Bonus Blog: The Importance of Script and Language

After the semester’s worth of knowledge I have acquired from this anthropology course, I personally believe script and language to be the most important aspects of Ancient Egyptian archaeology. Without the preservation of the Egyptian language, the archaeology of the whole area would be FAR less developed than it is today. Together, language and script have put everything we know about Ancient Egypt into context as opposed to just placement in horizontal stratification.

One of the key factors in deciphering chronology for example, are the king lists carved into the walls of desert ruins. These king lists literally chart the succession of pharaohs in the Ancient Empire complete with gaps suggesting periods of embarrassment in reference to a specific ancestral line or time frame. With the ability to associate meaning with hieroglyphs archaeologists have been able to develop an understanding of the Ancient Egyptian culture in not only modern terms, but of those pertaining to the actual citizens of the time. The ability to understand a culture within its own context has always been a core priority in the field of anthropology, and archaeological finds including king lists have aided the study of Ancient Egypt extensively.

Another example perfectly demonstrating the value of language and script in terms of Ancient Egyptian Archaeology is, of course, the internationally known, Rosetta Stone. The analysis of Ancient Greek to Demotic then Hieroglyphs marked a huge turning point in the study of the Ancient Empire. The successful translation of the Rosetta Stone allowed archaeologists to place a value or meaning with hieroglyphs, which of course allowed those studying Egypt to acquire a much more robust knowledge of the civilization. Without the Rosetta Stone translation, the knowledge and understanding, and thus the society as we know i now would not have been possible.

The examples I mentioned above are only to that exist among a slew of other cases in which script and language prove themselves as imperative aspects to archaeological study. For this reason, I believe that script and language to be validated as the most critical aspect of Ancient Egyptian archaeology.

Alexander

After looking more into the material discussed throughout class this week, I decided to take a particular interest in Alexander the Great and his relationships with other ethnic groups. During my digging on the internet outside of class, I found that Alexander was followed by both the Greek and jewish populations. Before this discussion and interest, I assumed his only connection was to the Greek people living in his native country. I actually had no idea he was supported by any other group who had not been previously forced to do so. With this new information, I continued to research the siege of Gaza, considering that is the main focus of our particular area of study. I’m not sure I realized how theatrical his “conquer style” was.

After his battles with numerous Mediterranean cities were won, rapidly adding to his growing empire, Alexander the Great approached his end- sights set on Gaza. He and his army of nearly 45,000, despite two initial failed attempts, stormed the city of Gaza for a third time wen they finally met success. He was strategic, but cockily persistent, the latter of which I personally believe may have lead him into his own death. Choosing to flank the city’s southern side, of course being its weakest, Alexander devised a plan to pillage the town disregarding its plateaued location 60 feet above he and his men. Constructing ramps to storm then take the city would have been enough, but as his style suggested, it is evident that was not enough. Taking the initiative to tie Gaza’s King to the back of your chariot and prance around that defeated town took matters a little overboard. Then you go and kill every single male resident and sell the rest into slavery.

I understand that Alexander the Great holds great respect in modern times, but I was not at all familiar with his tactics. Times were different back then, but my statement still stands that the man was a bit theatrical. I am always so intrigued, and sort of blown away, when I look further into the characters of history I have only ever known a line or two about. Things are so different than they seem, and perception really is everything. Alexander the Great definitely fits into that unknown category… Who knew he was such a drama queen?

Proposal: Scientific Research or Grave Robbery?

Statement of Purpose: Throughout the course of my research paper, I plan to discuss the morality and ethics of tomb excavations in Ancient Egypt. I have always questioned the limits of burial digging and margins of what is considered acceptable or not. I hope to answer these questions and address varying concerns comparing scientific research and monetary benefits of stripping Ancient tombs. When are pure scientific excavation boundaries overstepped and transitioned into grave robbery? Further, should both Ancient and modern traditions and taboos be respected when considering tomb excavation? To what extent?

Significance: The question my research will pertain to is notably important for numerous reasons. First, the obtained information will allow for the judgment of both previous and more modern excavations in Ancient Egypt. With this accumulation, individuals will be able to compare and contrast digs based on procedure, extent, material goods recovered and etc. In creating comparisons, questions regarding the appropriateness of excavation artifact recovery and technique including consideration of religion, tradition, etc. will have the ability to be answered, or at the least, argued.

Description: For the content of the paper, I plan to conduct my research through online sources, library research, and possibly ethnographies from significant excavations.

Content: In the beginnings of my research paper, I will establish two key definitions with short, and rather concise examples of a scientific excavation as opposed to a grave robbery within the terms of the paper’s content. Then I will pose examples of two (perhaps three) Ancient Egyptian digs that have been largely considered controversial.

The first will be the discovery of King Tut, the boy pharaoh’s tomb. Upon the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, head archaeologist on the project, Howard Carter, knew that his was not the first visit Tut had had. Years of research proved that the boy pharaoh’s tomb had been previously robbed not once, but twice. Considered a great shame in the early 20th century and even now, grave robbery still poses a problem in Tut’s resting place. Many supporters of tradition in Ancient Egypt including archaeologists, Egyptians, and etc. have actually accused people of taking advantage of the goods in King Tut’s tomb. These traditionalists argue that greed has pushed this specific excavation to far and is no longer considered scientific research, but a grave robbery. This instance plays on the boundaries between research for the sake of science and the crossover to grave robbery. King Tut’s excavation dances on the line between the two, and I plan to discuss my thoughts regarding this particular case.

The second example will be the storm surrounding the pyramids and Giza Plateau. In recent years, some scientists have considered the existence of tunnels and chambers hidden among the Pyramids, near the Great Sphinx, and beneath the surface by natural causes and human interference. Conspiracy theorists wonder if these secret structures are being purposely hidden from the public for reasons they do not know. This example brings into play my question whether modern and traditional taboos and ideas are respected in terms of excavation. I might discuss the possibilities of keeping them hidden out of respect for traditional ceremonies, or a commonly accepted belief hoped to remain unbroken.

Conclusions: Hopefully, with the conclusion of my research, I will be able to differentiate between the problems of science versus greed and respectable excavation practices with supporting arguments in Ancient Egypt.

References:

Alchin, A. K. (2012). Tomb Robbers. King Tut. Retrieved from http://www.king-tut.org.uk/egyptian-tombs/tomb-robbers.htm

Fagan, B. M. (2004). The rape of the Nile: Tomb robbers, tourists, and archaeologists in Egypt. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Manley, B. (2003). The seventy great mysteries of ancient Egypt. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

Redford, D. B. (2001). The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waxman, S. (2008). Loot: The battle over the stolen treasures of the ancient world. New York: Times Books.

 

See the Tombs For Yourself

After learning a bit more about burials of the elite in Ancient Egypt, I decided to do a little more digging of my own to see if there were other ways to get a hold of the information. Burial practices among the Egyptian people have always been subjects in the forefront of their Ancient study, and rightfully so. I hoped there would be some sort of system to see the actual burial sites and maybe compare them to what I picture in my mind and other mortuary sites I have seen. Luckily, I was able to find something called the MastaBase.

A Dutch Egyptologist named Rene vanWalsem created MastaBase. She named her software after the elite burial site near Memphis called Mastaba. Elite tombs in Egypt often depicted scenes of daily life, most falling under an umbrella of a few common themes. These themes included things like fishing, hunting, and religious practices, and then further, the different activities these Egyptians participated in within the shown theme. Each tomb and burial site varied with the individual despite the consistent set of themes Egyptians most often depicted on their walls. With so much to keep track of, vanWalsem created a system to classify all of these personal variations on a very detailed level.

Her software, which is available on a CD-Rom, allows users to navigate the different elite tombs of Mastaba according to their own desired specificities. One can search the Mastaba location according to tomb size or location to something as specific as which direction a tomb faces, be it north, south, or etc. The color-coded set up of the software enables users to narrow their search to great specifics while being able to simultaneously retrace their steps with the search layout. MastaBase, although only covering one specific elite tomb in Egypt, is a great first step to the documentation and expansion of research capabilities of burial sites in Ancient Egypt. It is definitely something I would love to have the opportunity to explore, but unfortunately it is a little out of my college budget. Maybe I can save up my couch change for a while and give it a try… seems awesome.

 

Look A Little Closer

Poking around through major themes and motifs often representative of Ancient Egyptian culture, I stumbled across the concept of eyes. Our exposure to the eye icon regarding Ancienet Egyptian culture is in abundance I am sure, but the significance of this well known image is vastly overlooked. For this, I decided to take a deeper look into the Egyptian Eye we are all familiar with and put a meaning to it.

The image of the eyes above are most closely related to the falcon God, Horus. Most closely associated with the lunar calendar, both the right and left eyes possess significance, the latter holding more. Originally, both eyes were seen as those of Horus’, one representing the sun and one the moon. But, over the course of the years in Egypt, the right eye soon became known as the ‘Eye of Re’, or of the sun. The left eye of Horus, depicting the moon was actually the main piece of concern in a battle between he and Seth over the Goddess, Osiris. In this battle, Seth steals the eye and divides it into 6 pieces which now represent the 6 lunar days. Then, the eye was recovered and restored with the spit of Thoth. This new eye, known as the ‘Wadjet Eye’ represents order post battle or etc.

Today, Egyptians still respect this myth as it is still depicted in present day Egypt in abundance. It is quite amazing to me that an icon can possess so much meaning from something that is thought of as a myth. Not only did all Ancient Egyptians place a great amount of significance on the Eye of Horus, but it was not even one specific meaning. The myth I mentioned above os only one of quite a few that involve the the eye, and yet, all are widely accepted by followers of this set of beliefs, respected as a protector and solution to disorder in society.

Eye Paint As A Protector and Medicine

In our discussion in class this past Tuesday, Ethan talked a lot about the presence of eye palettes and their variations in the Egyptian mortuary contexts and etc. Of course this led to a small discussion regarding the ornamental eye make-up that has made Ancient Egyptians so easily recognizable. After touching on this in class, I became interested as to the significance of the product itself.

I came across a simple article while researching online that answered a couple of questions I did not even know I had about cosmetics in the ancient society. I can not say I was surprised to learn that make-up application was a daily practice in which both men and women participated in, but I was a bit stunned when I learned that the eye cosmetics held significance in medicinal, magical, and spiritual practices along with the ornamental ideas we recognize today.

There were two main types of makeup used in Ancient Egypt including Udhu and Mesdemet each possessing a different meaning regarding their application. The first was found in the lands of Sinai considered to be under the protection of the goddess of beauty, love, joy, and women, Hathor. This green hue, typically brushed across the whole lid by women, represented her protection of those wearing her mineral. The latter, Mesdemet, was made of lead, more specifically Galena and was used as our equivalent of eye liner. Galena proved to be a disinfectant, protect eyes from the sun, and keep flies and bugs away. The lead sulphide also provided remedy to many everyday eye irritants. The two together also represented a sort of psychic protection. Without decoration or adornment, it was thought that eyes would become more susceptible to the Evil Eye. So, in order to keep the demon psyche away, Egyptians would paint their eyes to represent a direct defense against the Evil Eye.

The use of eye make-up in the Ancient Egyptian society, although well known is also misinterpreted. With this new knowledge, I am now more aware of the ways Egyptian practiced their beliefs and acknowledged their problems on a daily basis. So, make-up was not always just for looks but served as a remedy and protector.

S.O.S. : Merimda Lost at Sea

In class discussion today, I thought it was very interesting that the Merimda site was considered such a significant part in Egypt’s archaeology even after having dealt with excavation struggles and so on. I decided to read a little more into the situation at Merimda hoping to find some answers and fill in some empty spaces now occupying those outlying corners of my brain…

Being the earliest known Egyptian settlement along the Nile, Merimda obviously possesses great importance in uncovering the secrets of this ancient civilization. Unfortunately, because of the archaeological inconveniences posed at the site, it has been increasingly difficult to discover Merimda’s full potential in the field of academia.

First, because the site was first excavated so early on, the first archaeologist on the site, Herman Junker and his team of about seven scholars did not have great means to dig Merimda. When excavations started in the late 1920s, Junker and his team could not have anticipated the international conflicts that would consume the world a mere ten years later. World War II would come to swallow a decade’s worth of studying, placing all relevant study of the site at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Fortunately, 40 years after Junker’s Merimda study found itself on the bottom of the Mediterranean, another German archaeologist, Eiwanger, revisited the site for further excavation. He and his team focused primarily on the areas that had since remained untouched by Junker. His findings resulted in great improvements on Junker’s previous research, most notably being the phases of the society’s occupation. Eiwanger was able to identify an additional two phases of occupation through study of pottery, storage units, housing structures, and diet. These further discoveries about Merimda helped us to infer that with progress, the people of Merimda transitioned from a primarily forager based society to one dependent on farming. The findings of the basket silos and etc. teach us that both agriculture and animal husbandry at least began developing as an important key to he sustainability in this ancient community.

The clarifications I collected throughout my time researching after class, although helpful, are definitely not as fulfilling as I would have hoped. So much is lost in the discovery and development of Merimda, and I wish  I had the funds to dive to the bottom of the Mediterranean myself. To at least attempt to find some of Junker’s notes, wether they serve absolutely no purpose or not, if the even continue to exist, would give me a little more piece of mind. Obviously that is not going to happen any time soon. So, for now, I’ll just settle on the idea that ignorance is bliss? Maybe some lost things are not meant to be found, and it is the beauty of human interpretation that really matters? Regardless, Merimda remains a mystery even after my solid two hours of post discussion research, which inevitably means it will be lost forever.

National Heritage Preservation: A Timeless Key to Egypt’s National Success

In class on Tuesday, we discussed what my brain rearranged into the birth and rise of tourism in Egypt on a domestic and international level. Since this boom of interest in ancient Egypt in the 19th century, numerous conflicts have arisen, but preservation for the sake of pride and national benefit still maintains a huge role in the life of Egyptians today.

One of Egypt’s national heroes, August Mariette planted a seed into the Egyptian culture that has since held an incredible importance in the nation. After his somewhat controversial discovery of the Serapeum at Saqqara, Mariette was given the power to influence the government in regards to future excavations and etc. of Egypt by foreign Egyptologists. Because of his thoughts and respect for the national heritage of Egypt, the nation has been able to use its own history in a way that brings pride to its people while benefiting the country on an international level. With that, there came a rapid growth of national interest in preserving the country’s history by implementing laws regarding all Egyptian antiquities and using them for a booming tourism industry.

Now, in the height of Egypt’s political and economic turmoil, tourism is still referred to as the key to bring the country out of its slump. Regardless of the events taking place there everyday, a respected significance is still held throughout Egypt when discussing historical preservation and the re-growth of the tourism industry. In fact, today Egypt reopened the Serapeum at Saqqara after 11 long years of renovation. To protect the necropolis, Egyptians shut down the attraction due to earth movement and water damage hoping to one day reopen. And in a successful effort to conserve the Serapeum,the Egyptians have done it. The site in spite of the craziness Egypt is battling everyday, their citizens still find importance of national heritage preservation as it was first introduced and stressed by hero August Mariette.

http://phys.org/news/2012-09-egypt-reopens-historic-serapeum-saqqara.html

 

Maybe the Overlap Isn’t a Coincidence, Because It Isn’t.

This week’s readings have really gotten me to wonder how different cultures regardless of time and location can be so similar and dependent on one another. In Hassan’s piece about the world’s memorial development of Egypt, I was thoroughly surprised with how much ancient Egyptian culture was decorated, iconized, and used to develop world ideologies that are still respected today. Although the histories have been skewed and much has been lost in translation over the thousands of years they have been developed, the Egyptian presence in more modern ideals is unmistakable.

In regards to the development of both Christianity and Islam, Egypt plays a key role in basic conceptual ideas and sacred event chronology. After the Greeks adapted Egyptian Gods, like Isis, into their own myths, the rise of Christianity too showed a fairly strong correlation between their Virgin Mary and the Nursing Isis. Then tying together both religions of Islam and Christianity, Moses’s encounter was documented as taking place in Egypt with non other than a pharaoh. With all of these emerging cultures feeding off of one common agent, a more clear vision as to the way these religions became is created. But with all of this similarity in ancient evidence, each culture has also dismissed the ideas of such a heavy Egyptian influence.

The Christians sometimes identified Egypt with Paganism only to benefit there own self-definition while the Islamic people had an actual Anti-Egypt Revolution. But even with these movements and beliefs comes strong evidence that supports Egyptian influence. So both cultures, though considered to be vastly different, stem from the same concepts and ideals. They worship the same Gods, and idealize the same encounters. It is only the way that these factors are interpreted that make them different. And so, it really does make me wonder how the development of different cultures over time can really be so different. We all have to stem from some common factor, and when push comes to shove, the most basic set of ideals are adaptable across cultures.

 

 

We Actually Walk Like Egyptians?

Between this week’s lectures and readings, what I found most interesting was the idea that even the ancient Egyptians had an interest in their own pasts and documentation of their reputations. Modern scholars have studied past civilizations for years uncovering hidden truths and inner-workings of their societal structures. After analyzing the ways in which a people once lived, we as modern thinkers, decide which parts of that history we choose to glorify, and which we choose to lock away.

Told in classrooms since the first days of our primary education, the United States is a country built on freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our birth is depicted as a righteous rebellion from an otherwise tyrannous rule through hard work and unity. While not discrediting this country’s becoming at all (USA! USA!), it is also important to remember that we too stepped on many to achieve a strong foundation for our new freedom. The Native Americans were blindsided, pushed onto reservations starving and sick. But, that part is always omitted from the history books. Today in sophisticated Western society, we still choose which parts of history to acknowledge or not- a concept paralleled in our ancient Egyptian ancestors.

In comparing King Lists to other writings and information from the same historical periods, we have learned that the Egyptians too have chosen the legacies they leave as both individuals and a people. In the cave inscriptions of the Saqarra Tablet for example, dozens of kings dating from the 1st -9th Dynasties are noted in reverse succession. However, during the time of the 2nd intermediate Period, no ruler is documented. With our current findings, we know the 2nd Intermediate Period was full of foreign rule and ‘monotheistic’ pharaohs, a time that was not Egypt’s proudest. In an effort to conserve their reputations, pharaohs and the Egyptians were sure to omit any signs of a tainted rule by disassociating themselves with a specific ruler or disregarding a time of weakness. This concept of building a censored, decorated past is one that apparently dates back centuries and we still use today. Human nature never expires; it houses innate qualities embedded in the most basic of human origins. Even as society progresses or circles or whatever you may think, some things never change.

With this new knowledge I’ve acquired, I look forward to further comparing our current culture to that of the ancient Egyptians- who occupied the other side of the world, in a climate completely foreign to ours, under different government and social structures, thousands of years ago.