African Archaeological Review

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 363–376 | Cite as

New Insights on the Inscription on a Painted Pan-Grave Bucranium, Grave 3252 at Cemetery 3100/3200, Mostagedda (Middle Egypt)

  • Julien Cooper
  • Hans BarnardEmail author
Original Article


The so-called pan-graves occur in the archaeological record of the Egyptian Nile Valley during the Second Intermediate Period (13th–17th Dynasties, 1950–1550 BCE). Because of their uncharacteristic layout and contents they are usually interpreted as associated with a foreign group coming into the region from the south or southeast. Only a single text, comprising six Egyptian hieroglyphs painted on the skull of a bovid, can be connected with certainty to these graves and the people who constructed them. Since its excavation and analysis in the 1930s, this inscription has been interpreted as the personal name or title Open image in new window , ‘master of the horn.’ Our new examination of the original materials questions this reading and suggests some new etymological possibilities. The text likely transcribes an ancient East African language such as Beja and is of insufficient length to be translated with certainty.


Beja Cushitic languages Egypt northeast Africa Nubia Medjay Pan-grave Second intermediate period Second millennium BCE 


Les sépultures dites « pan-graves » apparaissent dans les vestiges archéologiques de la vallée du Nil en Egypte durant la deuxième période intermédiaire (xiiie-xviie Dynasties, 1950–1550 avant notre ère). Du fait de la particularité de leurs arrangements et de leur contenus, elle sont généralement interprétées comme étant associées à un groupe étranger à la région, originaire du sud ou du sud-est. Un seul texte, comprenant six hiéroglyphes égyptiens peints sur le crâne d’un bovidé, peut être associé avec certitude à ces sépultures et à ceux qui les construisirent. Depuis sa mise au jour et son analyse dans les années 1930, cette inscription a été interprétée comme étant le nom personnel ou le titre lu Open image in new window , ‘maître de la corne’. Notre nouvel examen du matériel original met cette lecture en question et propose de nouvelles pistes étymologiques. Le texte transcrit vraisemblablement une ancienne langue est.-africaine telle que le Beja et ne peut, de par sa brièveté, être traduit avec une totale acuité.



We would like to thank Bryan Kraemer, Renée Friedman, Kate Liszka and the British Museum for providing high-resolution digital photographs of the bucranium. Thanks are also due to Rose Campbell, Jacco Dieleman, Bryan Miller, Chris Ehret, Kate Liszka, Claudia Näser and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable insights that greatly improved the final text. All errors and omissions are entirely our own. The research of Julien Cooper is supported by the project "Nomadic Empires: A World-Historical Perspective," which is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Program (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement no. 615040.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nomadic Empires Project, Faculty of HistoryUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLALos AngelesUSA

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