I think that the most important aspect of Egyptian archaeology that we discussed in class is the pyramids. Besides being enormous feats of architectural genius for the time period, these structures offered a fairly steady time table with which to follow religious practices as well as pharaonic reigns. What they contain gives a clue to what was important to the people and also the royalty. The villages surrounding these pyramids that housed the workers who built it also gives a window into what life was like for the everyday Egyptian. The size and structure of a pyramid gives a hint as to how successful, wealthy, and powerful said ruler was. These structures have stood the test of time unlike any other and will continue to be a shining symbol for all to recognize the world that was and is Egypt.
Over the course of this class we have learned about many interesting topics in Egyptian archaeology. Though everything covered in the course was of great importance, I personally believe the subject of language and its role in ancient Egypt was of particular importance. With great archaeological discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone and other pieces of text, the language of the ancient Egyptians has been preserved and a great deal has contributed to the understanding of the people of the ancient world.
The Rosetta Stone, currently residing in the British Museum, has been the greatest and most informative preserved text of the past, providing the world with three translations of the decree of the king. The text was written in hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. With the many exchanges of power over Egypt, language also changed and some forms of writing died out. This document is one of the only existing translations of the ancient Egyptian language thanks to the Greeks. Though the information in the document itself is not of huge significance to the history of the ancient Egyptians, the translation into Greek has helped scholars unlock lost scripts of the ancient world. Without this key to the past, it would be almost impossible for archaeologists and other researchers to decipher other surviving documents and texts that appears on the walls of ancient tombs and other significant archaeological remains. Not knowing much about the language of the ancient Egyptians would leave many mysteries of the past unsolved. If not for the Greeks and their contribution to the Rosetta Stone, a great deal of archaeological information would have been lost or misinterpreted. I believe that language and the role it plays in Egyptian archaeology has had a significant impact on the field of study and without it, the history of the ancient Egyptians would be completely skewed. I myself have seen the Rosetta Stone in person and it was astonishing to me to be standing in front of such an important piece of history. It is incredible to be able to experience such a great part of the past and get the full sense of its importance to the history of the world.
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.
I think the most important thing we covered throughout the class was the archaeologists who made these Egyptian findings and what they brought to the field. If they actually destroyed sites with ineptitude or in their rush to carry off sparkling treasures, I think it was important to frame great finds with the methods and intent of the people who were responsible. From times where there was a race to snatch treasures from the hands of other “archaeologists” to return them to the proper home country to times where new methods and respect for the modern nation of Egypt have led to new discoveries.
Going more in depth with the tomb of Tutankhamen from an archaeological perspective rather than a popular perspective provided a helpful contrast for me. Howard Carter made detailed drawings of the arrangement of items in Tutankhamen’s tomb which were especially meaningful since the tomb was undisturbed. However, the media was still heavily involved in this finding, leading to the mummy’s popularity. Maybe that means the site is especially well documented, but it also might mean that the focus of Howard Carter was more on the fame he would receive from the find than the effects the find would have in academia.
We spend a lot of time talking about the context of a find in time and place as far as the site goes, and I think the context surrounding its discovery is equally important. It reflects on the interpretations of the archaeologists and what may have been lost for one thing to be found. This is especially true for early archaeologists when there weren’t professional, accepted practices, but it can be applied today as well. Archaeologists from many nations still dig in Egypt and have different things invested in the results of their dig. The Egyptian government oversees everything, and this only further complicates who all is involved for better or worse.
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
My view in this regard is obviously biased due to the fact that I spent a great deal of time while crafting my research paper thinking about it, however I believe that perhaps the most important topic in Egyptian Archaeology is the issue of the Pyramids.
It is true that, in many ways, the study of the Pyramids has been overdone compared to many other aspects of Egyptian Archaeology (and indeed, archaeology overall), however this is precisely why it is so important. I would highly doubt that there is anyone in the world today that has not heard of the Great Pyramids of Giza. They have become such a source of wonder and awe, and have been since the time of Herodotus, how could they be anything but important?
The Pyramids are therefore significant because they inspire a sense of wonder in people, and therefore an interest in archaeology generally. I remember when I was in elementary school, I liked to write a lot, and one of the rather horrible stories that I wrote included the Great Pyramids and the Sphynx. While I would not consider myself to have been a totally normal child, my perception of Egypt, and the past generally, was very much informed by a knowledge of the Pyramids. In many ways, they were some of the things that got me interested in history and archaeology in the first place. Therefore, simply for trying to get people interested in history and archaeology, the Pyramids can serve as a very valuable topic.
The Pyramids are also significant as far as combating pseudoarchaeologists, who are intelligent enough to realize that the Pyramids inspire such a sense of awe in the average person. Because of the fact that everyone and their mother know about the Great Pyramids, they use them as a prime source for all of the whacky ideas that they develop, and since everyone has an interest in the Great Pyramids, they can use this to spread their ideas. Thus teaching about what archaeologists know about the Great Pyramids, and the other pyramids that have been created throughout Egyptian history, is a significant way to combat pseudoscientific ideas.
I will admit that, as far as the overall field of Egyptian archaeology in itself, the Pyramids may not be the most important topic, however when one considers archaeology as a whole, they are very significant. If we wish to continue to learn about the past, and inspire people to inquire about the past in the future, then we have to develop ways to get people interested in the first place, and the Great Pyramids are one way to do that.
Over the past semester, one aspect of Ancient Egyptian society that has stood out to me is the amount of documentation and writing left depicting Ancient Egyptian culture. The inscriptions of Pharaohs and Gods/Goddesses in temples, papyri demonstrating the use of pi when constructing pyramids, and the infamous Rosetta stone – a decree made by Ptolemy V written in three languages – Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Greek.
As a history major, the existence of such written materials is really interesting – especially since the topics of the writing are so diverse. Through written materials and inscriptions, we can learn about science and technology in Ancient Egypt, religious culture, decrees and governmental organization, and one of the most fundamental features of culture – language.
I feel like we touched on a lot of the larger archaeological finds regarding written works, and the use of language in Ancient Egypt in this class, and I admire that decision. When talking about archaeology and Ancient Egypt, it’s easy to get caught up in the mummies and the statues and forget about the importance of language and the written evidence left behind.
One topic that I would have liked look more into was the use of language in everyday life, especially in regards to trade. Was it common for people to speak more than one language, and what languages were more popular? Was this division separated by social classes? How did Egypt’s use of language differ from that of other societies, like the Syrians and the Nubians?
While we can learn a lot about Ancient Egypt from human remains, mortuary contexts, and other archaeological finds, we can infer additional information from written documents. Someone – probably an Ancient Egyptian – had to write those legal documents or carve/paint the inscriptions in the temples.
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.
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.
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?
I believe that the Language and Culture section of the class is very important. With the analysis of the hieroglyphs and cartouches, we are able to learn more about how the ancient Egyptian society was structured. The analysis of their written language also allows us to learn about the ancient Egyptian’s religion and cultural practices. The ancient Egyptians written language has been found in so many different places, showing its importance in their society and traditions. We revisited the Rosetta Stone and the demonic language this week in class. I found that going back to how language is essential to understanding the ancient Egyptians tied the class discussions together.
Another section of the class that I found very important was the discussion about the importance of the NIle River and how it was essential to the way of life for the Ancient Egyptians. Before the class began, I was unaware of all of the resources that the Nile River provided. I also did not realize how all the Ancieint Egyptian settlements were all based on the location of the Nile River and its delta and fayums. Transportation, food, and water would have been much harder to obtain without the benefits of the Nile. Agriculture would also have been much harder to have consistent production. I was also interested to learn about the structures that the Ancient Egyptians created to measure the level of the Nile River.
When most people think of Egypt and the ancient people who once lived in the region, the Great Pyramids appear in their mind, but there are several other portions of Ancient Egyptian life that are essential to understand.
Overall, I feel that the language section and the Nile River portion of the class discussions were critical to the understanding of the Ancient Egyptians lives. Without the analysis of their written language and how the used the Nile River, we would loose a great deal of information about the Ancient Egyptians.
I came across a really neat article about fake toes in the ancient world, “Ancient Egyptian Fake Toes Earliest Prosthetics”. Two fake toes were confirmed as being the world’s oldest prosthetics from Ancient Egypt. These two wooden toes were found at the necropolis of Thebes. These artificial toes were made of a paper mache like mixture using linen, glue, and plaster called cartonnage. The Greville Chester toe, currently housed in the British Museum, dates back to 600 BC. It is in the shape of a right big toe and part of the right foot. The Tabaketonmut toe is kept at the Egyptian Museum in Ciaro and dates back to somewhere between 950-710 BC. This toe was also a right toe. It was thought that this girl lost her toe to gangrene caused by diabetes. Both toes had holes in them so they could be laced up round the foot or a sandal. Because both toes had significant wear to them, it is believed that they were used in everyday walking unlike other cases of artificial body parts that were made for burial.
I found this article really interesting because I never really thought about how ancient Egyptians would have dealt with a missing body part. These ancient false toes are evidence of medical advancements I was unaware existed in the ancient world. Earlier in the semester I posted an article about ancient fillings, proving that Egyptians of the ancient world were pretty skilled in fixing health problems. These articles have shed some light on the subject. Medical practices of the Egyptians is a topic that seems to spark my interest more and more as time goes on. I’m very impressed by the creativity the ancient people had when dealing with medical issues, especially given the period of time they lived in and the limited resources they had. I hope to learn more about ancient medicine and find out what other neat tricks they had for coping with health problems.