Archaeologists have discovered the oldest-known carvings representing a pharaoh, dating back to 3200 BC, etched on rocks near the Nile river in southern Egypt.
In the carvings, a white-crowned figure travels in ceremonial processions and on sickle-shaped boats, perhaps representing an early tax-collecting tour of Egypt.
"The style of the carvings and hieroglyphics place the creation of the images around 3200 BC to 3100 BC. This would have been the reign of Narmer, the first pharaoh to unify Upper and Lower Egypt," study researcher Maria Gatto said.
During that time, Egypt was transitioning into the dynastic rule of the pharaohs, LiveScience reported.
"It's really the end of prehistory and the beginning of history in Egypt," Gatto said.
The carvings first observed and recorded in the 1890s, were rediscovered only in 2008 by Gatto from Yale University and other archaeologists, researchers report in the journal Antiquity.
Archaeologist Archibald Sayce first sketched the carvings, found at the village Nag el-Hamdulab, in the 1890s, but the only record of Sayce's discovery was a partial illustration published in a book.
The site was then forgotten until the 1960s, when Egyptian archaeologist Labib Habachi took photographs of the carvings, which he never published.
It wasn't until one of these photos resurfaced in 2008 that Gatto and her team started searching for the site, which many people assumed had been destroyed in the interim.
Some of the carvings have been vandalised since the 1960s, but Gatto and her team found the etched rocks in a natural amphitheater west of Nag el-Hamdulab.
There are seven carvings scattered throughout the area,and many are tableaus of boats flanked by prisoners. One of the most extensive carvings shows five boats, one of which houses the white-crowned pharaoh, his fan-bearer and two standard-bearers, researchers said.
Falcon and bull insignia on the pharaoh's boat symbolise royalty, further emphasised by the four men with ropes standing alongside that boat, likely towing it along the Nile.
A hieroglyph labels this scene a "nautical following", a likely reference to the following of Horus, Gatto said.
In this periodic royal jaunt across Egypt, the pharaoh cemented power and collected taxes. Thus, not only do the carvings represent the oldest known vision of a pharaoh, they may also show the oldest Egyptian tax campaign.
Other carvings include a scene of people and dogs herding cattle and a cluster of animals, two of them apparently some mythical part-lion beasts.
The other animals are familiar native African species, including two ostriches, an ibex and