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Old Kingdom


Photo courtesy of Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum
Heti as a cross-legged, seated scribe
Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, 2700-2200 B.C.
Limestone, painted, from Giza



As the Predynastic Period drew to a close, the hieroglyphs as a writing system were introduced. It has been suggested that one man was responsible for that invention because the hieroglyphs appear as a fully developed system of writing without any apparent successive stages of development. The name of the individual responsible for introducing the hieroglyphs was never recorded in keeping with the nature of this ancient Egyptian elite society.

Each member of the elite worked for the collective good with the person of pharaoh as leader. Within such a system, there was no room for the kind of "rugged individualism" that characterizes the society of some modern nation states. It is for this reason as well that very few monuments from ancient Egypt are signed by the individual responsible for creating them. This almost complete absence of "artists' signatures" is another distinction between this elite society and our own.

Anonymity was the order of the day because everything was done in the name of pharaoh and as a result of his command. Within such a closely knit society, then in which each member guarded his/her advantaged station in life, there was little need to record the minutiae of personal data which we in this contemporary telecommunications world find so necessary. Often, pharaohs left no record of the dates of their births or the names of their parents, or those of their in-laws, or children.

Yet one thing is certain. The monuments in this gallery were made for members of the elite whose tombs graced the Giza Plateau during the Old Kingdom. These reliefs and statues, then, which we moderns call "art" and which we moderns admire and praise for their intrinsic aesthetic beauty, were anciently possessed of specific functions which, it was believed, could be ritually activated to serve the religious needs of the deceased for eternity. Ancient Egyptian art is symbolic.

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