For me, studying the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians gave me a real sense of who they were. This is because you learn a lot from looking at how people bury their loved ones. You learn about the cosmology and religion of the group. I learned that Osiris is the god of the Underworld and he resides in the west. You learn about their material culture thorough what bodies are buried with. The ancient Egyptians were buried with grave goods such as pottery and jewelry that told us about the form and function of these items as well as the symbolic meaning. We can also learn a lot about the technology of a people from studying these items. Are the clay jars created by hand, or thrown on a wheel? How are jewels laid into a necklace, etc?
You learn more about the personal hygiene of the culture. In the case of the ancient Egyptians we learned that they colored their hair, used extensions, and had elaborate hair styles. I learned that men trimmed their facial hair in specific patterns depending on fashion. We learn about politics. For example, if we come across one person in a cemetery who has a lot more grave goods that anyone else, we might assume that they had a position of some power within the community. We also learn about the general socioeconomic status of the settlement. How much did people have? Who had the most? We can learn lots of information from studying the bones of ancient people. We can learn cause of death. We can study bones for wear that may indicate certain professions. We can estimate age at death and determine what that tells us about the range of their lifespan and developmental stages. We can learn so much from looking at bones in a grave!
~Cristina M. Cao
The most important aspect of Egyptian archaeology, in my opinion, is the burial technique. Burials show not only how people are honored in death, but it also gives us clues to how they lived their lives. First, a burial can tell us about the importance or social status of that person. People that are well preserved through mummification and have elaborate and intricate designs on their coffins are most likely wealthy and have a high social ranking. If they are buried with a large amount of grave goods, animals, or servants, they must have been important in their life. Also, the type of tomb they are buried in exemplifies their status. Simple burials or even mass graves most likely contain the lower class, while large tombs or even incredible pyramids contain the high officials and pharaohs.
Another interesting part of burials is that people this well mummified still show signs of injuries that occurred during their life. More importantly, researchers can see if people died from these injuries or if they healed and continued on with their life. There are sometimes signs of assistance in the healing process, such as prosthetic limbs. Many diseases that these people had during their life can still be seen in their ancient mummified bodies. This shows us which diseases were prominent back then and how old people may have lived with them.
Lastly, we can see how animals were treated through mummified burials. Ancient Egyptians had quality views of animals, and some were even worshipped as gods. They were mummified using the same methods as humans, and some were even buried with grave goods in their own coffins. They had their own cemeteries, unless they were pets buried with their loving owners. Similar to humans, researches can see if animals had injuries before their death or if that is what they died from. Some animals were clearly killed and sacrificed to gods, while others show signs of being healed, which shows us that the ancient Egyptians had some type of veterinary practices.
Burials can tell us a lot about not only the deaths of the ancient Egyptians, but also about how they lived in life and their importance to others. If they used that much effort to mummify, bury, and prepare their dead for the afterlife, then humans and animals must really have been sacred in life.
I wish I could say that the burials as well as their remains, the buildings and Egyptian architecture are the most important aspects of Egyptian culture because they are what I enjoy most while reading and learning about ancient Egypt, but after listening to the lectures and doing the assigned reading I would have to say that the most important aspects of Egyptian culture are their politics and religion.
These two aspects are intrinsically linked to one another at certain times in Egyptian history. They show the significant changes and/or power shifts of the pharaohs and the foreign rulers that followed them. Some of the rulers attempted to change their people’s religious beliefs, but once their reigns were over the people went back to their original beliefs; at least until the Greeks and/or Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. The information discovered within tombs and on papyri show the diverse amount of people the Egyptians came in contact with as well as any conflicts that emerged between them.
The political aspect shows the changes and interactions between their neighboring cities and towns. These interactions show the changes or adaptations within differing cultures and the growth and diversity of their economy or trade. They even tell us about how cities were run and how they functioned individually and collectively and how rulers overthrew other rulers to expand their territories and melded the cities together.
The religious aspect informs us about their beliefs about life, death, and everything in between. It also allows us to see any minor or major shifts in religious beliefs; most times it was based on who was ruling at the time. We are also able to study their religious evolution from paganism or a polytheistic society to a monotheistic society of Christianity as well as their intolerance and ultimate acceptance of different religions.
These two aspects allow us to study and even possibly gives us more information about how their societies successfully functioned and gives us the chronological procession of pharaohs/rulers and the subsequent changes that took place, while the remains and buildings excavated actually only tell us more about the people themselves and their practices and/or techniques for any given time period. Politics and Religion by far are most important aspects for understanding Egyptian culture.
I have found that this class in general has been very interesting and quite resourceful for future reference. However, it does lean heavily on the political factions of each kingdom, dynasty, etc. This is not a bad thing by any means as it is one of the best ways to understand how Egypt changed from the beginning to modern day. The topic that would interest me the most, which we did not really cover, is the symbolism that exists in the writings, hieroglyphs, temples, and so on. I find that even though this topic is deeper than the physical archaeology itself, it still is a recurring theme throughout the different political factions that took over. Now I originally stated that one of my largest interests in Egypt was its link to alchemy. I still believe this is true because of the shared themes between the two. Such themes as the Egyptians opinions on gold, their use of the colors red and white, and also the fact that a man can rise to the status of a deity. Since alchemy is a much later studied subject (around the 16th century) it would make more sense to say that alchemy originated from themes of Egyptian context. Though at the same time, alchemy follows the Christian based religion more than any others. So, as we recently found out with the conquest of Alexander the Great, a more Christian based people resided in Egypt. This would further explain certain principles that are found in alchemy. Now the purpose of viewing this symbolism and its link to alchemy is not necessarily to say that “Oh, Egyptian magic is alchemy!”, but more so to say that an entire scientific religion like alchemy resided from Egypt. This would show that many brilliant people such as Isaac Newton, who was a known practicing alchemist, may have had ties with Egypt. This whole subject interests me as it takes a chronological symbolism and backtracks to a known ancient destination. It almost creates a missing link as to why specific religions or religious practices came into existence. All in all, there is a lot of symbolism that exists in Egypt, and I feel that it is important to look at the parallels between then and now.
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.
The way in which Egyptian culture was continued by non-native Egyptians after the Egyptian state had essentially dissolved was quite interesting. The perpetuation of Egyptian culture is evident from the first occupation of Egypt by non-Egyptians. Non-Egyptian rulers of Egypt perpetuated and even supported native Egyptian religion and often bureaucratic control as well. This is evident as early as Hyksos rule in the 2nd Intermediate period, but happens again with the Kushite conquest in the 25th Dynasty. The Kushite kings “built Egyptian-style temples, with their walls inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs” (chapter 9, p. 268), as well as using the 2 cobras on their crowns, rather than the traditional vulture and cobra of the Egyptian kings.
The practice of supporting Egyptian institutions was also continued by the Persians, likely as “an attempt to legitimize the Persian king as pharaoh” (Chapter 9, p. 271). In addition to the Persians, the Greeks who ruled Persia after Alexander, as part of the Ptolemaic Dynasty also perpetuated and supported native Egyptian religion. None of these instances of non-Egyptians continuing Egyptian culture are all that surprising though, as foreign rulers, the conquers would want a way to relate to the conquered and to make their rule feel more legitimate, and using Egyptian religious practice offered a way to do this. Even the Romans, who didn’t support the Egyptian religious institutions, still allowed them to exist, but what really ended Egyptian religion, and the strong culture that was associated with it, was the influx of Christianity into Egypt.
The continuation of Egyptian culture, as evident in religious practices, continued even after Egypt had largely ceased practicing its traditional religion. In Nubia, which wasn’t, for a large part of Egyptian chronology even part of Egypt, but was nonetheless connected to Egypt through trade and hegemony, Egyptian culture and religion continue into the late 6th century. What this really shows is how Egyptian culture had an influence on all of the surrounding polities, so much so that even after Egypt had been assimilated into Greek and later Roman culture, Egyptian culture still continued, especially outside of Egypt.
One of the other things that I wondered about this week was how exactly the city of Alexandria was founded. Did there exist a settlement in its location originally, or was it only a site where Alexander camped for a while and then moved on, or did he just decree that a city was to be built there? How exactly does a person found or create a city out of nothing…I think this would be interesting to look into in more detail
I found the “Valley of the Golden Mummies” particularly interesting this week. This cemetery was discovered in Bahariya Oasis and contains over 105 mummies from the time of Alexander the Great to the 4th and 5th centuries AD (308). This cemetery was found on accident, and fortunately there are a lot of things that have been discovered by accident throughout our history and I always end up wondering if it weren’t for that chance occurrence or accident would we still have discovered any of these things at some point? I find it interesting because the mummies were dated from at least three different centuries. There were four different kinds of mummies discovered here, mostly likely based on the individual’s social class. Some of the mummies had gold-covered masks on their casings and others had gold foil on their chests. The next kind found had linen wrapped around their upper body and had facial features and depictions of deities painted on them and others were wrapped in linen that was arranged in geometric patterns, the lowest class burials were poorly wrapped in linen (308-309). I also find these mummies interesting because of the applied implications for genealogical and/or genetic study as well as studies into possible disease prevalence and cause of death based off of the analysis of the paleopathology of the mummies (309).
I also found the city of Alexandria and Philae Island interesting as well. I always liked Alexandria because of the library that was and still is there, but its university, houses, theaters, cemeteries, Roman baths, and a lighthouse complex have also been excavated from Greco-Roman times. It was founded by Alexander and was originally a Greco-Roman city and was later an Islamic city. The cemetery of the Gabbari district had 250 burial niches that were discovered and each niche had sometimes at least 12 skeletons in each (302). Why did this happen? Did they run out of or need more room as time went on or could there have been some type of mass burial that took place and they could not build more tombs? It suffered and with stood damage from invading Muslim armies and riots between pagans and Christians. I wonder how Christianity’s intolerance towards pagans arose? Did it start because pagans originally persecuted not only Christians, but also Jews or was it just part of their fundamental beliefs, since, I believe, Christianity has always been a monotheistic religion? I think Philae Island interesting just because it was built on an island in the first place and that UNSECO disassembled and reassembled it on higher ground on another island (307), which is impressive and many different rulers had buildings constructed that contributed to the temple complex and its temple of Isis even co-existed with the churches that were built and was allowed to stay in use.
Empires amaze me. The Roman Empire has always been my favorite to study. I see several parallels between the way that Rome built empire in its own country, as well as in Egypt. One method for controlling a large empire is to create yourself in the image of god. For example, in the Roman Empire, Constantine made huge statues of himself. Through these statues he became larger than life. He became God-like.
When the Ptolemaic Empire takes control of Egypt, they go through some very similar steps. They make themselves Gods by tracing their bloodline back to Zeus and they marry each other so as not to spread their divinity out. They also adopt Egyptian Gods and make them Grecco/Roman. This speaks to, not only the Egyptians (look, we are worshiping your Gods) but also to their own people (look, we still worship our Gods). By adding a beard to Osiris, they were able to portray him as both Egyptian and Grecco/Roman. By accepting the local gods, the Ptolemaic rulers became more than just the conquering rulers, they became Pharaoh, king and God.
The other step they took to ensure control was to allow Egyptians to hold offices of power in the local governments. The culture of Greece really only prevailed in Alexandria and the nearby Faiyum region. The rest of Egypt was very much still Egyptian and was ruled on a local level by Egyptians. This left the people with a general feeling of satisfaction. They still had a role to play and a voice in the rule of their country. I am sure this helped the Ptolemaic rulers to stay in power and delegate to someone who would be respected on a local level.
My favorite part of the Ptolemaic rule of Egypt is the information. In Alexandria, at the Mouseion, they worked to understand the intellectual capital of Egypt and Greece and to synthesize it together with current understanding of these subjects. They studied science, medicine, geography, mathematics, engineering, philosophy and literature. They also translated works like the Septuagint, adding to our understanding and memory. The Rosetta Stone also came from this time, acting as a key stone to help us translate pieces of Egyptian text to this day.
~Cristina M. Cao
It’s hard to say what part of ancient egyptian archaeology is the most important. For me I prefer cultural applications when it comes to Anthropology. It seems that the most interesting is to see how social customs have been transferred across time through burial sites as well as art that has been recovered.
The reason why the cultural aspect of ancient Egyptian archaeology is the most important, in my eyes, is that we can add more context to all the other discoveries. It adds a story line and it allows context. This context is necessary when we try to examine the past. The contextualization provides meaning and we can start to answer the universal question, “why?”.
The burial sites, especially, seem to give a lot of meaning. We have talked about this some throughout the lectures, but for me it helps see the culture and the time period for more of what it was and less as my mind imagines it. An important example is how there is an increase in social complexity in both Ma’adi and in Buto in the pre-dynastic era. Without these important cultural discoveries the variations between cities and over time would seem more minute than they are.
By looking at the cultural aspects of ancient Egypt we can not only see the increase in social complexity, but we can also see how the economic system developed as well as how their government started. It seems to me that this is essential when knowing entirely what a civilization is and how they have evolved over time through their interactions with each other and their interactions with people from far off lands.
The cultural aspect brings a wealth of knowledge and clarity to what may have seemed obscure. The light shed through cultural application can also enable understanding for something that was a mystery.
The appearance of Greek influence in Egypt is a fitting subject to end this class. Most of the readings that I have done in different classes that relate to Egypt almost always end up describing the Greeks. Most specifically is the city of Alexandria. The influence is so prominent that it almost seems like Greece more than Egypt. I have read about magical practices that were performed in Alexandria especially by an alchemist known as Cleopatra, although not the royal one. This evidence is huge from an alchemical view since there was so much symbolism found in ancient Egypt, yet there are many readings in Greek. The fact that both countries had a single city which is essentially a hybrid of the two, shows that a direct link in the alchemical readings were probably based off of information that originated from the Egyptians.
Although there is no real way to prove this unless there is specific evidence that says this link exists, the speculation leads to many interesting ideas of other influences that the Egyptians may have had on the Greeks. It seems that during the reign of Alexander the Great, being that he stopped the Persian forces in Egypt, the Egyptians were very grateful. The country started to thrive again for several dynasties. However, I cannot imagine that there was no exchange in ideas and beliefs between the two cultures. There were most definitely international relations and the birth of a new culture, or rather a different view on teachings. Like any kind of war, there is always an influence of the enemy on the people. Through this violence, cultures begin to merge with one another and old traditions are forgotten while new ones begin. I truly believe that the Greek influence that Alexander had on the Egyptians is a direct result in a thriving city like Alexandria, but more importantly the creation of new beliefs.