The Wadi of the Horus Qa-a:
A Tableau of Royal Ritual Power in the Theban Western Desert 1
The Theban Western Desert preserves several important tableaux of late Naqada II through Early Dynastic date. One of the longest and most artistically accomplished of these tableaux is located in a wadi northeast of Gebel Tjauti, on a branch of the ‘Alamat Tal Road (Figure 1). The strongly marked tracks, with associated ceramic material, lead to the head of the wadi, in the upper part of which, despite the lack of any clear path of ascent, are a number of dry stone structures, as well as the remains of “game traps.” Near the head of this wadi, apparently the haunt of hunters traveling the Alamat Tal Road, are several concentrations of rock inscriptions, providing extreme examples of the clustering of a particular genre of image in one area, and the dominance of one genre of representation at a discrete site. We have named the wadi after an inscription at Site No. 2 — the serekh of the late First Dynasty ruler Horus Qa-a.
The Late Naqada II Period Tableau in the Wadi of the Horus Qa-a
Near the mouth of the Wadi of the Horus Qa-a is a rock art site comprising over a dozenindividual images that together form a large tableau of animal and boat images, a late Naqada II rock art parallel to Tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis (Figure 2). The images are deeply incised, and most have their interior spacescarved out in an approximation of sunk relief. In its use of motion and the complexity of the iconographic interrelationships of its various sections thetableau is unparalleled in rock art of the Western Desert, and the scene of four canids attacking a Barbary sheep is a masterpiece of Predynastic art (Figure 3).
The composition divides into two major segments, and a total of six distinct groups (Figure 4). Three groups incorporating a bull facing right, in association with another quadruped (Groups I, III, and VI), tie together the elements of the tableau. In the first, leftmost segment of the tableau (Groups I, II, and III), belonging — except for the calf perhaps — exclusively to the wild world, each of the two bulls is associated with a dog following an animal (Groups I and III). The scenes of bull with dog and apparent prey form the end pieces of the first half of the tableau, the bulls in those scenes framing the first section of the cycle. In the final portion of the tableau, the bull is to the left of an animal pierced by the arrow of an unseen hunter.
The tableau reveals a sophisticated use of movement as part of an overall compositional conception — though formed of six basic groups in two major divisions, the tableau is a unified and preconceived whole. The first segment of the tableau is entirely zoomorphic, with an almost exclusive apparent motion to the right; the final segment is a combination of animals and the products of human ingenuity, along with a single human enemy, shot with an arrow and bound to a pole, and reveals an overall motion toward the left, with notable exceptions (the jackal standard, and the falcon standard and final bull). The tableau is also bound together at the ends: at the right end of the scene, the animal shot by the arrow belongs to the natural world, but is dispatched by human agency; at the left end of the scene a canid is about to finish off the animal, but the animal is a calf, a domesticated member of the human world.
The Left Portion of the Tableau
The left portion of the tableau is a balanced composition of three groups, with a scene of a bull associated with a pair composed of a canid following an animal — a calf to the left (Group I; Figure 5), a gazelle to the right (Group III; Figure 7) — all facing to the right, to either side of a circular composition depicting a Barbary Sheep beset by four canids (Group II; Figures 4, 6). The apparently domesticated calf in Group I is balanced by the wild game animal in Group III; the bull in Group III comes last, as opposed to his position in Groups I and VI. With a canid following an animal at the left and right side, and a prey animal surrounded by two dogs in the middle, topped by a human figure, the small tableau in Wadi Um-Salam in the Eastern Desert adheres to the same basic scheme of which the Qa-a Wadi tableau is a larger, more detailed and complex elaboration.2 The presence of wild and domesticated animals as the objects of canid pursuit suggests that the tableau indicates a canid — and thereby human3 — domination of what in slightly later, pharaonic usage will appear time and again as the Red and Black Lands.
The hunting canids (Groups I, II, and III)
The canids in the tableau are neither the lycaon pictus, nor the hunting dogs of the basenji type appearing so often in Predynastic art, but more like the so-called “pariah” dogs present in some Predynastic hunting scenes.4 Close parallels for the shapes and poses of these canids appear on the Naqada IId Decorated Ware vessels Ashmolean Museum 873.5 Except in the central scene in Group II, the dogs do not attack, but rather follow and dominate the lead animals; the groups of canid-following-animal may represent abbreviations of the late Predynastic lines of beasts with a different animal — not infrequently a dog — following and dominating the line.6 The apparent replacement of the dog by the bow and arrow in Group VI supports an interpretation of the dog in Predynastic hunting images as representative of human agency.
The canids attacking a Barbary Sheep (Group II)
A scene of four canids attacking an Ammotragus is the dominating and central image in the left portion of the tableau (Figure 4, 6). Such groupings of dogs surrounding their prey appear already in the decoration of White Cross Line pottery;7 the circular arrangement of these hunting groups parallels the circle of the hunting trap as it occurs in the Tomb 100 scene.8 Depictions of Barbary sheep are uncommon in the rock art of the Theban Western Desert, as at other rock art sites in the desert hinterlands of Egypt and Nubia. The hunting of Barbary sheep appears to have been a ritualized event, aimed at capturing the animals for removal to the Nile Valley and ultimately their function as ritual meat sacrifices.9 Although animals alone inhabit the first portion of the scene, the presence of the Barbary sheep alludes to the religious practices to which the ceremonial vessels, divine standards, and “sacrificial” human enemy in the right portion of the tableau make more overt reference.
The Right Portion of the Tableau
The results of human ingenuity and military prowess — boats, standards, a bow, and a human enemy pierced by an arrow — acquire roughly equal prominence with images derived from the animal world. The dominant orientation of elements in the right section is right to left (Figure 4).
The Two Vessels (Groups IV and V)
Both vessels have crescent-shaped hulls. The hull of the second vessel is narrower than that of the first, apparently the result of an alteration to the original sketch — the feet of both the prisoner on the prow and the forward hooves of the quadruped amidships are doubled, apparently the result of a planned raising of the line of the gunwale of the second vessel.
Leftmost Vessel—Sailing Craft (Group IV)
The first vessel from the left (Figure 8) is one of a small number of early depictions of vessels with sails in Egyptian10 and Nubian11 art; again, in terms of location of the sail on the vessel, and considering the surrounding imagery, the sail and vessel in the Wadi of the Horus Qa-a recall the similarly located sail in the vessel carrying the prisoner on the most elaborate incense burner from Qustul.12 Although most of the other vessels with sails in early Egyptian and Nubian depictions have high upturned prows and sterns, and are of Naqada III date, the vessel in the Wadi of the Horus Qa-a tableau belongs to the tradition of boat depictions on Naqada II Decorated Ware. Given the similarity of the Qa-a tableau vessels to those of Tomb 100 and Decorated Ware pottery depictions, the Qa-a Wadi boat with sail is apparently the earliest known depiction of a sail.13 The animal atop the stern of the first vessel is a feature present in other rock art depictions of watercraft (Figure 9a);14 the hornless animal on the Qa-a wadi boat has a longer neck and a somewhat longer and more horizontal muzzle than the calf in Group I, and is probably another canid.
The angled awning to the right of the forward deck structure, apparently beginning behind and extending over a second deck structure, finds close parallels in the Tomb 100 scene, on the Gebel el-Arak knife handle, and on an ivory label from the tomb of Aha at Abydos.15 Similar awnings also appear rarely on D-Ware vessels.16 The simple awning on the second vessel finds a parallel on a Decorated Ware vessel of Naqada IId1 date from Gebel Silsila.17 The other elements associated with the deck structure on the lead vessel find their best parallels in the vessels in the Tomb 100 depictions.
Rightmost Vessel—Transport of the Vanquished (Group V)
The deck structure and standard of the second vessel are summarily depicted, the artist having focused attention on the images of the prisoner and quadruped that together dominate the boat (Figure 10). No clothing is apparent on the figure at the prow, but the shorn or closely cropped head with long, thin beard, indicates a male opponent. The enemy stands with his arms apparently grasping or bound to the pole in front of him, his neck transfixed by an arrow; over his shoulder he wears what may be a water-skin (Figure 11).18 Close parallels for the mace above the head of the bound and transfixed figure are: 1) the mace hanging above the head of the kneeling, bound prisoner on a vessel on the Gebelein shroud; and 2) to a lesser degree the mace crossing the vertical pole of a Wepwawet standard on sealings of Den from the tomb of Hemaka19 and from the tomb of Den at Abydos,20 on a Third Dynasty sealing from Beit Khallaf,21 and as determinative to the term shemsu-Hor in the Pyramid Texts.22 The pole to which the prisoner is attached may find a parallel on the prow of the largest of the three vessels on the Decorated Ware vessel CG 18805, from Gebel Silsila.23 Though not combined, the pole with mace is not far removed from the image of a recumbent jackal on a standard above the lead boat.
On the Gebelein shroud, the pole and mace associated with a bound prisoner appear on a partially preserved vessel, below another boat in which an apparent ruler sits enthroned. No active human captor or triumphant royal human figure appears in the Qa-a Wadi tableau, and the vessel with pole, mace, and arrow-pierced enemy appears to stand temporally and iconographically between Naqada II images of boats that appear to have captured land animals without the depiction of a human agent,24 and the Gebel Sheikh Suleiman tableau, in which a bound enemy, pierced by an arrow,25 is tied to the prow of a vessel. The prisoner on the prow of the second vessel also recalls the bound prisoner in one boat (the same with the forward mounted sail), and the enemy hanging from another, on the “royal” incense burner from Qustul.26
The quadruped amidships has roughly the same proportions as the bovids in the scene; its horns, however, are excessively zigzagging for either normal or artificially altered27 bull horns (Figure 11); they resemble those of an addax, however, an animal appearing often in the depictions on D-Ware vessels, often paired with a female figure.28 The group consisting of a female figure and addax appears to allude to ritual sacrifice — the addax on the D-Ware vessels is a sacrificial animal, and an addax following the prisoner on the second vessel in the Qa-a Wadi tableau indicates the sacrificial nature of the bound and shot enemy.29 As in the Scorpion tableau at Gebel Tjauti, wherein the image of stork with serpent foreshadows and explains the group of victor and victim, the image of triumph over a human enemy in the Qa-a Wadi tableau acquires ritual significance through juxtaposition with an image of animal sacrifice. Hunting and warfare, although juxtaposed already in the imagery of the Naqada I Period,30 do not seem to appear clearly associated in rock inscriptions until the late Naqada II/early Naqada III.
The Standards (Groups IV and VI)
Jackal Standard (Group IV)
The toes of the recumbent jackal curve down, a feature apparent for a number of quadrupeds — including a jackal — in the labels from Tomb U-j at Abydos,31 and apparent on the feet of a running jackal on the Hunters Palette. The relatively short tail of the jackal standard is also paralleled by the image of jackal on a label from Tomb U-j.32 The rather short neck, and neither long nor amply bushy tail of the canid are paralleled in the Naqada II bone amulet BM EA62411 from Mostagedda.33 The Bull Palette also depicts a “couchant” jackal standard34 of roughly the same date as that in the Qa-a Wadi tableau.
The specific identity of the jackal is uncertain. Anubis — the fashioning of whose images acquires some prominence in royal deeds of the First Dynasty35 — is possible. Considering the prominence of a “royal” bull throughout the tableau, an identification of the jackal standard with the standard of Wepwawet as a royal signifier is more probable. The image of the jackal confronting the donkey foreshadows the succeeding group of bull dominating sacrificial addax and enemy, the jackal standard of royal ritual celebrations here taking the place of the solar giraffe that one might expect to find36 as the image confronting that of the donkey.
Falcon Standard (Group VI)
The falcon with rounded tail (Figure 12) is paleographically similar to falcons on serekhs from Horizon A;37 a similar body shape appears in three-dimensions in the stone falcon BM EA32135.38 The falcon is perhaps entirely absent from the representations of standards on Decorated Ware vessels of the Naqada II Period, but falcon standards are present in rock art of Naqada II and III date, and in other contexts during the Naqada III Period.39 A close parallel for the association in the Qa-a Wadi tableau of the falcon standard with a crescent-hulled vessel is in the Wadi Abu Subeira.40
Standard on the Second Vessel (Group V)
Although the jackal and falcon standards are independent elements of the tableau, a standard is mounted on the second vessel — a relatively rare depiction in rock art41 — possibly a version of the Min standard.42
The Animals and the Boats
Groups IV and V have in common the image of a boat facing left, followed by a left-facing animal. In Group IV this is an equid, in Group V a bovid. The equid is almost certainly a donkey, although whether domesticated or wild43 is unclear (Figure 9b). No mane is indicated, a feature lacking in other petroglyphic depictions;44 traces to the right and above the final donkey reveal an originally larger conception of the animal, abandoned for the smaller, final version. The ass faces in the same direction as the vessel, recalling associations of a vessel with multiple asses at Eastern Desert sites.45 The jackal standard and donkey confront one another, supporting an interpretation of the donkey as a symbol of things chthonic and nocturnal.46 In what follows, the result of the asinine confrontation above the leftmost vessel appears to be the destruction of the human enemy, the hominid counterpart and partisan of the donkey (compare the later destruction of a donkey as representation of a human enemy47).
The second vessel, the transport of the vanquished enemy, is followed by the depiction of a bull. The other portions of the tableau in which a bull is a following, concluding element are the vignettes in which a bull follows the image of a canid pursuing a quadruped. That those images are groups involving a statement of human domination of the natural world (canid following quadruped) plus an image of human political authority (the bull) receives considerable support from Group V. Here, rather than following a canid and quadruped, the bull follows a boat in which an image of a vanquished human is dominated by both the mace to his front and another bovid to his rear. The horns of the bull following the vessel are somewhat straighter than those of the other bulls in the tableau, and are relatively long in relation to the animal’s body. This is probably not indicative of a difference between the bovides, although one may site the appearance of two similar types of bovide horns on the Brooklyn knife handle (together at the end of the eighth register on the side with the boss48).
A final annotation appears to confirm the ruling, hunting, warlike nature of the bull—below the following bull in Group V is the image of a bow (apparently a simple self bow with curving ends), the string pointing toward the bull, not an image of hunting directed at the bull, but possibly a representation of the bow’s striking power as a commentary on the bull dominating the boat carrying the human enemy—just as a bow may be attached to an animal it dominates,49 so here the weapon, not attached to the bull, appears to label the bovid as the hunter, the victor.
Appearing but infrequently as elements in rock art prior to the Naqada III Period, and having little apparent significance in the funerary realm, bovid images are among the earliest symbols of royal power in the iconography of the nascent Upper Egyptian state.50 The victorious bulls in the Qa-a Wadi tableau, and the standard confronting the donkey, appear to be theriomorphic representations of royal power. Hunting and warfare imagery appear in clear juxtaposition in the Tomb 100 painting, with the image of a man smiting human prisoners in the lower left paired with an image of another smiting figure facing lions in the upper left, and a lassoing scene in the upper right apparently juxtaposed with a damaged smiting scene to the lower right. In the Qa-a tableau, the blurring of boundaries between the human and animal worlds is more complete, with the animal avatar of the human ruler dominating a human enemy, the latter labeled and interpreted by an image of animal sacrifice.
The Final Images (Group VI)
The tableau ends with a variation on the introductory section, a parallel to the two groups of a bull with a canid following an animal images of the left side, here with the animal — apparently a gazelle — not pursued but pierced by an arrow (Figure 13). As a victim of human agency, the shot animal at the end of the tableau is parallel to the arrow-pierced human at the prow of the second vessel; even the fletching of the arrow emerging from the quadruped is rendered in the same way as that of the arrow piercing the human enemy. The bow accompanying the arrow is improbably reversed, the string pointing toward the animal, indication that that bow is more annotation than representation of the weapon that shot the arrow (see above).
Animal Representative to Human Embodiment
The Qa-a Wadi tableau appears to belong to a transitional phase of imagery, in which the animal representations of cosmic forces mingle with images of humans — one in the Qa-a Wadi tableau — and abstract objects of ritual paraphernalia. By the beginning of Dynasty 0, the earlier cosmographic animal images and symbols of power can appear not only as equal actors in a tableau, but may provide a symbolic commentary on images of human activity — a cosmographic treatise may accompany, parallel, and interpret a scene of more mundane, albeit perhaps historic, human activity. The Scorpion tableau from Gebel Tjauti in the Theban Western Desert reveals the application of symbolic groups as annotations to a scene of human activit y— military victory depicted and interpreted in the proper cosmic and religious context.51 The Gebel Sheikh Suleiman inscription52 refers to the expansion of Early Dynastic hegemony over Lower Nubia, and employs extensive images of vanquished humans, a more archaic image of the “hunting” boat (already Naqada I53), with rope to the neck of a prisoner, and brief hieroglyphic annotations (primarily the serekh and two apparent toponyms). These tableaux contain elements of historical events and the ritualization thereof, the celebration of the event in terms of its cosmic significance by means of incorporation within the royal Jubilee imagery;54 even in the Gebel Sheikh Suleiman tableau with its tumbling and drowning images of human carnage, what appears to be a ritual vessel holds the rope to the neck of a prominent enemy. Nevertheless, the Gebel Tjauti and Gebel Sheikh Suleiman tableaux reveal a removal of much of the interpretive symbolism from active participation within the composition, with the symbols becoming true labels to the depictions of human activity.
Through the developmental course of Dynasty 0 and Early Dynastic imagery, the figure of the ruler becomes a dominant image. High on the face of the gebel overlooking a wadi bed just south of Gebel Tjauti, on a track linking the Wadi Alamat Road with the Farshût Road, is a tableau diminutive in elements but large in scale. Carved at such as scale as to be visible to travelers along the track through the wadi, and carved so as to appear to move from south to north across the eastern face of the western cliffs bordering the track, is the image of a large human figure, with greatly emphasized musculature, wearing a pointed beard and having an apparently shaven head, holding a staff in each hand, elbows down and arms out at his sides. The figure follows a large boat, also facing north. The tableau apparently incorporates the wildlife of the wadi below, and the travelers on the route as well, as living elements in a tableau of royal domination. In pose and musculature the figure is apparently of late Naqada III date (cf. the Tarkhan palette from tomb 157955). Theriomorphic cosmographs have vanished, and the ritual vessel and the royal ritualist are the dominant and exclusive elements of the composition. The cosmographic imagery employed to represent royal power during the late Naqada II Period gives way to a depiction of royal power as a suitable vision of cosmic stability.