Bonus Blog: Monumental Archaeology

I think the most important part of Egyptian archaeology is monumental archaeology. That being said, to truly understand cultures of the past it is necessary to look at all types of archaeological and in the case of Egypt, Egyptological data. Everything we have talked about in Egyptian archaeology is important to understanding who the ancient Egyptians were and how they lived, but monumental archaeology, such as the pyramids at Giza, or the temple at Karnak or the valley of the kings or even ordinary tomb paintings, are able to provide an unparalleled insight into the breadth and extent of the culture of ancient Egypt. While this view is inherently limited, most often by the bias of observing elite behavior, it is also emblematic of the larger culture. Monumental archaeology, because of the amount of effort necessary to create it represents an investment of the society. In order to develop art and architecture and have monuments that can be excavated and investigated in the future a society must be complex and stable enough to have specialization. In addition to demonstrating the complexity of a society, monumental archaeology also visibly represents the culture, for the people building it, as well as for future generations. As discussed in numerous posts and lectures, the power and authority of the state are represented in the size and complexity of the mortuary monuments of the pharaohs. The temples throughout Egypt show where people congregated for religious reasons, they display common symbols and help to create a nationality or identity for the people who build them and see them.

Monumental archeology does focus on the most visible aspects of culture, but to some extent this culture is the most visible for a reason. This visibility, the size and complexity of monuments are what inspire us today and likely inspired people in the past as well. Whether erected as part of a tomb, as a memorial for a battle, or part of a religious site, monuments and their associated artwork and imagery are a way for culture to be accessible to people on a level more extensive than any settlement or bioarchaeological or linguistic data. Monuments may be the most obvious part of a society’s culture, but for this very reason they are also, at least in my opinion, the most important. Monuments are especially important though because of what they can reveal in the larger context of archaeology, like the extent of the site at Giza to house workers on the pyramids, or the way that later tombs have been robbed, or build to prevent robbing. That is why monumental archaeology, with all it reveals about people and culture, especially lasting culture, is often some of the most researched or at least most visibly researched aspect of archaeology. While monumental archaeology is limited in what it can tell us, it is also some of the most intriguing and awe-inspiring archaeology that is also accessible to the average person, just as it has been since it was created.