Bonus Blog: Importance of Mortuary Practices

The average person has at least a small amount of knowledge of ancient Egyptian history and culture, but what they do not know, is that this awareness came majorly from material artifacts recovered from tomb excavations. Though this idea seems to be repeated by anyone who has a passion for the field, it is still remarkable to me the amount of history literally written on the walls. The Egyptians were known for depicting scenes of daily life, writing out funerary texts to allow for a smooth transition into the afterlife, and much more on the walls of the rooms they were to spend eternity. Because their religious rituals delegated that the deceased be buried with everything needed in the afterlife, including the majority of his/her earthly possessions, we are able to physically handle their history. This is the reason that mortuary practices could be considered the most important topic to explore in this field of research.

Ancient Egyptian mortuary practices included mummification of the deceased. This was because of a religious emphasis on the importance of the physical body in the afterlife. If this aspect of the religion was not there, mummification of the deceased would not exist, therefor much of the evidence found by research done on these mummies would not exist. Through scientific analysis, such as X-ray and CT scanning, a wealth of information has been revealed about how these individuals lived and died. According to a British Museum article on mummification, these processes of scientific analysis have made it possible to “identify conditions such as Lung Cancer, Osteoarthritis, Tuberculosis, as well as parasitic disorders”. Without these preserved mummies, modern researchers would not have nearly as much information on the life and death of ancient Egyptian civilians.

The locations of these burial sites, situated in the desert west of the Nile, with incredible arid conditions, have allowed natural preservation of these ancient cities. The ancient Egyptians were also aware of this natural process, taking advantage when developing the artificial mummification process. The primary evidence for the Predynastic period, in particular, derives from burial sites. As Alice Stevenson states in her work on “Predynastic Burials”:

     “In Upper Egypt, there is a clear trend over the period towards greater investment in mortuary facilities and rituals, experimentation in body treatments [artificial mummification], and increasing disparity in burial forms and content between a small number of elite and a larger non-elite population.”

This reiterates the fact that mortuary practices illuminate more than just religious principles of the time, but also the socioeconomic transformations that were taking place. It was through cemetery sites such as Naqada and Hierakonpolis, that the Predynastic period was even recognized and classified.

Throughout ancient history, the Egyptians paid great care and attention when handling the disposal of the dead. Again, Alice Stevenson makes a point that “there is a general tendency to interpret these mortuary contexts as simply being for the benefit of the deceased and their afterlife, but the social significance of these practices for the surviving community should be acknowledged”.

Mortuary practices go a lot deeper than a simple religious context. It represents a “competitive status display, identity expression, and social memory formation”. Through their intricate processes, modern researchers can recreate the history of this mystical and mysterious civilization.  Little did they know, individual and societal memory would last forever.

Stevenson, Alice. (2009). Predynastic Burials. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1). nelc_uee_7937. Retrieved from: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/2m3463b2

The Story of Wenamun

When we began to discuss the third intermediate period in ancient Egypt in class on Tuesday, the brief explanation of The Story (or Misfortune) of Wenamun seemed to spark my interest. This is the first time I have come across a fictional story from ancient times (in this case, 1100 BC) and was incredibly curious to delve further into the background of the story. The Story of Wenamun is a literary text, written in the Late Egyptian language on papyrus paper. It is only known because of a discovery of an incomplete copy in 1890. It was then purchased by Russian Egyptologist Vladimir Goleniscev in 1891 during his time in Cairo, Egypt. Upon its discovery, many believed that this story was an actual account of Wenamun’s life and travels, written by him. Literary analysis since then has indicated that it is actually a work of historical fiction, composed during the 21st Dynasty, which is now the general consensus. Research has also pointed to two different hands, showing that this may not be the original document – it may be possible that this copy may have been written as long as 150 years after the original. This conclusion came from two observations: post-script it used (which was often used in the 22nd Dynasty) and where the document was found (in al-Hibah, Egypt). al-Hibah did not become a prominent city in Egypt until the reign of Pharaohs in the 22nd Dynasty. The Story of Wenamun is often used as a primary literary source for the study of Late New Kingdom and the Early Third Intermediate Period – many scholars perceive this story to be “the most vivid and descriptive narrative of Pre-Classical times”. The story describes Wenamun’s journey to the city of Byblos (sent by the High Priest of Amun) to acquire cedar wood to build a ship for transportation of a cult artifact of Amun. Though this is a fictional story, it is clear to see the crumbling Egyptian power in this time, dealing with the Eastern Mediterranean states. From this document, one can see “common attitudes toward religion (especially the cult of Amun), the state of Mediterranean shipping practices, and even attitudes of foreign princes to Egyptian claims of supremacy in the region”. This knowledge is unparalleled in other period of ancient Egyptian history. Since this is a work of historical fiction, it may be based on actual events, especially since research has shown how this story is almost identical to what was happening in Egypt during this period of decline.

“Egypt’s former greatness abroad has now collapsed and the difficulties which Wenamun encountered with foreign Princes and officials illustrate all too vividly that Egypt was no longer feared or respected by other peoples of the Near East”

 

Source: ancient_egypt.enacademic.com/1359/wenamun

Akhenaten

As I was reading about the New Dynasty for class this week, I was immediately drawn to one Pharaoh’s reign in particular: Akhenaten (meaning “agreeable to Aten” which is the disk of the sun in ancient Egypt, an aspect of the Ra, the sun God). He seems to generally be considered a strange and mysterious man, heavily influenced by his mother. During his reign, came major changes to the ancient Egyptian religious and cultural traditions that we became familiar with in the Old Kingdom. The Pharaoh’s original name was Amenhotep IV, yet he was a follower of the monotheistic religion of Atenism, and changed his name in recognition. In his reign, Akhenaten started a religious revolution in ancient Egypt, making Aten Egypt’s one god, instead of worshipping to multiple deities, as in the past. It is believed that Akhenaten’s revolution came in the fifth year of his reign, and began the construction of a new capital, Akhetaten, or the “Horizon of Aten”, in the site now known as Amarna. Though construction was not finished, in 1346 BC, or the seventh year of his reign, the capital of Ancient Egypt was moves from Thebes to Akhetaten and construction seemed to have continued for a couple of years after. The traditional worshipping and ceremonies in the new capital were drastically different from those before, tagged with this newfound monotheism. In 1344 BC, Akhenaten proclaimed not just the oneness of god, but the Aten is the “universal” god, and forbid the worship of any others. He even went as extreme to change the hieroglyphs to read one “god”, instead of “gods” (plural); this changed not only the hieroglyphs, but Egyptian art itself. These changes were incredibly radical in ancient Egyptian times, and that is why Akhenaten is such a major Pharaoh in ancient Egyptian history.

http://www.heptune.com/Akhnaten.html

Traditional Mummification Practices & The Boy King Tutankhamen

Introduction to Topic

Many people, even outside of the field of Ancient Egyptian Archaeology, have heard of King Tut, or seen popularized movies dealing with mummies or mummification. In my research paper, I am going to explore the mummification process traditionally used in ancient Egypt, using the specific example of the most famous boy Pharaoh, King Tutankhamen. Because of the discovery of his almost fully intact mummy, he quickly became the most famous ancient Egyptian Pharaoh in the modern world.

Meaning and Importance

The use of mummification in ancient Egypt is incredibly helpful for modern day archaeologists. Because the body is almost completely preserved, archaeologists are able to do more intensive research on the life of the deceased. Researchers working on the mummy of King Tut were able to take DNA samples, allowing them to see the linage of the Pharaoh. King Tut’s remains showed a hole in the back of his head, which led many to believe, at first, that the young Pharaoh was assassinated. Thanks to new and more advanced research, the tests suggest that the hole was made during the mummification process. It is part of the ancient Egyptian tradition to mummify Pharaohs, so King Tut, in that regard, is not out of the ordinary. He quickly became the most famous Pharaoh in 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter found the boy Pharaoh’s tomb, perfectly intact, with his mummy perfectly preserved. Unfortunately, the mummy was severely damaged from abuse by Howard Carter and associates during excavation and research. Now, the mummy is back in the Tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Primary Intellectual Focus

My focus in the paper will begin with the traditional ancient Egyptian practice of mummification. I would like to go into a description of the process of mummification, the significance of each step in the process, and an explanation of why the ancient Egyptians created such an intricate process for their belief in the journey to the afterlife. In the process of mummification, there are very specific tools and materials used, and a reason for this use, which I will explain the connotation of. I would also like to explore the actual mummy of King Tut. Due to extensive archaeological research, we have found out many things about the Boy King’s life such as his diseases, diet, environment, etc. as well as many clues to the traditional ancient Egyptian practice of mummification.

Potential sources for Research

My research on Mummification practices in Ancient Egypt and specifically the Mummy of King Tut has led me to many accredited sources. The three I have looked at intensively so far are:

www.ancientegypt.co.uk/mummies/explore/main.html

www.history.com/topics/tutankhamen

www.archaeology.org/online/interviews/dorothea_arnold/

Within these sources, I have found an exact step-by-step process in traditional ancient Egyptian mummification processes, a history of the life if King Tut (including his diseases, accomplishments while ruler, etc.), and an interview with Dorothea Arnold, who describes the Tomb and burial of King Tut, with brief explanations of the artifacts found within his tomb (though there were over 5,000 found). My research on this topic is definitely not over, seeing as there are thousands of references useful in the description of mummification and the life of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen.

The Pyramids

I wanted to talk about the Pyramids today because I happened to have stumbled across an interview Nova did with Mark Lehner, an Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and Harvard Semitic Museum. There are so many speculations about how the pyramids were created and what they were used for, but it seemed that his goal of this interview was to show that there is actual, physical proof of the civilians of ancient Egypt being responsible for these major constructions. Like on the show Ancient Aliens, people want to believe that extraterrestrial beings were responsible for the monumental discoveries and creations of the Egyptians of ancient times. The date of the pyramids creations is mostly based on evidence of materials that were found in and around them. We are not able to date the pyramids themselves, but we can date organic material found in the pyramids such as wooden coffins, fragments of reed, pottery, or the bones of the bodies buried there (if any). The pottery found at Giza seems to be the style of the time of Khufu, Khafre, and the other Pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty, which archaeologists call the Old Kingdom.

According to research done by archaeologists, it took over twenty years to build the pyramids, and as Lehner says, “So you see the pyramids are very human monuments. And the evidence of the people who built them, their material culture is embedded right into the very fabric of the pyramids. And I think I could take just about any interested person and show them this kind of material embedded in the pyramids as well as tool marks in the stones and say, hey, folks, these weren’t lasers. These were chisels and hammers and you know, people who were really out there.”.

I know, everyone wants to believe that the Egyptians were taught by extraterrestrials in order to make these outrageous discoveries. But, if you don’t give in to the extremists, you will be able to discover that humans made these, and humans are capable of creating the ancient systems that we still use in our everyday life.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/explore/howold2.html

Narmer & The Scorpion King

This sparked my interest because of the word “Scorpion”. Yes, I am one of those people whose interest in ancient Egypt was sparked by This rare ancient Egyptian archaeological artifact is a limestone macehead of “Scorpion”, one of very few artifacts found from the king’s reign. It’s large size (25 cm) and drawings allow archaeologists to conclude that this was used for rituals, rather than a real mace head. It depicts the Pharaoh beginning attacks on Lower Egypt, fighting for unification. As we talked about in lecture, this was found by archaeologists J.E. Quibell and F.W. Green during their expedition in 1897-98 to Kierakonpolis, when they also found the Narmer Palette. The tomb of the Scorpion King is considered one of the oldest tombs in the royal cemetery of Abydos. Some believe that the Pharaoh was the same person as the man named Narmer (associated with Narmer Palette). He is the successor of the Pharaoh Scorpion I (considered to be king Ka). There are theories that link his dynasty to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. On the Scorpion Macehead, there is a depiction of the Pharaoh beginning his attack on Lower Egypt. During the time of Narmer’s reign as Pharaoh was when the unification of Egypt is dated back to. Later, a smaller Scorpion Macehead was found, that depicted King Scorpion wearing a red hat, which signified his presence in Lower Egypt.

These are a few of the things that fascinate me the most in archaeology: the idea of the unknown.. It is exciting thinking about going on an excavation, and there is a possibility that I can find something that has yet to be discovered. Even something small can change the history of ancient Egypt that we have created through material artifacts. Ancient Egyptian archaeology is always changing, new discoveries being made, and because of this history is not set in stone.

http://www.ancient-egypt.org/index.html

Endings – Beginnings in Disguise

I must admit, one of the major reasons I became interested in ancient Egypt is my fascination with their ideals on the afterlife. They believed that after death, they would travel to the “Two Fields”, a heavenly place with a river much like the Nile. In order to make this journey, the Egyptians believed that you must keep your heart light. To do this, you must spend your entire time in the physical world doing good deeds. Not only did you have to have a place on the boat to the afterlife; another requirement was that your name had to be written down somewhere. Then there was one more requirement: there must be a preserved body. This is where the practice of mummification came from — a key to the afterlife. This is one reason that grave robbing was considered such a horrible crime, and still is considered one today. If a grave robber was to come in and steal someone’s wealth or body, that person looses their key to a blissful afterlife.

Scholars in the fields of Ancient Egyptian Archaeology and Egyptology are excited by the discoveries that come with a mummified body. Not only can you read the story of their lives written on the walls, but you can actually see that person’s physical body: hair, teeth, arms, face, etc. It is astonishing the amount of information that can be gathered from a mummified body. This could include their eating habits, environment of that time, diseases that were prominent, even religious practices (with physical repercussions).

There is a lot of talk that the Egyptians were fascinated with death, but as an interview with Salima Ikram confirms, the Egyptians were in fact “fascinated with life”!  The ancient Egyptians did not life very long lives on earth, so they were determined to have a long and prospering afterlife.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/afterlife-ancient-egypt.html

A Neolithic Age

As we discussed in class last week, the Neolithic period refers to “a period in the development of human technology that is traditionally known as the last part of the stone age”. It is commonly associated with the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering communities to agricultural settlements. During this time is when the Neolithic Revolution occurred. There were two main affects from this revolution: the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals (agriculture and pastoralism). This may be considered the most important technological development to occur in human history. Because of these two changes in society, it allowed people to assimilate to a settled living style, rather than migrating with their food (nomadic). Around 3000 B.C., the Neolithic people around the Nile Valley discovered how to make bronze weapons and tools. With this, they were able to build permanent structures and homes, new to a settled lifestyle.

The impact of geography was huge on Neolithic Egyptians. The Nile provided fertile land to aggregate, and the water provided a barrier against diseases or attack. With such a great environment, the Egyptians advanced their thought to create early geometry used for designing canals and fields. As agricultural efficiency increased with technological advances, there was a decline in the number of people needed in the fields. The people who weren’t needed to farm were then able to become artisans, traders, merchants, etc. Because of this, overall production increased, providing a higher standard of living for the community.

I can easily say that this was one of the biggest revolutions in human history. Creating a settlement that could function with laws and trade, transformed human history. Because of this simple discovery, simple villages turned to empires. Not only was their huge transformations in settlement styles, but technological advances increased exponentially as well. Along with creating early geometry, agriculture, and pastoralism, but also created the calendar, based on astronomy, that we still use today.

http://www.rivervalleycivilizations.com/nile.php

The Rosetta Stone

I chose to talk about the Rosetta Stone today, because before this week’s class, I had no idea the history behind it. To me, the Rosetta Stone was the tapes you get to learn a new language! Boy, was I surprised to find out that it was THE key discovery in the quest to decipher hieroglyphics. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone is thanks to a group of French soldiers in 1799, while in a small village in the Delta called Rosetta (Rashid). The stone was originally carved in 196 BC. Engraved on the stone are two languages (Egyptian and Greek), and three scripts (Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek). It is said to have been written in three distinct scripts because all were being used in Egypt at the time. The first, hieroglyphics, was the script used for important religious documents. The second was Demotic, which was the common script of Egypt at the time. Last, but not least, was Greek. This was included in the engraving because it was the language used by the rulers of Egypt. It is said to have been written in all three scripts so that the government officials, priests, and rulers of Egypt could read what it said.

Almost two thousand years went by, after the stone was engraved, before Jean-Francois Champollion finally was able to decipher hieroglyphics (1822). He could already read Greek and Coptic, so it was just a matter of matching and deciphering the meaning of the hieroglyphics. With this discovery, provided the first real opportunity to actually study ancient Egypt, rather than just speculate what happened. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone, is the point at which the academic field of Egyptology was formed. As talked about in lecture, this was the key that allowed a transformation of Egyptian history and archaeology to an academic discipline, rather than something restricted to the “ultra rich”. 

The Sun Never Sets

When I tell my friends that I am specializing in ancient Egyptian Archaeology, a lot of them associate it with things such as the mummy or ask me, “Isn’t that where the Great Pyramids are?”. Egypt has always been a fascination of the world, because of the majesty of its physical remains and the incredible stories and fables. Yet a lot of the “common knowledge” about ancient Egypt is misinformed. Throughout history, the content of their history became fabricated, becoming much like a fairytale for the rest of the world to imagine. Our views on ancient Egypt were mostly acquired by outsiders. The first contact outsiders made with Egyptians was almost 3,000 years after the Egyptian civilization was formed. Even today, there is a fascination for the mystery of ancient Egypt. This has stayed alive because Egypt has been a central part or foundation for ideologies that are still very much alive, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Not only was ancient Egypt an influence on cultural and religious practices, but it is also continuously referenced in the emergence of modern society. In the reading, “Egypt in the Memory of the World”, Hassan speaks of how “Isaac Newton’s Fellow of the Royal Society of London, founded in 1660, were interested in hieroglyphics as a possible route to finding a ‘natural’ or ‘universal’ language”. Around 1822, hieroglyphics were finally deciphered by Jean-Francois Champollion, allowing an exponential amount of discoveries about the culture and practices of ancient Egypt.

In my previous archaeology class experiences, I have learned that the ancient Egyptians are responsible for an incredible amount of ideologies and artifacts we use every day such as makeup, written language, the calendar, bathrooms, tooth paste, door locks, and much more. Without the discoveries made in archaeological and historical records, modern civilization would not exist the way it is today.