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.

Ancient Egypt Satellite Imagery

After class I was talking to a friend about our Ancient Egypt Archaeology class and she mentioned an interesting discovery that I though I would share.  The link to an article about this discovery is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13522957.

Last year a United States Egyptologist, Dr. Sarah Parcak from the University of Alabama, used infrared satellite imaging to look at the region surrounding San El Hagar including Ancient Tanis. Infrared satellite imaging allows for denser soil to be visible. The ancient Egyptians used mud brick to build structures including their temples, houses and tombs. The mud brick is much denser than the surrounding soil, and allows for the structures to become visible.

Over 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements including 17 pyramids were found! After the imaging was analyzed, they performed initial excavations and confirmed some of the findings. These excavation validated the use of this technology. Dr. Parcak explained “these are just the sites [close to] the surface. There are many thousands of additional sites that the Nile has covered over with silt. This is just the beginning of this kind of work.” The archaeological team used the satellite imagery to focus their archaeological field work. Another benefit from this technology is that the Egyptian Government can use the images to protect the countries antiquities!

What I found most interesting about this article was that they were able to tell from the imagery that if the tombs were looted. It is amazing that they can tell from a satellite image if a archaeological site is looted. What I would like to know is what details of the imagery allowed them to determine if looting occurred. I wonder if it has to do with the density of the soils. When looters loosen the soil to reach the artifacts, that could change the density of the soil; maybe this is what they are seeing in the infrared images.