About Julie Fleischman

I am a doctoral student in Physical Anthropology and also completed my Masters degree in Forensic Science at MSU in 2011.  My primary research interest is skeletal trauma, in both bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.  To date, my research has focused on forensic anthropology methods and trauma analysis.

The Continuity of Religious Icongraphy

I found the discussion of Nubian pyramids in Dr. Watrall’s lecture very intriguing.  As Dr. Watrall stated, pyramids are considered to be the hallmark of Egypt and Egyptian culture, and that for the most part they were only built during the Old Kingdom.  However, thousands of years later in the Kushite Kingdom of Nubia, pyramids were once again built as royal tombs.

There are numerous Kushite royal necropoli scattered throughout Upper Nubia (what is now the Republic of Sudan).  And unlike the necropolis at Giza, there are hundreds of pyramids in Nubia built for both the Kushite royalty as well as the elites.  For example, at the royal cemetery of el-Kurru there are 54 pyramids which were built between 750 BC and 300 BC.  While these Kushite pyramids were not as large and grand as the Old Kingdom pyramids of Egypt, they served the same purpose–a burial place for the royals (and elites) and a site at which veneration of these individuals could occur.

What I found most interesting was the stylistic similarities between the Nubian and Egyptian pyramids.  Although separated by over 2,000 years, the art, iconography, religious texts, and language were almost identical to those found in Old Kingdom pyramids.  While it is clear that religious and iconographic traditions persisted for thousands of years in Egypt (and Nubia), it is difficult to comprehend such continuity.  As Dr. Watrall said, however, the interactions between the Egyptians and Nubians fostered a system of acculturation over thousands of years.  Additionally, the intermarriage of Egyptian and Kushite royal families certainly contributed to this continuity through time.

I think it is thought provoking that after thousands of years without pyramids the Nubians adopted and essentially “re-introduced” the building of these structures.  I wonder why they chose to restore this form and style of burial rather than others that were introduced into Egypt at a later period?

Egyptian Art as a Reflection of “Reality”

I found one aspect of today’s class lecture particularly interesting: the carved artwork in the mortuary temples of Ramses II depicts an alternate reality.  According to Dr. Watrall, the artwork at both Abu Simbel in Aswan and the Ramesseum in Thebes depict Ramses II as the victorious conqueror during the Battle of Kadesh.  This is  a false reflection of reality; the battle was an enormous military victory for the Hittites as they forced Ramses II and his army to withdraw.  The Hittite victory eventually ended in a peace treaty–the first in recorded history in 1258 BC–which partitioned the Near East into spheres of influence controlled by the Hittite and Egyptian empires.

Why would Ramses II have his mortuary temple walls covered in falsehoods?  Why would he have himself shown as a military victor when he lost the battle, and as Dr. Watrall stated, almost got himself killed by riding into the fray?  Perhaps his motivations were much like ours are today.  No one likes to lose, especially when important things are at stake, so it makes sense that he did not want himself to be depicted as an unsuccessful military leader for all of eternity.  Perhaps it was also an ideological statement.  If Pharaoh was supposed to be the mortal incarnation of the gods, one can imagine that gods do no lose wars.  Thus, in order to maintain his position as the the godly king, perhaps Ramses II chose to alter reality to make sure he “won” the war.

The other part of this which I found interesting is that the depictions of Ramses II in his mortuary temples were not meant to be seen by the public.  If he was concerned about his image, or maintaining his “godly” status in the eyes of the public, they would not be able to see the “corrected” reality he carved into his temples.  So why would he be concerned that his temples show him as the battle victor?  Perhaps there are other documents which can answer this question.

A Critical Analysis of Activity Pattern Studies in Ancient Nubia and Egypt

Bioarchaeology is the study of human remains recovered from an archaeological context.  As defined by Dr. Jane Buikstra in 1977, bioarchaeology is a multidisciplinary research program addressing numerous topics including “1) burial programs and social organization; 2) daily activities and division of labor; 3) paleodemography, including estimates of population size and density; 4) population movement and genetic relationships; and 5) diet and disease” (Buikstra, 2006, p. xviii).  Thus, in addition to the material culture and architecture, human remains can provide archaeologists and physical anthropologists with a great deal of information about the once-living population of a particular location (Larsen, 1997).

Archaeologists and physical anthropologists are often interested in the activities and daily labors of past populations, as emphasized in the second point of Buikstra’s list above.  This knowledge facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of a community’s lifestyle, activity patterns, physical stressors, and socioeconomic status.  A bioarchaeological approach to questions of activity and labor, as Schrader (2010) states, is ideal because it incorporates skeletal evidence of physical stress as well as cultural perspectives extrapolated from the artifacts.  “Material remains of the archaeological record, particularly those associated with the skeleton, can convey key details of the individual’s identity, culture, status and gender” (Schrader, 2010, p. 3).

There are numerous biological markers that develop on the human skeleton due to repeated physical stress and activity.  These pathological indicators of activity include, but are not limited to, osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, vertebral osteophytosis, markers of occupational stress, and Schmorl’s nodes (Schrader, 2010; Robin, 2011).  It is these indicators which are the focus of this paper.  The purpose of this paper is to provide a review and critique of prior research assessing activity patterns and osteoarthritis for populations of ancient Nubia and Egypt.

First, this paper will briefly describe the osteological markers of activity and what conclusions can be drawn from these skeletal analyses.  This will be followed by the critiques of these methods and the current recommendations for bioarchaeologists (Jurmain, 1991; Jurmain, 1999).  Second, a review of the literature will outline the research scholars have conducted in ancient Nubia and Egypt and what further contributions can be made.  Third, the paper will conclude with a discussion of the importance of archaeological context when studying human skeletal remains and what additional knowledge can be gleaned by taking a biocultural approach to past human activity (Goldstein, 2006).

This research is an important contribution to Nubian and Egyptian archaeology because it will establish a comprehensive picture of past lifeways in the ancient Nile Valley.  Reconstructing behavior and activity patterns from the human skeleton allows for a more thorough understanding of subsistence strategies, sexual division of labor within communities, and the amount of physical stress placed upon the bodies of ancient Nubians and Egyptians during daily activities.  Additionally, as Schrader (2010) states, “a thorough understanding of the regional history and previous archaeological research of Nubia is necessary to comprehensively study the Nubian peoples and their past lifeways” (p. 9).  Thus, the biological and archaeological materials of this region must be analyzed and interpreted concurrently to provide the most balanced and accurate picture of life in ancient Nubia and Egypt.


Buikstra, J. E. (2006). Preface. In: J. E. Buikstra & L. A. Beck (Eds.), Bioarchaeology: The contextual analysis of human remains (pp. xvii-xx). Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

Goldstein, L. (2006). Mortuary analysis and bioarchaeology. In: J. E. Buikstra & L. A. Beck (Eds.), Bioarchaeology: The contextual analysis of human remains (pp. 375-387). Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

Larsen, C. S. (1997). Bioarchaeology: Interpreting behavior from the human skeleton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jurmain, R. D. (1991). Degenerative changes in peripheral joints as indicators of mechanical stress: Opportunities and limitations. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 1, 247-252.

Jurmain, R. (1999). Stories from the skeleton: Behavioral reconstruction in human osteology. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers.

Robin, J. B. (2011). A paleopathological assessment of osteoarthritis in the lower appendicular joints of individuals from the Kellis 2 cemetery in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt. (Unpublished masters thesis). University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL. Retrieved from http://anthropology.cos.ucf.edu/main/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/JoshuaRobin_FA11.pdf

Schrader, S. A. (2010). A bioarchaeological investigation of activity patterns in new kingdom Nubia. (Masters thesis). Retrieved from ProQuest. (1479730)

The First Pharaohs

The question “who were the first pharaohs?” posed by Dr. Watrall in class this morning is an interesting one.  Given the numerous Kings Lists and historical documentation of pharaonic succession, I would have thought that the first pharaohs were clearly designated and known.  This is apparently not the case since the names of the first few pharaohs are still debated.

For example, according to Egyptian tradition, Menes is thought to be the first pharaoh of the 1st Dynasty.  However, the Egyptian word “Mn” means to be permanent or endure and is later used as a title indicative of the head of state.  Thus, Menes may have been a title rather than the name of a ruler; in fact, Menes may actually be king Narmer.  If Menes is in fact Narmer, the true first pharaoh of the 1st Dynasty would be Hor-Aha.  Once again this can be problematic because some scholars identify Hor-Aha as Menes.  Additionally, Hor-Aha might be the son of Narmer which could mean one of two things: 1. Menes is Narmer and therefore Hor-Aha is the son of Menes, or 2. Menes was never a person and was simply one of Narmer’s titles.  I can certainly appreciate the difficulty in assessing who were the first pharaohs of Dynastic Egypt.

What I also found interesting was Dr. Watrall’s statement in which he said knowing the identity of the first pharaohs is not important archaeologically.  While having precise names may be important for Egyptologists and those interested in Egyptian history, the exact names and dates of pharaohs are not terribly useful for archaeological data analysis.  It may be interesting to speculate who these individuals were, but it does not contribute to the archaeological knowledge gleaned from early Dynastic settlements and tombs.  This was an aspect of ancient Egyptian archaeology which had not previously occurred to me, but one which makes me think differently.

Bringing Tourists back to Egypt

In order to encourage tourism again after the violent revolution in Egypt last year, the 4,500 year old tomb inside the Pyramid of Khafre will be opened later this year (Washington Post, 2012).  This is one of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau, and while not the largest—the Great Pyramid of Khufu holds that title—it is the only one of the three to still retain parts of its original limestone casement.

The tomb itself belongs to Queen Meresankh III, one of the wives of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khafre.  Queen Meresankh III died suddenly, and her mother volunteered the tomb for her daughter (Washington Post, 2012).  This tomb has been closed to the public for many years in order to repair damages and alterations made to the tomb from when it was previously open; thus, the reopening is meant to be an important and symbolic event for Egypt.  As Ali Asfar, director general of archaeology on the Giza plateau stated “We want to give people a reason to come back, to give them something new” (Washington Post, 2012).  Five additional tombs belonging to high priests will also be opened for the public.  One such example is the tomb of Kaemankh who was one of the royal treasurers (Washington Post, 2012).

It is the public’s fascination with ancient Egypt (“Egyptomania” if you will), that the country is hoping to evoke in order to bring tourists back in.  By reopening an ancient tomb, Egyptian archaeologists are trying to entice an international audience to come explore ancient wonders and demonstrate that the country is a safe and inviting place for tourists once again.  Hopefully, for the sake of the Egyptian tourism industry, this ploy will increase the number of visitors to the country and will show that Egypt is once again a safe locale for foreign visitors.

Pottery Contradiction

Yesterday during lecture Dr. Watrall showed us images of very beautiful and ornate ceramics from predynastic sites in Upper Egypt.  This pottery is extremely sophisticated with thin walls, burnished internal surfaces, and intricate designs.  This style of ceramics was used exclusively in mortuary contexts, which might explain the care and detail associated with these items.  This struck me as such a contrast to the ceramics we discussed from the Lower Egyptian predynastic sites, which as Dr. Watrall has noted, are very unsophisticated in their construction.

While Dr. Watrall did note that Upper Egyptian predynastic sites also contain rough ware ceramics (items made in or near houses and used in household contexts), I am wondering why there is such a distinct difference between the ceramic styles of Upper and Lower predynastic sites.  Why is the pottery construction in Lower Egypt during the predynastic so much less sophisticated than in Upper Egypt?

I cannot answer this question with any certainty because I am not an Egyptian archaeologist, but I can speculate as to the differences in ceramic aptitude.  Since Lower Egypt—particularly the sites of Ma‘adi and Buto—is known to have been in contact with the Levant during the predynastic, perhaps inhabitants of Lower Egypt outsourced their ceramic vessels.  If trade was taking place on a regular basis, maybe individuals in Lower Egypt spent time on other tasks rather than improving their pottery skills.  This hypothesis can certainly be tested; if there is archaeological evidence of more sophisticated pottery in Lower Egypt which originated in foreign regions, this might be a plausible explanation.

I think this contrast in ceramic sophistication is interesting and it provides important information about the different cultures in Upper and Lower Egypt during the predynastic period.  The settlement groups in Upper Egypt invested more time and energy into making delicate and detailed ceramics, while the groups in Lower Egypt did not.  The reasons behind these differences are intriguing.

Why Ma’adi?

As we learned in class today, the ancient settlement of Ma’adi was an extremely important area for social and economic interaction throughout the region.  Ma’adi was a throughway for both Lower Egypt as well as the Levant, but why was this settlement the trading center of the region?  Why were nearby settlements, such as Cairo and Giza, less influential in this respect?

Perhaps one of the most important factors which can lend evidence to this question is the quality of the archaeological excavation of Ma’adi.  Initially excavated by Italian archaeologists between 1935 and 1953, it is the best excavated domestic Predynastic site, according to Dr. Wattral.  Especially with material culture as small as beads and spinning whorls, precise and careful excavation is required in order to reconstruct lifestyles and patterns of settlement.  Thus, the evidence of turquoise beads and copper ingots is indicative of long distance trade.  If nearby Predynastic sites were not excavated well, small items demonstrating trading relationships might have been overlooked or lost.

Is it also possible that settlements in the vicinity had semi subterranean structures, but these were lost or damaged over time or by hasty archaeological excavations.  The structures at Ma’adi are indicative of storage rooms, which suggests that this settlement had a designated commercial zone.  It has been argued, as Dr. Wattrall stated, that Ma’adi was a distribution center for goods coming into Egypt from the Levant and Western Asia as well as goods coming north from Lower Egypt.  The need for large quantity storage, the foreign material culture, and the design of the subterranean structures (also found in ancient Palestine) all suggest a well-established and far-reaching trade network.

But the question still remains, why Ma’adi?  Was there something about this particular settlement or specific location which made it particularly attractive as a trading center?  Perhaps archaeologists can speculate on this matter more than I, but it is an interesting question.

Coptic in the News

This week the Coptic language has provoked discussion and controversy in the news.  Coptic was the written liturgical language for the Christian Coptic Church in Egypt, and was based on the Greek alphabet (Bard 2008).  It was the last form of ancient Egyptian languages to be spoken prior to the use of Arabic (Bard 2008).

Recently, a 4th century segment of papyrus with Coptic writing was translated by Karen King, a scholar of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, according to the Washington Post.  According to King one sentence of the text reads as follows: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…,’”.  The remainder of the text is no longer present.  According to King, it is the only existing text in which Jesus is said to be married.

“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married,” as King stated, “even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim.  This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage” (Washington Post online, September 18, 2012).

The scrap of papyrus was presented to King by an anonymous collector, and she initially dismissed it as a fake.  While King is a respected early Christian historian, she is not a specialist on ancient historic documents; she called in additional scholars (a papyrologist and a Coptic expert) who confirmed that it was authentic (Washington Post online, September 18, 2012).  Although King was able to accurately translate the document, she is not making a definitive statement regarding Jesus’ marital status.

While this news story does not directly relate to the topics we have been discussing in class, it is an interesting example of how the ancient Egyptian language is still relevant today.  For those of Christian faith, or for scholars of Christianity, this text provides a contemporary platform for religious and/or scholarly discussions about early Christianity.


Who Should Own the Past?

Something that struck me this week, both in our class lecture and in the readings, is the appropriation of ancient Egyptian cultural heritage.  Why is it that European and American cities have large collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts, texts, monumental architecture, and human remains?  Why are these items not in Egyptian museums or cultural centers?

As Hassan (2010) carefully details, Egypt has been a cultural reference point for Europeans since initial encounters between the two regions.  Egyptian wisdom, ideology, and culture were emphasized and glamorized by early European visitors and have since been transformed and incorporated into Western culture.  Renaissance and colonial European scientists, artists, and intellectuals were indoctrinated with the belief that their history was linked to Egypt’s; therefore, they had legitimate claims to Egyptian antiquities.

But who owns the past?  Who should own the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian obelisks, and statues of Rameses II?  “Paris, London, and later New York,” as Hassan (2010) notes, “could not have become world cities without Egyptian obelisks” (p. 265).  Rome also acquired an Egyptian obelisk and has henceforth been known as the “eternal city” due to its collection of archaeological collections.  However, should international cities retain these cultural artifacts?

I have visited the Egyptian wings of numerous international museums and have always been struck by the vastness of the collection.  I am aware that some artifacts were presented as gifts by the Egyptian government to other nations, but what about the artifacts that were “stolen” during Egyptian expeditions of the 18th and 19th centuries?  Should these items of Egyptian cultural heritage still reside in foreign (and former colonial) countries, or should they be returned to their rightful place of origin?  Does Egypt want them back and do they have a place to store and/or display such treasures?  These are difficult questions to answer, and perhaps they are addressed in literature I have not read, but it seems like an interesting debate.

Modern Scholarly Illusion

I found Ward’s (1992) article particularly interesting since I am among those who believed that the chronology of ancient Egypt was firmly established and exact.  In particular, I found his argument about precision to be very compelling.  There really is no reason to think that ancient Egyptians were as precise about their dates, times, and calendars as we are today.

In reference to modern interpretations of astronomical data from ancient Egypt, Ward states that “modern scholarship frequently imposes a precision on ancient science that was never there” (p. 54).  He continues by noting that the insistence on one location for astronomical observations is “no more than a desire to impose our own need for uniformity; in other words, it is a modern scholarly illusion” (p. 61).  The ancient Egyptians did not have a need to be precise about certain aspects of their political, economic, temporal, or ideological world; rather, they were comfortable with the fact that their civil and lunar calendars were disparate.  These calendars served different purposes in ancient times, but for modern (Western) societies, this idea is foreign.

I think the notion of imposing modern concepts–whether it be time, religion, cultural practices, mortuary practices, etc.–on past populations is problematic in both archaeological and bioarchaeological contexts.  Difficult as it may be, it is important to analyze and interpret past cultures from an unbiased perspective.  There is no reason to assume that modern lifeways were present in the past or had any meaning to ancient cultures.

I found Ward’s argument to be relevant for me since I often forget to take an unbiased or critical approach to interpreting past societies.  It was an important reminder to think critically about research that has already been published, and to avoid modern impositions on past cultures.  Especially for ancient Egyptian society, which has been extremely well researched, it is still necessary to question previous findings and assumptions and to push our knowledge forward.