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.

Continuation of Egyptian Culture by non-Egyptians

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

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading

Evidence of Warfare and State Formation

The idea that Egypt was unified through warfare between the Upper and Lower Egyptians seems be the dominant modern understanding of Egyptian Unification. The evidence of warfare seems to be lacking in the archeological record though. It seems like most of the evidence of warfare comes from artifacts such as the Narmer Palette that have multiple interpretations. It is admitted though, in Chapter 5 The Rise of Complex Society and Early Civilization, that a debate exists about whether the Narmer Palette even represents an actual historical event. Other than the palette though, and other artifacts, mentioned but not discussed, in the chapter, there is little evidence to support the idea that warfare was the unifying force in predynastic Egypt. According to Chapter 5, “sites in the Delta with destruction layers are lacking” (pg 107). If warfare were truly responsible as a unifying force between the south and the north, there would be archeological evidence to support this idea. Excavations would reveal evidence of conflict, which could come in many forms, such as burnt houses, burials with evidence of scavenger activity (suggesting remains left exposed for a period of time), tools of warfare i.e. weapons, as well as defensive tools such as fortifications. This evidence is either not talked about in the chapter or not present in the excavations, suggesting that while warfare may have been present in predynastic times, it might not have had as strong an influence on Egyptian unification as some suggest

I think the issue of how unification actually occurred, or at least could have occurred, is explained more thoroughly in the chapter of  Egyptian Archeology by Kohler, Chapter 3: Theories of State Formation. Kohler explains state formation and the processes involved in a broader context than mere violent conquest. Even if warfare was the origin of southern control over the north of egypt, processes of state formation were still essential for creating a unified culture that persisted for thousands of years. The important aspects of state formation that Kohler focuses on include, specialization in crafts, trade over long distances, social complexity, centralization and a state ideology (pg 38). All of these processes can be seen in the archeological record though. Craft specialization can be seen in the pottery assemblage as well as the “fishtail and rhomboidal flint knives [that] were manufactured by highly skilled flint knappers” (pg 39). Trade can be seen in the presence of copper from Palestine as well as gold and other resources from outside the Nile Valley. Social complexity and state ideology can both be demonstrated in the mortuary record, as well as centralization to some extent. Centralization is also indicated by the trade networks (pg 41) as well as the larger organization of the state. While state formation can clearly be demonstrated it is much more likely that it occurred through the processes discussed in Kohler, rather than as the result of warfare. Kohler’s processes can and have been found in the archeological record, and while warfare should (at least if it occurred) be present in the archeological record, this is not the case.

Warfare may have led to unification of upper and lower Egypt, but if it did, it seems like there would be more evidence. Warfare may be a common explanation for unification, but it doesn’t explain the larger processes necessary to form a state that could last for thousands of years. Warfare destroys rather than creates which is why it is interesting to see an explanation of state formation that shows the true complexity of forming a state. To some extent it might be that warfare as a form of chaos, was what the unification was opposed to, unification being seen as, along with the ruler, a representation of order.

Evidence of Buto-Ma’adi Cultural Transition

I’m interested in knowing more about the predynastic history of lower Egypt. While it was interesting to read about the excavations at Buto and Ma’adi, the overview of the culture uncovered seems lacking in comparison with the presentation of Naqada culture. Naqada culture is interesting because it is so closely related to later dynastic cultures, but Buto-Ma’adi are just as interesting because they aren’t. What exactly happened to the cultures of Buto-Ma’adi? Were they assimilated into the Naqada culture that is evidenced in the archeological record at Buto, or was there some kind of interaction between the two cultures? The evidence of domesticated donkeys at Ma’adi, reportedly the earliest evidence suggests, along with copper sources, that this culture was trading with Palestine. Did the Buto-Ma’adi culture move to the east through displacement by northern moving Naqada peoples? What exactly were the interactions between the Naqada people and the Buto-Ma’adi people as they began to interact. At the very least I’d imagine that the Naqada people adopted the donkey as a beast of burden, so it likely wasn’t a completely one-sided cultural interaction. It would be interesting though to look at the ceramic assemblage, as well as the evidence of tools and nutrition to see how culture changed in Buto with the presence of Naqada peoples, as well as to what extent this influence was taken back to Naqada people further up the river (maybe look at how donkey use moved along the river).

Continue reading

Introduction: Ben

Hello. My name is Ben and I’m a senior anthropology major. This will be my third year at MSU and part of the reason I originally signed up for this class was to be able to graduate in December. I decided not to do that (I don’t really know why I was considering it in the first place), but decided to keep the class because it sounded interesting. I’m excited about learning more about archeology. Next year I’m taking a mix of anthropology classes with a couple of language classes thrown in for fun, but I’ve changed my schedule more times than I can count and probably will again. I enjoy learning about everything which is probably part of the problem. I don’t really know what I want to do with my life after I graduate, which is part of the reason I’m not ready to graduate, but I also want to do something other than just sitting in classes listening to lecture after lecture. I love anthropology, but I don’t really know what I’ll do with it. I’m hoping to join the Peace Corps after graduation, but I still have to go through the whole registration process, I’m planning on getting started on in within the next couple of weeks though (fingers crossed). After that, well I guess its up in the air. Maybe back to grad school or random jobs, I just want to be able to travel and see the world as well as keep going to school wherever I’m at, so whatever works for that.

For the first half of the summer I participated in the MSU Field School at Morton Village, run by Dr. O’Gorman. I’m not really sure that I want to go into archeology, but actually being able to get out of a classroom and participate in something (to get my hands dirty so to speak) was completely awesome. For the rest of the summer, I’m just planning on taking this class and relaxing a little. I’m hoping to do a little more archaeology volunteering later this summer and next summer as well. I also volunteer at the VA on an irregular basis, basically whenever my mother guilts me into it, which has happened every summer for the past 6? years. Otherwise I’m planning on just enjoying the weather and being outside as much as possible, fishing, boating, golfing, disc golfing!, biking, swimming, all those fun summer activities. I love reading and generally read at least a book a week and I’m also a fan of computer games (especially rts, tbs and rpg), luckily those can be enjoyed outside as well, albeit in the shade.

I’m looking forward to this class and learning more about Egyptian archaeology. I haven’t taken an entirely online course at MSU yet so I don’t have much to compare to, but so far I like the course layout much better than using Angel, especially the open nature of the course.