Better late than ever, the synopses for eleven of the ARCE 2013 panel sessions is now ready for your enjoyment. Wonderful memories of some of the brightest Egyptologists now working in the field, many of these summaries were written with the direct assistance of the presenters themselves, and we are sure there is something (if not several somethings) here that will be of interest to you and your own passions in this very wide field. Nighttime at ancient Deir el-Medina, ritual battle scenes on tomb walls, ancient graffiti at Senwosret’s pyramid complex, coffin reuse, New Kingdom chariots, tomb robbery, and much more awaits you within…
On a Personal Note—Why this is Late and Other Details
Ideally this article should have been published a month ago, when we first got back from ARCE 2013, but many things have transpired on the home front in the weeks following our return. I began working as a fill-in teacher and teen support specialist at Community Montessori School in New Albany, IN, just across the Ohio River from Louisville. I am a big believer in the Montessori philosophy of education in particular and life in general, so this has been a great fit for me, but there has been some acclimation involved, as I have been making the transition from a full-time freelance writer to a part-time-soon-to-become-full-time educator who is accountable to other people’s schedules. That is a BIG change for me.
Also on the home front, camp Em Hotep has a new address! After a decade on Jones Drive in the Iroquois Park neighborhood, we have moved to the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood just off of Bardstown Road—Louisville’s version of the Haight-Ashbury District. It is very exciting and a much better fit for Anne and I as it is a much more walkable neighborhood and is in the part of town where we always come anyway for dining, entertainment, and to see our friends. So it was more like a homecoming than a move, but with all of the logistics of a move and a new job, I have fallen behind on some other projects, this article being one of them. But things should be getting back on track now and the next thing to look forward to is a nice interview with New Kingdom chariot expert Kathryn Hansen, who is also featured below.
You may recall from the “pregame report”, ARCE 2013: Getting Psyched, that we planned to attend 31 panel sessions. We came pretty close, but various circumstances kept us from attending all 31. To begin with, we had not anticipated Cincinnati morning rush hour traffic and by the time we arrived we had missed the first session and most of the second. We also missed part or all of some sessions because we made the strategic decision to hang around after some sessions were over and speak with the presenters. This article is largely a result of those chats. This gave us an opportunity to network with some Egyptologists who are quite established in the field as well as meet some brilliant up-comers we are certain you will be hearing more about in the future. So at the expense of a few of the panel sessions we conducted some more in depth interviews and laid the ground work for future articles. We think that was a wise investment.
Rather than attempt to do a brief summary of all of the panel sessions we attended at ARCE 2013, Anne and I decided to pick eleven which we think you, the reader, will find the most interesting. These are also the presentations where the speakers took extended time to talk with us, and in most cases, continued to work with us on this article to review the sections where their work is discussed to assure they were being represented as accurately and comprehensively (in the available space) as possible. Please do enjoy these wonderful memories and rest assured we will be returning to some of these Egyptologists in the coming year to learn more about what they are up to and what successes they are enjoying with their work.
The Panel Sessions—ARCE in 2013
Our first panel session at ARCE 2013 was Laurel Bestock’s presentation, “Discovering and Documenting 4000 Years at Abydos: Recent Work of the Brown University Abydos Project. Dr. Bestock talked about how the Brown University Abydos Project is “expanding the range of ways we analyze, see, record and communicate about the site and archaeology” (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 24). Among the variety of recording techniques being utilized by the Brown mission are 3D modeling of sites and landscapes and photogrammetry of architecture to determine such things as scale and geometric properties.
One of the documentation methods discussed by Dr. Bestock which we found of interest was the employment of a watercolorist to record natural and cultural landscapes. This reminded me of the great artwork that came out of early missions such as those of Jean François Champollion and it was good to be reminded that there will always be a need for artistic people on a truly multidisciplinary Egyptological team. Anne Payne, being the Em Hotep photographer, was particularly interested in Brown’s use of reflectance transformation imagery, which pixel analyses 50-60 different images of the same thing with light sources angled differently to bring out every optical detail. Brown is also using adapting gaming software to allow virtual exploration of the site, something that is becoming increasingly common in our age of 3D simulation.
The University of Pennsylvania’s John S. Thompson presented on “The Stated Purposes for the Old Kingdom Elite Tomb Chapel Rites and Priesthood”, which went in an exciting and, for me at least, unexpected direction. The common assumptions about the rites performed by the priests in tomb chapels typically have to do with the transformation of the deceased into an akh—the form which the deceased takes when entering the Underworld—and the sustenance of the deceased’s akh in the afterlife. But Dr. Thompson makes the case that “an examination of the scenes and texts related to the elite tomb chapel rituals and priesthood do not support these conclusions and give other reasons for the services performed therein” (ARCE Abstract Booklet, p. 84).
Dr. Thompson believes that the post funerary chapel rites do not transform the deceased into an akh in part because the deceased already has the status of “an excellent akh” in some of the funerary texts upon arrival in the tomb. He further does not think that offerings and post-funerary rites maintain the akh because there are curses for those who fail in these commitments which involve the deceased performing all variety of mischief on the living, and this presumes that the akh survives even if offerings and rites stop.
So what is the purpose of the post funerary rites and offerings? Dr. Thompson sees their functions as threefold: because the deceased is an excellent akh, and as such is entitled to these rites and offerings; to remind the living of what a worthy and noble person the deceased was—performing rites and making offerings keeps the memory of the deceased alive, not the akh; and in order to secure the blessings and protection of the deceased, not to mention to prevent the mischief an unhappy akh might inflict.
Teresa Moore of the University of California, Berkeley, presented on “After Hours at Deir el-Medina”. Night was a time filled with supernatural and all-too-mortal perils for the ancient Egyptians. “Ghosts and demons walked abroad, seeking as opportunity to attack mortals who had carelessly neglected to provide themselves with the proper amuletic protection; tomb robbers might be about their sacrilegious business; creatures such as scorpions lurked unseen, to the detriment of the unwary” (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 62). Assassinations and vendettas took place under the cloak of darkness, and one who ran afoul of powerful persons was best off to stay inside, although this was no guarantee that he wouldn’t be bound, strangled, and thrown in the Nile.
But night was also a time for professionals such as gate keepers, watchmen, and the medjay, ancient Egypt’s keepers of the peace. Just as one might be stung by a scorpion at night, priests might be roused to treat the wound. Priests might also be holding nocturnal prayers, more solemn versions of the prayers said during the daytime. Night was also a time when feasting and celebrations might take place. I personally was interested by what Dr. Moore referred to as “carrying torches”, which seems to be associated with protests. For example, when the people of Deir el-Medina were unhappy with grain rations they are described as “carrying torches” in a nighttime procession.
Peter Piccione of the University of Charleston and College of Charleston (South Carolina) hardly needs introduction to the readers of Em Hotep. His presentation was “Once Again the Boatman’s Joust: Ritual Battle as Offering Ceremony”. The decorated walls of Old and Middle Kingdom tombs often depict boatmen identified as ka-priests battling one another in a violent mêlée as offerings are gathered from the bounty of the marsh. Dr. Piccione makes the case that this was no light-hearted game, it was “a ritual battle to defend the life-sustaining offerings and prevent their capture by the unnamed enemy, who otherwise represent forces antithetical to the spiritual life of the deceased, and who must be defeated that the latter might live” (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 71). This battle was similar to other ritual combats, including those of the festivals of Horus at Letopolis and Min at Buto, and the nautical battle associated with the cult of Osiris at Abydos. He argued it was performed by priests apparently impersonating boatmen. Further, the ritual battle might have been based on a real boatmen’s game or contest.
Dr. Piccione’s presentation was extremely interesting, as one might expect, but for me it became particularly enlightening toward the end as he explained the status of decorated walls as living scenes that functioned effectively in the spiritual realm and which went beyond merely symbolizing what they portray. He explained that the decorated walls were “activated” by an Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, the same experienced by the deceased’s mummy, and that what was depicted on the walls was not just symbolic, but in the minds of the ancient Egyptians, was literally occurring in the other world beyond the wall. The decorated wall then functioned as a liminal boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds, much as a false door in a tomb might permit the soul of the deceased to pass from one world to the next.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Dr. Piccione after the presentation and he explained the living status of decorated walls of tombs and temples in terms of how certain Christians view the sacrament of Communion. To some Protestants, Communion is merely symbolic of the body and blood of Christ, and it is accepted that it is only just bread and wine. To Catholics and certain other Protestants, however, the miracle of transubstantiation literally transforms the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. To the first group the sacrament is a symbolic act done in remembrance. To the latter the sacrament is not a symbol, it is a literal miracle. In a somewhat similar manner, the Egyptians believed that symbolism expressed real truth. As Dr. Piccione stated, “symbol did not merely stand for reality, nor was it a mere reminder of a truth, it was the truth. . . . The symbol was the reality, with all the potency, impact and meaning of the real.” The wall decoration was not just a symbol of combat and offering scenes, it was a literal occurrence that played out daily whereby the spirit of the deceased was sustained by the very real offerings in the scene.
Hana Navratilova of the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented on the subject of ancient Egyptian graffiti with “Visiting a Pyramid Complex,” and in this case the pyramid complex was that of the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh Senwosret III. She focused on New Kingdom texts, many of which could be dated to the Eighteenth Dynasty, and discussed where these texts were located in the complex and what we could learn from them, but also spent time discussing the people who left them and why they might have done so. What I learned was that these ancient graffiti were no less then communications from ancient Egyptologists left for their modern counterparts.
The first thing we might deduce about these ancient graffitists is that they were educated—the ability to leave written communication shows that they were literate, which was a relatively uncommon trait, and their content confirms that they knew their subject matter fairly well. Their choice in where to leave their texts seems to indicate that a lot of forethought went into placement. “They often, although not exclusively, chose areas of high visibility—larger spaces of pale paint, or otherwise inconspicuous decoration, or areas that other visitors would find would find hard to pass by without noticing the inscriptions (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 65). Dr. Navratilova also made the point that location could tell us about the condition of the site at the time the graffiti was left. If it was left high up on the wall, out of reach, that suggests that the room had become filled with sand and debris on which the visitor could stand, and was thus not being maintained well.
Those who left the graffiti were being neither flippant nor disrespectful in their own eyes and it was often a chance for the scribe to show off his knowledge. The graffiti show that the visitor who left it knew enough about history to know whose pyramid complex it was, and Dr. Navratilova suggested that some of the scribes may have been there specifically to study their own history. Other inscriptions concerned current events and showed nationalistic pride. They talk about where the pharaoh is at the moment and what he is doing. Other graffiti texts in Senwosret III’s complex were of a pious nature.
Richard Jasnow of Johns Hopkins University continued the theme of graffiti with his presentation, “Demotic Graffiti Pertaining to the Ibis and Falcon Cult from Dra Abu Naga”. Dr. Jasnow’s presentation focused on the graffiti in the Theban tombs of Djehuty (TT 11) and Hery (TT 12), which had become associated with a Ptolemaic Period Ibis and Falcon cult based in the area, dating from 145 BC. The ibis and falcon already had a long history as sacred animals to the ancient Egyptians, being associated with Thoth and Horus respectively, but in the cult as Dra Abu Naga the birds are mummified and referred to as Osiris. The graffiti tell us that these bird mummies were revered and their passing grieved, as the bird chapels are called “Chapels of the Gods Who are Mourned”. They were also apparently elaborate complexes by their own right, as some texts state that “numerous were the servants of the House of Rest”.
We learned that many of the graffiti identify the staff of the complex both by name and by title and discuss their comings and goings, which helps us understand the duties of various priests as well as giving us a glimpse of their way of life. Other texts concerned the logistics of moving mummies throughout the tomb, discussing when, where and how to move them. “Do not rest here too long” one text warns. Dr. Jasnow also discussed the work of cleaning and restoring these texts and how they are building on the centuries of transcription and translation that has taken place in the area, paying particular respect to the Spanish-Egyptian Mission headed by Dr. Jose Galen, who provided many of the slides used in the presentation.
Kara Cooney gave a very exciting presentation on “Reuse of Theban Twenty-First Dynasty Coffins in Paris, Vienna, and Leiden” which discussed her work at the Louvre, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, and Rijksmuseum van Oudheden museums, respectively. Using no other instrumentation than her own eyes, Dr. Kooney examined 59 coffins and coffin fragments and discovered that just under 60% of the Twenty-First Dynasty coffins in her sample showed clear evidence of reuse. She discovered that the ancient Egyptians used a variety of methods for reusing coffins, often more than once, and that the differing methods reflect changing ideas and values with regard to the practice, which seems in some cases to have been done on a nearly industrial level and with a level of expertise that suggests people were specializing in this particular business. Dr. Cooney stated that in some cases of reuse the old decorations had been left in place and plastered over, but more often than not the coffins had been scrubbed clean, recarved and repainted, suggesting a level of professionalism.
There were many clues that helped Dr. Cooney identify a coffin as being reused. The most difficult to identify were examples where no apparent changes had been made to the coffin and there was no mummy to compare to the inscriptions on the case. The easiest to identify were examples where very obvious changes had been made, such as a sex-change—in some cases a coffin that had been made for a woman had had the breasts removed and the wig altered to make it suitable for a male interment. Another fairly obvious example would be where black pitch would be visible in the case, something common to Nineteenth Dynasty coffins, but had been painted over with red pigment, common to Twenty-First Dynasty coffins. Examining the wood itself would often yield clues, such as cases where the wood was of higher quality than the decoration, or where a lid and case had been painted for each other but clearly came from two different coffins.
Kathryn Hansen of Shasta College Museum and Research Center is a name which may be familiar with Em Hotep readers who saw the NOVA documentary Building Pharaoh’s Chariot which aired on PBS in early March, and for which Dr. Hansen was one of the experts. Dr. Hansen presented on “New Data on Ancient Egyptian Chariot Harness” and our growing practical knowledge of how the horses must have been harnessed—practical because she had to reconstruct the harness both for the aforementioned documentary and for a full scale model of a New Kingdom Egyptian chariot located at the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, KY. “This project delivered answers such as: how the bit was attached to the bridle, the reins to the bit, and the breastplate to the neck-fork” (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 41). Dr. Hansen took us on a fieldtrip to visit the chariot in the museum where we were able to get behind the ropes and close up to view and photograph the chariot and its rigging.
I had a chance to talk to Kathy Hansen and conduct a very interesting interview to follow in the coming weeks from Em Hotep, and you can expect to see more of Anne Payne’s wonderful photography of the replica chariot in Lexington. While I don’t want to spoil the interview, one of the burning questions both I and my sponsor for the conference had for Dr. Hansen was: Could a single person really drive the chariot and fire a bow? An iconic image from Egyptian chariot art shows an archer firing from a chariot without a separate driver, and we wanted to know if this was history or artistic license. Although we cannot know for certain, Kathy was adamant that it is possible. She stated that when properly harnessed the horses were so responsive that they could be driven with the pinky fingers. There is no reason why a skilled charioteer could not drive with the reins connected at the hip and fire an arrow at the same time. I raised the question again during her presentation just to get the reaction of the crowd, and sure enough there were skeptics, but Dr. Hansen stood her ground—a single person could both drive the chariot and fire an arrow, there is no reason why not.
Nigel Strudwick of the University of Memphis presented on the shadowy topic of “Robbery in Theban Tombs”. Dr. Strudwick paid due respect to the famous New Kingdom Tomb Robbery Papyri such as the Abbott Papyrus, which relates to the robbery of tombs belonging to Chantresses of the Estate of the Divine Adoratrice, King Sobekemsaf II, and various Theban citizens, a most heinous and unforgivable crime. But he also pointed out that, while this text is invaluable and that its content has yet to be fully explored, there is plenty of sleuth work that needs to be done at the scene of the crime. His own experience with discovering tombs in disarray and wondering if the destruction was caused in antiquity or more recently sparked his personal interest. “Digging out robbed tombs in Thebes, I always wondered how they got in such a mess” Dr. Strudwick related to Em Hotep.
The methods of the tomb robbers, whether ancient or more recent, were often the same—smash and grab. Small items that could be easily carried off and sold were popular and remain so. These are the sorts of items that may have been melted down by ancient tomb robbers and sold just for their content, but which in more recent centuries, indeed, decades, have tended to appear on the illicit antiquities market. Larger items such as gilded coffins were broken up and burned in order to collect the gold from their gilding. But maybe not all robberies were quite so nefarious. Some of the tombs were robbed of their coffins, which as we saw with Dr. Kara Cooney, were reused on what seems to be an industrial scale, and which may have been sanctioned. As is the case today, it seems there were as many motives for robbing as there are robbers.
Beth Ann Judas presented on “The Keftiu as a Liminal People in Early New Kingdom Egypt”, with the Keftiu being the Bronze Age Aegeans. To the ancient Egyptians the Keftiu were, like the people of Punt, an example of the “good” foreigner, people whose interests coincided with Egypt’s. Unlike others who often came to Egypt under duress, the Keftiu came for diplomatic and mercantile reasons, possessing goods which the Egyptians desired, which augmented their status as “good” foreigners. As such, the Keftiu occupied a special place in the larger world which made them distant but agreeable.
“They are an example of ‘good’ foreigners who inhabit a liminal space between ma’at and isfet…This idea is not unacceptable to the Egyptians as the Egyptian gods view foreigners as valuable members of the larger world order since they are a part of the creation of the Egyptian universe.” (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 50)
Foreigners were typically depicted in Egyptian art as elements of isfet, chaos, and the fact that the Keftiu were depicted in a fairly positive light suggests a special status. They were liminal in part because they came from the very edge of the known Egyptian world, which made them exotic. The fact that a foreigner who was so exotic could also be a “good” foreigner was a source of fascination in the early New Kingdom. This fascination wears off as time passes and familiarity breeds contempt, but to the early New Kingdom Egyptian these ambassadors and merchants from the edge of the world were a welcome sight.
Amy Calvert presented a paper on “If Petrie Had a Database: How to Apply Statistical Analysis in the Investigation of Scene Variables”. How do we analyze such things as when the king wears sandals in artistic representation and when the king does not? Being able to see these patterns could play an important role in understanding the big picture of scene representation in ancient Egyptian art, and building a database to analyze these elements can be a challenge. Dr. Calvert began by discussing the shortcomings of traditional art databases, which tend to rely overmuch on description fields. Description fields are good for doing searches, but not so much for statistical analysis. She also discussed the need for a multidisciplinary approach, noting that statisticians are good at indentifying patterns without necessarily knowing the history involved, while historians are good at understanding such things as context while not being so good at analyzing data in ways that identify the types of patterns that give a “big picture” understanding of what is being observed.
Dr. Calvert stresses the need for better and more comprehensive databases that can help ascertain subtle clustering and avoidance of variables that may contribute to our understanding of a scene and its content. In some cases variables tended to appear together with statistically significant frequency, while in other cases variables were “repellant” to one another. For example, Dr. Calvert noted that “sandals are almost never worn when the king wears the hedjet or deshret crowns, but appear in nearly every scene where the king is being censed or is shielded by flabella” (ARCE 2013 Abstract Booklet, p. 29). Better databases will help identify more of these patterns and analyzing them can help us better associate the visual elements of scenes and what they intend to portray.
Copyright by Keith Payne, 2013. All rights reserved.
All photography is copyrighted by Anne Snyder Payne, all rights reserved.