Presenting the material: textbook vs. journal articles

The journal articles in this week’s readings provide a contrast to the assigned textbook chapters and delve more deeply into some of the issues covered. Whereas the textbook is geared towards a general understanding of ancient Egypt, the journal articles are critical of the underlying theory behind parts of the model.

By Ladyzebra (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

In chapter 2, Bard announces the choice to use the Shaw 2000 chronology in the textbook, although she notes that there are alternatives. Ward (1992) interrogates the source material and theory behind creation of an ancient Egyptian chronology, casting doubt upon scholars’ ability to create any accurate timeline. Similarly, Bard points to the importance of the Nile in facilitating the growth of culture and the State in ancient Egypt, whereas Hassan (1997) carefully disabuses the reader of any such notions of environmental determinism.

Julie’s post from earlier this week points out that Egyptian conceptions of time must be considered from their own point of view. In addition, the biases inherent in the written record must be considered. Bard points out that textual information is rare and covers only a slim portion of daily life and beliefs. Pharaoh was always depicted as the victor, regardless of the real outcome of a battle. “Thus historical fact was revised to idealize the role of the king” (Bard 2007:36).

[The variety of ways in which the written record is biased are highlighted in Trouillot’s 1995 Silencing the Past. Trouillot explains that the written record is created by individuals with an agenda and cultural biases they are unaware of. It is differentially preserved (tombs on stone more frequently than a merchant’s daily logbook) and differentially retrieved from the archives based on the modern scholars’ interests.]

Thus, the archaeology of ancient Egypt has the capacity to light on a wealth of times, places, peoples, and activities that documents are unable to reveal. Documents can serve as a complement to archaeological information by locating events and places in time, as well as provide clear information on the ideology of the State.

By Pearson, G. CC-BY-SA-2.5 ( , via Wikimedia Commons

Side note: context is key in archaeological interpretations. How does moving monuments and temples (such as Abu Simbel along Lake Nasser and the Temple of Dendur, now at the MoMA in New York) effect our understanding of them? You don’t lose major context, because it’s well recorded. But as scholars’ understanding of Egyptian interaction and symbolic relationship with the landscape evolves, reinterpretation of a temple’s place on the landscape may be affected. Such drastic movement also changes visitor’s experiences – putting the Temple of Dendur inside a sterile 20th century North American building steel-and-glass building fundamentally changes how it is experienced/contextualized versus seeing it in the Egyptian desert. On the other hand, modern visitors would not have the cultural viewpoint to understand the symbolism of location on their own, and museum signage can still explain the importance of a tomb being built on the West side of the Nile.