Class Survey


Hey folks – as promised, I’ve created a survey for the class.  I’m hoping that you will take a little bit of time to complete it (because it will help with future versions of this class – as well as a all other Anthropology online classes).  They survey can be found on ANGEL – located under the Lessons tab.  I’m going to close down the survey at the end of the weekend.

Bonus Blog!


So, I promised it…and here it is, your bonus blog.  This time, I’ve got a specific question:

Which aspect (topic, etc.) in Egyptian archaeology (that we either covered in class or didn’t cover in class) do you think is the most important?  Why?  Make your argument!

The post is due on Thursday, the 18th (before midnight) – no response is needed (just the post).


Open Access: A Note to Non-Michigan State University Students


Greetings!  Welcome to ANP491: Archaeology of Ancient Egypt! If you aren’t already registered for the class, you’ve either come to this website via the recent Boing Boing post, via Audrey Watters’ recent Weekly News Roundup post on KQED MindShift, though the social media (the class announcement has been making the RT rounds on Twitter), or simply stumbled across it via a search.

A couple of quick notes that will help you enjoy (and, more importantly, understand) the class.  Archaeology is a regularly offered class in the Department of Anthropology (being taught online this summer) at Michigan State University.  The class is also Open Access.  This means that most of the content (video lectures, etc.) are freely available to the public.  You can’t “register” for the class – like a student at MSU would (in order to get credit towards a degree).  However, you can view all of the learning materials and read all of the stuff students write for the class.  I also let non-registered students comment on blog posts (so you can take part in the class discussion if you want – though I moderate).  There are some of the readings that non-MSU people don’t have access to (specifically journal articles) – this is for copyright purposes.

It is worth pointing out that while Michigan State University is technically part of the Open Courseware Consortium, it does not have a top level approach to Open Courseware or Open Access Courses (such as the MIT Open Courseware Initiative).  This course is Open Access because I personally believe it is my responsibility as a professor at a university that is both a public institution and a Land Grant institution to work for the public good – and offering all of my classes as Open Access (not just this one) is one of the ways I do this.

Its also very important to point out that, unless otherwise stated, the materials in this class are being made available through a Creative Commons BY-NC 3.0 License.  I would ask that respect that license.

This having been said, I hope you get something worthwhile out of the class.

Animal/Human Communication

I personally do believe animals have language. Just from a normal day observation I notice birds chirping, bees buzzing, and dogs barking. By observing their actions that go along with their language I see patterns hinting at communication. Also movies and documentaries have played a role in my belief that animals have language. For example the scientific fact, as read from this week text that, Bees use the tail waging dance to communicate distance/direction of remote food sources was used in the movie: A Bee Movie. Although the film is an animation it taught of this real life process. Movies like this sparked my interest to learn more and do research about animal languages.
As far as the difference between animal and human language I see a tremendous difference. As discussed in lecture animals languages are not as complex as the human language. They are limited to certain sounds. I believe their language is not as complex because it can not be taken out of context like the human language. As discussed in the movie, The Voice, I also believe they’re incapable of sounding like humans as there throat and other inter workings are vastly different from humans.

Bonus Blog: Burial

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

Bonus Blog Post

Most of my background in anthropology is in the medical/cultural component of the field. However, in the past year or so I have taken much more interest in the biological and archaeological side of anthropology. As such, I really thought that areas in which the two sides overlapped were quite interesting and I think that the study of such areas can be quite important. An obvious example from this class is the topic of the study of mortuary customs, which can provide valuable information about how someone lived and how they might have fit into their community. They can also give us an idea of how people thought about death and dying.

Another area that I think is important to the study of ancient Egyptians (and probably to other ancient cultures as well) are bioarchaeological studies of ancient human remains. By examining osteological, odontological, and other physical evidence from ancient human remains, we can add to the body of knowledge that has been built by the study of material culture (such as the study of mortuary practices, art & sculpture, artifacts, architecture, tools, etc). For instance, by studying macroscopic and microscopic physical markers on the teeth and bones of the ancient Egyptians, we can improve our knowledge about the lives of past civilizations, gaining perspective on how different groups might have worked, how often they got sick and what sort of diseases they contracted, what types of foods they ate and if they were ever malnourished, how long they typically lived, and other valuable information. When we combine these studies with the knowledge gained from the study of material culture, language, and studies of the environment that surrounded the ancient Egyptians, we can vastly improve our understanding of their culture than if we focus on one area of study alone.







Bonus Blog: Burials

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.

Bonus Blog Answer

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.

Bonus Blog- Egyptian Deities

Similar to most African cultures, Egyptian history is deeply rooted with the existence of deities.  The appearance of such religious figures begins in Pre-dynastic times.  The Old Kingdom showed the most highest respect to their deities by constructing temples that had cults to accompany them, incorporated the representative symbols of the gods in to the names of the elitist, and had many rituals. The people of Egypt also had evolved the theory that their kings and queens were semi-divine and acted as the middlemen between the deities and the common man.  The symbol of Horus, the falcon god and protector of pharaohs, appears in the cartouche of pharaohs to symbolize their divinity.  Another name that was incorporated into royal names was that of the protector of women, Neith. The queens that usually use her name were mainly from the Western Delta which was were a huge cult had been established to pay respect to her.  Two Early Dynastic queens that used her name are Neithhotep and Merneith.

During the New Kingdom there was a king, Akhnaten, that unsuccessful created a deity.  The new deity, Aten, was suppose to replace the well-founded sun god, Amun.  The sun god was considered the father of gods.  Akhnaten wanted to reestablish the sun god because he felt the cult of Amun was becoming to strong.  Although he did somewhat convert Egyptians to Aten, it was only during his lifetime and once he died so did his fantasy deity.  As time continued to past other deities took on essential roles in the Egyptian history including Hathor who symbolized fertility and welcoming the dead to the afterlife, Isis who stood for fertility, Seth who was the god of storms, and many others.  During the Late Dynastic Period when there was a lot of Greco-Roman influence there were multiple deities created to merge the two cultures together.

As you can see deities were more than just religious figures.  Many times their creation was a political tool to control the country better and to increase the authoritative position for the government.  The people in power were generally successful at making Egyptians follow the new deities but their popularity seemed to fade after that person in power had left, like when Aten was created.  The deities that remained central roles to the kingdom were those that had strong roots in the Egyptian history and had been passed down through many generations like Amun and Neith.

Bonus Blog: Symbolism in Egypt

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.

Response to “Continuation of Egyptian Culture by non-Egyptians”

For some reason I can post my comment to “Continuation of Egyptian Culture by non-Egyptians” post so I posted my comment as a new blog.

Egyptian culture was continued on by non Egyptians after conquests. It is very interesting that all Egypt invaders adopted part or all of Egyptian culture. Why? Maybe, that is why Egypt was always a target. Religion seemed to be the backbone of Egyptian structure. Conquerors maybe knew that they could control the conquered through religion. For example the Persians supported Egyptian religion by building temples to legitimize the Persian King as pharaoh. The Persians were building ethos among the Egyptians. However, the Persians curtailed the temple political power. As you stated the conquerors would want to relate to the conquered but still maintain the highest power. So they put restrictions on what was/wasn’t allowed.

It is interesting that so many nations wanted part in Egypt. Another reason why could be because of the Egyptian strong religious beliefs. The land was good for agriculture and like Egyptians maybe other nations believed it was because of their faith. Because religion is the main thing Egyptians wanted to savor, and all the invaders agreed to learn and practice, so there has to be great significance. Religion and ideological connections is what is thought to have brought Greece and Egypt together. Greek settlers’ cultural elements were infused into Egyptian culture however Egyptian religion always remained.


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.