Semitic Script Symbols in Early Egypt - Part III

We are now in a position to examine the evidence from Egypt.

Fragments of a seal impression were found at Locality Hk6 at Hierakonpolis. This fragment contained symbols found in later Semitic scripts. See Figure to the left.

In the Semitic script these had phonetic values of "h" and "th." Refer to the Semitic List.

This same combination was found on a "wine jar" in a large pit burial at Tell Ibrihim Awad in the eastern Nile Delta, dating from the time of king Den/Idimu, at the latest, circa 2900 BC. (Early Egyptian Dynastic dates may be off by as much as 300 years.)

See the following Figure.


Although the first symbol is not identical, one can see how a person without knowledge of the connection to Semitic script symbols may make such mistake. Categorically, I can say that virtually all Egyptologists are unaware of these connections.

The marking of pots covers all known periods, down until the present day. Different marks were made by different people. Egyptian pots with marks were found at Merimde Beni-Saleme in the Nile Delta, dating to the era 4750 to 4750 BC. Pots were found at Maadi, near Cairo, with marks dating to 4,000 to 3,500 BC, and from Naqada, down to about 3,000 BC. The reason for the marks may not have always been the same.

The example to the left if from the Old Kingdom, in alabaster, circa 2700 BC. Note that by this time the inscription is tending toward hieroglyphics, but this symbol is not a hieroglyphic.

As you can see, pots were of difference varieties, some were squat and shorter.

Marks were applied to pots more frequently and consistently during Dynasties 0 and I than at any other time. It is from this corpus that van den Brink listed the pot marks. It included 3,660 pots, but many signs were not listed by him for various reasons, to make up 2,474 marks that could be read reliably. The most frequent sites were Abydos with 2,128 pots, and Saqqara with 742 pots.

The Group Number is from Edwin van den Brink's tabulation of Egyptian pot marks. Refer to Tables. Click here.

Balkan-Danube Script
Egyptian Group
33 8 32 20   42 11     41 21
Semitic Phonetic
w t b * kh * h * h s Cursive Punic
sh or z


Alvao Dolmen
Egyptian Group
      4 29 58? 11 33   62?  
Semitic Phonetic
h n r k q sh h w b or g * h


Cave Painting Symbols
Egyptian Group
6 or 25 21 7
Semitic Phonetic
z sh b or g

To these must be added the divided block found on bone within a supposed goddess, marsh1sm.jpg, van den Brink Egyptian Group #2, the meandering water mark, mvc-270x.jpg, Group #50, and the branched mark, cavelion.jpg.

We also have two signs found directly in Semitic scripts.

Egyptian-Semitic Signs
Egyptian Sign
Semitic Sign
Semitic Phonetic
aleph ayin

Curiously, these two signs are the guttural "a" and "o," still retained in our alphabets as "a" and "o."

The marks are not all that consistent. They vary considerably, as can be seen from the following examples.

The marks may consist of extra strokes, turn upside down, be reversed, or be combined with other marks.

The numbers in the upper left of each cell shows the number of times that mark or combination of marks occurs in van den Brink's corpus. The number in the lower right is merely his catalog number.

I have not attempted a distribution other than that shown by van den Brink in his tabulation.

The marks do not all resemble Semitic script symbols; there are many other marks. The Semitic script was limited to an alphabet of, perhaps, 30 characters. These marks offer considerable more variety.

The evidence from the Balkans and the Alvao dolmen contain script within context; other script symbols are present. The cave evidence is not, unless we could consider four symbols as "in context." The bone evidence is isolated. It could be just as well be a mere abstraction.

Some marks (signs) were retained as hieroglyphics, #3 and #57 (reversed). (#3 is a very interesting hieroglyphic, which I shall discuss later.)


One thing is certain: at least a dozen symbols used in Egypt were not original with the Egyptians. They predate the Egyptian use by 2,000 years, and if the cave and bone evidence is included, by many thousands of years.

From what we know about Egyptian writing, these symbols were lost a few hundred years later. They do not appear in later hieroglyphics, except as I noted above. Where did they get them, and why were they lost?

I have not attempted to find other marks or signs from other eras. I do not know how far back these marks go into Egyptian history, perhaps back to Badarian days. I simply do not know if other evidence exists.

The evidence is suggestive that someone, somehow, carried the symbology from one era or culture to another. People remembered. But what was the continuity? How?

We do not know if the symbols meant the same things to the different cultures. We can see from the evidence that each culture struck out on its own, carrying the sense of symbolic representation, but differing on the assignments. It appears that the idea of symbols was known everywhere, but the use differed.

The argument has been presented that these are merely geometric figures, and would have been invented independently, repeatedly, as one does in doodling. The resemblance from one era or culture to another is mere happenstance. A mere resemblance is not sufficient to tie together one era or culture to another.

I do not know. Yes, such a thing is possible. But the odds are extraordinary that people would use similar symbols for similar purposes and not be connected in some way.

Consider cuneiform and hieroglyphic developments. They did not retain these symbols. They went off into a completely different direction. We can see that incipient hieroglyphics were already under development at the period of 3,000 BC, while these symbols were present. But they do not appear in the later Egyptian system of writing.

Why don't we see it more on rock art? Rock art is world wide. If these symbols were recognized everywhere why don't they appear prevalently?

Perhaps they were known only to an elite. Perhaps there were classes of people who educated their children while the rest of mankind remained in ignorance.

I can only speculate. I believe this: I believe that symbols for writing were developed at a very early stage of human social evolution. I believe that they were handed down through narrow channels that prohibited universal display. I believe they were simple geometrics, not complex figures. And I believe they were in channels that we now recognize as Semitic. I believe they were abandoned by the Sumerians and the Egyptians. And I believe that abandonment was recent, around the era of 3,000 BC, when the Sumerians and Egyptians developed their own unique systems of writing, systems adapted to the mediums of clay and stone.

I believe the early system was phonetic, not syllabic, nor conceptual. And I believe the world is returning to that phonetic system, as we find in Western Man.

Time will tell.