For this week’s post, I would like to examine how the “democratization” of the afterlife and increased access to divine symbolism by what can be considered ‘lower echelons’ is not unlike the changes apparent in our own society as a result of new information technologies. The key concept of my post is how access to information and knowledge removes the authority of previously powerful figures. While reading about the changes in material culture that occurred during the Middle Kingdom, I was reminded of the discussion from my Medical Anthropology class this week, in which access to information through technologies such as the WebMD app creates a new “educated patient” and the authority of the doctor, a culturally respected figure, is undermined.
The first Intermediate Period of the Middle Kingdom experienced much socio-economic and political change. Included in this was the diffusion of cultural and religious symbolism from something strictly reserved for royal purposes to lower-status social groups. Political changes, namely decentralization, are attributed to this change. With decreased royal control, provincial elites and new social groups now had access to material that was previously restricted. This is evident in funerary custom. A prominent example is that Pyramid Texts, formerly for royal usage only, had been used by non-royal elites. The “trickle-down” effect continued as social organization continued to change.
Though not entirely paralleled, it is possible to see the connection between the rise of the Egyptian ‘lower echelon’ and the increased control of members of our own society as a result of communication technology. Where the ancient Egyptians were expanding and displaying their social and religious ritual to an increased population of varying status, many people in modern times have seen an increase in various opportunities because knowledge is not restricted to those with access to higher education. In both cases, the previous power of authority figures, be they royal or occupational, is decreased.
Wegner, Josef (2010). Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom. In Willeke Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 119-142) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.