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The tomb of Merneith was found by accident in Abydos by Petrie in 1901 and was originally assumed to belong to a new, unknown king of the first dynasty. When it was discovered that Merneith was a woman, she became one of the most disputed people in the early dynastic period: when did she rule? how did she attain power?
It is assumed that she was he widow and queen of Djet, and probably was regent for her young son Den, the next pharaoh. His name appears in her tomb. Her name appears in a seal impression with those of the other kings of the First Dynasty, although she is not noted with a falcon, the sign of kingship. Other lists, however, do not mention her, only her son. Her name is found inscribed in a tomb in Saqqara, but otherwise, she is not attested to outside of the delta.
For this reason, many scholars do not accept that she was a ruler in her own right, but merely held some sort of power while her son ruled. Her husband, Djet, came to the throne late in life and died while his son, Den, was still too young to rule. There are no clear inscriptions that detail her role, and she was obviously not recognized as "King" like later female pharaohs Hatshepsut or Cleopatra.