Rock inscription of King Zanakht


British Museum

British Museum

This relief commemorates an expedition to the turquoise mines at Wadi Maghara in southwest Sinai by Zanakht, a king of the Third Dynasty (2686–2613 BC). From early times, the ancient Egyptians were active outside of their traditional borders. Sinai, to the east, was valued because of its mineral resources, primarily copper and turquoise. The mines at Wadi Maghara were exploited mainly in the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC) and Middle Kingdom (2125–1650 BC), but remained a source of turquoise at least until the New Kingdom (1550–1070 BC).

Beginning in the First Dynasty, or even earlier, quarrying expeditions sent by the state often left an official record inscribed on the nearby rocks. This inscription is one of two recording the expedition of Zanakht, a king about whom little else is known. We do not know where he was buried or even exactly when he ruled. One inscription, still in place near the turquoise mine, shows the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt holding a mace and a staff.

This one was found detached from the cliff in 1904. On it, the king is shown wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. He grasps the hair of an enemy chief (not preserved) with his left hand, and is preparing to smite him with a mace held in his right hand, raised behind him (now lost). In front of the king’s face is his name written in a rectangular panel surmounted by a falcon called a serekh. The vertical bar to the right is all that survives of a pole that once held the emblem of the jackal god Wepwawet. In these details Zanakht emulates his predecessor, the First Dynasty king Den, who was the first to carve scenes like this in Sinai. The Label of King Den also shows this scene and commemorates his expedition there, but does not say why he went. The inscription of Zanakht makes the purpose the expedition clear. The hieroglyphs on the right spell out one of the earliest examples of the word for turquoise: mefkhat.

Inscriptions showing the king in a similar pose were made by other kings of the Third Dynasty including Djoser, who built the Step Pyramid. Such brutal scenes served not only as a record of the trip but also as a reminder of the power of the Egyptian king.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Rock inscription of King Zanakht
  • Date Created: -2650
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 35.00cm (max); Width: 47.00cm (max); Depth: 21.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: ancient egyptian deity
  • Registration number: 1905,1014.112
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Wadi Maghara
  • Period/culture: 3rd Dynasty
  • Material: sandstone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Sanakht
  • Acquisition: Donated by Egypt Exploration Fund