Who actually was the first ruler of ancient Egypt?

close up photo of person touching inscribed wall

Sometimes I get these random questions that pop in my head. There seems to be no limit to the subjects my mind can come up with. In these blog articles, you will find everything from technical articles about databases to personal views on anxiety and battling that demon on further to science and theoretical physics. Not long ago, my mind posed the question, “oldest known named human,”. This question is not abbreviated. That is how my mind posed the question, which also works quite well in a search engine. So, of course, there were millions of results. I followed my normal path of research and first went to the Wikipedia entry for Narmer. 

Wikipedia is not the only research I do, but it generally gives a great overview of the topic. The entry for Narmer is quite detailed. The short answer is historians think Narmer was the first ruler of ancient Egypt and the individual that united upper and lower Egypt, creating the 1st Dynasty of Egypt around the year 3100 BC. There is no definite proof of the year 3100 BC being the beginning of the reign of the individual sometimes known as Narmer. Still, it is the date that most historians agree on. Although other studies show that the timeframe could be anywhere between 3273 and 2987 BC.

But there is a problem with this theory and this answer. No one is even for sure that the name is Narmer. The hieroglyphics that were decoded into the name Narmer consist of what looks to be a catfish and a chisel. Taking these symbols just as they are also provides alternate names such as “fierce catfish” and “harsh” among others. The soundings of the symbols that make up Narmer would actually be n`r for catfish and mr for the chisel. This is based on the rebus principle, which in my opinion, makes many assumptions when it comes to hieroglyphics from the very early Egyptian dynasties. But beyond that, there is not a 100% consensus that the decoded name was Narmer. It could also be Menses or possibly even Hor-Aha that ruled the 1st dynasty of Egypt, or it could be just that they are all related. This goes much deeper when you research Neithhotep, who may have been a wife, a child, or a mother, of Narmer, depending on which research you study. The only thing we know for sure is a person from ancient Egypt was buried in Chambers B17 and B18 at Umm elmmm-Qa’ab and may have been an Egyptian ruler named Narmer or “raging catfish”.

So now that I have put my spin on the name confusion, let us look at how it is assumed that this person unified upper and lower Egypt. One thing to realize about studying anything this old is that there are many gaps filled in by theories. The perfect example above being the name confusion. Any theory can make sense if enough people accept and refine the theory. However, in the end, it is still a theory. The evidence that the one known as Narmer unified upper and lower Egypt is based on a few pieces of hieroglyphic evidence that still build on other theories. Out of the few artifacts that have been found, there is one artifact that most of this theory is based on. This amazing piece of ancient stonework is the Narmer Palette. It was discovered during the 1897 – 1898 archaeology season at Hierakonpolis

If read as a pictogram, the Narmer Palette shows this ruler as the king of upper Egypt on one side and the king of lower Egypt on the other side. Though this could represent Narmer being the king of both upper and lower Egypt, it could also just as easily be any individual as the only evidence that the person was the one known as Narmer is the inclusion of the catfish and chisel hieroglyphics on both sides of the palette. Even to this day, scholars argue whether this palette is ceremonial or mythological. So the answer, in the end, is maybe.

The written record of human history is very short on geological scales. For the most part, everything we think we know about the human race before the discovery of writing is a theory. Some of the theories are very good and have a lot of evidence to back them up, almost to the point of proving true. However, until you can follow the line straight through and have all parts to the equation, it is still a theory, though it may be a very good one. This is one of the many unique traits that make us human. We can postulate, theorize, deduce, and in some rare einstein, hawking sparks of mental evolution find small but very important pieces of the grand human puzzle. But these are just small pieces of the puzzle, and even the theories of these great human minds and all other great human minds are always being questioned. Theories are constantly refined, some theories are proven false and thrown out, some find the next neuron of the universal mind inching ever closer to the answer. 

Theories are great, but sometimes we just need to simplify things and look at what we actually know and not what we think we know. It can change perspectives. So now I present Narmer, what we actually know.

Chambers B17 and B18 at Umm elmmm-Qa’ab contain the remains of an individual that may have been known as Narmer, Menses, Hor-Aha, or raging catfish. This individual may have ruled the 1st dynasty of Egypt some time between 3273 and 2987 BC. This individual may have unified upper and lower Egypt during their reign. This reasoning is based on just a few artifacts that may or may not be mythological in nature. This person of many names may have also had a mother, wife, or daughter named Neithhotep. This person may have been succeeded by Hor-Aha and preceded by Ka. Still, as you can see, this presents a problem because this person may have been Hor-Aha, and no one is even sure if Ka actually existed as a person. 

So, in the end, we do not know anything for sure, but we have a lot of theories.

The point of this post is not to bash anyone’s research. I know some researchers have spent their lives trying to answer these questions, and it would be great to know the answers. Like how Egypt builds pyramids and apparently has a thriving society in the year 3100 BC, yet other parts of the world were still more or less neolithic. The more we find, the more we know, but the more we know, the more questions we strive to answer, hopefully furthering us as a species. I think the drive to answer this question is a part, if just a small part, of the spark that makes us human.

Be human to each other, and we will go far.

–Parting Wisdom
-This post used all of my wisdom for today

–Bryan

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