Tarkhan is a cemetery north of Gerzeh which takes its name from a nearby village. The place is particularly important for an understanding of when and how Egypt became a state around 3000 BC. Petrie had already excavated the royal tombs in Abydos from the same period. At the same time in Tarkhan he discovered contemporary, better-preserved simple tombs. Some of the seal impressions and inscriptions on pottery jars bore the name of Narmer, one of the first kings of Egypt.
Tarkhan, large tomb from around 3000 BC. Photo: Janne Klerk
The Glyptotek’s six jars of Egyptian alabaster from Tarkhan come from tombs excavated during the first season in 1912. The young T.E. Lawrence, later known as Lawrence of Arabia, participated in the excavations during this period to learn from the great master, Flinders Petrie. In a letter from Tarkhan Lawrence wrote to a friend, “A Petrie dig is a thing with a flavour of its own: tinned kidneys mingle with mummy-corpses and amulets in the soup: my bed is all gritty with prehistoric alabaster jars of unique types – and my feet at night keep the bread-box from the rats.”
Hundreds of these jars were discovered, and the makeshift huts where the excavation team lived and where they kept the finds were cramped. The Glyptotek received six alabaster jars from Tarkhan. It’s not impossible that they were once stacked on Lawrence’s bed.