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

Ptolemaic Legitimacy

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

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

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


I found the excavations of the area surrounding the Giza Necropolis to be very interesting.  For thousands of years we have been creating hypothesizing on how these pyramids were constructed.  Many of the theories assume that the Egyptian people were not skilled, organized, or civilized enough to construct these amazing tombs.  These excavations show us the ability of the ancient Egyptian bureaucracy.

We can see the long galleries that, most likely, housed hundreds or thousands of workers each.  We see evidence of the ovens that they used to bake their bread and the silos where they stored their grain.  We see a complex system of streets and the way that these streets divided the town into separate quarters.  We see common areas where people may have eaten their dinners together in the company of their friends and family.

I was surprised when I looked at the survey maps that were included in the excavation report.  What I saw where grids and squares.  It reminded me very much of our towns and cities today, especially from a bird’s eye view (like from in an airplane).  I realized that people have been changing the face of the earth since our existence, and we have preferred to do so in grids and squares.

I find this all very fascinating.  Through excavation we get to see a picture of how ancient people lived; their customs, their culture, their behaviors.  We can make educated guesses as to the purpose of certain events or patterns.  The idea that the pyramids on the plateau were constructed by aliens is just ridiculous.  These people are not looking at all the evidence.  They are not taking into account all of the information that we have on the culture, language, and religion of the ancient Egyptians.  As a scientist, the idea that the ancient Egyptians could not have created these structures, towns, and material culture, makes me kind of angry.

~Cristina M. Cao

Social Evolution

I realize that the idea of social evolution has been abused and misused over time; however, I agree with the general concept.  I see how, throughout time and place, humankind has transitioned from a nomadic life style, to one of a more settled agricultural way of life.  Maybe it’s true that this linear perception of human history does not allow for the minutiae of variation to exist and thrive but this is exactly the “evolution” that I see occurring in the Nile Valley.

They transitioned slowly from a sparse set of traveling groups, into a more settled agricultural community with social stratification.  We can see the differences between elite and non elite through many avenues; most interesting to me were the grave goods, or lack of grave goods, that were buried with each.  Over time we see these groups of people creating a complex state with bureaucracy and means of production.  They begin to keep records and hold specialized jobs.

I have always found state formation to be interesting.  There is an assumption that each state has a group of homogeneous people who want the state to exist as it does.  Throughout history, however, we learn that this concept is often not true.  I think that states would operate more smoothly if this was the case; they would acquire more legitimacy from the citizens.  People would be adequately represented and more pleased with their means of government.  However, this is often impossible to accomplish because so many groups come together in the same areas, as was the case with the Nile Valley.

The last thing I wanted to comment on was the archaeologist’s recreation of the capital, Memphis.  I found it very interesting that, while the archaeological evidence from the city was very little, they were able to recreate and hypothesize certain things from the surrounding cemeteries.  The information that they theorized from these excavations is really quite specific and I find it fascinating that they could acquire so much information from cemeteries.  Also, my curiosity is peaked and I wish we could excavate Memphis, in spite of the “impenetrable silts” (Kohler, 13).

~Cristina M. Cao

Predynastic Burial and Beauty

As an anthropology major with a focus in archaeology and religion,  I have always been interested in how different groups of people bury their dead.  One question that I have wondered about again and again came up for me while doing this week’s reading.  How do archaeologists know that a burial is intentional without grave goods?  I would assume that they might determine this from body placement.  Perhaps the bodies have an intentional placement to them, such as arms across the chest, or perfectly straight down at their sides.  The other thing that may have indicated intentional burial, when grave goods were not present, could be the location of the grave inside of a cemetery or mortuary area.

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Hello All

Hello!  My name is Cristina and I am a senior at MSU.  I am majoring in Anthropology.  I have about a year left in my degree.  When I am done, I hope to do some archaeology, probably through a volunteer field school.  After that, I might apply to graduate schools or look for a job in my field (Maybe a CRM firm).  One day I hope to be a professor or work in a museum (or both?).  I have always been fascinated with Egypt, and so I am geeked to be taking this class.  In the past, I have taken a few art history classes that have touched on the basic cultural aspects of ancient Egypt.

I am also very interested in the field of Forensic Anthropology.  I am taking CJ 210 online this semester as well, which is Intro to Forensic Science.  I am not sure if it is an interest I will pursue in the future or not, but I have thoroughly enjoying getting to learn about the field so far (that class spans the whole summer, so I am about half way through).  The other part of physical anthropology that interests me is the evolutionary branch.  I took a class last semester ANP 440: Hominid Fossils, which I found very interesting (and challenging).  Really, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. (Maybe I should figure it out because I am pushing 30!)

I currently work full time for Elderly Instruments in Old Town.  I play some ukulele and I enjoy all kinds of music (Animal Collective, Queen, Green Day, Garth Brooks, Steve Miller Band, Gorillaz, Immortal Technique, Denna Carter, Godspeed You Black Emperor, My Chemical Romance, ETC… I know, I could be more ADD with my music choices if I tried!)  I love my job!  It is truly a wonderfully creative and inspiring place to be.  In my free time I enjoy playing games (MTG, Settlers, etc.), putting together jigsaw puzzles, cooking, watching movies, and going on walks (or swimming now that it is SUMMER!!).

Looking forward to the semester and, so far, love the set up of this class!