In the desert to the north of Abydos there are several Predynastic and Early Dynastic sites which were investigated by John Garstang in the early years of the 20th century. Near the villages of Mahansa and Reqaqna, a little to the south of Sohag, Garstang discovered cemeteries of Dynasty III tombs, whilst in the low desert behind the village of Beit Khallaf, he found five monumental mudbrick mastabas, similar to other stepped mastabas of the Early Dynastic Period.
The most impressive of these huge tombs is known as mastaba K1, which Garstang originally attributed to Djoser Netjerikhet, who built the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. The royal burial ground at Abydos had been abandoned after the reign of Khasekhemwy, but mastaba K1 dwarfs even Khasekhemwy’s massive Abydos enclosure (Shunet el-Zebib). K1 covers an area of 45m by 85m and its sloping walls rise to a current height of around 8m. On the eastern side a ramp leads to the roof of the structure which was probably vaulted. From the top a steep entrance staircase was sealed by blocking stones and was covered by a vaulted ceiling over mudbrick arches. From the staircase the passageway turns to the south and consists of a wide corridor with several chambers leading off to the east and west, in which Garstang found huge numbers of stone and pottery vessels.
From an historical point of view, the most important finds at Beit Khallaf were seal impressions. Impressions of the Dynasty III kings Netjerikhet and Sanakht were found in the mastabas, which dated them to the Early Dynastic Period. A clay seal impression found in mastaba K1 names a Queen Nimaathap as ‘Mother of the King’s Children’, while impressions bearing the name of Netjerikhet were also found in mastabas K2, K3, K4 and K5, although none of these equals the size of K1. Current archaeological evidence suggests by the similarity of Khasekhemwy’s Abydos enclosure to the Saqqara Step Pyramid, Netjerikhet was the son and successor to Khasekhemwy, and probably performed his burial. Nimaathap was possibly related to Netjeriket in some way and may even have been his mother. The quantity of stone vessels found in the Step Pyramid and Nimaathap’s mastaba also contained identical ink drawings of the god Min, suggesting that they came from the same ‘heirloom’ collection.
An impression from mastaba K2 shows the name of King Sanakht opposite the lower end of a cartouche and has been identified as the earliest occurrence of a cartouche found to enclose a royal name. The seal also provides evidence for the Horus name of Sanakht (enclosed in a serekh) equating with the nesw-bity name of Nebka, which has been reconstructed from the ka-sign in the portion of hieroglyphs in the cartouche. The Turin Cannon gives the postion of a King Nebka between Khasekhemwy and Netjerikhet, but the archaeological evidence now suggests otherwise.
How to get there
The mastabas at Beit Khallaf are in an isolated site near the edge of the desert escarpment and some kilometres from the main road north to Sohag. I would recommend that a guide is necessary to find the site.