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In ancient Egypt, stelae are slabs of stone or wood, of many different shapes. They were always set up in pairs, but their original position within the royal maintained and differentiated between two types of stelae from the First Intermediate period: which was used as an amulet and was, for example, depicted on coffins and sarcophagi.
The earliest stelae were erected in Egypt during the 1st dynasty to mark the tombs of the kings and their courtiers in the cemetery of Abydos in Upper Egypt. Royal stelae of the 1st and 2nd dynasties (the Early Dynastic Period) consisted of large stone slabs with rounded tops, inscribed with the name of the ruler in a serekh frame. They were always set up in pairs, but their original position within the royal funerary complex is still unclear. Herbert Ricke believed that the stelae have marked the offering place outside the superstructure of the royal tomb, buy as Gunter Dreyer has pointed out they could also have been placed on the roof of the superstructure. Certainly they were not set up inside the burial chambers of the tombs.
The stelae of the courtiers in Abydos are much smaller and less carefully executed than those of the royal tombs. Unlike the royal stelae of the 1st and 2nd dynasties, they were not set up in pairs and do not have rounded tops. They were probably inserted into the walls of the superstructures of the tombs or erected in front of them. Sometimes, in addition to the name and title, they also bear a depiction of the tomb owner.
During the 2nd Dynasty, the use of tomb stelae gradually decreased. Owing to the enlargement of the tomb superstructures during the Old Kingdom, the offering place was moved into a niche in the panel decoration that covered the facades of the tombs. The false door (considered a form of a stelae) evolved from this niche. However, false doors, which were a focal point of the private offering cult for much of the Phraonic period, seem to have had a very different purpose. They provided a symbolic door between the world of the living and the afterlife, through which the ka, or soul of the deceased, could pass back and forth to partake of the offerings in the chapel.
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