It is a really difficult task to try to pinpoint what aspect of Egyptian archaeology that was discussed in this class is the most important. Personally, I really enjoyed learning about the different cultures that inhabited Ancient Egypt so I feel that learning about the different cultures is the most important aspect of Egyptian archaeology. I feel as though the best way to learn more about a specific area is to learn more about the people who once inhabitant the region. By studying archaeological excavations, we can learn a lot about the religion, social complexity, trading practices, etc, of the culture who used to live at the site. Specifically, I think that excavating and studying burial grounds is the most efficient way learn more about culture because how someone is buried and the objects they are buried with can really tell you a lot. For example, simply by looking at the headstones you can learn more about the deceased’s economic and social status. Also, as stated by archaeologist Lewis Binford, we can get an idea of the social complexity of a culture by looking at the elaboration of the grave. In other words, the more decorative the grave, the more complex the society was. Although this is not always the case, as suggested by the criticisms people have concerning Binford’s proposed theory, it is a good indicator. However, other people may argue that studying the architecture of a site is the best way to learn about what went on in that location long ago. But, for example, how can you learn about social complexity and trading practices that occur within a culture simply by looking at architecture? In my opinion, studying culture, specifically with the help of burial ground excavations, is the most important topic in Egyptian archaeology because it is the best way to do what archaeology is supposed to do – study human society through material culture.
I really found that reading about the destruction and excavations of Alexandria was the most interesting part of this week’s assigned reading. My friends and family members who have visited Egypt have all been to the city so I knew that it was an important place but didn’t really know anything about the city’s history or destruction until this class. It turns out that this Egyptian city suffered much destruction during the political disruptions of the later 3rd century AD. This destruction, which destroyed temples that were converted into churches, was caused by the riots between pagans and Christians in 391 AD. Besides political destruction, earthquakes also helped with the destruction of Alexandria, including causing some parts of the city to become submerged. However, when an invading Muslim army entered the city in 642 AD, it is thought that most of the city’s impressive architecture was still standing. When Alexandria became an Islamic city, a period of rebuilding took place and churches were transformed into mosques. In present day, with many of the remains that is not able to be excavated, much of what is known about the Greco-Roman city is from textual information.
The first systematic excavation of Alexandria was by the Khadive of Egypt and took place in 1866. The excavation was “conducted by Mahmud Beh, who later published a plan of the Roman Period city, with streets, canals, and the city wall” (299). Excavations conducted by the Polish center of Mediterranean Archaeology on the Kom el-Dikka have found that ancient Alexandria was a Greco-Roman city, with surprisingly little Egyptian-style architecture. Roman baths, a Greek-style theater and large excavated “villa” houses are just three of the many pieces of evidence that suggest that Alexandria was more of a Greco-Roman city rather than an Egyptian city. Also, thousands of ceramic lamps and vessels have been found in the Gabbari district tombs, which are artifacts that are typically associated with Greek mortuary rates. Polish archaeologists have even uncovered evidence of one of Alexandria’s universities that was a building with 13 lecture halls. It’s incredible to think that universities were around back then! This concludes my summary of the destruction and excavations of Alexandria.
I thought that the most interesting part of the reading this week was learning more about the “Valley of the Queens”. I have studied the “Valley of the Kings” in past world history classes but have never actually heard of the “Valley of the Queens” until this class. The Egyptian queens, along with princesses and princes, were buried in the Theban hills, which is commonly known as the “Valley of the Queens”. This region was first excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli and Francesco Ballerini between 1903 and 1905. Since 1984, investigations have been conducted in this area by the Egyptian Center of Documentation and the French National Center for Scientific Research. The two main groups of tombs found in the Valley of the Queens date from the reigns of Rameses II and Rameses III. It is know that the Ramessid tombs were constructed, as well as decorated, by workmen from Deir el-Medina. Tombs in this area that were robbed during the Third Intermediate Period and Late Period were reused as burials of human and animal mummies. It is estimated that over 100 human mummies have been recovered in this area. The most well-known tomb in the Valley of the Queens is the tomb of Rameses II’s chief wife, Nefertari. However, because of damage from underground water, the tomb was closed for the late 20th century. Fortunately, the Getty Conservation Institute, with the help of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, was able to restore the painted scenes that were found on the plastered walls in the tomb and can be visited today. These decorated scenes include different gods “relevant to her journey, and texts from the Book of Gates and the Book of the Dead” (250). The texts that were found in Nefertari’s tomb are very rare things to find, even in kings’ tombs. In conclusion, this summary provides an overview of the information concerning the Valley of the Queens that was discussed in this week’s reading.
I decided to write this blog post about pyramids because when most people think about Ancient Egypt, they think about pyramids. But what do we really know about the pyramids in general and specifically pyramids from the 12th and 13th Dynasty? This post will summarize what was discussed about 12th Dynasty pyramids in Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period. “Amenemhat I was the first king of the Middle Kingdom to build a pyramid as his tomb” and have a base line of 84 meters (182). This pyramid was built at Lisht, on a terrace, and has mastaba tombs to the east with a bunch of tomb shafts for royal women to the west. The tomb shafts reserved for royal women are a development that has been seen in earlier royal tombs at Thebes. The main materials used for Amenemhat’s pyramid were locally quarried blocks, mud-brick and loose debris as well as stones from Old Kingdom pyramids. The main burial chamber and valley temple were built below the water table, which makes it almost impossible to examine and excavate.
Also at Lisht, there is a larger pyramid, which is where Senusret I, Amenemhat I’s son, is buried. This pyramid has a base line of 105 meters and was constructed with internal reinforcing walls consisting of limestone from quarries to the south, southest, and southwest of the pyramid. Senusret I’s pyramid consists of four thick walls but still suffers from construction problems have weakened the structure and is now a small mount of stone and rubble.
Later 12th Dynasty pyramids were built farther south, as Dahsgur and Hawara. For example, Amenemhat II’s pyramid was built in this location was was not preserved well because sand was used as fill. When the interior limestone walls made of limestone were robbed for use in later construction, the structure collapsed. The last 12th Dynasty pyramid that will be discussed in this blog post is Senusret III’s pyramid. Senusret III, who is also known as the great builder of the 12th Dynasty, chose Sahshur as the site of his pyramid. With a base line of 105 meters, similar to Senuret I’s pyramid, the structure was made of mud-brick, encased in Tura limestone and had an unusual entrance on the west side of the oyramid. The burial chamber was lined in granite, contained a granite sarcophagus and had a second roof to relieve stress in the structure. However, there is no evidence that that Senusret III was actually buried in this pyramid or at a Abydos site.
In conclusion, by looking at how the pyramids have changed throughout the 12th dynasty, we can see how see how the architecture of pyramids have progressed. The materials, architecture and location considered when building a pyramid have changed throughout the 12th dynasty. Although before taking this class I was really interested in learning more about the culture of ancient Egyptians, after taking a few weeks of this course, I am now more interested in learning more about what can be learned about pyramids through archaeological excavations.
The aspect of the reading in Chapter 5: The Rise of Complex Society and Early Civilization that I found to be most interesting is early writing and formal art found in ancient Egypt. It turns out that hieroglyphic writing was invented in Egypt before the 1st Dynasty and that its earliest stages are unknown. The earliest known writing sample is the labels related to the mortuary context from late Predynastic Tomb U-j at Abydos. Early Dynastic writing, similar to the writing that can be found on the late Predynastic Tomb U-j at Abydos, is very much related to the earliest hieroglyphs.
But what encouraged Ancient Egyptians to transform their hieroglyphics into an early form of writing? Anthropologists believe that this change may have been for economic and administrative purposes. Hieroglyphics have been known to appear in a variety of objects commonly used in everyday life in ancient Egypt such as, labels, seal impressions and potmarks that were used to identify the goods and materials of the king or state. Labels from the Abydos royal tombs that are dated to Dynasty 0 and the 1st Dynasty allow archaeologists to learn more about the earliest evidence of recording “year names” of a king’s reign. It has also been suggested that these “year names” represent a royal annals system. Although there has not been evidence from excavations to support “evidence of state taxation based on agricultural surplus, such as granaries, recording years by a king’s reign would also have been useful to officials who collected taxes and levies (119). However, we do know that the king directly owned large land-holdings throughout Egypt because of the evidence found on/near the royal tombs.
Early writing has also been known to appear on royal arts, such as the Narmer Palette, and has been integrated into representational art. Writings found in variety forms of art confirm beliefs in the mortuary cult, which later achieved a much fuller expression in tombs and pyramid complexes of the Old Kingdom. In conclusion, hieroglyphics were changed to a more formal writing style for economic and administrative purposes and early forms of writing can teach us a lot about life in ancient Egypt.
The part of the reading that I found to be most interesting this week was the State Formation and Unification section in the second reading. This section of the reading discusses the unification of Egypt, from the Delta to the First Cataract. Although, archaeologists are not 100% sure how this unification occurred, it is estimated that it was completed by the late Naqada II or late Naqada III times. However, it has been determined by evidence found in burial sites that were excavated that Naqada culture expansion northward did take place during the Naqada II times.
Two aspects of the unification of Egypt that I would like to discuss in this blog post are socio-political processes and warfare. The socio-political process behind the Naqada culture expansion is one aspect of the unification process that can not be explained by the evidence found at burial sites. It is clear that the “highly differentiated Naqada II graves at cemeteries in Upper Egypt, and not in Lower Egypt, are probably symbolic of an increasingly hierarchical society” (105). This means that the differentiated Naqada II graves found in cemeteries such as, Cemetery T at Naqada, may be an example of competition between members of this society as a result of the emergence of socio-political processes.
Warfare is thought to have played a significant role in the final stages of Egypt’s unification process. Carved artifacts that have been dated back to the late Predynastic era present scenes of warfare and/or its aftermath. The most famous of these artifacts is the Narmer Palette, which illustrates a “victorious king, dead enemies, and vanquished peoples or towns” (106). It is alliance building associated with warfare is what is thought to have assisted in the unification process. Evidence of alliance building can be seen by the lack of high status burials at Naqada in Naqada III times which suggests that Naqada’s power “waned” which formed some kind of alliance. In conclusion, archaeological evidence suggests that both socio-political process and warfare played a part in the unification of Egypt.
The aspect of interest that I would like to discuss from this week’s reading is the differences between the Buto-Ma’adi culture in Lower Egypt and the Naqadi culture in Upper Egypt during the Predynastic Period. Because I am specifically interested cultural anthropology, this aspect of the reading was most fascinating to me.
During the Predynastic Period, the Buto-Ma’adi culture inhabited the prehistoric site of Ma’adi, which is located in a suburb south of Cairo and was considered to be part of Lower Egypt. After excavations were completed between 1930 and 1953, archaeologists from Cairo University found evidence suggesting some interesting things. Although the settlement occupied a large area, it was never completely occupied at any one time.
My name is Allison Dovi and I am an out of state student from Fairfax Station, Virginia! I am graduating from MSU this summer with a BS in Psychology with an additional major in Anthropology. Then, I am off to Texas this summer to attend University of Houston to get my PhD in School Psychology. I am going to miss MSU so much this fall because campus is always beautiful in the fall and Spartan football is awesome! As far as what I like to do for fun, I love spending time with my friends and family (just like everybody else), watching movies and swimming! I also have my own earring company on the side. Making jewelry started out as a hobby but people seemed to really like them so I began selling them and business has been pretty good! Because I am getting an additional major in Anthropology, I chose this class to count as one of my Anthropology elective classes but I am so excited to take this class because I have always found Ancient Egypt really interesting!