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.


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.