologists who rediscovered the site in 2008. Archaeologist Archibald Sayce first sketched the carvings, found at the village Nag el-Hamdulab, in the 1890s, but the only record of Sayce's discovery was a partial illustration published in a book. [See Images of the Egypt Carvings]
The site was then forgotten until the 1960s, when Egyptian archaeologist Labib Habachi took photographs of the carvings, which he never published. It wasn't until one of these photos resurfaced in 2008 that Gatto and her team started searching for the site, which many people assumed had been destroyed in the interim.
Some of the carvings have indeed been vandalized since the 1960s, but Gatto and her team found the etched rocks in a natural amphitheater west of Nag el-Hamdulab. They then compared the carvings to Habachi's 1960s photographs.
There are seven carvings scattered throughout the area, and many are tableaus of boats flanked by prisoners ( via livescience.com ).