Final Post

My personal favorite topic of discussion in Egyptian archaeology dealt with the socio-political structure of ancient Egypt.  I chose this as my favorite topic because it has particular relevance for my future dissertation research.  For my dissertation I will be assessing trauma frequencies in a medieval cemetery from Nubia.  I also chose to write about the relationship between interpersonal violence and political instability in ancient Egypt and Nubia.  While doing my final paper research it was imminent to have a good understanding of the socio-political structure of Egypt in order to fully understand the fluctuating frequencies of traumatic injury within archaeological sites dating to different time periods.  What I discovered in my research is that there is a high correlation between high levels of interpersonal violence in Nubia and times of political instability in Egypt.  My research assessed archaeological sites from the Naqada II period (Hierakonpolis) all the way into the late Christian period (Kulubnarti) and I was able to link the fluctuating trauma frequencies reported from the archaeological record to the socio-political context of each particular time period.  For example, at the site of Hierakonpolis, dating to Naqada II, the rate of interpersonal violence was not particularly high, which was unsurprising as the cemetery population I was analyzing preceded the intensification of state formation in Egypt.  Likewise, when assessing the data from the city of Kerma, a Nubian sample dating to the Kerma Classique period, a high rate of traumatic injury was clearly observed.  Again, this trauma frequency correlated nicely with the ethnographic evidence of warfare and direct hostility between Egypt and Nubia which we discussed in class.  Overall, this class has helped give me a better understanding of ancient Egypt and its southern neighbor, Nubia.  This knowledge will contribute greatly to my future research on violence in Nubia.

Animal Mummification

This week’s reading introduced the concept of ancient Egyptian animal mummification. While animal mummification has been mentioned previously in class, I was unaware that the practice of animal mummification was so prolific within the Egyptian culture.  A recent BBC news article wrote a report of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of mummified Egyptian animals (O’Brien, 2011, associated photograph). The Smithsonian’s collection is comprised of not only domestic animals such as cats and dogs, but also wild animals such as baboons and falcons.  Like the Serapeum, where the Apis bull was buried, the text also reports numerous subterranean galleries containing the mummified remains of baboons, falcons, hawks and ibises (Bard, 2008, p.282). Interestingly, not all animal mummies were real (Bard 2008).  Within many of the subterranean galleries of mummified animals, archaeologists also uncovered “fake” mummies.  Instances of twigs or bird feathers wrapped in linen represent the “fake” mummified animals. Intimately tied to the mummification industry in Egypt was the development of animal cults.  Animal cults consisted of the churches of the sacred animal which were linked to the animal deities themselves (Watrall, class lecture 11/29/2012).  One site containing the “Cemetery of Cats” was known to draw cult members on their pilgrimage to worship the cat-goddess Bastet (Bard, 2008, p.283).  The pilgrims would leave mummified animals as offerings to their cult and many of the animal cults had strong ties to beliefs in fertility and procreation (Bard, 2008, p.283).  Unsurprisingly, mummified animals make up the core of many Egyptian museum collections, because they were either sold or given away as gifts to foreign visitors (Watrall, class lecture 11/29/2012).  The symbolism behind the animal mummification industry also holds significance for the Egyptian religious belief system. It is fascinating to learn that not only humans were embalmed and mummified, but also their animal offerings.  Therefore, the afterlife was obtainable by both man and beast. Was animal mummification an attempt to “re-populate” the afterlife with the beauty of nature as they saw it in life? Or did the Egyptians simply view the animal mummification industry as a sort of production line for the creation of offerings to the gods?


Bard, Kathryn A. (2008). An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.


O’Brien, Jane. (2011). Unwrapping the Ancient Egyptian Animal Mummy Industry.  BBC News, Washington. Accessed November 28, 2012.

Symbolic Interpretation

The importance of symbolic interpretation of artistic representations becomes strikingly apparent when we study the archaeological record dating to the reign of Akhenaten. Akhenaten held the throne for a period of 38 years during the Amarna period (Ethan Watrall class lecture 11/13/2012).  During this period there are significant observable changes in Egyptian artistic representations.  A particularly interesting subject is the drastic change in the artistic representation of the Pharaoh, who during this time was represented with dropping chin, wide hips and pendulous belly.  These changes give the Pharaoh a more androgynous appearance than was previously reflected.  Egyptologists and Egyptian archaeologists have debated whether the physical changes in the Pharaoh’s appearance represent a genetic disorder or rather have religious symbolism and suggest that the Pharaoh’s androgynous appearance is a physical manifestation of the belief that the Pharaoh is the mother and father of all of Egypt (Ethan Watrall class lecture 11/13/2012).

A second observable change in the archaeological record is the royal family being depicted in more affectionate and intimate settings than had ever been recorded previously. One fragmentary stela is even thought to depict king Akhenaten with queen Neferiti and their children seated on his lap (Bard, 2008, p.227).  Scenes of such an intimate moment in time seem to displace the king from his godly position and attribute him mortal qualities that had previously been unrepresented in the Egyptian historic record. It has therefore been hypothesized that such representations may have held ideological significance (Bard, 20008, p.227).

Similarly, dating to the Amarna period, scenes depicting the army marching down the Royal Road of Akhetaten have also been uncovered (Bard, 2008, p. 228). Such artistic representation may be equated to modern political campaigns and Akhenaten may have been attempting to bolster support for the military during a time of economic strife (Bard, 2008, p.228).

The three examples presented in this post are a fascinating example of the importance of symbolic interpretation.  I think they help demonstrate the fact that the Egyptians often depicted what they wanted for themselves or their future and not necessary the reality of life.

The Interrelatedness of Trauma and Political Instability in Ancient Nubia

The main objective of the current research paper is to provide a detailed analysis of the relationship between interpersonal violence and political instability in ancient Egypt and Nubia. This research paper will follow the guidelines of Buzon and Richman (2007) who previously investigated changes in government control through an assessment of fluctuations in skeletal trauma frequencies. Buzon and Richman compared the prevalence and pattern of injury observed on the skeletal remains recovered from two ancient Nubian sites, Tombos and Kerma.  The site of Tombos dates to the New Kingdom period (ca. 1550-1050BC) and represents an Egyptian colonial cemetery (Buzon and Richman, 2007, p.283).  Kerma is also a cemetery site dating to the Middle Kingdom period (ca. 2050-1650BC) (Buzon and Richman, 200, p.783). Throughout the New Kingdom period, Egypt succeeded in its occupation of nearly the entire southern region of Nubia (Buzon and Richman, 2007, p.283).  Therefore, Buzon and Richman (2007) hypothesized that the “mechanisms of control” subjected on the Nubians would have altered in form following the transition from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom period (p.1).

The primary focus of the present paper is to provide a comprehensive review of potential fluctuations in the prevalence of traumatic injury beginning in pre-history throughout the Christian period.  This paper will expand the previous research efforts of Buzon and Richman and incorporate additional sites into the assessment of the relationship between trauma frequencies and political instability.  In addition to the sites of Tombos and Kerma, three additional Nubian skeletal samples will be analyzed, Hierakonpolis, Semna South, and Kulubnarti. Skeletal data recovered from the site of Hierakonpolis were drawn from cemetery HK43 which dates to the Naqada II period (~3800-3500 BCE) (Kumar, 2009). Hierakonpolis holds particular significance because it represents a time period in which the transition from prehistory to history took place.  The Naqaqda II period shows the rise of agriculture and the origin of state formation (Kumar,2009 ,p.2). The Semna South site dates to the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian occupation of Nubia around 2000 B.C. (Alvrus 1999:418).  The Semna South sample consists of individuals excavated from three temporally distinct cemeteries.  The majority of burials date to the Meroitic period (after 400 A.D.), but there are also a number of burials from the Ballana culture (350-550 B.C.), and from the Christian period (550 – 1400 A.D.) (Alvrus 1999: 418).  Finally, Kulubnarti is an island located between the Second and Third Cataracts of the Nile River (Adams, 1994).  Archaeological excavation of the site uncovered multiple habitations sites, a cemetery and several rock picture locations  dating to the Christian period between the 6th and 16th century AD (Adams 1994; 1998; 1999).  Kulubnarti holds significance for the understanding of the cultural transition from Christianity to Islam in ancient Nubia (Adams 1994, p.4).

Through this bioarchaeological analysis of trauma it may be possible to answer the broader questions regarding the socio-political position of ancient Nubians and help to elucidate Nubia’s often volatile relationship with ancient Egypt. The present research will address the following questions: What do fluctuations in the level of violence signify about the changing political climate of the region?  Are there observable differences in the frequency of traumatic injuries recorded in the different temporal phases? How can differences in trauma frequencies or patterns be explained through referencing the ethnographic record?  Can changes in trauma frequencies be linked to the political or social complexity of a community?




Adams, William Y. (1994).  Kulubnarti I: The Architectural Remains.  Lexington: Program for Cultural Resource  Assessment, University of Kentucky.

Adams, William Y., and Nettie K. Adams (1998).  Kulubnarti II: The Artifactual Remains.  Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication Number 2. Great Britian: Reigate Press Ltd.

Adams, William Y., Nettie K. Adams, Dennis P. Van Gerven, and David L. Green (1999)  Kulubnarti III: The Cemeteries.  Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication Number 4. England: Basingstoke Press.

Alvrus, A. (1996)  Fracture Patterns Among the Nubians of Semna South, Sudan.  MA Thesis, Arizona State University.

Alvrus, Annalisa. (1999)  Fracture Patterns Among the Nubians of Semna South, Sudanese Nubia.  International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 9: 417-429.

Buzon, Michele R., and Rebecca Richman. (2007) Traumatic Injuries and Imperialism: The Effects of Egyptian Colonial Strategies at Tombos in Upper Nubia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133(2): 783–791.

Hogdin, Rebecca. (2012) Trauma at Akhetaten (Tell El-Amarna): Interpersonal Violence or Occupational Hazard. MA Thesis, University of Arkansas.

Kumar, Ankita. (2009) Health at Hierakonpolis, a Predynastic Settlement in Upper Egypt. PhD Dissertation, University of Arkansas.




The Importance of the Pyramids

In this week’s lecture on the pyramids of Egypt we discussed the true significance of these phenomenal architectural feats.  From an architectural perspective, the pyramids are no doubt breathtaking and awe-inspiring structures that remain standing to this day.  In class we talked briefly about the level of manpower and the duration of time needed to construct one of the pyramids of Giza.  To construct the Pyramid of Khufu for example, it has been estimated that roughly 10,000 individuals were enlisted to help with construction (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/18/2012).  The construction of the pyramids was undertaken by free citizens that were compensated for their work by the allocation of state funds (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/18/2012).  In the text, it is noted that in addition to the work crews, architects, skilled artisans, bakers and brewers would have also been employed to sustain the efforts of everyone enlisted to partake in this monumental feat (Bard 2008:140).  While the minutiae of construction efforts is fascinating, the emphasis of lecture was how these numbers and statistics are not the truly important factors that need consideration from an anthropological standpoint.  As is true of many of the features of ancient Egyptian society, the construction of the pyramids true importance lies in the symbolic representation they portray.  These architectural feats represent, perhaps better than any other archaeological find, the power of the ancient state (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/18/2012).  Because construction involved mass quantities of workmen, artists, builders, brewers, etc. a state had to have the financial means, regulative authority, and material wealth necessary to accomplish the construction of a single pyramid and in some cases multiple pyramids.  As the pyramids were often constructed as tombs, this power was a direct reflection on one individual, the king.  Tracing the progression of mortuary customs therefore has applicability for the study of power relations in ancient Egypt.  Changes in the size, complexity, and manpower necessary to build one of these tombs could reveal fluctuations in the level of power that was held by the king of Egypt through time and across space.

Egyptian Evidence of Violence

During this week’s lecture, we discussed the discovery and interpretation of one artistic representation of ancient violence depicted on the Narmer Palette.  The Narmer Palette was discovered in the ancient city of Hierakonpolis and dates to roughly 3100  B.C. (Ethan Watrall, class discussion 10/9/2012).  On one side of the Narmer Palette is a figure of King Narmer holding a mace and preparing to smite a man kneeling before him.  Interestingly, I read another source this week discussing the evidence of violence in Ancient Egypt.  In her book chapter entitled “Ancient Egypt and Nubia as a Source of Information for Violent Cranial Injuries”, Joyce Filer discusses the multiple interpretive forms of violence found in Egypt (1997).  Filer suggests that Egypt is a unique environment with traditions that support the preservation and creation of multiple evidentiary sources of violence.  Filer specifically discusses artistic, textual and biological manifestations of violence.  Nubia in particular, is said to be rich in cranial injuries, textual references such as the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, and artistic representations of the causative agents of these injuries.  One example of an artistic representation presented by Filer was the Narmer Palette.   This article was of particular interest because my dissertation topic is interpersonal violence in Medieval Nubia.  Therefore, I am lucky to have multiple sources from which to draw conclusions on the causative agents of the trauma I am seeing in my dissertation collection.  Another point that I would like to highlight from both this week’s class lecture and the chapter by Filer is the fact that many of the artistic representations of violence are symbolic rather than an actual act of violence.  However, Filer suggests that whether the act depicted is real or symbolic is immaterial from an archaeological standpoint (1997:71).  While the Narmer Palette is probably not depicting the actual event of King Narmer smiting a prisoner, it does symbolize the Egyptian believe in the King’s divine right of rule (Filer 1997:71).  The symbolic representation is therefore still representative of Egyptian beliefs and practices.




Filer, Joyce (1997).  Ancient Egypt and Nubia as a Source of Information for Violent Cranial Injuries.  In Material Harm: Archaeological Studies of War and Violence. John Carman, ed.  Cruithne Press.





Life After Death

As the course progresses it becomes more and more apparent that the ancient Egyptians were enthralled and bewildered by the concept of death.  Over the past several weeks Ethan has discussed several of the seemingly infinite Egyptian practices relating to death and the mortuary context.  Specifically in this week’s lecture, the discussion focused on pottery and vessels.  It was stated in class that there is a big distinction between household and mortuary vessels, at least in the Badarian Period (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/2/2012).  Household vessels were typically rough ware ceramics that, while functional, did not display the intricate designs and shapes of mortuary vessels.  In the many pictures that we viewed during class, it was very apparent that vessels created specifically for the mortuary context displayed a higher degree of craftsmanship and appeared to be richer in design and symbolism.  This brings me to the question of why ancient Egyptians believed that the dead should be placed with goods of seemingly greater material worth than the individuals that were still living.  When linked to earlier discussions of the Egyptian practices of mummification and rituals specifically enacted to unify the deceased with their soul, it becomes evident that the life thereafter was more important than the life Egyptians lived in this world.  This is particularly interesting when considered from an archaeological perspective because archaeology studies material culture.  Because of its focus, archaeology is particularly well suited to interpret the mortuary record. And as luck would have it, the mortuary record is incredibly telling for ancient Egypt.  As we have seen throughout the semester, the ancient Egyptians wanted only the best interred with their dead.  Therefore, grave goods represent what these people wanted to have in the afterlife, once their souls came back to life.  Archaeologists are left with the items that have cultural and religious significance at the individual level, but also for the population at large.

Ancient Trade Routes

The most interesting topic discussed this week is the subject of ancient trade routes.  As mentioned in this week’s readings and lecture, many cultural groups have been named after specific regions or sites where a similar grouping of archaeological artifacts has been uncovered. Extensive archaeological excavation of Egypt has revealed a clear demarcation of populations and cultures between Upper and Lower Egypt, going back as far as the predynastic period.  This demarcation is of note because when archaeologists began to see culturally specific artifacts (i.e. pottery) emerging in regions where they were previously not observed it indicated a potential trade network between two geographically separate cultures and culture groups.  This trade network, however, was often one-sided.  An example of a one-sided trade network was observed with the Naqada culture.  Archaeological investigation suggests that while Egyptian goods were exported to Nubia and have been found in A-Group burials, A-Group goods were of little interest further north (Bard 2008:102).  The movement of trade goods is also interesting to the Egyptian Archaeologist because it has relevance for the understanding of intrapersonal relationships and population movement.  Trade routes are important for the movement of not only material goods, but also religion, language, and disease.  As goods are not moving from one region to another by themselves, material goods are being transported by people and these people will inevitably interact with the culture group with whom they are trading.  From an anthropological perspective, trade is particularly important to the study of culture contact and the rise of civilization.  Therefore, the study of ancient trade routes has practical applications within the field of anthropology ranging from something as simple as developing a clear understanding of the movement of material goods, to something as complex as developing a foundation upon which to build a theoretical construction of the rise of ancient Egyptian civilization.

The history of Egyptian history

One of the most interesting points of discussion in this week’s lectures is the topic of cultural heritage.  The individual responsible for the development of the first cultural heritage laws in Egypt was a famous French Egyptologist August Mariette.  In class lecture Ethan proposed that Mariette is “arguably the most important figure in the history of Egyptian Archaeology” (9/17/2012).  The thing that struck me about this statement is the fact that Mariette is not even an Egyptian!  Given that Mariette is from France it is astounding that he had an influence on so many aspects of the preservation of Egyptian history.  Mariette shaped the way in which scholarly work was undertaken in the Nile Valley, he altered contemporary Egyptologist’s views of the material they worked with, and he dramatically changed the way Egypt preserved its past (Ethan Watrall class lecture 9/17/2012).  Mariette however, is not the only person who made significant contributions to Egyptian history; the list goes on to include Napolean with his development of a special Scientific and Artistic commission that accompanied his military force in the late 1700s, to Flinders Petrie who subsequently became the father of modern Egyptian Archaeology.  While these men all made phenomenal contributions to the study and preservation of Egypt’s past, the one thing that they all have in common and which should be pointed out is that none of them have Egyptian heritage.  This led me to consider how scholarly perceptions of the country of Egypt and Egyptian history may have been biased in the direction of European interests.  Without the efforts of these incredibly devoted men, the history of Egypt may have remained a largely uncharted territory.  European fascination with the country of Egypt began with a few elites and quickly spread throughout the scholarly ranks which led to the development and transformation of both Egyptology and Egyptian Archaeology.    While these fields of interest continue to evolve it is important to keep in mind their roots and foundations which began with a couple of men who travelled a long ways to explore and learn about Egypt and its past.


One of the most captivating topics presented during this week’s readings is “Egyptomania”. The reading by Hassan (2010) discusses the role of “Egyptomania”, specifically within American culture.  Americans have long been fascinated by Egypt and this fascination has saturated almost every aspect of American culture from architecture and movies, to advertising.  However, this deep fascination and curiosity about ancient Egypt has led to misunderstanding, at best, and erroneous historical insights at worst.  Hassan sums this falsification best with the following quote:


“We have lost sight of Egypt so many times and have cast its character in the theater of history in various roles ranging from Hermes, a champion of wisdom, to Aïda in an opera about love and nationalism, but now we risk reducing  Egypt to statuettes of cats and lunatic fabrications to sell books and produce TV ‘documentaries’” (2010:268).


With this week’s readings and the aforementioned quote as perspective, I began to think about the role of archaeology in the culture of “Egyptomania”.  Archaeologists are in a unique position to offer a less biased position on Egyptian history.  The vast majority of movies, literature, and media culture offer incredibly biased views regarding ancient Egypt.  Even a large quantity of early historical texts discussing Egyptian history were penned by foreigners visiting the region and writing on very limited observations of the landscape, culture and people, such as Herodotus and Plato (class lecture 09/11/12).  Archaeological studies, however, are uniquely situated to provide a more well-informed subset of information regarding Egypt’s past.  Therefore, it is important to incorporate archaeological findings into the current history of Egypt as well as use these findings as a foundation for the construction of a more unbiased understanding of the country as a whole.  Using archaeological studies as a guide, we can begin to unite Egypt’s past and the present by implementing a less biased and ethnocentric approach.