By R. Cedric Leonard

The Palermo Stone is a largest piece of what was originally a black diorite stele 2.2 meters long and 0.61 meters wide: the fragments we possess represent a rather small percentage of the entire stele. The Palermo Stone, which has been known since 1866, is in the Palermo Museum in Sicily, hence its name. Other smaller fragments are in the Cairo Museum and the Petrie Museum at University College of London (Wilkinson, 2000). It was composed during the 5th Dynasty (2565-2420 B.C.), and is the oldest extant written chronicle of Egyptian history.

The Palermo Stone covers the period from the Old Kingdom back thousands of years into the predynastic period. It is inscribed on both sides starting with the pre-dynastic god-kings, proceeding on through the demi-gods, and finally a long list of Egyptian kings down to the middle of the 5th Dynasty. It includes the regnal years of each king, plus important events which occurred during each king's reign. It is likely that Manetho used this document in putting together his famous Aegyptiaca. (Gardiner, 1961; Wilkinson, 2000; St. John, 2003, et al.)

It was used at some point as a door stop, and consequently is badly worn on the bottom of its front and almost all of its backside. Although most of the glyphs are legible, a few readings must of necessity be conjectural (St. John, 2003). For the most part, as far as can be ascertained, the king's names agree with other supporting archeological evidence. Let me say at the outset that I am deliberately "prejudicing" what I see based on what has already been found in the Royal Canon of the Turin Papyrus.

Since ancient kings often had more than one name, phonetic agreement between the Palermo Stone and other king-lists is not really necessary. Most Egyptologists seem to be reasonably sure of the top line containing the names of the god-kings, even though it is obvious that most of the glyphs are badly worn. Regardless, I am offering alternate readings in certain instances to point out the possibility of actual phonetic agreement.

Although portions of nine of the original ten god-king's names are in evidence, only seven of the names are complete. The first two kings names are almost entirely missing, as well as the last one of the ten (reading from right to left). The remainder of the top line containing demi-god kings (the left portion) is broken away.

Each name is contained within a "box" (not really a cartouche) made of horizontal and vertical lines. The names are very simple—usually indicated by two glyphs each (three in some cases). Directly below each king's name and attached to the "cartouche" (box) is the hieroglyphic determinative for "god-king".

I believe a few of the glyphs merit an alternate reading from that which has been provided by the experts. Immediately below is a photo of the top line of hieroglyphs, which may be compared with my reconstruction (farther below) of the names.

Top line of Palermo Stone showing names of the "god-kings" (read right to left)

The first name is completely broken away, and only a piece of the second name shows on the Palermo Stone (far right). The first complete name (the third king) seems to read "Ska". Egyptian spellings being as fluid as they are with the passage of time, this could later have become the Shu or Su of the Turin Canon.

Next (reading to the left), I believe the strangely-slanted oval-shaped glyph (thought to be an H) is in reality a very worn side of the goose "Seb," (its legs and head no longer visible). The glyph below it seems to be a reclining animal of some sort, but it's very faint and nearly impossible to be read with any assurance. The goose by itself can be read "Seb".

The third complete name starts with a very small glyph which is nearly unreadable. Egyptologists have taken it to be the common glyph (a loaf) for T, but it could possibly be a not so common glyph (a small loop) for S. The next glyph, a reed (Y), is not very clear either. The bird glyph looks like a chick (U); but should it be a swallow (WR) it would read SYWR: I think it possible that this name is "Ausar," the Egyptian name for the god Osiris.

The fourth "cartouche" from the right has two very wide "rectangular" shaped glyphs. The experts see the top one as a rope glyph and the bottom one as a rectangle, but they are damaged and I believe the reverse to be just as possible (I don't have the stone itself to look at). The rope represents a T or TH, and the rectangle an S or SH. They have, therefore read it TSH; reverse this sequence, and it reads SHT, or the god-king Set.

At the top of the next cartouche is a rather long, thin line, which Egyptologists assume to be a wavy line, the letter N. From what I can see, this is impossible: it looks straight, not wavy. It appears to be one of the uncommon versions of the letter H (a club). Below this is a very obscure glyph, which could well be the swallow glyph, UR or WR. Therefore, I read this as Hwr (Egyptian for Horus).

Now we come to a real problem! According to the Turin Canon., the next name should be that of Thoth (Tehuti, or Djehuti in Egyptian). It looks like the Egyptologists' choice is good; although their translation, Wadjha, makes no sense in Egyptian. I am the first to admit this name does not look much like Tehuti (Thoth) either.

My reconstructed reading of the glyphs (compare with above)

Finally, the last complete name seems to be Mch, Mh, or Maa. The owl (M) is pretty clear, and the next glyph (definitely a club) meaning CH or H is fairly clear. However, there is another club-like glyph which is usually transcribed as AA, and this is not impossible. Whichever "club" is represented, the god-king intended is surely Ma.

There is just a "peek" showing of the bottom glyph of the next name (not shown in my reconstruction), which is most likely the swallow glyph (WR). This could represent the last syllable of the second HWR (Horus) as listed in the Turin Royal Canon. I would be much more certain of this had the name "Djehuti" (Thoth) turned out better.

Below is a chart with Egyptologists' conjectural reading on the left, my suggested reconstruction in the middle, and what I believe to be the corresponding more familiar Anglicized equivalent on the right.


Reconstructions Compared
Ska Ska Shu
H`yw Seb Seb
Tyu Sywr Ausar
Tsh Sht Set
Nhb Hwr Hor
Wadjha (Djehuti?) (Thoth?)
Mch Mch Ma
(none) Hwr Hor

This completes my effort to make some sense out of the top line of the Palermo Stone. I think the tenuous agreement between it and our other sources (the Turin Canon and Manetho) should arouse interest (maybe some eyebrows). The later king-names are much clearer, and Egyptologists generally are satisfied that the information presented by the stone agrees with many other sources, including solid archeological data. I realize my humble attempt at harmonization is considerably "stretched"; but I hope it hasn't offended professional Egyptologists.

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

        Budge, E. A. Wallace, The Book of the Dead, University Books, New Hyde Park, 1960.
        Gardiner, Alan H., Egyptian Grammar (3rd Edition), Griffith Institute, Oxford, 1957.
        Gardiner, Alan H., Egypt of the Pharaohs, Griffith Institute, Oxford, 1961.
        St. John, Michael, The Palermo Stone - An Arithmetical View, the Museum Bookshop Ltd.,
        London, 2003.
        Wilkinson, Tony A. H., Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt, Columbia University Press,
        New York, 2000.
        Winston, Alan, "The Palermo Stone," ONLINE, InterCity Oz, Inc., 1999-2003.

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Copyright © 2003 by R. Cedric Leonard