The first tombs that can be reasonably assessed as belonging to ‘kings’ are a number of large latePredynastic structures at Hierakonpolis. One is unique in having painted decoration in its burial chamber, a brick-lined cutting in the desert gravel, while some undecorated but considerably larger examples, occupying areas of up to 22 square metres, preserved traces of superstructures of wood and reeds.
Similar brick-lined substructures (with no surviving traces of superstructures) formed the cores of a sequence of big tombs at Abydos-Umm el-Qa’ab, which stretch from the late-Predynastic U-j (possibly belonging to a King Scorpion, c. 31st century BC) into the Early Dynastic Period (c. 30th–28th centuries BC). They evolve from simple chambers, accessible only from above, to more complex designs, approached by staircases, blocked with portcullisslabs. Such slabs were also a feature of the first tunnelled kingly tombs, constructed at Saqqara for two of the earliest kings of the Second Dynasty. Although two later kings of the dynasty returned to the ancient Abydene cemetery, royal tombs of the succeeding millennium were mainly built at Saqqara and neighbouring necropoleis of Memphis, the administrative capital.
Early Dynastic Period kingly tombs comprised the burial place itself, topped by a superstructure of unknown form, and accompanied by an offering place, marked by a pair of stelae, far out into the desert, plus a large rectangular enclosure close to the route from the cultivated land to the burial place. This enclosure seems to have been the venue for funeral rituals, and was in many (if not all) cases later dis