Iufaa’s Tomb

The most interesting tomb in this week’s reading is the tomb of Iufaa, a lector priest and palace official in the 26th or 27th Dynasty.  This tomb was found at Abusir by a team of Czech archaeologists in the 1990s.  It is pretty obvious that Iufaa was an important man, thus the constructors of the tomb wanted to keep the burial safe from grave robbers.  The vaulted limestone roof of his tomb was located at the bottom of a vertical shaft that was filled with sand that is over twenty-one meters below the ground.  In addition to this main shaft, there were also two vertical subsidiary shafts that were also filled with sand that emptied into the main shaft.  It took the team of archaeologists three years to clear out all of the sand from the three shafts.  If grave robbers wanted to enter the tomb, they would have to remove several hundred cubic meters of sand from the main shaft, and that is just the main shaft!  Since the subsidiary shafts empty into the main shaft, the sand from those would have to be removed too, making it basically an impossible task.  Even if grave robbers were to get into the burial chamber, it would be very difficult to get into the actual tomb.  The chamber was made of limestone blocks, along with the lid to the sarcophagus that weighed twenty-four tons.  A large basalt anthropoid sarcophagus was under the limestone lid, and beneath that were the remains of a decayed wooden coffin.  When all of these cases were removed, a covering of thousands of faience beads were revealed.  It is clear that they were trying to keep thieves out of this grave.   This appears to be a grave of a very important person since they tried to keep robbers out with several techniques.  However, when the mummy was examined, it was not preserved very well.  Thankfully the fingers were still covered with gold foil, marking the priest’s importance.

Dynastic Transitions

One of the things that really caught my attention this week was the issue of dynastic changeover. The end of the 18th dynasty was a succession of rulers with decreasing degrees of kinship connections. Akhenaten died and Tutankhamen “ruled” until he died when he was 18, but much of what he did was, according to Chapter 8, “probably manipulated by high court officials and priests of the traditional cults” (p. 229). After Tutankhamen the kingship passed on to Ay who was “possibly a brother of Akhenaten’s mother” (p. 214), but wasn’t descended from either Akhenaten or Tutankhamen. This passing on of rulership is odd, but at least it stays in the royal family and so is still more or less in the same traditions of the 18th dynasty. After Ay the next ruler was Horemheb though, and Horemheb was “a general who had also been regent for Tutankhamen” (p. 214). It is very interesting to see the way that political power is passed along at the end of the dynasty, from father to son, to possibly uncle, to general and then to another military leader/vizier. Rameses I wasn’t related to Horemheb though, but he did start his own dynasty even though “he ruled for little more than a year” (p. 214).

The interesting thing about all of this political turmoil is that while it seems like it should be important who is the leader of the country, it seems like most of the political power in Egypt is actually in the political and religious institutions existing in Egypt at this time, rather than in the hands of the individual ruler or his family. The king was no longer the only ruler either, as there were also Governors for conquest states, both in the north and in the south, as well as viziers of northern and southern Egypt, also overseers of money, and food production, as well as mayors in major cities and nomes as well as other large towns. Also important are the religious leaders, the high priests of Amen and the other gods, all of whom, both economic and religious leaders would have competed with the king for power and essentially limited the authority and power of any king. The king also sought to limit the power of others though, as is evidenced by the way that the “heir to the throne was often the commander-in-chief of the army in the king’s name, but to secure the line of succession other royal sons were often excluded from positions of power in the army or government” (p. 210). If they were excluded from government or army power, I wonder if the other royal sons sought religious power by becoming priests, or what they did with their lives.

The lack of the authority and power of the kings, especially compared to the old kingdom and even the middle kingdom to some extent, really emphasizes the power of the Egyptian state, in military, government, economic and religious areas. The way that the New Kingdom is able to survive short reigns of pharaohs, after Akhenaten, as well as after Rameses II, shows that while the pharaoh’s individual power may have been lacking, the Egyptian state and culture did have substantial power, and power that was able to maintain itself.

Week 6: Daily Life, Mummification, and Animal Burials

I was surprised to read in chapter 8 of the text that the weeks in ancient Egypt were 10 days long, I’m not quite sure I can fathom how a 10 day week could even work given our time scale today. I was interested to read about the daily lives of the workmen; they worked 8 out of 10 days a week and they were given rations by the appointed scribe. I was also surprised that attendance was recorded and that days were allotted for illness or personal time and holidays, today many jobs also do this for their employees. The workers were divided and all the high level workers and some normal workers had to know how to read and write. I think this knowledge of their daily lives is important for understanding their society and the workmen’s role in it.

I was also interested in reading about the process of mummification, in chapter 8. The overall process seems advanced for the times. The removal of the brain after the removal of the ethnoid bone and the removal of all the organs except for the heart, I assume would take some knowledge of physiology/anatomy and some chemistry would be needed for the preservation of the body with the natron and the embalming of certain organs. I wonder how they decided on mummification for their burials and how they worked out a process that was successful. Was the natron in combination with the body initially an accident or a chance occurrence that they then started using or did they use trial and error until they found the right components to preserve the bodies? I liked reading about all the things you can learn from the bodies about the individual and their life from the use of CT/MRI scans, x-rays, rehydrating tissue, and DNA/genetic testing.

The animal burials excavated at Saqqara, in chapter 9, were also intriguing, I thought. The large number of cats that were found along with other large animals were supposedly buried and preserved by pilgrims as offerings to certain gods. But could there possibly be other reasons or explanations for people burying them? Could they have been pets or were they important to whatever city/town they were used in or from? Could their burials have been an ordinary person’s way of showing the importance or their love/loyalty for these individual animals, like the kings/queens being buried with their animals?

Bureaucracy in the 18th dynasty

The amount of control that was created though bureaucracy in the 18th dynasty was amazing.  Thutmose III had several military victories that extended the boarders of the country substantially.  He expanded largely to the north, conquering Palestine and Syria and putting them both under Egyptian control.  This is often just the event that signals the end of an empire.  It becomes increasingly difficult to control and rule over lands that are, largely, outside of the empire.  Furthermore, the people are most likely speaking different languages, worshiping different gods, keeping different traditions and rituals; in short, the people are not homogenous and therefore are not easy to rule and control.

However, the 18th dynasty did a pretty good job of controlling their entire empire through several means.  First, they had many different offices and representatives to look after different sections of the bureaucracy; governors, mayors, viziers, overseers, and priests.  These people were responsible for many of the civil operations and organization which took a large burden off of the Pharaoh.  Other traditions that were done to keep the peace with conquered areas were trade and marriage.  If the Pharaoh is married to your daughter, you are less likely to go against or attack Egypt.  Likewise, if you were giving a luxury good, or traded grain during a drought, you would think twice about any kind of hostility.

I also found it interesting that there was a separate police force.  I would imagine that this was very important.  The army of any country is trained to operate outside of the country, to extend the country and fight against the enemy.  The police force, on the other hand, is trained to keep the peace inside of a country, to serve the people and keep them safe from internal harm.  This is an important distinction because if you allow the army to police the people of a country, the people can become the enemy.  This would probably result in a general loss of positive public opinion about the bureaucratic institutions.

~Cristina M. Cao

Family vs. Politics

After listening to lectures this week, there seems to have been a lot of changes in who had power of Egypt during the New Kingdom as well as the Third Intermediate Period.  However, it was not until reading about the tomb styles that I noticed something interesting.  It seems as though to me that the new generation of Pharaohs followed a more “modernistic” style when building tombs, temples and so on.  We have already learned that there are hieroglyphs and writings that describe the royal families as being more family-oriented than focused on ruling.  I feel that with this new take as a Pharaoh being open with his family, the buildings were bound to change.

Such examples of these structures include what the readings considered as “rest homes” or rather places where kings would go to stay when traveling.  They were also active as hunting lodges.  Since these New Kingdom kings were so involved with their personal life, it seems that the balance between it and there political life was one sided.  Many of the great accomplishments of the previous Pharaohs were to build great tombs such as the pyramids, but this seemed to die out for the new age.  In particular is the Valley of the Kings.   The fact that the new kings were buried in a secluded naturally guarded area shows that their image after death would not be nearly as unique as the Pharaohs buried in pyramids or large temples.  As the name suggests, the Valley of the Kings is plural to signify many kings, but none in general whereas the Great Pyramid of Khufu clearly designates that Khufu is buried in there.

Some of the chambers that exist in each tomb in the valley, shows that there was extra room for the family of the King; another indication that family was of great importance to the kings during this time.  However, it may be that this growing interest in family is what ultimately led to yet another decline in political structure and thus loss of power throughout the lands.


The process of mummification takes a lot of precision, care, and time.  Mummification techniques have evolved through time, beginning as early as the Dynastic times of ancient Egypt.  The complicated procedure is very interesting, yet some of the techniques are a little confusing.  For example, why did they remove the brain, internal organs, and lungs from the body but not the heart?  Did they not remove the heart because it was too sacred, or was it needed in the afterlife?  Then why would they take out all of the other organs? Were they just unnecessary in the afterlife, or was there a different symbolic, religious, or medical reason?  These organs were obviously still important though because they were cleaned and preserved in containers that were guarded by the sons of Horus.  After all of this, the body was wrapped in linens, protected by amulets.  This whole process takes about one hundred and ten days.  The care of the dead to help them journey through the afterlife was obviously an important task.  This is known because of the time and amount of detail put into preserving the dead.

Current technologies are excellent in providing new information about mummification and the ancient Egyptians.  Many mummies can now be x-rayed and tissues can be rehydrated, which can show evidence of diseases that were present in these mummies when they were living.  X-rays show such problems as trauma, arthritis, poliomyelitis, dental abscesses, and other diseases.  These defects are even seen in royal mummies.  Humorously, the mummy of Makara the priestess who was formerly thought to have been buried with her child was found to be buried with a baboon instead through the use of these new x-ray technologies.  Now, the sex and age of mummies can be determined without unwrapping the linens.  These technologies help by better preserving the bodies because some do not have to be disturbed by unwrapping them and doing autopsies.  Studying mummies provides an interesting view into the life and death of the ancient Egyptians.

Middle Kingdom Pyramids

In lecture videos, one of the things talked about was the decreased complexity of pyramids built by Middle Kingdom pharaohs, compared to the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. This is important because of the relationship of the pyramids as a symbol of state authority and organizational power. While the smaller size and lessened quality of Middle Kingdom pyramids could be used to explain a decrease in the authority of the state as compared to the Old Kingdom, the change in pyramid construction could also be understood as a change in the priorities of Middle Kingdom pharaohs.

What really stands out in the readings about the Middle Kingdom is the sheer amount of activity that is going on throughout Egypt during this time period. From the forts of Upper Egypt, to the “Walls of the “Walls of the Ruler” (Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, p. 173), to the trade expeditions to Punt, there is a lot of activity going on in Egypt. The majority of this activity is also, while organized by the state, participated in by the state conscripted laborers or “Corvée” (Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, p. 169). These laborers would have been used for all of these projects, as well as for the construction of pyramids for the Pharaoh’s tomb. With over 3000 individuals being involved in a trading trip to punt, as recorded on the “stela of the king’s [Senusret I] vizier Intef-iker” (Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, p 172), and many others being involved in protecting the southern border of Egypt against Nubia, as well as others having to supply and support all of these state projects, it is not really surprising that the size and complexity of pyramids decreased.

In addition, the growth of religion in the lives of the everyday Egyptian, or the “democratization”, as it is described in Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom would also have likely contributed to a decreased importance being placed on the pyramid as a representation of pharaoh’s divinity. The growth of popular religion, as evidenced by scarab amulets and birth bricks would have made the average individual closer to the king, both economically and spiritually, such that: in “the reign of Senwosret III, there would have existed in theory only two steps between the households of any local community and the pharaoh himself” (Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom, p. 134).

The change in complexity and size of the pyramids, as representations of the authority and power of the Egyptian state can be better understood in relation to the decreased importance of the pharaoh as the source of divine intervention in Egyptian life, as well as the shifting priorities of the pharaohs. In this regard, the decrease in pyramid quality can be seen not as an essential loss of state authority, but as a change in the importance of the pharaoh, as well as of the pyramid as a symbol of the pharaoh and state power.

Magical Childbirth

In ancient Egyptian society, childbirth was considered a very magical and religious part of life.  Most likely due to large numbers of child burials and stillborns in cemeteries, Egyptians emphasized these magical practices in their women’s childbirth experience.  The Abydos birth bricks, which women in labor would have squatted on to give birth to a child, provide us with the most detailed archaeological evidence for these practices.  It includes images of a human mother and her two assistants, Hathor, the deity associated with fertility and childbirth, and several other known deities.

The most interesting piece of these bricks is the hair color used for the human mother and assistants.  Hair color is traditionally depicted as black, but these women are shown with sky-blue hair color.  The symbolism of this blue color shows us that these women were given a divine form.  The mother and child were also seated on a solid-based throne of divinity, as opposed to just a normal chair.  These changes in form show us the important divine transfiguration of the mother from human form to that of the goddess Hathor.  It exemplifies how childbirth is a very magical practice because a woman needs to be a more divine form to take on and survive such a large and important task as childbirth.

As with other material items, birth bricks most likely differed between households.  People with more wealth and higher social status may have had better quality and more artistically designed birth bricks.  These probably would have been seen as better birthing techniques, which would have made people think they had a better chance of having healthy offspring.  If a human mother has to turns into a goddess to give birth to a child, it must have been seen as a difficult process so magic was needed to assist these women.  These bricks help us see that childbirth was a very important part of ancient Egyptian life since it was seen as such a religious and magical experience.

Kahun: Life and death

To me, the settlement at Kahun was the most interesting piece of this week’s readings.  It is amazing how much Flinders Petrie recovered from this site in two years (1888-1890), probably abandoned since the 13th dynasty; seeds, tools, board games, toys, jewelry, records and letters, as well as religious artifacts.  All of these items give us a window in which we can view what life was like for these ancient Egyptians!

When looking at the structures from this middle kingdom era, I am surprised at how complex things got.  It seems like the Egyptians had moved on from the bigger is better mentality and instead began creating very complex structures.  Now we have houses with many rooms, each with a specialized purpose.  From the reading we see that the larger houses now have reception rooms, pools, bedrooms with sleeping alcoves, granaries with enough food to feed thousands of people.

The records that were found here caught my attention.  Fragments of papyri preserved for thousands of years with all manner of information contained on them.  It amazes me how much information the Egyptians kept by recording them on these pieces of papyri; medical information, administrative information, legal documents, religious hymns, literary texts, mathematics.  They knew and understood so much of the world around them.  Maybe even more importantly, they had a desire to make their world better, to fix things and people, to manipulate their environment.

We see again, in this settlement the practice of adult burials being conducted outside of the town.  The reading doesn’t tell us much about these burials.  We also see that infants were buried inside of the settlement, beneath the floors of houses.  We have seen this before and it is becoming a common pattern throughout the time and space of ancient Egypt.  I may explore this in my research article because I find it interesting that they would treat the two events as separate and different.

~Cristina M. Cao

Dynastic Social Hierarchy and thoughts on Settlement at Giza

I found the article by Lehner, on Pyramid Age Settlement at Giza, very interesting because it reminded me a lot of the experience I had at Morton Village earlier in the summer. One of the things I get asked all the time when I talk to people about our excavations is “What did you find”, which when most people ask, basically means they want to hear about the artifacts and material culture that we pulled out of the ground. Without having any background in archeology this is what most people seem to think archeologists do, i.e. pull artifacts out of the ground. It’s not so much what you find that is important though, but what it was used for, and how this relates to the lives of the people who used it. The article provided a thorough assessment of the work at Giza and a description of the excavations that explained how people might have lived there. The question of who lived at Giza is still open to interpretation, as Lehner explains, but at least we know how many people could have lived in the area surrounding the pyramids and what their lives would have been like in the process of building.

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