Category Archives: Student Blog Post 1

Ancient Egyptian Grave Goods

Usually when people think of Ancient Egyptian graves they think of tombs, and the riches associated with them. A lot of people don’t realize that it didn’t start out like that at all. Well off the street anyway. Mortuary practices in any culture never fail to interest me. Yes, it’s a little dark but I’ve always been drawn to such things. Plus the Ancient Egyptians had such elaborate mortuary practices that I couldn’t resist looking more into them or more specifically the grave goods that were put with the dead. These help to emphasize the values the Egyptians placed on the afterlife and the social inequality that graves and what they contained expressed.

People usually associate Egypt with tombs of grandeur for the dead. For early Egypt, this is definitely not true, most people were actually commonly buried in sand pits that were dug into an oval shape. So, naturally there weren’t any grave goods to really talk about. From 5000-4100 B.C. in an area that’s known as Merimde Beni Salama, it was discovered that the dead were buried with no burial goods but the bodies were wrapped in animal skins or mats, being laid on their right side in a fetal position, with their head facing south and facing north to northeast.  Occasionally grave goods such as pots were found in the graves but never frequently. Eventually these graves dug in the and progressed to containing pottery and sometimes a small pillow placed under the head of the deceased. As time passed cemeteries eventually formed and social inequality could easily be seen. The emphasis on the afterlife starts to become more prevalent in the Egyptian culture.

The Ancient Egyptians buried what they believed important items with their dead. These could range from everyday items that were important to the individual to what they would need after death. Sometimes even servants would be buried with the deceased in the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Period. However, thankfully this didn’t get a strong foothold in the culture. In the Amduat (underworld) land was given to the deceased by Ra. Naturally, nobles and royals wanted nothing to the with actual work.  They wanted to take their servants with them. This is one of the reasons why there was the creation of  Shabti, small human figurines that represented who would do a certain task in the afterlife for the deceased. They first started to appear in tombs at the beginning of the Dynastic and continued to appear into the Ptolemaic Period.

There are many more examples of Ancient Egyptian grave goods. As mentioned in class, utilitarian objects were often buried with the deceased. Such as cosmetic palettes, stone tools, jewelry (somewhat rare to find) and of course lots and lots of pottery.  There have even been isolated burials with ibex horns, however I couldn’t really find much on ibex horns associated with ancient Egypt. For the most part the resources commonly agreed that the Egyptians had as symbolic connection between the Nile and the antelope.


From the Beginning

Right from the beginning of class, professor Watrall told us not to use the word “civilization”. He told us it was misleading and overall not a good word to describe the formation of ancient states. I was confused: is this class not called ANP 363: Rise of Civilization? Are we not chronicling the major communities of our ancient world and describing how they came to be? As we delved into the class I realized that we were doing those things, but calling these places ancient states or nations instead of calling them civilizations is a much better way of going about it. We are mapping out the formation of societies and I find it very interesting. Right now, we are studying Egypt and all the complexities that come with that and I have learned so much already!

I, like many people, have always been interested in ancient Egypt. The language, pharaohs, and the massive structures such as the sphinx and pyramids have always caught my attention and have intrigued me to learn more. I am not one for archeology, but all the sites in both upper and lower Egypt, and the amazing artifacts found at those sites are super fascinating. I especially liked when we talked about Jericho. The ancient state of Jericho, now the West Bank in Israel, was of major importance. Jericho told us a lot about how people lived in that area through the Natufian, and its three pre pottery Neolithic stages. The reason I was interested in Jericho is because it is now in present day Israel.

When snowpocalypse hit mid-Michigan and many other places, it also hit parts of the Middle East. Earlier in the semester, professor Watrall briefly mentioned that at one point the great sphinx had some snow on the top of it. I have some friends in Israel and they all remarked and were very surprised that there was snow in Jerusalem as well. I mention this because I fell in love with Israel when I went for the first time last winter break and I have been interested in it ever since. It is such a beautiful place and I want to know more about the archaeology of some of the places there because there has to be a lot. I do know some, but not too much. How did people live? What structures besides Masada were built? Maybe I will do my own research on the topic and hopefully it will better prepare me for class as well.

Blog 1: Symbolism of Ancient Egypt

We have learned a lot about Ancient Egypt in class over the past couple of weeks. What crops were commonly grown and grew the best, the many differences between Upper and Lower Egypt before unification, how trade worked and who traded with whom. We also learned about how ceramics were made in each region and how it changed over time. Another interesting thing we looked at was symbolism and how it changed over time as Ancient Egypt grew and evolved. So what can these symbols and events tell us about Ancient Egyptian society?

As talked about in class, pottery was different in Upper and Lower Egypt. Each region had their own, distinct way of making  the different types of pots found today. Because of poor resources and materials in Lower Egypt, the quality of their pottery was not that great. Upper Egyptian pottery, however, was extremely well crafted and pottery makers had very good natural resources. As time went on and Lower and Upper Egypt began interacting more and Upper Egypt became more influential, their pottery styles came to overtake Lower Egyptian pottery making. During the Naqada II period, especially, different illustrations began to appear on pottery, and “fancy form” pottery also started to appear and was used for mortuary purposes. Boats were a wildly popular image put on pottery and drawn in murals, like the one found and Tomb 100, and were associated with power. These images and pottery are found in tombs of the elite and show that the classes in Ancient Egypt are becoming more defined.

We also talked about a few artifacts associated with the unification of Ancient Egypt, like the Narmer Pallet and Scorpion Mace Head, which illustrate the dominance Upper Egypt took over Lower Egypt and power Upper Egypt had. While it is impossible to trace the  unification of Ancient Egypt  to a single event or specific person, these artifacts provide an interesting look at how Ancient Egyptians, probably from Upper Egypt specifically, wanted unification to be remembered. That Lower Egypt was no match to the might of Upper Egypt and was conquered relatively easily. This is depicted in many scenes of the Narmer Pallet such as the bull attacking what could be Buto and an image of the god Horus standing on top of a bed of papyrus flowers.

Ancient Egypt is well known for many things, the pyramids of Giza, King Tut, mummies, and sand to name a few things, and has drawn archaeologists to it for many years. Although often times the big ticket discoveries are talked about at length and in depth, archaeologists have been able to learn a lot about Ancient Egypt from simple things like pottery, and the intricate images drawn on pottery later, as well as larger murals, like the petroglyphs at Nag El-Hamdulab. There are also artifacts like the Narmer Pallet, Scorpion Mace Head and the Towns Pallet which shed light on different events in Ancient Egypt’s history as well. While each artifact and illustration provides information about Ancient Egypt, it is important to remember that not all the facts are represented in just a few images on an artifact and the images depicted must be taken with a grain of salt.

Blog Post 1

Something I’ve noticed throughout most anthropology subjects is a shared ability to defeat misconceptions.  So far this class is no exception.  It always amazes me how much we think we know about something we know nothing about, and even more so when we don’t know how little we know.   From generalizations and common misconceptions to stereotypes and the wrongful placement of continuous spectra into discrete categories (the historical idea of essentialism), we as humans seem to have a natural tendency to impose simplicity onto complex concepts.  We have seen perfectly clear examples of this with the classic theories and the legacy of those researchers of the 19th century.  Early in class we were presented with the original ideas of how ancient states emerge and each focused on specific, individual factors such as irrigation, urbanism, technology and trade, and warfare.  As it turned out, this was one of those situations in which a complex process was wrongly attributed to finite causes.  We all know that it was most likely a mixture.  Similarly, the influential St. Augustine declared that historical processes occur in a linear fashion with progress and inevitability as defined by a divine plan; all roads lead from simple to complex and complex is better.  Unfortunately this idea and its byproducts stuck in the field and contributed to much of the bias, racism, and ethnocentrism observed in history.  However, when studying different cultures (including those in past history) we know not to place judgment but to use cultural relativism and study each context as its own.

We again see these patterns when studying Egypt.  The transition to a unified Egypt is just that, a transition.  However, there has always been the want to pinpoint exactly who, what, and when caused this.  While the want for a clear, direct answer shows up in many fields, I believe it is so persistent in this scenario because the evidence is discrete.  This seems to be one of the main challenges of archaeology, to piece together the full spectrum of a society using only individual, finite artifacts.  It is easy to overstate the significance of a single artifact. As Dr. Watrall emphasized, it is not only impossible to pinpoint a single person or event that unified Egypt, it is also meaningless.  The important thing to study is the process.  Unification actually happened over the lives of several rulers and no single event caused it, even though Narmer and the destruction of Buto are often focused on.  The study of Egypt and the field of archaeology as a whole demonstrate the importance of considering the entire process, not oversimplifying for clear, convenient answers.

Reflecting on the Importance of Egyptian Burials

It is amazing how much archaeologists are able to glean about past societies through excavations of graves and cemeteries. In class, we have addressed numerous instances of cemetery findings that have shed light on, or been the primary source of information for, past Egyptian societies.

At the Predynastic site of El Badari, for example, excavations of graves reveal  thin, black top brown ceramics, which demonstrate the skill of the potters who created them. This skill indicates that specialization existed in El Badari. Much more can be inferred about El Badari based on this evidence. For instance, those who lived at El Badari must have had a stable food source, which would have allowed them the time to hone their skill as potters instead of spending time searching for food. The ceramics that archaeologists find in graves are also important to interpretations of past societies because they often feature decorations, like those found on Naqada II period ceramics. These decorations serve as a form of language that archaeologists are able to interpret. The boat motif featured on Naqada II ceramics, for example, has been interpreted to symbolize the elite.

Archaeologists are able to infer about other characteristics of past societies, like organizational structure. If an individual was buried with obvious preferential treatment over others, for example, certainly there must have been some reason for it. Preferential treatment might mean that an individual was buried in a tomb with many grave goods, while others in the same or in a nearby cemetery were buried with few grave goods, as seen in the cemeteries of the Badarian and Naqada I Upper Egyptian Predynastic periods. It is fair to infer that the treatment that an individual received in death reflects their treatment in life. Continuing on with this  example, if an individual did receive preferential treatment in life, this might mean that they were considered an important member of society, possibly a member of the elite or part of a society’s ruling class. To sum this up, this preferential burial treatment can demonstrate that a society was stratified, with certain people having more power than others.

It is truly amazing how much information archaeologists are able to draw from the cemeteries of past societies. It is fortunate that in Egypt, graves and cemeteries are preserved well enough that archaeologists are able to draw information from them. Writing this blog makes me wonder about what future archaeologists might interpret about us based on our graves. What do you think? What does the way we bury people today say about us?

By: Emily Horbatch

The Du-what?

To me,  one of the most salient and interesting parts of understanding the social and psychological structure of an ancient society is discovered via a society’s mortuary practices.  Although Professor Watrall discussed  several different societies’  mortuary practices,  and each was unique and important in it’s own way, the one I found most interesting was the Necropolis at Abydos.  Particularly, I found the concept of the Duat most intriguing.

To know more about the Duat, I researched ancient Egyptian mythology and religious practices.  As per lecture, the Duat was the opening to the underworld, where the god Osiris presided over the deceased’s soul to judge if it was worthy to be admitted into the Duat.  To be judged, the deceased’s soul needed to go on a journey over the western horizon and conquer specific tasks which would then inform Osiris of the worthiness of the dead’s soul.   The tasks included defeating demons, navigating labyrinths, crossing rivers, answering questions, and declaring innocence to his actions.

Through my brief research, I discovered that an imperative part of the journey and of ancient Egyptian mythology itself was the concept of the three part soul, comprised of the ba, the ka, and the akh.  Firstly, the ba referred to the personality aspect of the soul.  It represented the individual characteristics of the deceased and was contained in the tomb with the physical, mortal body.  Although it was contained within the tomb, the Egyptian belief was that the ba was able to transcend space and time, and when it visited the land of the living, it could change forms at will.  The ka was the part of the soul that was considered earthbound, and was also contained within the tomb with the deceased’s mummified body.  Ka meant ‘The Spirit of Life,’ and thus did not die; it required water and food offerings to sustain it.  Lastly, the akh was the immortal part of the soul; it was not confined to the tomb with the deceased, but free to travel as it wished.  The akh was also the part of the soul that went on the journey to be judged.

I found the concept of the three part soul and of the Duat most interesting because I believe it could indicate important insights into the psychological and societal needs of the ancient Egyptians.  In particular, the ideas that the soul lives on independent of the body and that it must be judged worthy to be accepted into the Duat with Osiris seemed particularly salient.  To me, those religious practices parallel certain central themes in Christianity, and it is essentially a cultural anthropological truism that religious ideologies can be interpreted as collective representations that are superimposed on reality to support the collective beliefs of the group.  Therefore, that truism could be logically extended to ancient Egyptian mythology or religious rituals, which in turn could expose many important aspects of Egyptian psychological and social workings.  I think it would be very interesting to look at the research  in more depth to discover what the meaning the three part soul and the meaning of the Duat had to the Egyptians who truly believed in it.

The Importance of Agriculture… Perhaps, the Single Greatest Innovation Ever.

I have always been fascinated by the roots of agriculture. When did Homo sapiens make that transition from hunter gathering societies to those of domesticated animals and plants? How did this transition come about? What externalities caused this change? Finally, why was this change so important?

In studying “The Emergence of Agriculture” lecture, and “The Egyptian Predynastic,” new answers to these questions began to emerge. First, the beginning of the Holocene must have been both a remarkable, yet challenging time in our past. As large game specifically adapted for the colder climate of the Mesolithic began to decline, a new wave of innovation perhaps even greater than the harnessing of fire, and the making of tools emerged… the control of nature itself.

Not only was the realization of how domestication could be accomplished an important milestone, but the trading of those ideas across cultures was just as important. Stone tool use dates back to nearly 3.4 mya, while the early control of fire could be as early as 1.7 mya. While both of these innovations would continue to evolve and change, and new tool innovations including pottery, and basket weaving began. Little else as significant would emerge until 11,000 ya in the Fertile Crescent. This began not only a new way of life, but with it the mass sharing of ideas, and the cornerstone to the technological revolution that was to follow.

In such a short time, relative to early technological evolution, Early Egyptians set up massive trade routes, divided their labor force, and competed for wealth and power. This massive leap forward would not have been possible with just the emergence of agriculture alone, but with the convenience of the “mostly” highly navigable waters of the Nile river, and the invention of early water-crafts, the sharing of material goods, livestock, crops, and ideas themselves propelled this region forward. This propulsion spilled into nearly every other technology as well. Tool making became highly specialized, and even non utility crafts emerged, including jewelry, stone animal carvings, statuettes, masks, and more. Dwellings became more complex, petroglyphs gave rise to hieroglyphics and became organized and universalized, and the numbers of domesticated products began to rise.

While Egypt was not alone in the emergence of agriculture, the rise of a nation-state, or even the beginnings of large-scale trade, it did play a pivotal role in humanities transformation. Perhaps, its largest contribution was its geographical location alone. Not only did the Nile river serve as the role of co-evolver for early Egyptians, but its close proximity to both the Mediterranean region and Mesopotamia helped advance the society in a most unique way. Imagine how different the world would look if the Nile river never existed.

Ancient Egyptian Ceramics & the Narmer Palette

In these past few lectures we have been learning a lot about ancient Egyptian ceramics and what they can tell us about early Egyptian life. To me, its absolutely fascinating that Anthropologists not only have been able to identify and group different types of ceramics according to date, style and origin, but they have even figured out each one’s purpose. I thought it was very interesting that we have found that the Egyptians saw the need to have normal kitchen ceramics that were of relatively low quality compared to other ceramics that were mostly used in a mortuary context.

Something that specifically struck me during our lecture on Hierakonpolis (or Nekhen) was learning about the Potter’s House.  Throughout this semester I have been constantly surprised at how much detail Anthropologists can figure out about ancient life, just by looking at artifacts such as ceramics. In this lecture we learned that the Potter’s House was very well preserved because it had been burned down. Professor Watrall said that it had been most likely burned down by kilns that were located too close to the outside of the house, but I always wonder how Anthropologists can know for sure. How do we know the owner did not burn it down him/herself? What if someone else burned it down?

Sometimes I question interpretations of other things such as the Narmer palette; one because I am generally a skeptic on most things but because I just really do not think we can ever know for sure. We learned that it is argued by some scholars that the Narmer palette is representative of  the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt however, there is not archeological evidence or enough evidence to support this because unification of upper and lower Egypt did not happen over night nor did it occur under just one ruler’s authority. The palette also occurred many years before the unification of upper and lower Egypt. Others argue that it is at the very least, a record of some military event. Therefore, there is much debate over whether the palette depicts actual events or not. I think that it’s quite possible that the Narmer palette could be one of those interpretations but is it out of the ordinary to think that maybe it was a plan for the future? Maybe the unification of upper and lower Egypt was something the author(?) wanted to happen and they brought it to the temple so maybe it would come true? and honestly who says that the Narmer palette is important? Maybe it’s only important to us because it is an extremely old artifact that was found in relatively perfect condition. What if somehow we could go back in time and have someone translate it for us, and it really did not mean anything of importance?

One of the reasons why I love learning about Ancient Egypt so  much is because it is such a mystery. Things such as the Narmer palette hold secrets that may stay with the Ancient Egyptians forever.