About Emily (Niespodziewanski) Streetman

Emily (Niespodziewanski) Streetman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at MSU. She is studying forensic anthropology under Dr. Todd W. Fenton, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the MSU Forensic Anthropology Laboratory. She is currently writing her dissertation on the biological affinity of medieval Upper Nubians using nonmetric traits. The main sample for her data collection is the MSU Nubian Bioarchaeology Collection.

Bonus blog: The Importance of the Mundane

Which aspect (topic, etc.) in Egyptian archaeology (that we either covered in class or didn’t cover in class) do you think is the most important?  Why?  Make your argument!

The traditional Egyptological perspective on the study of ancient Egypt, as has been noted throughout this course, has focused on historical sources and elite practices.  Historical sources and state-sponsored propaganda as seen on temple and tomb inscriptions project an idealized notion of the beliefs and behaviors of the populace. They are not necessarily reactive, displaying the beliefs of the people, but prescriptive, telling a narrative with a political agenda, often the legitimization of pharaonic or elite power. I argue, however, that a focus on the lives and ideology of the populace is the most important aspect of Egyptian archaeology. Two excellent examples of this are the excavations at the Heit el-Ghurab Giza worker’s village (see Bard 2007 Chapter 6, Lehner 2002 and 2010, and Class notes 10/30/12) and Deir el-Medina Valley of the Kings artisans village (See Bard 2007 Chapter 8, Lehner 2010, Class notes 11/08/12 and 11/13/12).

Through these two residential sites, one from the Old Kingdom and one from the New Kingdom, scholars investigate how ideology and worldview map onto the landscape and are enacted by individuals. Household and village architecture concretely demonstrate the abstract notions depicted and described in ancient texts, as in the “birth brick,” a newly identified artifact that had been known previously only from writings (Wegner 2010). The Wall of the Crow is another example of the archaeological evidence of ideology – this physical barrier between sacred and mundane space (abstract notions) was not predicted by historical sources, but represents a critical distinction made in ancient Egypt between these two types of spaces.The ubiquity of this “sacred vs. mundane space” concept throughout the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms is one reason that the residential burials of (Libyan) pharaohs ruling from Tanis is so ideologically significant (Taylor 2010).

Mortuary archaeology has comprised a large portion of Egyptian archaeology, but insight into views on death  alone cannot illuminate how individuals lived their lives. Common burials contain a biased message much as Pharaonic burials do – the survivors portray the dead in a positive light and include grave goods in a burial that were not possessions during the individual’s life. As Ethan mentioned (class lecture 12/4/12), household architecture is becoming increasingly recognized as a key focus for the future of an anthropological Egyptian archaeology. Although there is much to be gained from research on burials and ancient elites (such as large-scale regional and inter-regional patterns of trade and State administration/bureaucracy), an anthropological approach attempts to understand the culture as a whole. This requires investigating the lives of the rest of the population.

References

Bard, K. A. (2007). Introduction to the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Lehner, M. (2002). The Pyramid Age Settlement of the Southern Mount at Giza. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 39, 27–74. doi:10.2307/40001149

Lehner, M. (2010). Villages and the Old Kingdom. In W. Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 85–101). Oxford: Blackwell Pub.

Taylor, J. (2010). Changes in the Afterlife. In W. Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 220–240). Oxford: Blackwell Pub.

Wegner, J. (2010). Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom. In W. Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 119–142). Oxford: Blackwell Pub.

Rationale of Burial

In “Changes in the Afterlife,” Taylor (2010) provides an excellent analysis of the changes seen in mortuary traditions of the Third Intermediate Period, especially concerning the ideological significance of a reduced distance between the pharaoh and other elites and between the realm of the dead and the living. But he overlooks two possible stimuli for some of the mortuary changes seen. Taylor notes the presence of sepulchral administrators, but de-emphasizes a key connection between these administrators’ roles in repurposing tombs and changes in corpse treatment and grave goods. He may also overlook the significance of a weak, decentralized state on the royal mortuary tradition.

Logistics

A number of changes are noted regarding treatment of the body and associated grave goods (and, I would say, associated structures): 1) viscera were less likely to be placed in canopic jars, resting inside the body or inside the wrappings instead; 2) a proxy statue was not placed in the tomb – the paint that would have adorned this stature is instead applied directly to the body; 3) pyramid texts or inscriptions which had previously been carved on the tomb walls are found on the sarcophagus; and 4) amulets replaced other (bulkier) daily-life and nourishing grave goods. All of these suggest a concentration of focus on the body and its trappings, likely related to the movement of bodies. Taylor suggests that these changes represent “a change in the significance attached to funerary provision, rather than a simple response to economic pressure” (2010, p. 237).

I would suggest that the significance of each of these elements is not necessarily greatly changed, but its the way each is effected is altered. This may be due to Egyptians’ awareness of how common it was to move bodies or remove them from their tombs. The logistics of keeping the dead (and their space-occupying tombs) that had piled up over the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms became overwhelming, and Taylor notes the employment of officials who oversaw reuse of tombs. If the living were aware of this practice (as they surely were), it would make sense to prepare against such an eventuality in one’s own afterlife. Per the ideology of ancient Egypt, centralizing all of the most essential ritual parts on the body could counter the potential damage done by removing a body from its tomb long after burial.

Weak State

Taylor refutes a simple economic explanation for the simplification of mortuary treatment during the Libyan dynasties.  The circumstances of elite burial, as Taylor points out, are exceptional, and should not be used to represent the entire culture (2010, p.223). Commoner burials change little during the Third Intermediate Period. He posits that Libyan rulers took on the trappings of Egyptian ideology without a deeper understanding of the belief system behind it. However, it is best not to totally discount the influence of economic factors, since Egypt was also functionally fragmented during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, with Libyan rulers seated at Tanis and religious leaders at Thebes (Bard 2007, p. 274). Therefore, to a certain extent, it is unsurprising to see diminished royal burials. A lack of centralized power and state infrastructure would mean an inability of royals to fund monumental tombs. This was also seen in the First and Second Intermediate periods.

References

Bard KA. 2007. Introduction to the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Taylor J. 2010. Changes in the Afterlife. In: Wendrich W, editor. Egyptian Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell Pub. p 220–240.

Mummification

Bard (2007) reviews the process of mummification:

“There is evidence of efforts to preserve the body before the beginning of Dynastic times, and the techniques of mummification evolved over many centuries. By New Kingdom times the mummification process achieved a high degree of preservation… the techniques of mummification reached a high point during the 21st Dynasty” (p. 251).

There are two major questions which present themselves after a short discussion of mummification, its adoption and perfection. 1)  How did practitioners measure the success of their techniques? Did they practice on animals or check in on previously processed mummies to confirm experiments or alterations/improvements to the process? 2) Why was there an emphasis on retention of the body form? The whole body was not required for this (brains and viscera removed), so how does this altered body fit in with the ideology?

Origins of mummification

First, let us consider the naturally occurring conditions in Egypt and how they would affect a dead body: extreme heat in the Nile Valley leads to rapid decomposition. A family member passing away in the house would be very noticeable (smell, bloat, discolor) very quickly. But the extreme nature of the heat of the desert might serve as a deterrent to the insects that would otherwise accelerate decomposition (flies that lay eggs on corpses have a heat ceiling of about 100* fahrenheit – when it’s hotter than this, they aren’t flying, so they don’t find bodies to oviposit on).

The arid desert environment may also preserve bodies – natural mummification is seen in desert skeletal collections dating from Predynastic times. Natural mummification can occur in as little as a few months, as long as there is sufficient heat and air flow to desiccate the tissues. But the mechanics of this (heat and airflow) are not the processes used by Egyptian priests. How were successful anthropogenic (man-made) methods developed? The body was mummified during a process that lasted over two months, entombed, and that was that (except for the spirit going to and from the tomb to receive the nourishment left for it in the mastaba or pyramid). If it’s priests doing the mummifying and who have access to the holy spaces, they would theoretically have access to earlier preparations, but for royal mummies, multiple coffins/sarcophagi would be too heavy to remove in order to check on the body.

Cultural context

The second, and perhaps more socio-culturally relevant issue is not related to the mechanics at all. It is a question of intention and rationale. Rakita and Buikstra (2008) reconsider the cultural convention of mummification as it relates to Hertz’s rites of passage. “We prefer to view mummification as a method for sustaining the position of the soul in the liminal phase… For the Andeans, death as a culturally defined event simply did not exist for some individuals” (105). The presence of the dead in a continually liminal stage puts them in a place of great power as conduits between the world of the living and that of the dead. As divine king, the pharaoh was already an earthly deity. Perhaps it was important to maintain his earthly presence for the benefit of order in the country.

In any case, treatment of the dead and their continued interaction with the living is clearly an important factor in Egyptian ideology. The treatment of the body in particular can demonstrate how certain beliefs were enacted by past peoples. Although scholars have recreated in great detail the mechanics of postmortem processing of royal bodies, fitting this process into the ancient Egyptian worldview has only recently been considered from a theoretical perspective.

*Side note: keep in mind, these practices are not so strange. Modern American convention preserves the body chemically for a wake/funeral and great care is taken to ensure the body decays as little as possible (iron casket lain in a cement vault). Although it didn’t start out this way, modern (Christian) Americans rationalize this process as a way to retain the body for eventual return of the soul at the Resurrection.

References

Bard, K. A. (2007). Introduction to the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Hertz, R. (1960). A Contribution to the Study of the Collective Representation of Death. Death & The right hand (pp. 27–86). Free Press.

Rakita, G. F. M., & Buikstra, J. E. (2008). Corrupting Flesh: Reexamining Hertz’s Persective on Mummification and Cremation. In G. F. M. Rakita, J. E. Buikstra, L. A. Beck, & S. R. Williams (Eds.), Interacting with the Dead: Perspectives on Mortuary Archaeology for the New Millennium (pp. 97–106). Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Paper Proposal

Acculturation in Upper Nubia: Egyptian motifs in Kerma’s mortuary archaeology.

The city-center of the Upper Nubian city of Kerma is located on the East bank of the Nile River, 700km south of the First Cataract (Aswan). The main cemetery is about 3km east of the city, with the monumental Upper/Eastern Deffufa rising from its southern part. The cemetery contains thousands of graves and tombs, stretching from the oldest at the northern reach of the cemetery to the most recent at the southern end of the cemetery (around 1500BC).

Similarities between the material culture of Kerma and Egypt were enough to fool George A. Reisner, who led the Harvard-Boston Expedition in the early 1900s: “’Wretched Nubia,’ as the Egyptians called it, was thus at first a part of Egypt. After the First Dynasty, it was only an appendage of the greater country, and its history is hardly more than an account of its use or neglect by Egypt, its enrichment or impoverishment by changes of the Nile and the climate” (Reisner, 1910, p. 348). In fact, Upper Nubia (Kush) was a powerful independent polity neighboring ancient Egypt. Kerma’s relationship with ancient Egypt to the north was at times antagonistic and at times peaceful, with both sides benefiting from trade along the Nile.

The height of Kerma’s strength, as Kush’s likely capital and royal burial ground, stretched hundreds of years (~2500-1500BC). This period in Upper Nubia is often referred to as the “Kerma Period” and was coincidental with the Egyptian Old Kingdom (2686-2181BC), First Intermediate Period (2181-2055BC), Middle Kingdom (2055-1650BC), and Second Intermediate Period (1650-1550BC) in Egypt. At the beginning of the Egyptian New Kingdom, Pharoah Thutmose I sacked and burned Kerma, effectively ending its “golden age.”

Throughout the Kerma Period, archaeologists find a continuation and elaboration of indigenous Nubian mortuary practices (Bonnet, 1992; Bonnet & Valbelle, 2006). Over time, elite mound burials (tumuli) expand in size and accessory burials of animals and humans surrounding elite tumuli increase in number. However, it is during the New Kingdom that the most interesting shift in mortuary practices can be found. After the fall of Kerma, when its cemetery is still used as a Kushite royal burial ground, mortuary practices trend towards Egyptian influence, mixing images of local and Egyptian gods (Eisa, 1999).

First, this paper will examine mortuary changes in Upper Nubia from the Kerma to New Kingdom periods, focusing on the adoption and adaptation of Egyptian patterns. Second, it will discuss the role of bioarchaeological methods in interpreting the context of this change. Isotopic analyses and metric and nonmetric skeletal analyses can help determine the origin of individuals in a cemetery population, shedding light on whether the expanding Egyptian empire was exporting ideology, individuals, or both (Ambridge, 2007; Buzon, 2006). Finally, the paper will consider how the relationship between ideological and population spread might be applied to other empire expansions.

References

Ambridge, L. (2007). Inscribing the Napatan Landscape: Architecture and Royal Identity. In N. Yoffee (Ed.), Negotiating the Past in the Past: Identity, Memory, and Lanscape in Archaeological Research (pp. 128–154). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Bonnet, C. (1992). Excavations at the Nubian royal town of Kerma: 1975–91. Antiquity, 66(252), 611–625.

Bonnet, C., & Valbelle, D. (2006). The Nubian pharaohs : Black kings on the Nile. Cairo; New York: American University in Cairo Press.

Buzon, M. R. (2006). Biological and Ethnic Identity in New Kingdom Nubia: A Case Study from Tombos. Current Anthropology, 47(4), 683–695.

Eisa, K. A. (1999). Le mobilier et les coutumes funéraires koushites a l’époque méroïtique. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Reisner, G. A. (1910). The Archaeological Survey of Nubia, Report for 1907-1908 (Vol. 1). Cairo: Egypt Survey Department.

Mortuary Practice: Nourishing the Dead

The great pyramids of Egypt were built by citizens of the Egyptian empire for their monarchs beginning in the 4th dynasty. We saw in class that the pyramid-shaped mortuary complex is a further development of mastabas that served as superstructures to earlier (and some contemporaneous) royal burials (Watrall 2012). Earlier structures included storage complexes for inclusion of foods and other grave goods. Small niches in the outside and later interior offering chambers allowed the living to continue honoring the dead by providing sustenance.

Bard (2008) suggests that the akh was the part of the deceased which could come back and cause trouble for the living – not only would leaving an offering have indicated respect for tradition and for one’s ancestors, but must have provided a preventative measure against ghost-related troubles. The massive importance of the pharaoh meant that this process was institutionalized in the Cults of the Pharaoh, who continued these practices for centuries. As a sacred space, access to the pyramids was restricted, so priests of some kind would be a fitting caretaker – the descendants of the deceased pharaohs were otherwise occupied and would not have been able to sufficiently provide for their predecessors.

Although the ideological linkages with the ka, ba, and akh are evident (Bard 2008:151-152), the importance of sustenance is found throughout ancient Egyptian culture. The need for and ability to provide food to the deceased rather than store or sell it for/to the living, occurs in a region with agricultural surplus. To avoid any determinism, it should be noted that rare luxury items, and generally items of higher quality than used in daily life (such as pottery and cosmetic palettes) were included as grave goods.

Would such a practice be less likely if this culture did not enjoy an agricultural surplus?

 

 

 

Protodynastic and Unification

**This post is double-length to make up for a missed post due 10/4/12** It was also supposed to go out on 10/11 but didn’t make it in on time!**

The past few lecture have built towards the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The cultural differences between the delta (Buto-Ma’adi) and Nile Valley (Naqada) remained through unification and reappeared at every intermediate period. When Egypt split, it always split along these lines of ethnicity.

Lower Egyptian culture was characterized by lower-quality pottery, extensive trade with the Levant, and some interactions with their neighbors to the south. Although the link was not explicitly made in the lecture or the readings, I wonder if the extensive and skilled basketwork made pottery a less-needed commodity and therefore the industry did not develop in the same way as in Upper Egypt. Not knowing much of anything about basketwork, I am not sure whether waterproof containers are possible, but if predynastic Lower Egyptians were lining large semi-subterranean storage pits with basketware, they likely had a whole bag of tricks, and reeds for basketweaving would have been in surplus along the Nile. The Fayum basin, although not contiguous with the Delta, is usually included in this culture group. The two phases of predynastic Fayum represent both a transitional phase (between nomadic pastoralism and settled agriculture) and a “true” predynastic phase, which defines the predynastic for all of Lower Egypt.

In contrast, Upper Egypt exhibits high-quality pottery and relationships with its neighbors to the north and south, Lower Egypt and Nubia. There are few, if any, connections between Upper Egypt and the Levant, but Lower Egyptian pottery does sometimes seem to mimick the higher-quality wares coming from the south. Well made rough-ware pottery, found in residential settings, is common in Upper Egyptian settings, while black-top redware (of higher quality) is found in mortuary settings. Cosmetic palettes, sometimes carved into the shapes of animals, make their first appearance, allowing for 21st century archaeologists to investigate the archaeology of the body and how individuals choose to represent themselves, including alteration of their appearance and manipulation of the bodyscape.

The predynastic Upper Egypt is defined almost exclusively by cemetery sites (Watrall, class 9.27.11). There is a distinct difference between mortuary sites and residential or workplace sites that has been mentioned in passing, but which should also be made explicit for those of us who have not dealt with these two types of sites before. The quality of preservation and artifacts and the nature of the site are completely different in mortuary settings than in residential settings. Whereas midden heaps and the remains of structures are preserved by happenstance, mortuary deposits are placed in the ground (with a higher chance of preservation than on the surface) purposefully by the survivors of the decedent.

Human beliefs about life, death, and an afterlife affect their choices in where, how, and with what an individual should be buried. In some cultures, this may include artifacts representative of daily life – perhaps a well-known textile worker is buried with her favorite spindle, so she can continue her work in the afterlife. However, ritual artifacts such as the rippled-flaked (Naqada II) blades seen in class, are representative of a class of artifacts (blade/weapon) while not actually being the same type as one that would have been used in life. Rippled-flaked blades are never found used by the living, only placed within a burial for use by the dead.

A superficial glance at the assemblages of artifacts from Upper and Lower Egypt might indicate that everything was higher quality in Upper Egypt. It is important, however, to clarify that comparable items are of differing qualities. Everyday roughware, for instance, is a comparable artifact class between the two cultures, and this particular item is found to be of higher quality in Upper Egypt. Unification entailed a spread of predynastic Upper Egyptian (Naqada) culture to Lower Egypt. This does not necessarily equate a total military takeover, nor one population spreading to the detriment of another. Unification is not a single event indicating the spontaneous creation of state-level society from a loose gathering of settled agriculturalists. All of the complex social structure was already in place – the unification of Egypt is significant because the many smaller kingdoms (later politically designated “nomes”) were unified under a single pharaonic ruler.

Egyptian interactions & Egyptocentrism

In addressing the Neolithic and Predynastic of (mostly Lower) Egypt, we encountered evidence of cultural and economic interaction among distinct and unique cultures. Evidence from multiple sites in Lower Egypt (e.g., Tell el’-Omari, Ma’adi) makes the link between Lower Egypt and the Levant clear. Circular houses and trade goods like carnelian and turquoise link the Fayum A culture to extralocal neolithic cultures.

Because the history and pre-history of Egypt is fairly well-documented and excavated, it provides a frame of reference for many surrounding cultures. We saw this a few weeks ago when Ethan mentioned the cross-reference dating of Pharaonic kings with Byzantine rulers. Similarly, the exchange of culture and goods is evidence for long-distance interaction. However, there is a fine line between sharing material culture and diffusion/ cultural dominance, which indicates an uneven relationship.

Meroe pyramids by Flickr user Retlaw Snellac

In a fair amount of 20th century scholarship, one finds an Egypto-centric perspective of ancient Nubia. Remnants of this remain: whenever Nubia is mentioned in passing, it is noted that it was periodically conquered by Dynastic Egypt or merely that it benefitted from its interactions with Egypt. We acknowledge the distinction between Lower and Upper Egyptian cultures while remaining aware of their interactions – Nubia must be treated the same way. (Of course, in this class, such a mention makes sense, since it is an Egyptian Archaeology class. I mean to point out that this is the case in a wider swathe of scholarly writings.)

Not only were these 2nd-4th cataract peoples as unique as Lower and Upper Egypt, but they too were surrounded on all sides by extralocal cultures with whom they interacted. Goods such as frankincense and ivory from eastern Nubia, known as “Punt” in the textbook (Bard 2007), cross-desert trade with Arabia after the domestication of the camel, and East-West trade through the region of Africa known as the Maghreb brought exotic trade goods and cultural memes to the kingdoms of Nubia. Bard minimizes the importance of these relationships when she notes that Group-A (neolithic Nubian) goods were rarely exported north. The presence of Egyptian goods in the south and the interactions that would have occurred between traders would still affect Egyptian culture.

Cultural Heritage in the Age of Museums

Cairo Museum - photo courtesy of Flickr user archer10

This week, we focused on modern European history and the politicization of culture.

The combination of western European ideas like museums with local concepts of culture and sensibilities about local culture history creates an interesting dynamic. Although Mariette opted not to play a directorial role in the Egyptian government, he imported the framework (precise spatial measurements, a sense of linear time, a sense of Otherness imposed upon the culture under study) that structures how ancient Egypt is accessed, interpreted, and understood by the local population, tourists, and scientists around the world. This is not a value statement – indeed, who is to say what would have developed without Mariette’s stabilizing influence! More material evidence of an ancient culture would have been flung to the corners of the world. Nevertheless, this imported structure must influence the material.

National Museum of the American Indian, photo by Flickr user Jeff Kubina

As “kendella” mentioned earlier this week, the issue of cultural heritage is commonly discussed in the context of Native American skeletal remains and material culture. Unlike the at-the-time-lawful agreements that Western powers had with the Egyptian government, which created some semblance of an even relationship, nearly all early American archaeology was done without the permission of indigenous people. Perhaps a greater ability to control and display (or not) this material on a large would empower local groups. The National Museum of the American Indian is a step in the right direction here – it was created by an act of Congress in the late 80s in response to the fact that the Smithsonian possessed thousands of Indian remains in storage.

Cultural heritage and the right to control one’s own history are issues around the world. It is the responsibility of archaeologists to be sensitive to these issues and respect the claims and policies of local groups and governments.

In a foreign land: documentation of The Other

Hassan reviews and critiques Egyptology in “Egypt in the Memory of the World” (2011). The anthropological goal of interpreting a culture on its own terms continues this week as Hassan notes that many early written texts describing the lives, politics, and ideology of ancient Egyptians have been handed down in the Western world from Greeks who were foreigners in Classical Egypt. Secondary sources are common fodder in historical archaeology. The writers may or may not be from the same culture as their informants and/or subjects. How much of what they transcribed was lost in linguistic and inter-cultural translation?

Anubis, carved in the Roman style. Picture by F. Bucher via Wikimedia Commons.

Westernized notions of Egyptians as a variably constructed Other (sometimes the evil pagan, sometimes the holder of true Knowledge) changed throughout the ages, as new actors used Egyptian symbols in their own agendas. These individuals may not intend to be manipulative in their use – of course, colonial Europeans certainly did believe they were the cultural descendants of Romans and that they had inherited the right to “civilize” other cultures.

I am reminded of modern politicians using a Golden Past to condemn our 21st century world. The Bible is often used to prove moral legitimacy, despite the Main Point never appearing in the holy book. This is an excellent example of using the glorious past, true or not, to establish one’s own legitimacy or a group’s hegemonic power.

“The past may be deployed to assert an identity, legitimize a political agenda, or win support for economic projects” (269).

Ethan noted in lecture that Herodotus was trying to link Egyptian and Greek gods in order to ally the two countries against the Persian empire. How accurately would he have described any of the three in his writings? Whether or not this was state-sponsored propaganda, one’s enemies are frequently demonized as The Other – they become a “natural” antagonist.

The same problem is encountered in trying to situate Nubian archaeology in a historical framework. Egyptian writings are naturally Egyptocentric, but these and later Arabic writings are among the only surviving documents describing Nubian culture before the Islamic conversion in the 7th century. How, then, do we deal with the foreignness of the writers’ perspectives, especially from an enemy nation/empire? Fortunately, anthropologists have become critical of documents and self-critical. In the 21st century, we take a critical approach to such documents and test them against expectations in the archaeology – never forgetting that we, too, are cultural outsiders and bring our own biases to interpretations.

References:

Bard KA. 2007. Chapter 1. Introduction to the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub p 3-17.

Hassan FA. 2010. Egypt in the Memory of the World. In: Wendrich W, editor. Egyptian Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell Pub. p 259–273.

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.