Extra Blog- Pyramid Workers, the Most Important Part of Egypt

I think that it is very hard to pin down the one most important aspect in Egyptian archeology. I am a psychology major, and so maybe a little more predisposed to the people side of things, but I think that the most important thing that I learned about was the history of the pyramid builders. This is what I am doing my research article on and I find it not only important but fascinating. It is easy to look at the pyramids and see that they are important but I think that it is too easy to overlook the people that made them. Politics and religion, craftsmanship and common labor, all had a hand in the building of these pyramids. They were built only by Egyptians, no foreigners were allowed to work on them, and I believe they show what ancient Egypt was as a whole. I think that the pyramids were more than just a symbol of power of the pharaoh. People came from all over the country to volunteer to work for the nation. It was a way for them to leave their small towns and see the greater part of Egypt. The pyramid projects brought the country together and gave all the citizens something to be proud of. They were a real representation of a united nation that worked together on a common goal.

Archeologists study the pyramids to learn about this fascinating ancient culture that was capable of such works of architectural wonder. Generations of children learn about the pyramids and become fascinated with stories of aliens that built them. I think that the truth of who really built them is more interesting. I’m pretty sure that we would not be able to get the entire country to work together to build something like this in the United States now. I think that this public projects show how strong of a government system was in place during this time. It shows more than just the economic stability of the country, it shows the pride that people took in their country and the genuine love they had for their pharaohs. Graffiti found on the walls show that the men were happy and loyal to their rulers. I think that the human side of the pyramids is much more interesting, and maybe even more important, than the actual building side of it.

Looking at the pyramids as a whole you can piece together ancient Egyptian culture in many forms. Looking at the pyramid villages, where the full time pyramid workers lived, you can see a typical day in their lives. A pyramid has been filled with everything that was thought to be needed in the afterlife, clothe and gold and food and sometimes even servants. But I find it interesting to think about who made and stocked the goods in the first place. The majority of the people in ancient Egypt were not rich or royal. They were normal people who were the laborers and creators of not only the pyramids but of society. I think they are very worth study.

The Histories- Week 7

I was very interested in the Histories talked about in this section. Written by Greek historian Herodotus after he visited Egypt between 460 and 455 BC, the Histories remain to this day one of the most important sources regarding the affairs of Egypt and the Persian affairs at this time. Herodotus has been called the ‘Father of history’ since he was the first historian known to collect his material systematically, test their accuracy (at least to a certain extent) and arrange them in a well constructed and vivid narrative. This probably means that his accounts are more accurate and trustworthy than others may have been. The Histories is a collection of observed facts, folk tales, myths, historical accounts, and personal commentary. This is not an impersonal account of events and Herodotus’ Greek anti-Persian sentiment can be seen manifesting in his writings. Although some of his stories and facts are not true, Herodotus claims that he only reported what he was told. He collected tales and information from locals in order to make his commentary more accurate.

The Histories are divided into nine books, each one named after a different Muse. I was mostly interested in the books that dealt with Egypt as their main focus. Book II, titled Euterpe, is filled with facts about Egypt. Herodotus documented and research facts such as the geography of Egypt and his speculations on the Nile River. He also looked into the religious practices of the Egyptian people, paying special attention to how it differed from Greek religion. He also took notes and things such as the animals of Egypt, including a wide array from cats to hippos. He was interested in the culture of the region and recorded information on medicine, funeral rites, food, and even the boats that the people used. He chroniclized the Egyptian kings that were in power during his stay as well as stories that he heard about them and past rulers from people that he met. He filled in holes with folk stories and hearsay from other people to provide both entertainment and a unique few of what people talked about and thought.

The third book was also of interest to me. It documents Persian defeat of Egypt. It describes Cabyses III of Persia’s attack and defeat of the Egyptian king Psammetichus III. As we learned in the lecture, the Persian invasion and conquer of Egypt pretty much symbolized the end of a strong, natively ruled Egypt. Other than some periods of free Egyptian rule Egypt was controlled by foreign powers. The 27th and 31st dynasties were the times when Egypt Delta was absorbed into the Persian Empire and became a Persian Satrapy, province. The 28th-30th dynasties were an independent Egypt but they were weak and so easily re-taken by the Persian forces. I was wondering why there were so many dynasties in between the Persian occupation. I know that not a lot of time went by in between so I’m assuming that the dynasties did not last long. This shows that Egyptian rulers were weak at this time and probably explains why they were able to be occupied by foreign powers.

I thought that it was interesting that the Persian conquers not only allowed Egypt to continue with their own religion but actually built temples. They did curtail the political power of the temples but, in my opinion, it was a move that made sense. The temples at this time had more power than the pharaohs did and would have been a threat to new rulers. I wonder if this is why the Persians allowed the temples to remain and supported their building. It seems to me that it would make sense to make changes to the culture slowly and not take away something as important to the culture as religion is to the Egyptians. By the time of the Persian conquest Egypt was culturally characterized by the fact that it was part of a larger empire. In fact, there were large Jewish communities, the largest located at Elephantine, which maintained their own identity. They played an important cultural role to the whole of Egypt. A fact that I found interesting was that non-Egyptians made up a large part of Egyptian military. Looking back on the report I am doing on the building of the pyramids, I find this fact interesting. Only native Egyptians worked on the pyramids and scholars cannot find any evidence of foreign workers at all. I wonder if this means that the Egyptians thought that the pyramids were more a matter of national pride or if it was a sign of the changing times that foreigners were a large part of the army. I think that it probably shows how Egypt changed to become a part of the larger world not just an isolated empire.

The Sun Disk- Week 6

The end of the 18th Dynasty brought about many changes to Egyptian society. Following the death of his brother Amunhoptep IV, who was originally supposed to be a priest, became king. He ruled for a few years with his father, Amunhoptep III, who reigned for 38 years. During Amunhoptep III’s reign he brought about a new aspect of the king’s cult. Scenes were found showing a youthful king rejuvenated through the power of the sun disk.

Amunhoptep IV continued with his father’s interest in the sun disk. During his reign the sun disk changed to a sphere with lines drawn to human hands, showing the life giving power of the sun disk. He also changed the name of the patron god from Re Horakhty to Aten. With this change in name also came a change in importance, Aten became the most important god on the top of the pile of worship. Amunhoptep IV changed his name to reflect his devotion to Aten. He also moved the capital to Akhtaten and built up a city where there had not previously been one.

Scholars have question if Amunhoptep IV created a monotheistic society in Egypt during his reign. Between 8 to 12 years of his reign the worship of all other gods was officially forbidden. These changes were political in nature. This was Amunhoptep’s way of cutting the power of the cult of Amun which was starting to rival the power of the pharaoh. Many of the holding of the cult of Amun were transferred to the cult of Aten. Scholars decided that Amunhoptep did not create a monotheistic society but rather a henotheistic one that placed Aten above all the other gods.

The changes put in place by Amunhoptep did not last long after his death. His son changed his name to respect Amun rather than Aten and the power shifted back to Amun and his cult. I think that Amunhoptep tried to do too much in too short a period of time. Egyptians were used to their religion and trying to change people’s religion is always risky and hard to do. I think that maybe it might have worked out better if he had not tried to forbid the worship of all other gods. He could have cut the power of the cult of Amun without banning the worship of all of them and people may have had an easier time accepting this change. Small changes are always easier to except than large and broad ones.

I recognize that the change from Amun to Aten was a political one made to cut the power of the cult of Amun, but I wonder if Amunhoptep actually believed that Aten was a more powerful god. Before his brother died he was in training to be a priest, which should mean that he was a religious man. I would like to think that he believed in the change of gods and it was not all just a political move, although, he would not be the first or the last man to use religion to further his goals. The fact that his son, and the next king after him, changed his name back to Amun makes me think that he at least believed that Amun was more powerful. This could have also been either a political or religious move though. If the cult of Amun was so powerful that it could rival the pharaohs power then it might have been good to have it on your side and owing you a favor for bringing it back to power.

Power- Week 5

This week I was very interested in the discussions of political power shifts in the Middle Kingdom compared to the power set ups in the Old Kingdom. The power shifted away from the Pharaohs a bit, although they were still the kings they no longer had complete power over everything. This same kind of thing happened in England, parliament gained power while the monarchs slowly become not much more than figure heads of the country. I think that it is just the natural course of government that started out as monarchies. Maybe it is because the country becomes too big for one person to rule over, or possibly, because monarchies keep the rulers in the family, the line may become weak and the kings may become unable to rule effectively and someone else has to step in to keep the government from collapse. Then, because people hate to give up power once the y have it, even if there was a king that was capable of ruling they did not give him full power back.

In fear of losing even more power, or maybe just because they did not like that they had lost any power at all, some of the early Middle Kingdom Pharaohs attempted to take back their power by limited and then completely getting rid of, the nomarchs and setting up their own sub-rulers in the different regions. While there were strong pharaohs in the early part of the Middle Kingdom, after Amenemhet, the pharaohs were all weak and some are completely unknown to current scholars. This started a breakdown of political structure in Egypt and created a rift between Upper and Lower Egypt.

There were not nearly as many pyramids built in the Middle Kingdom as there had been in the old Kingdom. I think that this is another sign that Pharaohs were losing power. Pyramids were a representation of power and the low number and low quality of the Middle Kingdom pyramids represent a loss in power. There were only seven pyramids built during the Middle Kingdom. There pyramids were much smaller and of much poorer quality than the ones built by rulers in the Old Kingdom. These were more economically feasible since they did not need the man power or the expensive building materials that the Old Kingdom ones required. This represents a shift in priorities in Egyptian life and government. Money was now used for more public services and less on building the final resting place for the Pharaoh.

There were also increasing problems with grave robbers. These new pyramids had to have a more sophisticated security system than was ever needed in the past. This is probably because in the past an Egyptian would not even consider stealing from a pharaoh’s tomb, the pharaoh was not only a ruler but also a god, and loyalty from all citizens was implicit. In the Middle Kingdom this was no longer the case. Pharaohs had to remind their subject that they were powerful and divine. I think this showed that the common people in Egypt no longer saw the pharaohs as divine and so they were not accorded as much respect as they had been in the past. I think the fact that they were no longer considered divine made it easier to take away some of their power and not allow them to spend as much money on their personal building projects as had been the trend in the Old Kingdom.

I think that it might have been a foreign influence that was partly to blame for the breakdown of the power of the pharaohs. While it is true that there were weak pharaohs in the Middle Kingdom, I am sure there were weak pharaohs in other parts of history as well. However, before foreign interests became a central concern for Egypt the country was mostly turned inwards with their concerns. It is possible that foreign influence taught, or convinced, the Egyptian people that the Pharaohs were not divine. Once you take the religion aspect out of their leadership it would be easier to remove power from them and set up other men to take some of the responsibility.

Egyptians and Death- Week 4

Death was an important part of Egyptian culture.  They had gods dedicated to it and buildings built to house those that died.  The richest members of society had the grandest tombs, with the Pharaohs building giant pyrimids to show their glory in death. Death was not seen as an ending but as the beginning of a new journey.  Because they had this view, Egyptian dead were buried with everything that was though to be needed in the next life.  Grave goods included pots of food and wine, jewelry, and even servants and animals (including lions) to accompany the departed into the underworld. Based on what was buried with the person scholars can tell who they were and how important they were in life. The rulers and elites are buried with riches and sometimes even servants, while the poorer citizens (although they were still rich enough to afford a formal burial) were buried with simpler goods such as decorated pots and ceramics. Both kinds of graves provide a look into these peoples lives. 

It is lucky for us that they were so interested in preserving their dead and the grave goods that were buried with them because it provided scholars with much of the information needed to piece together the lives that ancient Egyptians lived. Paintings and incriptions on tomb walls allow archeologists a way to look at written record of ancient Egypt that have stood the test of time. Studying the objects inside the graves can tell scholars what kind of food the people ate to who the patron god of the region is. Because the Egyptians took such care to preserve thier dead, archeologists are able to find relics that are in incredible condition to study. The tombs protected objects from decay, grave robbers, and destruction, preserving them for archeologists to discover now and in the future and giving us clues to the lives of the great people that lived and died in different regions of Egypt. The tombs also held pieces of great importance to scholars, such as the Narmer palet and the differnet King’s Lists. These were crucial peices in understanding the chronology of the rulers of ancient Egypt.

Death was important to Egyptian religion. There were gods that ruled the underworld as well as gods that helped Egyptians on their journey to the underworld. Dying was considered just another part of the journey, one which your family was responsible to prepare you for. Some places, such as Abydos, were chosen as burial places not for political reasons but because of ideological reasons.  Abydos was one of the most important late Predynastic centers in Upper Egypt.  The cemetery Umm el-Qa’ab is where many first Dynasty kings constructed their tombs.  Abydos was thought to be an entrance to the underworld.  Pictures on the tombs depict the Hall of Judgment in the underworld and Abydos was considered an entry point into the Hall.  Because of this is was thought that to be buried in this location would help ease the transition to the afterlife for that person.

Upper Egypt Week 3

I was interested to find out that Upper Egypt pretty much took over lower Egypt.  I was interested in how the archeologists figured out the Upper Egypt was the dominant culture in the unification of Egypt.  I also learned that there were different crowns for pharohs of upper and lower Egypt.  The Narmer tablet showed Narmer wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt on one side and the red crown of Lower Egypt on the other side of the tablet.  This showed that he, at least at one time, ruled both Upper and Lower Egypt.  He is shown about to kill a man from Lower Egypt on the side where he is wearing the crown from Upper Egypt.  This shows that he was from Upper Egypt and was dominating Lower Egypt in his take over.

The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt was not just one of military take over.  Before they were united Lower Egypt copied the ceramic style of Upper Egypt and after the unification Upper Egyptian pottery was found in Lower Egypt probably becasue of trade.  This made me think that Upper Egypt was more advanced culturally than Lower Egypt was.  I wonder why this was?  Do you think that Upper Egypt was more involved with trade with other nations and so learned more from them?  Or was the pottery not actually more advanced but Lower Egypt was the part that was more taken over in the unification?  I know that eventually pharhos came from both Upper and Lower Egypt but did the first Pharohs come from Upper Egypt and this was why Upper Egyptian pottery was found in Lower Egypt.  Also,I wonder if Lower Egyptian Potter was found in Upper Egypt?  Did the spread of culture go both ways or just from Upper to Lower Egypt?  And if it was only one directional, why?

Week 2 Post: Ma’adi

I really enjoyed learning about the different Predynastic cities, but Ma’adi was the one I found most interesting. I found this site interesting for several reasons. First of all, the fact that in present day the site is located in the middle of a thriving city center is fascinating to me. In 1930, when it was originally excavated, it was only desert. While the site is protected, I wonder how being in the middle of the city affects it and make it different than other archeological sites in the region. It must be more difficult to do the work of excavation in the middle of a busy city than it would be on the field where space would not be so limited. On the other hand, there are probably more creature comforts, such as beds and running water, associated with being close to the city.

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Introduction Post

Hello everyone! My name is Melissa Jowers. I am a senior at MSU and am almost done with my undergrad in Psychology (I still have Chem lab and a stats class to take, I wanted to save the fun classes untill last). I love to swim laps and am currently trying to get into running, I’m not a fan so far. I have a fluffy cat who looks like a lion and two baby kittens who all make my life interesting. I love to read and can not wait to move into my new house so I can finally have my library! I recently started a cool new job in Warren. I love it but I miss East Lansing, Warren is too brown for me!

I am taking this class as an elective class and I am pretty excited about it. I love history classes and archaeology classes.  I love learning about people that lived so differently than how we live today.  I have always had an interest in ancient societies which started with ancient Egypt. I used to build pyramids out of legos and my dad tried to convince me that aliens built the ones in Egypt. I played the computer game Pharoh where I was able to build my own Egyptian city and fight off hipos and crocs while making sure the Egyptian gods didn’t get angry with me.  This class is a way for my childhood interest to be backed up with some facts.