Alexander the Who?

Like most ancient famous people Alexander the Great is known by a general description. So he conquered a lot of land and named every city Alexandria. He is mostly known for his military might and victories, but I bet that most don’t know he had an intellectual side as well. His father hired the philosopher Aristotle to tutor Alexander for 3 years. Aristotle taught Alexander and a few of this friends philosophy, drama, poetry, science, and politics. Alexander had an affinity for impersonating the warrior Achilles and was inspired by Homer’s Illiad so much that Aristotle created and abridged version for him to carry on his military campaigns.

Alexander had a famous horse named Bucephalas who was a magnificent black stallion with  a while blaze on his forehead. His mother was also a freak; she claimed that instead of King Phillip impregnating her that it was a serpent (often associate with the god Xeus).

Sacred Animal Necropolis

The sacred animal necropolis came up in lecture this morning, and that happens to be what I’m interested in for my final paper. In case anyone else found that subject intriguing, I thought I’d share the site of archaeologist Paul T. Nicholson who is currently involved in digs at the necropolis in Saqqara.

Many of the animal catacombs were actually discovered because archaeologist W. B. Emery was looking for Imhotep’s tomb in Saqqara in the 1960s. More recently, at the entrance to the falcon catacomb, the team found a cache of votive bronzes that they have been working to conserve since the find in the 1990s. Current work at Saqqara under Nicholson has focused on dog catacombs associated with the temple of Anubis. The current goals for the excavation involve examining the bones of the canines, which is a newer area of interest at the animal necropolis. Also, because past notes about the site are faulty and incomplete, a complete survey of the catacombs is underway.

In class today, we came back to the issue of early Europeans and how they treated Ancient Egyptian sites. I’m biased because I think that animal mummification and the cults they were associated with are fascinating. It seems like a real loss to me that these mummies are spread so far and wide because they were so popular as souvenirs for European tourists. I’m curious what other people think about the issue. Is it a great loss that these mummies were removed in large numbers from the sites? How does it compare to the loss of royal mummies and the treasures from their tombs? Are we still more focused on the riches of pharaohs, and is that justifiable? I know that any losses from ancient sites mean a loss of information that might be really groundbreaking or illuminating. Is there even a way to gauge the potential that lost artifacts might have had?

Ethnicity and Identity

In class this week, we have brought up the issue and concept of Egyptian identity and the acculturation of other populations to Egyptian ways. We briefly spoke about the Egyptian adapted mortuary practices exemplified in Nubian pyramids. The classification of mortuary practices as distinctly Nubian or Egyptian can be problematic as these practices are complex and do have a natural variation. The Nubian pyramids were undeniably inspired by their Northern neighbor, but things such as the orientation of the body, grave good, types of coffin, etc. were not uniformly Egyptian or Nubian. The outward display of the pyramid linked the Nubians to the Egyptian culture and allowed them to show that connection to the outside world. Burials are considered a display and in this case the Nubians were demonstrating their close relationship with the Egyptians.

We have also examined how the Ptolemaic Dynasties built religious temples in the Egyptian style (architecture and art) in order to proclaim their association with the Egyptian culture. This occurred in a time where the people of Egypt were becoming more multicultural and had an increase in diversity, yet the Ptolemaic Dynasty still felt the need to associate themselves with the ancient Egyptian culture. They did not want to appear as though they were outsiders – even though these new cultures were all living in the same region and under the same government.

The concept of ethnicity and ultimately identity is a complex one. While in class this week, I was struck by the dynamic nature of the identity of the Egyptian people, as well as their neighbors with which they interacted. How did the people living in Egypt see themselves? We know that there were specific communities of Egyptians, Greeks and Jews, but did they feel an overarching connection to Egypt, its past, and an investment to the nations future?

Herbal Wine in Ancient Egypt

As one would expect near the end of the semester. I was starting to run out of topics to write about for my student blog posts. So, in order to find a topic, I went to JSTOR and typed “Ancient Egypt” in the search. And I found an article – Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wine.

Ancient Egyptians were able to make herbal wine thanks to the climate and the fruit trees that grew in the area. The fruits from the trees offered sugar and ethanol that allowed for the production of alcohol with an alcohol content up to 3.8%. Patrick McGovern, the author of the paper, discusses it more in detail, explaining the chemical process, as well as the likelihood that human populations eventually succeeded in making the wine through trial and error. This specific wine was mostly used to treat diseases and ailments.

One of the first questions that one would probably ask is, “How can we tell what the chemical make-up of Ancient Egyptian herbal wine was?” While Ancient Egyptians may have left insight about medicinal practices and herbal wine in historical documents, the focus of this paper is the chemical composition and process. Thus, McGovern gathered his information by studying the organic materials found in the tombs.

The majority of the paper focuses on the chemical composition of the wine, which included herbal genera, honey, milk, and tartrate acid/tartrate (which is still used in modern wines). One interesting aspect is that a lot of these organic materials are still used in herbal medicines in Egypt today. Another interesting piece of information was that not all of these organic materials were originally from Egypt. Some materials, such as A. Seibeni and T. annuum, are native to Iran and Morocco, demonstrating the importance of trade to this practice of developing herbal medicines.

McGovern does mention historical documents depicting the process of creating herbal additives and wine, including inscriptions on the walls of temples, such as the Temples of Philae and Edfu. Overall, the collection of materials, development and use of the product, and the documentation, demonstrates the widespread political, economic and cultural influence simple things – like herbal wine – in Egypt possessed.

Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wines
Patrick E. McGovern, Armen Mirzoian, Gretchen R. Hall and Ofer Bar-Yosef
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , Vol. 106, No. 18 (May 5, 2009), pp. 7361-7366

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.

Archaeology and the Arab Spring

With the most recent bouts of protests happening in Egypt over Morsi’s power  play where he extended his political powers through a constitution, I started to wonder what if any implications the Arab Spring has had on archaeology in Egypt. I started to research the affects of the Arab Spring on archaeological digs, and I discovered an article written just 5 days ago about the affects of this event. According to the article “Archaeology Meets Politics: Spring Comes to Ancient Egypt,” the Arab Spring has contributed to some significant challenges for archaeology.

One of the biggest figures discussed in the article was Zahi Hawass, who is of the biggest faces of Egyptian archaeology and the former leader of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). During the protests against Mubarak, some people implicated Hawass in funneling artifacts and money to the former president. Though Hawass claims this never happened, he has still resigned as the leader of the SCA. Now there is a power vacuum in the leadership as well as an apparent lack of funding. This will cause some significant obstacles for future projects. Additionally the Arab Spring has halted some current archaeological digs, like one in Amarna. Because of the protests, archaeologists were forced to flee, and though none of the tombs at Amarna were looted…they still lost one year of dig time.

Another current obstacle comes from the actual protests of SCA workers. Many of them are eitheer out protesting the current president, or fighting the SCA for better wages and benefits. The implications for the Arab Spring on archaeology are extremely important. With the protests and change of government, the current artifacts and archaeological sites must be protected. It is important to examine how the current events and politics will shape the future of archaeology, because in the end it is important to protect the past to better understand the future.

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.


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.


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.

Virtual Egypt

This week, I decided that I wanted to get another look at Ancient Egypt. As I was researching, I came across an article from the New York Times: Visiting Ancient Egypt, Virtually. “The result of that collaboration from Harvard and may other individuals is Giza 3D , a wraparound virtual environment introduced in May that lets visitors eavesdrop on Khufu’s funeral rites, skim over the waves in the ancient city’s harbor, or drop down into a pyramid burial shaft that has not been visited by humans in more than 100 years. With input from scholars in Germany, the United States, Italy, Austria and Egypt, the project “is a completely new portal for doing research, Dr. Manuelian said.”

Make sure that you open the link in a Firefox Browser, otherwise the site will not load. It says that if you have 3D glasses you can even see it in 3D on your computer. But you do not need 3D glasses to interact with the site!

I decided to take a look at what the site had to offer. There is a short introduction, interactive sequence, but if you download the 3D driver, then you are able to have more interaction in the second half of the site.

It was fascinating to be able to interact with a site in Egypt without having to actually step foot in the country.  One of my favorite parts of this interactive webpage is the ability to look through all of the artifacts found at all the sites and pyramids that are included. You are able to zoom in and out and rotate around the objects to get a closer look than you would be able to with a photograph. I was amazed that I was able to see the texture on some of the pottery that was included in the tomb of Hetepheres!

I hope everyone else enjoys this site!

Egypt the Civ

For about two weeks now, ever since one of my friends found it for a fairly inexpensive price on Amazon, I’ve been playing the computer game Civilization IV religiously.  For anyone who doesn’t know about it, essentially you take command of an historical civilization and try to rise to world dominance.  One of the very interesting aspects of the game is that you can spread your civilization’s culture into the border regions of your Empire, and occasionally even take control of a rival civilization’s empire by spreading your culture into it.

This was one of the things that naturally popped into my mind today while Ethan was discussing the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period.  In Civ IV, when you militarily take control of an opponent’s city, the population of that city tends to not like it very much and often revolts against foreign rule.  When the Assyrian Empire took over most of Egypt during the Third Intermediate Period, it clearly met resistance, especially from the Kingdom of Kush in Nubia.

Kush by this point had been essentially enculturated into Egyptian culture, and as the Nubians saw themselves in this light, they undertook a campaign to take back the lands of the god Amun.  Much the same occurs in Civ IV.  As your culture spreads to adjacent lands, and area that once saw itself as English, for example, comes to see itself as being a part of your culture, and therefore will be more likely to rise up in defense of your culture.

I have several reasons for bringing this up.  The first is that it is interesting how aspects of our popular culture, like my playing video games, can have an affect on how we view the world and the past.  If I didn’t play Civilization, I may have had a totally different outlook on these topics.  How we interpret the past is therefore very much dependant upon what we know and do on a daily basis.

My second point is that it would be very neat if anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians used things like video games and other more recently developed media in order to teach their subjects.  There are plenty of games and movies (Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Stargate, and Inglourious Basterds to name a few) that reinforce misnomers about the past and humanity as a whole, and since people find them entertaining, these ideas become more prevalent than those of academics.  If academics would use these forms of media more, and for example, made more games like Civilization (which is by no means perfect as far as not spreading false or incorrect information), then the overall knowledge base of people would increase in these areas because they would actually want to learn more about them.  By doing these things, it would not only increase the popular knowledge of the past, but make learning about it much more fun and enjoyable.

The Continuity of Religious Icongraphy

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

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

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

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