Stela of Kay, Head of the Desert Hunters (Dynasty 12)

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

Object Details

The Stela of Kay was acquired in 1928 by Professor Borc Hardt for the Egyptian Department of the State Museums in Berlin from a dealer in Luxor. Its place of origin was given as Qamula, north of Thebes. It is now on display in the Neues Museum in Berlin and has been dated on stylistic and palaeographic grounds to early Dynasty 12 (c. 1976-1912 BC).

  • Type: Limestone stela

  • Date: Early Dynasty 12, c. 1976-1912 BC

  • Findspot: Allegedly from Qamula, Thebes-North

  • Size: 67 x 34 x 9 cm

  • Identification number: ÄM 22820

  • Current location: Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, Neues Museum, Berlin


Picked out in raised relief is Kay, chief of the desert police, accompanied by an unnamed woman assumed to be his wife or mother Beshet, and two hunting dogs. Both wear wigs and clothes of white linen, as well as collars around their necks and bangles on their wrists. Up in the corner in front of the man is a row of four stone vessels for perfume or oil, including one in the shape of the htm vessel, and below their feet, three more dogs can be seen reclining.

The inscription is designed to give offerings to Kay for his afterlife and recounts his service to the king by patrolling the western oases and tracking down fugitives. His titles are given as Head of the Desert Hunters and the Head of the Western Deserts and the report Kay gives does not suggest the hunt for a particular criminal, but rather a police patrol that is sent to the oases to establish order. Even if we were unable to read the inscription, we could tell Kay had a role in the military by the bow and bundle of arrows he holds in his hand and the pointed linen kilt he is wearing.

West of Qamula, the alleged location of the stele, there is archaeological evidence of an ancient desert route from the Nile valley to the oases of Dakhla and Kharga known as the Alamat Tal Road. It is tempting to imagine Kay with his hounds at his feet and troops at his back, traversing these routes to maintain order and seek out fugitives on the king's behalf.

The Dogs

Kay has a pack of hunting dogs at his feet, which were known in Egyptian as tesem (ṯsm), are identified as sighthounds by their characteristic pointed ears and curled tails. Interestingly, the people depicted are not given their names, whilst the names of the hunting dogs are given. Though damaged, attempts have been made to reconstruct them include:

  • Menedju (mnḏwj) - a pet form of a word meaning ‘many teats’

  • Nu 5 (5nw) - ‘The fifth’ something like ‘Quintus’

  • Henwejet (ḥnwjt) - possibly referring to the breed of dog

  • Nu 6 (6nw) - ‘The sixth’, something like ‘Sextus’

  • Ibu (ʾbw)

The depiction of the dogs can be compared to the Stela of Intef II Wahankh (Cairo 20 512).

The Text

“An offering that the king gives for Anubis, the one on his mountain, who is in the embalming place, the lord of the sacred land; an invocation offering of a thousand cattle, geese and bread for the venerable Head of the Desert Hunters, the Head of the Western Deserts, Beshet’s son Kay, true of voice, he says:

I am a hero of the ongoing strike, a leader of the army on the day of distress; one whose execution of an assignment his master praises. I got to the western oasis searched all its ways and brought back all the fugitives I found in it; the troop was safe and there was no loss; what was entrusted to me came home happy. My lord ordered me to be their guardian, as his trusted administrator, because I am doing my lord's commission so well, the praised, the venerable Kay, the justified.”

Transliteration and Translation

Based on the original translation by Rudolf Anthes (1930), with additions from Tanya Blake (Macquarie University) and the kind people of Reddit (u/dbmag9 and u/Padibastt).

ḥtp dı͗ nsw I͗np.w tp(.y) ḏw⸗f ı͗m.y w.t nb tꜢ-ḏsr prı͗.t-ḫrw ı͗ḥ Ꜣpd t

An offering that the king gives for Anubis, the one on his mountain, who is in the embalming place, the lord of the sacred land; an invocation offering of a thousand cattle, geese and bread

n ı͗mꜢḫ(.w) ı͗m.y-rꜢ nw.w ḫꜢs.wt ı͗m.y-rꜢ smy.t