In November a group of us from the Essex Egyptology Group had the chance to visit parts of the British Museum that aren't generally open to the public - some of the storerooms where the 95% of the Egyptian artifacts that aren't on display are held. I'd been on one of these trips before several years ago, so was pleased at the chance to go again - partly because it's a chance to see items you don't normally see, and partly because it would be someone different showing us round so we would see different things. When we'd all arrived we were split into two groups, the one I was in was shown round by Adrienn Almásy.

Almásy took us to the Papyrus room first - this is her speciality, she works on Demotic and Coptic texts. There are around 3,300 papyri that belong the museum - some of which are fakes. She showed us a few of these, mostly pieces of linen wrapped round sticks to fool 19th Century tourists. The real papyri mostly arrive at the museum as a collection of fragments which are then carefully pieced back together and mounted in glass frames. The collection is currently being scanned so that the texts can go online and be available to more people. The texts that the British Museum has are in Hieratic (a script used in parallel with hieroglyphs), Demotic (a later script that took over from Hieratic as the script of bureaucracy) and Coptic (a Greek derived script which took over from Demotic). The museum holds no Greek texts - these went to the British Library when the two collections were split. Which tells you something about the way the Egyptian texts were regarded - Greek = literature, but an Egyptian script = archaeology regardless of age or literary merit!

We looked at a few examples of texts, with a bias towards the later period as that's Almásy's speciality. One was a text that's in Egyptian and written with Greek letters, that predates the development of the Coptic script, which was pretty cool. Another text was one that she's working on to publish - on one side it has a letter in Coptic, on the other side is a completely unrelated text in Arabic showing that the papyrus was reused long after the first letter was sent. She also talked a bit about the status of Greek & Egyptian as languages during the Ptolemaic era. The higher levels of bureaucrats spoke & wrote Greek, and the lower administration spoke Egyptian & wrote in Demotic script - and you can see on official documents that a Demotic document will be glossed in Greek to make sure the meaning is clear. Almásy said that in modern Egypt speaking French or English is a status symbol and so high society speaks in a mixture of English, French and Arabic when talking amongst themselves. She speculated that perhaps in the Ptolemaic period the elites amongst Egyptian society mixed Egyptian with Greek in a similar fashion.

The next room we went to see was the pottery room, and here one of Almásy's colleagues (Valentina Gasperini) spoke to us briefly - she is a specialist in ceramics, and is working on those from the New Kingdom period at Amara West. The pottery room is laid out in chronological order starting with pre-dynastic Naqada III era pots, some of which are decorated with boats and other motifs that will become typical of later Egyptian art. Apart from a couple of exceptions the pots in this room are those that don't have inscriptions, the ostraca etc are stored elsewhere (that we didn't see). Someone (I forget who) asked about pottery techniques during Ancient Egyptian history and Gasperini told us that the pottery wheel dates back to at least the Old Kingdom. There are depictions in 4th Dynasty mastaba tombs of a type of wheel that she referred to as a "slow" wheel. But the kick wheel (which is more what we'd think of as a pottery wheel, I think) isn't seen depicted until the Late Period during the time when the Persian Darius ruled Egypt.

We'd spent quite a lot of time in these first two rooms so we had to be rather more brisk through the next two. I also appear to've taken very few notes in the metal objects room, which was the next one we went to. A large amount of the stuff in there is jewellery and Almásy opened several drawers for us to have a look. There is little, if any, of the British Museum's Egyptian jewellery that's out on display as it doesn't fit with the current concept for the galleries, so it was a real treat to see what they have. There were a lot of exquisite necklaces and beads, and in one of the drawers there was also a smallish (20cm) silver statue of Amun. This is one of J's favourite artifacts so he was delighted to have the chance to see it in person!

The last of the rooms we visited was the organics storeroom. In here they keep a lot of smaller wooden pieces like scribal palettes and statuettes, but the most noticeable contents are the mummies and coffins. They store the mummies & coffins on racks organised in chronological order starting with some naturally mummified pre-dynastic bodies. Each mummy that has a coffin is kept near to it, so the entire assemblage is in one area. On the day we visited there was a coffin down on a table near the racks being studied.

And then all too soon we were finished with our tour - it had been an hour & a half, but I think you could spend days there and not see a significant fraction of the fascinating objects!

Before meeting up with the others at the British Museum J & I had visited the Sir John Soane Museum. This museum is an Enlightenment gentleman's cabinet (house) of curiousities as he left it when he died (as stipulated in his will). We'd visited it once before and done the whole museum properly, but on this occasion we were there for the Ancient Egypt related temporary exhibition - Egypt Uncovered: Belzoni and the Tomb of Pharaoh Seti I (which is still running till 15 April 2018). One of the items in the museum's permanent collection is the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I, which was brought back to London by Belzoni 200 years ago. We began our visit with a look at that, down in the basement of the museum. The whole piece is covered in texts and imagery from the Book of Gates, which is an ancient Egyptian funerary text. The scene that particularly caught my eye was inside the coffin and from near the end of the text where the great snake Apophis is bound in fetters. There's also a bit of near modern graffiti - Belzoni carved his name in the sarcophagus at the foot end near the lip of it. Which was standard practice at the time (for instance many of the fine statues in the Turin Museum have Salt's name carved into them), but it still makes me wince.

Hathor Welcoming Seti I

The temporary exhibition was quite small, just a couple of rooms. The first of these had an explanation of who the Great Belzoni was - circus strongman, engineer, adventurer and early archaeologist. He discovered the tomb of Seti I in 1817 - although it had been robbed in antiquity it was still exquisitely decorated and contained some small objects and the great sarcophagus. This room of the exhibition also included water-colours of the decoration done by Belzoni & his assistant (which in some places let us see detail that's since been damaged in the original). It also included photos of pieces of the relief that were chiselled out and sent to European museums - one now in the Louvre (see my photo above which I took when I visited Paris in 2011), and a matching one now in Florence. Both show the goddess Hathor and Seti I. The second room of the exhibition had a few fragments of the lid of the sarcophagus (it was broken in antiquity, probably when the tomb was robbed) which are not usually on display so that was pretty cool to see. There was also a video of high-res imagery that's been made of the sarcophagus. There is a plan to make a replica of Seti I's tomb so that more people can see the beautiful reliefs without risking the original, and there will be a replica of the sarcophagus made to go with that.

It's a pretty small exhibition, but worth popping into if you're interested in Egypt - and the rest of the museum is also worth a look for the sheer over-the-topness of it all!

At the beginning of November Penny Wilson visited the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about myths & legends of the Delta region of Egypt. Wilson is involved in archaeological work in the Delta, and is currently writing a book about the region as there isn't one already. One of her areas of interest is whether there is a distinct Delta culture during the Ancient Egyptian period.

She began her talk by giving us some geographical context for the region. The first & most obvious difference between the Delta and the Nile Valley is the scale - in most of Egypt there's only a narrow strip of land that it's possible to live on, but the Delta is very broad. There is also more variety of environments in the Delta - the marshy interior is different to the desert edges & both are different to the Mediterranean coastline. The Delta was also different in ancient times to the way it is now - the natural flooding of the Nile deposited a lot of sediment so the coastline was further out, and the soil was even more fertile.

The Delta marshes are very rich in natural resources - which makes agriculture less appealing here than in the Nile Valley and so the population remained hunter/gatherers for longer. The land is also better for farming - it is very fertile and there's more space. There are more trees, which provide building materials for things such as boats. And the less marshy areas along the desert edges are good for cattle rearing. But the Delta also spends a lot of time flooded and it's hard to find places to put permanent settlements. This is even more the case than in Nile Valley, as at least there you can retreat to the desert edge, but if you're in the middle of the Delta then there are river channels on all sides. There are some options though, including large sand banks that rise high above the flood plain. Over the millennia these have been mined for their sand, so only one still survives & Wilson showed us a photo of this pretty large body of sand standing 20 foot higher than the surrounding land.

So Wilson is interested in how this diverse & rich environment which is distinct from the Nile Valley environment has affected the belief systems of the people who lived there. But first she needs to figure out what the belief systems of the Delta region actually are, which is not as straightforward as one might expect. The bulk of Wilson's talk was a chronological look at what we know about Delta myths & legends, and how we know it (or how we don't!).

She started with a look at the Narmer Palette as one of the most well known pieces of iconography to do with the unification of Egypt. The traditional explanation for the scenes are that they show the defeat of Lower Egypt (the Delta) at the hands of the King (Narmer) of Upper Egypt (the Nile Valley). But more recently there have been suggestions that it may not be that straightforward. For instance, is the Red Crown really the crown of Lower Egypt? If you go with the traditional interpretation of the Narmer Palette then it must be, but the first archaeological evidence for that shape/symbol is found on pottery from Upper Egypt. And if we can't be sure which parts of the palette definitely refer to the Delta it's not a very good starting place for looking at their beliefs.

Another piece of iconography relating to the unification of Egypt is a scene that is carved on the side of many seated statues' thrones - Horus & Seth tying together two plants symbolising the joining of Lower & Upper Egypt respectively. Which only serves to confuse even further our knowledge of Delta iconography, as the two gods were assigned the other way round in earlier artifacts (like the Narmer Palette). And this illustrates one of the big problems with working out what's Delta specific & what's not - the beliefs and associations of myths change over time, as well as being explicitly re-written to suit the propaganda needs of the Pharaoh of whichever time period the evidence comes from.

Wilson next discussed the Osiris & Isis myth and what that tells us about Delta mythology. She first noted that the best account of the myth that still exists today is in the writings of Plutarch (a Roman historian from the 1st Century CE). So that's significantly after its initial appearance, and the myth as he records it is likely to be different from earlier incarnations of the tale. It's one of the Heliopolitan myths, that is it was associated with the city later known as Heliopolis on the eastern edge of the Delta (under a modern suburb of Cairo). This myth cycle is one of the creation stories of the Egyptians and includes gods such as Atum, Nun, Geb as well as the Osiris & Isis stories. The myth is another piece of kingly propaganda which legitimises the king's lineage by equating the ruler with Horus the son of Osiris.

Is Osiris originally a northern or southern god? Much of the evidence points towards a northern origin. His iconography is all about fertility which suggests the Delta. Also his main title is "Lord of Djedu" - which is a city in the north of Egypt later known as Busiris. However the remains of Djedu are under a modern town so there's been no archaeology done there, and it's hard to know what connection Osiris had to the town early in its existence. Complicating matters is that again his iconography changes from place to place & over time. Wilson said that he was probably thought of differently in different places (i.e. not just a change of representation but a change of concept). He also gets merged with other gods. For instance Abydos was originally not associated with Osiris, but by the 12th Dynasty he's replaced Khentiamentu as the primary deity there and uses Khentiamentu's name as a title. This fluid nature of the myths is part of what Wilson finds so interesting about Egyptian religion (as do I - it feels such an odd mindset to get one's modern post-Enlightenment brain around).

Like Osiris there are different ideas about Horus in different places & at different times. For instance there is Horus the Elder (who is one of the gods that the temple at Kom Ombo is dedicated to), and there is Horus the Child who is depicted on stelae called cippi (which were protective against snake bites & other such things). Horus is associated with falcon imagery which is important throughout time in the Delta, so one can place Horus in the Delta in later periods but the archaeological evidence is more complex.

There are few early sites in the north of Egypt, one of them is Tell el Farkha which shows evidence of habitation during the state formation period. Artifacts found here include curly pins that look a lot like the one shown as part of the Red Crown. Another find is a statue of a man, made of gold covered wood. He is depicted as naked except for a penis sheath and the art style is like that of the more southern Naqada culture - so Wilson suggested it may be evidence of an external elite installed in the Delta to run the trade routes (which again raises questions about where the Red Crown comes from originally). Other finds include vessels and ivory objects. These include iconography that isn't seen later in Egyptian history, but also child figurines that had similarities to later depictions of Horus the Child. But once again this is not a smoking gun - the figurines are also found in the south around this same period so it's not clear where they originated.

The origins of and the original Delta myths are thus difficult to pin down, and Wilson moved on to later evidence of specifically Delta myths. During the 1st & 2nd Dynasties there is evidence that there were definitely cult centres in the Delta region. Labels discovered in Abydos dating to the 1st Dynasty name both Sais and Buto. During the same period there are carvings that name a Cattle Nome in the Delta, which doesn't survive into later times. There is also a 1st Dynasty label that shows king Den fighting a hippo wearing a giraffe tail hair scarf that is associated with the Delta and this iconography survives into the Middle Kingdom.

An Old Kingdom shrine in Tell Ibrahim Awad includes iconography of hedgehogs that appears unique to the Delta and to this time period - boats in the shape of hedgehogs curled into a ball. Hedgehogs do actually float, and quite possibly enjoy it as this youtube video shows. Wilson speculated that the ancient Egyptians in the Delta would've seen hedgehogs floating down the river on their back curled up in a protective ball & seen this as a good protective symbol. After this time period hedgehogs are still depicted but not as boats any more.

Later in the Old Kingdom there is evidence for differently shaped shrines in Upper & Lower Egypt. The evidence comes from Djoser's Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara where there are dummy shrines made out of stone in the courtyard with two different shapes for Upper & Lower Egypt. This is not likely to be the first time these shrine shapes were used - just that Saqqara is the first time they were built in stone. The originals would've been made from reeds, which wouldn't survive well in the archaeological record. Wilson showed us some pictures of reed structures in the Euphrates region where the technology survived into the modern photographic era to show us how large & complex such structures can be.

White Chapel of Senusret I

The White Chapel of Senwosret is a Middle Kingdom structure that was discovered at Karnak and rebuilt (it's now in the Open Air Museum at Karnak Temple, above). Around the walls it lists all of the Nomes of Egypt (the administrative districts) with their associated gods. Wilson pointed out that the names of the gods are not what we expect - the "standard" associations of gods actually come from later texts. For instance on the White Chapel the cattle god Hapy is associated with a region in the Western Delta, but in later periods he's associated with Memphis. And given they change between the Middle Kingdom & later on they are also probably different in earlier periods - which leads to the sort of uncertainty that Wilson was explaining earlier in her talk when she discussed the associations of Horus & Osiris.

In the New Kingdom there is a Temple of Seth in Pi-Ramesses (Ramesses II's capital in the Delta) which dates to the time of Ramesses II - which is again not quite the geographical association we expect from later texts where Horus is the one of the pair who is associated with the Delta. Ramesses II also provides examples of the King's propaganda machine altering the stories to fit with local sensibilities. A stela from his reign in the Delta traces his lineage back to the Hyksos, and shows him offering to the Near Eastern god Baal - neither of those being things we would expect an Egyptian Pharaoh to do! In fact quite a lot of iconography from the Ramesside period doesn't match our expectations from later texts - and is sometimes altered by later Egyptians, for instance statues of the king protected by Seth tend to be altered to be a more "suitable" god for later tastes when Seth was demonised.

From the later periods there are cult centres in the Delta which have distinctive flavours that are not the same as the more southern cult centres. One example is Bubastis, where Bastet is the main god & there is a cemetery of cat offerings to her. Another example is Mendes, which has a sacred ram cemetery of offerings to Ba-nebdjed, and where the fish goddess Ha-Mehyt is also worshipped. The shrines to Ba-nebdjed that have been discovered are enormous and were built in the Late Period. There is a big emphasis on fertility and on the rising of the flood waters. Inside the temples were shrines to Ra (fire), Shu (air), Geb (earth), Osiris (flood) and Ba-nebdjed (the totality of all of these).

Another example of a distinctive Delta cult centre is Sais, where the goddess Neith is worshipped. She is a very old goddess referenced well back into Egyptian history. In her mythology she is the female creator at the centre of the universe. She is also the mother of Sobek, the crocodile god, and is often depicted suckling baby crocodiles. Sais is also mentioned in Herodotus who references the "Festival of Lamps" that occurred there but doesn't write down the story.

There are some texts from the 26th Dynasty which are about myths, and are largely the Delta Heliopolitan myths. They are difficult to fully understand - the myths are written in an often cryptic format more concerned with explaining why something must be done in a particular way during a ritual rather than providing a narrative. They are also more aide memoires for people who already should know what the meanings & stories are, rather than teaching tools for the uninformed. There's also the difficulty that we don't share a cultural context with the writers (unlike for the Greek myths) so some things are more cryptic than even the author of the text intended. Wilson read us a few examples to give a flavour for how hard they are to understand.

Wilson finished up her talk by saying that this is still very much research in progress - she has currently got a lot of questions, a lot of examples but only tentative conclusions. Ancient Egyptian mythology is complex and changes over time, so picking out the Delta specific threads is a complicated task. Egyptian mythology is also not particularly concerned with enforcing a global narrative structure on the myths - Wilson said they were in essence local solutions (myths/rituals) to local problems.

I found this talk fascinating, but difficult to write up as Wilson doesn't yet have a handle on any coherent structure. A useful reminder that as Egyptian civilisation covered a reasonable geographical area and a long time period then it's foolish to expect that there should be one "Egyptian mythology".

At the beginning of September Alexandre Loktionov visited the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about his work on the Ancient Egyptian justice system. In his introductory remarks he was keen to stress a couple of points - first that he is himself more interested in the Old Kingdom & Middle Kingdom eras, not just the New Kingdom (which receives rather more attention in general). And also that law in Ancient Egypt is not something isolated from the rest of the world, the legal systems of both the Middle East and of sub-Saharan Africa have influences on how the Egyptians practised law.

He started his talk by discussing the history of the study of Ancient Egyptian law. It was first studied by Spiegelberg in the 1890s - which is rather late in the history of Egyptology. It's not just that it took a while for people to consider Egyptian law as worthy of study, but the language needed to be well understood as law in Egypt is like law everywhere and everywhen else - full of jargon and dense technical language. The first phase of the study of Egyptian law was the translation of the documents. After this the legal institutions were investigated. The current state of the field is to analyse the socio-economic impact of the law, but Loktionov thinks it's time for the field to move on from this and start to investigate the way that the majority illiterate segment of society experienced law.

So what was justice in Ancient Egypt? Loktionov isn't sure that even the Ancient Egyptians had a proper answer to this. The concept of Ma'at was clearly important - but what precisely is Ma'at? One answer is that she's a goddess, but it's not as simple as that - Ma'at is also a complicated concept of order & truth. There is also the concept of Hp, which appears to be an Ancient Egyptian technical term but it's difficult to be sure what it means. It may be a code of law, but the Egyptians didn't appear to go in for codes of law in the same way that (for instance) the Middle Eastern peoples did. Alternatively it may be a custom. However one thing that is clear is that conflict resolution is key to their concept of justice. Loktionov read us an instructional text that talks about impartiality being important for legal officials - which we recognise from our modern perspective. But the text also goes on to talk about how the petitioner wants be heard even more than he or she wants to get what they're asking for, which doesn't feel so familiar. Both parties going away happy is the ideal situation, and key to their idea of justice.

One of the difficulties in studying Ancient Egyptian justice, particularly before the New Kingdom, is the paucity of texts that set out what the system is and what the laws are. As I mentioned above the Egyptians didn't produce codified lists of laws like the Code of Hammurabi etc. One source of information is the titles that people record in their tombs. In the Old Kingdom these title strings can be up to 40-50 titles, and these let you know not just what people were doing but also the ways the jobs link together. During this period tomb autobiographies can also be useful sources - although the evidence they provide is limited. While they may discuss specific trials that a noble wished to have remembered they generally don't go into much detail. There are also some decrees that have survived, such as the Abydos decree of Neferirkare. This states that if the priests are called for corvee duty then the responsible person will be punished, and tried in the ḥwt-wrt (which from context must be some sort of court).

Throughout the talk Loktionov was showing us translations of actual legal texts from the period he was talking about. His purpose in doing this was partly to demonstrate how dense & how full of jargon they are. There is a suggestion that the justice system was primarily an oral process, and so the texts might just be notes of the key points rather than fully fleshed out records. But it's still possible to glean information from these texts despite the impenetrability. For instance the phrase "divide the words" is a key phrase that shows up in both legal & religious texts about justice.

Loktionov summed up what we know about the Old Kingdom justice system as follows: There's little known overall, but it's clear that organised judging is happening. The institution where this happens is the ḥwt-wrt and priests of Ma'at may be involved in the process.

There are no sources for the First Intermediate Period, so the next period Loktionov considered was the Middle Kingdom. There are a variety of sources for this period - title strings for the nobles are again important, and are shorter than those of the Old Kingdom. Seals have been found with these titles on them, which shows that they are in use rather than just ceremonial. Papyri found at El-Lahun (including some of the oldest wills in the world) also provide evidence, as do stelae and literary texts like the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant (which Linda Steynor gave a talk to the EEG about back in 2014 (post).

Loktionov showed us an example of an intact will. The first point to note was that it was dated, which was a new development during this period of Egyptian history. The writer of the will leaves his stuff to his wife, on the condition that she subsequently passes it on to her children by him. This reminded me of some of the translation exercises I've done recently on my Akkadian course - where a contract or will specifies that a woman may leave her share of a property to "the one among their sons whom she loves, and not to a stranger". The Egyptian will also gave instructions about the writer's tomb, in what Loktionov said was a formulaic fashion - akin to medieval English wills starting by leaving their soul to God. The Egyptian will writer followed his formula with an instruction about who is to be the guardian of his son, and then finishes with a long list of witnesses - 3-7 of them. (Which also reminds me of Akkadian documents.)

So that was an example of a Middle Kingdom legal document at one of the lower levels of society. Loktionov also discussed an example of documentation of Pharaonic interaction with the law - the Semna Stela from Year 8 of the reign of Senwosret III. The subject of the stela is the southern boundary of Egypt with Nubia and it stipulates that no Nubian should be permitted to cross the border unless they are coming to trade in Egypt. And even in those cases the Nubians are only permitted to travel a certain distance into Egypt. Basically it's Pharaoh micro-managing how the border garrisons are to treat those who wish to cross.

The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant is also a useful source. It is the story of a peasant who petitions the state for the return of stolen goods. The arguments the peasant makes give us insight into how the legal system was expected to operate - for instance precedent was clearly important. However the text hasn't yet been studied properly from this perspective, the emphasis is generally on the Tale as a work of literature (which was Steynor's perspective in her talk in 2014).

Loktionov summed up our knowledge of the Middle Kingdom period as: In general a time of greater specialisation of officials. There were local officials who gave judgement, and formal structures were less noticeable than in the Old Kingdom (no mention of ḥwt-wrt in Middle Kingdom texts, for instance). The Pharaoh can still intervene & issue decrees.

For the New Kingdom period there are many more sources. Title strings (& seals) still provide us with information, these are much shorter than in preceding periods. Excavations at Deir el Medina have provided Egyptologists with a wealth of letters & administrative documents. There are papyri detailing trials. Tomb reliefs also provide information, and of course there are also Pharaonic decrees. It's not surprising that most work on the legal system of Ancient Egypt focuses on the New Kingdom, given the relative quantity of information available.

The documents from Deir el Medina talk about the Ḳnbt. From context this is a court, and it is a new institution for the New Kingdom era. It seems more informal than the other structures we've seen documented, and much more dependent on conflict resolution rather than police action. Loktionov thinks that this is down to a lack of power to enforce their decisions. Trying to force an unwelcome resolution on one party to the dispute would demonstrate that the court had no power, which would then undermine the ability of the court to adjudicate anything. Far better to reach a solution that everyone was at least able to live with.

The Tomb Robbery Papyri illustrate a more formal justice system that ran alongside the informal one. These texts include details on how the confessions were obtained, generally brutally by our standards I think. And they say who the investigators were: people of high rank. So there were two justice systems that co-existed, an informal one & a formal one. They are not entirely separate - Loktionov gave us an example of a local official called Paneb at Deir el Medina who was reported to the Vizier for poor behaviour - thus moving the justice problem from the informal court to a more formal one.

At this point Loktionov had finished his overview of the justice system of Ancient Egypt and what sources our knowledge comes from. After a break for coffee & cake Loktionov resumed his talk by discussing the system that can be drawn out from across the chronological overview.

At the "top" of law in Ancient Egypt was Kingdom Law - this consisted of the Pharaoh's decrees, and Pharaoh as ultimate judge. Important to this aspect is the symbolic personification of justice: Ma'at. The reliefs that depict Pharaoh offering Ma'at symbolise him dispensing justice, and there is also the idea that Ma'at sustains the king (which was most famously said by Akhenaten). Also involving the Pharaoh are oaths - often sworn in the name of the king and in the names of gods. This meant that if you broke the oath (or the terms of justice or the contract) then you had also committed treason.

Just underneath the Pharaoh was the Vizier. The main source of information that we have about the role of the Vizier are the reliefs in the tomb of Rekhmire. These give the duties of the Vizier & list everything that he should be doing on behalf of his Pharaoh. Clearly it is not entirely literal. He wouldn't be actually carrying out every investigation himself, he'd delegate that further down the chain of officials but he would be where the reports came to.

There were two sorts of courts that were held in Ancient Egypt. One sort were Extraordinary Courts - these were convened as & when required and did not sit all of the time. They were composed of high officials, and were involved with matters such as tomb robberies & attempts on the life of the king. The other sort of court were Ordinary Courts. These sat on a daily basis & handled matters such as dead donkeys or un-returned jars - the everyday disputes of ordinary people. The Sr (magistrate) was not a profession, he would also have other roles in society. There was also some sort of oracular component to justice, which shows evidence of Mesopotamian legal ideas. It's not known precisely how it worked - the records are things such as "the god was asked if such&such had stolen a donkey and the god said yes". But there are no details, perhaps the god's statue was asked during a procession & the priests carrying it were inspired to answer?

There were a variety of punishments that could be meted out. At the most severe end was death, probably by impalement. There was also mutilation - noses or ears cut off, or severe whipping. On the more benign end of the spectrum was things such as forced labour, or restitution of goods. Loktionov also talked about something called supra-practical punishment, which sounds ridiculous in our modern cultural context but was presumably more efficacious in Ancient Egyptian times. The basic idea is that instead of a punishment literally being applied, it would be symbolically applied via a curse. So instead of someone's nose actually being cut off, perhaps they would be induced to believe it had been prevented from working by a curse. I wasn't sure I followed the evidence that Loktionov was talking about for this - it seemed to be heavily based on the idea that if someone continued to flout the law after mutilation then they can't've really been mutilated (as then they'd either be dead or traumatised).

The last two aspects of justice that Loktionov talked about were ones that are hard to study as they were kept secret at the time. The first of these is corruption, which is obviously hidden by the perpetrators. Some evidence comes from texts like that of a prayer for a poor man to be vindicated and not have to pay more bribes to the court. The other subject is torture - there is evidence that there was a role of "torturer" but what he did was not often explicitly referenced.

The very last part of Loktionov's talk was in essence a separate talk, about his recent research done at the Library of Congress. This is not an institution that springs to mind when thinking of Egyptological resources & Loktionov said he was the first egyptologist to actually work there - but it has a lot of relevant documents that should be studied. This part of the talk was in part a repeat in brief of the first talk as context, and in part ongoing unpublished research so I'm just going to summarise it briefly rather than go through it in detail. In essence he was looking at foreign influences on Ancient Egyptian justice in the 2nd Millennium BCE - a period when Egypt was a very large state (for the time). This meant that the justice system differed across the state with the southern areas showing influences from Nubia, and the northern areas showing influences from the Middle East. He's been approaching the subject from two perspectives, by looking at the people involved in the justice system (using statistical analysis of title strings) and by looking at the institutions & processes (in part by doing ethnographic studies of informal local courts in modern Egypt & sub-Saharan Africa).

I found this a really interesting talk, and it was fascinating to see how much information could be gleaned from references here & there in impenetrable texts!

This year's Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology was given by Jochem Kahl on the subject of the city of Asyut. He started by setting the scene with a thematically appropriate quote from Amelia Edwards, who visited the city in 1843. She described how as she approached it looked like a fairytale city on the Nile, but on arrival she was much less impressed with the prosaic reality of the modern city.

Asyut was the capital of the 13th Nome in Pharaonic Egypt - it's in the middle of the country, about 400km south of Cairo, 100km south of Amarna and 300km north of Luxor (these distances are all very approximate!). The modern city has around 400,000 inhabitants, and completely covers old Asyut. Due to the silt deposited by the Nile flooding the depth of any remains is significant - late antiquity is on the order of 5m below the modern surface & the New Kingdom is 8m deep. Even the ancient cemetery is beginning to be covered up by the modern one. So Kahl said that to investigate ancient Asyut one primarily needs to use what records there are of older excavations, and tangential evidence from texts. The older excavations, as is so often the case, were not well documented but did uncover many fine artifacts which are now housed in museums such as the Louvre, the Turin Museum & the Met.

However there is still some modern archaeology taking place. Since 2003 there has been an ongoing project to "retrace" the old city and as part of that a large workforce every year undertakes excavations and documents what can still be seen. Much of the modern archaeology focuses on Gebel Asyut el-Gharbi, a mountain on the western outskirts of the city. The first signs of human activity on this mountain are from around 4000 BCE, and it has been continuously used since at least 3000 BCE. Of course this archaeology is not all neatly preserved in situ, the site has been extensively quarried over the last couple of hundred years and previous archaeological expeditions have used explosives to "excavate" tombs. Kahl showed us the difference in one tomb between a drawing from 1799 and modern photos from 2005 - all the front of the tomb is now gone, leaving only an inner hall. But there are still objects that can tell us what was there, the things that older expeditions found less interesting.

Having set the scene, and discussed how we know what we know, Kahl then moved on to the meat of his talk. In his view Asyut has three different natures: it is a wounded city, it is a border city and it is a city of culture; and he considered each of these in turn.

Asyut is a wounded city, a city of war and terror. An example is the 21st Century BCE civil war between Heracleopolis and Thebes that ended the 1st Intermediate Period. The tombs of the nomarchs from this period (designated tomb III and tomb IV) have inscriptions full of words of violence and war. The imagery on the walls is also full of violence, images of killing and images of the tomb owner with his soldiers. The war for Asyut lasted for 20 years, and while the city recovered well in the long term there's evidence that warfare remained important in the region for several generations after the end of the 1st Intermediate Period. This wasn't a unique example either, the cycle of war and recovery happened multiple times in Asyut's long history.

Asyut is a border city, which at first sounds paradoxical as it's located in the middle of Egypt. But it's nonetheless at a natural border and was called Guardian City in Ancient Egyptian. It's not only near a difficult place to navigate on the Nile, but also on an important trade route dating back to the Old Kingdom leading to the south through the desert. The mostly likely entry to the ancient desert road was located near Asyut. This has its good sides, as Kahl explained later in the talk, but it also means that it is near an entry point for invaders from the desert, so it is a double edged sword. This means that since at least the New Kingdom period through to the modern day there has been a strong military presence in Asyut.

Asyut is a city of culture, where trade routes & people meet and exchange both goods & ideas. As well as the previously mentioned southern trade route (and of course the connection to the Nile & internal trade) there have been items from the Mediterranean found in Asyut so there were also connections to the north. The geopolitical situation didn't just bring suffering, it also lead to Asyut developing its own influential intellectual culture. To illustrate this Kahl discussed at length the tomb of a mayor of Asyut from the 20th Century BCE called Djefai-Hapi (the tomb is designated Tomb I). Djefai-Hapi was not only mayor but also the overseer of priests for two temples, and was presumably well educated in theology. As well as himself his tomb also mentions two wives, his mother and his sons. He was venerated as a local god in the late Middle Kingdom and into the early New Kingdom (and this reminded me of the Sackler Lecture that Janet Richards gave two years ago (post) where she discussed saint cults in Ancient Egypt).

It's the largest non-royal rock tomb of his time, and used natural cavities in the rock as part of its construction. It had a layout reminiscent of an Old Kingdom pyramid. For instance there was a pond at the edge of the cultivation, with a causeway that led from this pond to the tomb. Inside the mountain (much of which is now gone if you compare it to drawings from 1799) there were several halls plus an extensive substructure. And it was monumental in scale - the halls were 11m tall, even the corridors were 10m tall.

The Great Transverse Hall still has much of its decoration. This has now been cleaned up & restored in parts so the true colours can be seen. The ceilings are decorated with blue & yellow geometric patterns and the east wall includes an idealised biography of Djefai-Hapi. There is a shrine at the back of the tomb, with offering scenes on the walls and a statue of Djefai-Hapi (sadly now damaged). And underneath there is a substructure that extends down at least 22m below the tomb halls, which is as far as the base of the mountain! Kahl said their excavations haven't yet reached a burial chamber and there are still deeper passages to investigate. However they have found a rather more modern looking ladder at the 22m level, which means that the burial chamber has probably been robbed at some point between 1799 and now, which is a shame.

So this tomb demonstrates the sophistication of the culture of Asyut of the time, and Kahl went on to explain how it also demonstrates the influence that this culture had on Egyptian culture in general. The decoration from this tomb is copied and turns up in later funerary contexts. One example is that the ceiling patterns from the Great Transverse Hall are re-used in the later Theban tombs of New Kingdom nobles. And some of these patterns even make their way into the modern world via 19th Century CE books of ornament. Texts are also copied, in particular the contracts for the cult of the dead which are part of the east wall inscriptions in the Great Transverse Hall. One example is found in the tomb of Senenmut in the early New Kingdom, and other examples are found even as late as the Roman period.

Djefai-Hapi's tomb is one of the most concrete examples that survives to demonstrate the influence of Asyut culture on Egyptian as a whole. There is also more tangential evidence that the city was once a repository of knowledge for Ancient Egyptian culture, but the physical evidence for this would be in the temples which are now several metres below the modern buildings. For instance the main temple was dedicated to Wepwawet and there is some evidence in the form of chance finds. Parts of the walls were found in the 1930s by illicit digging in a local's cellar (looking for gold), and the blocks that were dug up were sent to Cairo where they vanished for decades. They've now been found again (in 2014) and so can now be investigated for anything they can tell us about the temple.

To conclude Kahl returned to the question implied in his title and the imagery of the Amelia Edwards quote he opened with. Why, given the military & cultural significance of Asyut, was it never the capital of Egypt? And his answer is that the very things that made it important - the proximity to the desert & to trade, the central location - are the same things that made it vulnerable and too far from international politics. The idea of Asyut as capital is a fantastic mirage, that vanishes into implausibility when you look at it closely.

In July Anna Garnett came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group about pottery from Amarna. Garnett has recently become curator at the Petrie Museum and is also working on analysing the pottery that has been found at the Amarna Stone Village, which is the work she was telling us about during the first part of the meeting.

The Amarna Stone Village

The Stone Village is a village near the main city of Amarna that has been excavated in modern times between 2005 & 2010. The bulk of the site has been published in 2012 and Garnett is adding to this by analysing the ceramics that have been found (there was a ceramicist with the original excavation but he left before the work was completed and Garnett joined the team in 2015). On the surface the site is formed of stone boulders in marl clay, hence the name, and was identified as being of interest in the 1970s by Barry Kemp (and sadly looted between then and the time of excavation).

The site is an area of dense settlement, with evidence that people lived there (as opposed to just worked there). The buildings were made of stone, and probably roofed with some kind of natural material (but it's not known what). They seem to've been one storey buildings, with no evidence for staircases (unlike the village at Deir el Medina) and they were not laid out in a regular layout. In general the site appears to've been more ephemeral than the comparable village at Deir el Medina or in the other Worker's Village at Amarna itself - there are no centralised water storage areas, no gardens, no temple or chapels. This is perhaps an indication that they were lower class/status workers than the elite workers in the other two villages.

So who lived there? There's evidence that these were family dwellings rather than barracks style places. The were domestic items found, including Taweret amulets (which are associated with childbirth). Of the four tombs excavated in the area one contained a child, again indication of families living there. The population was probably between 100 & 150 people, assuming that there were around 5 people per building, this is about half the size of the Worker's Village. There was a perimeter wall, but not as sturdy as the one at the Worker's Village. Garnett told us that not all of the site has been excavated as yet because there wasn't enough time (or money for more time) and although the trenches were spread across the site to give an overview of the area it's possible that when more can be excavated the ideas about the site will change.

Around the main site of the village there are also peripheral structures, including a possible guard post. It is also surrounded by an ancient road. This is a significant feature in the landscape at about 4m wide although it's not clear if this was an integral part of the site or not as no archaeology has been done on the roads. It's possible that they separate parts of the site, or possibly they were used by guards to patrol the site - either to protect or police the people. One of the things that Garnett wants to do with her work is to map the current pottery finds, and then survey the roads herself to see what can be discovered about the function of these roads.

Garnett circled back to the question of who lived in the village. It was perhaps the labourers for more mundane jobs than those done by the ones in the worker's village. Possibly they were involved in quarrying out the tombs, and one piece of evidence supporting this is the presence of basalt chips in the village. The tombs were carved into fairly soft limestone cliffs, and this work would've been done with basalt tools - although needing to be shipped in from other places this was still cheaper than using copper tools. Another possibility is that the village was involved as a way station in supplying expeditions out to the desert. It is certainly true that the workers were engaged in manual labour - the bodies discovered in the burials at the site all show signs of this type of work.

Another possibility for the function of the village is by comparison with the site at Deir el Medina. At that site as well as the worker's village and the Valley of the Kings over the mountains there is also another set of structures about halfway between. These have been variously suggested as places the workers rested during the weeks rather than commuting home every day, as storage areas for the expensive materials & tools used in their work, and as check points to make sure they weren't taking the expensive items home for unauthorised use. The Stone Village may also have provided bread for the workers at the tombs of Amarna (or expeditions into the desert) as extensive bakeries were found which were excessive for the local population. However there is evidence against this sort of role for the Stone Village - including that there is no physical link, such as a road, between the Amarna Worker's Village & the Stone Village. There is also evidence that the Stone Village was occupied earlier than other parts of Amarna (including the Worker's Village), starting from Year 4 of Akhenaten's reign. And it may also have been abandoned earlier. So perhaps the two villages represent different phases of the construction of the tombs at Amarna.

Garnett now moved on to tell us about the ceramic study of the Stone Village site, which is what she is actually doing. For most excavations the primary question that the pottery remains answer is how old the site is and for how long the site was occupied but at Amarna the dates of the site are securely known - Akhenaten founded the city in Year 5 of his reign, and it was abandoned shortly after his death some 20 or so years later. This means that Garnett is free to concentrate on the other questions that the pottery can answer. Another thing that makes this study particularly interesting is that the site was inhabited entirely by a non-elite population.

The questions Garnett is interested in answering are about what the pottery can tell us about the use of the space at the Stone Village - what activities went on there, and can anything be discovered about what particular spaces were for. She is also trying to see if the sorts of people & activities at the site can be narrowed down any further from the current rather broad theories. The pottery can also be used to compare this site with other sites - how does it fit into the broader picture at Amarna as a whole? How does it compare to the Worker's Village? And how does it compare to other sites across Egypt at this sort of time period?

Garnett is currently working her way through the approximately 3000 pottery fragments that have been excavated at the site, and re-confirming or re-evaluating the original identification. Some of her work so far has to do with the storage of water at the site. She has found evidence of lots of large pointy amphorae, and also of large water storage vessels of a type still used to store & keep water cool today in Egypt. As with the Worker's Village there is no well or water source at the Stone Village, so water needed to be brought in the amphorae to the site. However at the Worker's Village there is an obvious place where the remains of water storage vessels are found - so there was a centralised water distribution system. In the Stone Village the storage vessels are smaller and more widely distributed across the site. Perhaps this means that every household had its own storage arrangements. It may also be further evidence that the site was primarily used to supply people travelling into the desert.

90% of the pottery found at the Stone Village is made of Nile clay - abundant, relatively local, and cheap. Garnett described much of it as being the ancient equivalent of paper plates, not intended to last long term. However this also means that 10% was of better quality clay which was sourced in the oases. These vessels may've contained wine - but it's not clear if the inhabitants of the Stone Village were drinking the wine or if they were given the vessels to use after other people were done with them. There are also some fragments of blue painted ware, which is a high status and good quality ceramic and very rare in the Stone Village.

To conclude this part of her talk Garnett reminded us that this is very much a work in progress. She's now almost completely catalogued and categorised the pottery, and will be spending the next 12-18 months analysing the data she has before writing it up for publication.

Amarna Blue

After a break for coffee and cake Garnett moved on to the second (related) talk of the afternoon. Instead of looking at her work on a particular site, this time she was giving us an overview of her favourite type of pottery: Amarna Blue. This is one of the rarer types of pottery found from Ancient Egypt - not cheap & disposable, instead a fine ware. There are various names for this pottery type - Amarna Blue, Blue Painted Pottery or Malkata Ware. It is characteristic of the New Kingdom period (1550-1069 BCE), primarily during the 18th Dynasty, and evidence for the emergence of highly decorated luxury goods during this affluent period (for the elites). The blue colour is achieved using the chemical CoAl2O4 which is generally painted on before firing. This material is not easy to get hold of - it's only found & mined in either the Dakhla Oasis or in the Sinai peninsula - making it a costly way to decorate your pots. The pots themselves were made in Amarna, Malkata (next to Deir el Medina) and Gurob (in the Faiyum) all of which are near palaces & places that the elites live.

Blue Painted Ware from Malkata

Garnett showed us several examples of this type of pottery. The decoration often features floral themes, and other themes from nature. The designs aren't just painted on, sometimes there are moulded elements like the gazelle head modelled on one of the jars in the photo above (taken by me in the NY Met a couple of years ago). Other common decoration elements can include moulded Hathor heads and lotus flowers. One interesting frequent motif is a flowered garland painted around the neck of the jar, and it seems that these were painted representations of something that was done in reality. Tomb reliefs that show jars (like those from Nebamun's tomb that are on display in the British Museum) show wine jars with real garlands of flowers round them.

Sometimes the jars are labelled with their contents, for instance there are examples in the British Museum of wine vessels which say not just that they contained wine but where the wine was made. This doesn't just tell us the surface information (the content of the jar) it also tells us something about the trade networks across the country at the time. These jars from a tomb in one area of Egypt contained wine from another area, in a pot made in yet another area decorated with expensive pigments from either Dakhla Oasis or the Sinai.

I don't think I've done this half of Garnett's talk justice - it was mostly filled with Garnett showing us pictures of pottery and enthusiastically explaining what was interesting about this particular one, which is awfully hard to summarise! I'm often not very inspired by pottery, but Garnett did a fantastic job of conveying her own interest & enthusiasm and bringing the subject to life.

At the beginning of June Sergio Alarcón Robledo came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group about the work he's doing as part of the Polish-Egyptian Mission at Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri. His talk was in two parts - first the theoretical underpinnings, then the practical work he's been doing at the site. And after the formal talk was over he also showed us some unpublished imagery he's been making of various tombs.

Robledo started by zooming out to a very wide-angle view of the subject - he showed us a picture of a pre-dynastic burial, of a pyramid, of the temple of Montuhotep II (built at Deir el Bahri before Hatshepsut's one), of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The unifying theme is that they are all ways of connecting the deceased with the cosmos. At first they just put the body in the right position facing in the right direction, but over time the requirements to enter the afterlife became more elaborate. Mummification became necessary, coffins became necessary, tombs became necessary and so on & so forth. But there is always the same underlying function of connecting the deceased person with the cosmos. And it's important to keep this in mind when thinking about the form and function of Hatshepsut's temple - it is always intended to connect her with the cosmos.

Why is Hatshepsut's temple important to understand? It's partly that she was the first Pharaoh that we have evidence for the construction of this sort of temple (called a Temple of Millions of Years). So understanding her temple helps with understanding the later ones (which are presumably modifications & elaborations of this one).

Robledo next told us about who Hatshepsut was and her historical context. The temple was built shortly after the end of the Second Intermediate Period, in the early New Kingdom period. Kamose, the last Pharaoh of the 17th Dynasty, had begun the reunification of Egypt from his power base in Thebes. His successor Ahmose (now thought to be Kamose's nephew, rather than younger brother) completed the job and is considered to've founded the 18th Dynasty. He was succeeded by his son, Amenhotep I, who in turn was succeeded by an unrelated man called Tutmosis I who married Amenhotep I's sister in order to legitimise his rule. His son by that wife, Tutmosis II, succeeded him and was married to his half-sister Hatshepsut, a daughter of Tutmosis I by a different wife. Once Tutmosis II died he was succeeded by his son Tutmosis III, who was Hatshepsut's step-son. As Tutmosis III was an infant when his father died Hatshepsut became his regent, and later ruled in her own right as Pharaoh and Tutmosis III only truly inherited power after she died. The important point to take away from this brief genealogy is that Hatshepsut did not have royal blood - it's not just being a woman that puts her legitimacy on shaky ground.

So Hatshepsut needs to assert her power & her legitimacy, and her choice of site for her temple is strongly influenced by these needs. Robledo talked a bit about the surrounding area and what large scale buildings were there before Hatshepsut's temple was built - by & large what one thinks of as the features of the area were built later. When she started her building programme there was Montuhotep II's temple, built some 500 or so years earlier, and some buildings at the sites of Karnak and at Medinet Habu which were also from the Middle Kingdom. So Hatshepsut is starting the first monumental building programme in the area for some time - showing herself to be as true a Pharaoh as the great Pharaohs of old. And she is deliberately putting her temple next to that of Montuhotep II to associate herself with him - he was the reunifier of Egypt at the start of the Middle Kingdom.

Having talked about why Hatshepsut would want a temple, and why she put it where she did, Robledo next discussed the temple itself in a bit more detail. Foundation deposits are a rich source of evidence for archaeologists investigating Ancient Egyptian buildings. These were buried before a monumental building was constructed and contain lots of objects some of which have inscriptions giving the Pharaoh responsible for the building etc (see below for a photo I took in the Met Museum in 2015 of a reconstructed foundation deposit from Hatshepsut's temple). It's not actually known what the precise purpose of these deposits was from an Ancient Egyptian perspective - presumably they had some sort of ritual significance. Generally they're buried at particular places under a building plan - like entrances or corners. One thing that's interesting about Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri is that the foundation deposits don't seem to line up with the structures which were built on top of them. So Hatshepsut (or her architect) must've changed the design after the project was started.

Reconstruction of a Foundation Deposit

The temple layout is very complex in a religious sense - it's not just dedicated to the royal cult or to a single god. Instead there chapels within it dedicated to Hatshepsut and to several gods. One possible reason for this is to make it less likely to be destroyed after her death. A temple that was just for her funerary cult could easily be destroyed after her death if her successors decided she was not a legitimate Pharaoh (as indeed happened). But destroying a temple to several important gods would be more difficult to justify theologically. Which would mean that Hatshepsut's concern for her own legacy would set the template for future Temples of Millions of Years even though those Pharaohs wouldn't have the same concerns about their legacy.

The non-religious iconographic program of the temple is very much focused on Hatshepsut's power & legitimacy. Among others it includes scenes detailing her divine origin and birth, and showing the expedition to Punt that she ordered. This is the first temple we know of that included these sorts of scenes (rather than of Pharaoh worshipping deities and so on). One thing that Robledo pointed out specifically is that there's no actual evidence that this temple is a funerary temple - and in fact there is a theory proposed by Martina Ullman that it is not.

After a break for coffee & cake Robledo moved on to the practical side of his talk. He started by talking about how it feels different excavating at Deir el Bahri than it does excavating at other sites - because there have been 150 years of excavation at the site, and much restoration work as well. So the context of anything that's excavated is very dubious as it's very likely to've been dug up and moved around in the past. And some parts of the temple that you see are replicas, replacing the real objects that are in museums around the world.

The first phase of discovery of the site, in the 18th & early 19th Centuries CE, was exploration by Western travellers and Robledo showed us some drawings from c.1840 CE which include views of the Coptic monastery which had been built on top of the temple. These are now some of our only records of that structure as it was destroyed during the excavation of the temple. The first archaeological excavations were carried out in the 1850s & 1860s by August Mariette, and during the time much of the structure was uncovered. Édouard Naville carried out work in the 1890s and 1900s funded by the Egypt Exploration Fund (including destroying the Coptic monastery), and after him Herbert Winlock excavated in the 1910s & 1920s funded by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Robledo showed us photos from these latter two excavations - scenes of hundreds of workers working simultaneously, as many as 800 were employed on the digs. This vast army of workers would be difficult to control & direct carefully, and in any event the archaeologists leading the excavations cared less about the sorts of details that modern archaeology is built upon. This means that a lot of information about the temple, its use, construction and so on, was destroyed in these excavations.

The Polish-Egyptian Mission, of which Robledo is a part, is a very large mission by modern standards - there are over 60 different projects going on at the moment, ranging in size from someone's PhD thesis to much larger multi-person projects. Robledo is working on the Upper Courtyard at the temple, and he is interested in what the original layout was and how it's changed over time. There are various ideas about how many columns filled the courtyard - completely full, 2 or 3 rows around the edges, with varying ideas about spacing which may or may not've been symmetrical. In most other archaeological sites you would carefully excavate the floor of the courtyard looking for evidence of foundations. However at Deir el Bahri the site has been dug over & reconstructed so much that this isn't possible - foundations have been disturbed or columns/foundations have been added by archaeologists to recreate their own preferred theory.

So Robledo is having to approach the problem obliquely. One approach he's using is to investigate a later Ptolemaic era structure built using elements of Hatshepsut's original courtyard. This structure, a portico, crosses the original rows of columns in the courtyard and it had 3 columns on each side. One possibility is that there were three rows of columns originally and the the Ptolemaic era architects put a roof across 3 pairs of existing columns. Alternatively if there were 2 rows of columns in the original courtyard then the Ptolemaic era architects would've needed to add an outer pair when building their portico. So Robledo has been trying to find evidence for when the outer columns were built. So far everything is inconclusive - for instance he's found a piece of pottery at one of the foundations, but it is of a style that could be of any time from Hatshepsut's time onward so doesn't rule out either possibility.

Another approach he's employing is to use modern imaging technology to help virtually rebuild some of the architrave from the courtyard. This is in over 700 pieces, and he is creating a virtual 3D model of each piece. In future he'll be able to put it together like a jigsaw puzzle and look at where the architrave sockets were.

After the formal part of his talk (and a question & answer session) Robledo showed us some of the other things he's working on. One of his skills is the making of virtual 3D models and so he works with various other teams generating models for them. These are particularly useful in cases where it isn't possible to conserve the objects themselves - like termite eaten coffins which will disintegrate as soon as any attempt is made to move them. All the stuff he showed us at this point is unpublished which was exciting to see - for instance he showed us some images from new tombs that have recently been discovered in Aswan.

One of the things I found particularly interesting about this talk is that there's still new stuff to discover at a site like Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri which has been dug over by so many archaeologists over such a long period of time. And the insights into what the thinking was behind Hatshepsut's choice of site and design.

At the May meeting of the Essex Egyptology Group Robert Loynes talked to us about his work on Ancient Egyptian mummies. He's a retired orthopaedic surgeon who has subsequently achieved a PhD in Egyptology (from Manchester) using modern medical technology to investigate ancient mummies.

Loynes began by telling us about what is known about Ancient Egyptian mummification techniques. Despite the Egyptians love of writing things down the contemporary sources actually don't tell us anything - what we know is pieced together from later writings and examination of the actual mummies. The first mention of mummification techniques comes from Herodotus around 450 BCE, and it is next discussed by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st Century BCE.

The Egyptians believed that for eternal life one needed the following: one's whole body, one's name, one's Ka and one's Ba. But the reality is that bodies decay and fall apart, so some sort of preservation is necessary followed by rituals that return it to life. In prehistoric times bodies were buried in pits in the sand, and the contact with the dry sand accidentally mummified them. But as society got more sophisticated then higher statues individuals got more elaborate burials in tombs - which isolated them from the sand, and prevented natural mummification. As Loynes pointed out, the layout of tombs with an offering chapel in relatively close proximity to the burial chamber would leave people in no doubt as to what was going on down there! And so they developed a process to artificially dry out & preserve the body.

To make a mummy the Egyptian way the first thing that needs to be done is to remove the soft & squishy bits that wouldn't dry easily - the organs from the torso and the brain. In actual fact the brain would've been fine if it was left in the body, but the Egyptians didn't know this so as it looked squishy they took it out. The rest of the internal organs were preserved in canopic jars and buried with the mummy. Next the body was cleansed with perfumed water & oils, before being dried in natron. Natron is a sort of naturally occurring salt with other sodium compounds as well as NaCl. The embalmers packed it inside the body as well as covering the body with natron. This increased the contact between body & salt thus drying it quicker, and also filled up the space left behind when the organs were removed. Drying the body took 30-40 days, and then almost as long was spent bandaging it and performing rituals. During the bandaging process amulets were placed in the wrappings to protect & aid the deceased in the afterlife. The rituals included the Opening of the Mouth ceremony which reactivated all the senses of the deceased. After this the mummy was covered in resins for protection - the Egyptians believed this worked via magic, but we now know that the resins they used have antibacterial properties.

Loynes next gave us a history of medical imaging in the context of what can be used to see inside mummies. The development of modern techniques has been very helpful for people working on mummies (whether Egyptian or not), as it means you don't have to destroy the subject (by unwrapping it and/or dissecting it) to find out what's inside. X-rays were discovered in 1895 and as we all know they shine through the soft tissue & reveal the solid bits (bones etc) on the inside. Modern X-ray images are much more detailed than the first images, but they still have the problem that you see all the internal structures on top of each other with no indication of relative depths in the body. The CAT scan process was invented in 1975, and it solves this problem. CAT scans use multiple X-ray images from different angles around the specimen, and these images are then merged on a computer to generate an image of a virtual slice through the specimen. The machine then moves along and captures data for another slice, and so on. Then the software stitches together all these slices into a 3-dimensional model of the whole thing. As computers have got faster, and the software has got more sophisticated, the virtual slices have got much thinner and so show much more detail in the final model. Modern software lets you manipulate the model, so now you can dissect a mummy in a non-destructive way.

Having introduced the subject to us Loynes moved on to telling us about things he has seen when examining CAT scans of Egyptian mummies. One thing he has investigated is the routes the embalmers used to remove the brain - it's not always removed the same way. Some mummies show evidence that the thin bit of bone at the top of the nose (the nose septum) has been broken and the brain extracted this way - this matches what Herodotus wrote. Another potential route is for the brain to come out via the base of the skull, to do this the neck must be disturbed which shows up clearly in the CAT scans. Some mummies, however, show evidence of neither of these routes - their nasal septum is intact, and the neck is undisturbed. In these cases Loynes has looked for other possible routes: sometimes in children the embalmers have taken the brain out through the base of the skull which is much thinner than in adults. Other mummies show signs that the brain was removed via the eyes.

The eyes themselves are treated differently in different time periods. Before Dynasty 22 half or more of mummies have nothing done to the eyes. After Dynasty 22 the mummies eyes are generally packed to mimic the shape of living eyes (dessicated eyes are too flat), and between Dynasty 22 & 28 eyes plates are also used which provide the right visual appearance.

After a break for tea & cake Loynes returned to the evidence he's seen in mummies of how they were mummified - now moving from the head to the torso. Herodotus described two routes to the removal of the internal organs - via an incision on the left flank or via the perineum. Loynes has seen evidence of both of these on CAT scans of mummies, and showed us examples. It's also clear that the Ancient Egyptians tended to repack the body cavity after removal of the organs. This is something that might be done for two different classes of reason: practical or ritual. Loynes has surveyed the types & quantities of materials used to see if there's evidence supporting either conclusion but the answer is not clear cut & obvious. On the one hand the materials used are cheap, which suggests that the packing filled a practical purpose. But on the other hand frequently only small quantities were used, certainly not enough to fill the cavity, which suggests that it served a ritual purpose.

CAT scans also let you see what's been added to a mummy while it was being prepared. The most well known of these types of objects are amulets, and Loynes showed us examples of these. Other things are more unusual - in one mummy Loynes discovered there was an ibis inside the wrappings as well as a person! He speculated that this might indicate the person was involved in the worship of Thoth or was a scribe. There are also sometimes more practical (as opposed to ritual) objects - for instance he has seen mummies that have been strengthened (or put back together) with planks and rods, some inside the body, some outside the body.

Loynes also talked a bit about the signs of disease, injury & causes of death that you can detect using CAT scans of mummies. There's actually not much evidence of disease, as the soft tissues of the body are either removed or dessicated during the mummification process - so you really only see evidence of things that affect the bones. One Roman period mummy that he's looked at appears to've been beaten to death. The body is that of an old man, and he's suffered several fractures in the face, the skull, the arms, the spine & the pelvis. Loynes also showed an example of one of the soft tissues diseases that he did detect - gall stones show up clearly on the scan. That mummy also had a spinal fracture and heel fractures which are consistent with landing from a great height on the feet.

Another thing that Loynes has investigated is how the mummies he's examined shed light on the development of mummification techniques from the 18th Dynasty onwards. The first example he showed us was of the mummy of Nebri "Head of Stables" - a title that makes him one of the high elite, as horses were new to Egyptian culture in the New Kingdom. Nebri lived during Tutmosis III's reign, and all that remains of him is his head and his four canopic jars all of which are now in the Turin Egyptian Museum. The CAT scan of his head that Loynes examined was also used to produce a virtual skull that was then used to create a facial reconstruction of Nebri. In terms of technique his mummification was very sophisticated, but there wasn't much of the brain removed. Packing (including the eyes) was a key feature.

The Third Intermediate Period (22nd to 25th Dynasty) example that Loynes showed us had more packing of the mummy and the body cavity was completely filled. The brain removal was also done in a subtly different way - the hole through the nasal septum was at a different angle (less vertical than in the 18th Dynasty). In the Ptolemaic period the hole in the nasal septum to remove the brain is once again at a more vertical angle. In the example he showed us there was resin inside the body cavity, and it had visibly soaked into the spine. The internal organs had been removed via the perineal route, and the higher organs (lungs, heart) were still present in the body.

The Roman period mummies that he's examined have something strange happening with the ribs - it's impossible to dislocate one's ribs in life, but that's what has happened in these mummies. He's looked at the wrapping styles of around 30 Roman era mummies, and one distinctive group is the "red shroud mummies". The red colour comes from red lead, from Spain. This group includes the older man who was beaten to death that he showed us earlier in the talk, and the man who had an ibis bird inside his mummy.

One trend is that from the Old Kingdom period to the Roman period there is less & less emphasis on the tomb. And so by the Roman era the mummification techniques have become more about the final external appearance of the body. I think this correlates with something Manon Y. Schutz said last month (my write up is here) when she talked about a 2nd Century CE coffin bed which appeared to function symbolically as a temple within the tomb (rather than the tomb itself playing that sort of role).

Loynes has examined 90 mummies so far, and is hoping to look at lots more so that he can draw more robust conclusions. Even tho 90 seems a reasonable sample size once they've been separated by time period, geographic location or other factors each group ends up quite small which makes teasing out what is a unique feature of a particular mummy or what is a common feature of the group more difficult.

During the questions at the end someone asked about the hearts of the mummies he's examined. For theological/ritual purposes the heart is supposed to be replaced in the body so that the weighing of the heart can take place in the afterlife. But Loynes says that in practice the heart is normally no longer there, and replaced with a heart scarab.

In the questions he also showed us one of the other ways modern technology can be used to investigate mummies. He had a 3D printed model of an incision plate from the inside of a mummy which had been made using the data from a CAT scan, which I think is a really cool way that modern technology is letting us "unwrap" mummies without destroying them.

At the beginning of April Manon Y. Schutz came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group about beds in Ancient Egypt. She's a D.Phil student at Oxford University, and beds in an Ancient Egyptian funerary context are the subject of her thesis. She has chosen to look at the funerary context because most of the evidence of beds that survives is from tombs. Her talk was divided into two parts - first an introduction to the topic of beds in Ancient Egypt, and then an overview of beds throughout Ancient Egyptian history.

Schutz started by talking about the basics of the subject - what is a bed? It's important to start by thinking about our modern preconceptions of the subject so that one can hopefully avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions when thinking about Ancient Egyptian beds. She gave a detailed modern definition of a bed, and then looked at how this is not a universal definition. For instance in our culture we think of beds as ubiquitous but you don't have to go as far afield as Ancient Egypt to see that this isn't always the case. Even a few centuries ago in European culture beds were high status objects (I was reminded that Shakespeare specified what was to happen to his second-best bed in his will, it was an important object). We also think of beds as private places - for one person or a couple - but in many cultures co-sleeping is common, and even in our own culture small children may co-sleep with their parents.

All the archaeological evidence for beds in Ancient Egypt come from high status contexts - high status burials, or place like Deir el Medina (which was a village for elite craftsmen & their families). Beds were luxury goods, and most people probably slept on the floor or on raised daises built into the floor of the room. There are various different words for bed in Ancient Egyptian literature & Schutz discussed some of these. There were beds called ytjt.t which are only mentioned in funerary contexts. ꜣṯ.t beds were mentioned in everyday contexts during the Old & Middle Kingdom periods, but by the New Kingdom are only seen in the funerary context. In the New Kingdom the name of beds in the everyday context was ꜣṯi.t.

There was also the term krk(r), which originally referred to a specific bed of a foreign king acquired by Tutmosis III in one of his campaigns. This wasn't an unexpected sort of item to bring back from campaign as tribute or loot - beds were often exchanged as gifts between rulers, which is mentioned in the Amarna letters. Schutz also noted that in this sort of context a bed wasn't necessarily just a sleeping place, it might also be the equivalent of a throne (and in more recent times this was seen in Ethiopia where the kings sat in state on a bed instead of a chair). Interestingly this same term was later used to refer to cheap beds, which Schutz speculated was to debase the foreign bed - in effect the Egyptians were claiming that the most expensive bed of the foreigners was worth no more than a cheap Egyptian bed.

Another sort of bed common in Deir el Medina was a ḥ'tj, and an example of this is the bed belonging to Merit which is now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Turin (see photo below). Beds like this were mid-range beds, better quality than a krk(r) bed, but not the most expensive available. Schutz used these beds as examples to look at what similarities & differences there are between modern beds & Ancient Egyptian ones. As you can see from the photo the shape of the bed is much the same as a modern bed - a wooden frame with four legs - although the board is a footboard and very few Egyptian beds had headboards, which is the reverse to our own beds.

Bed of Merit

Merit's bed was found with no mattress, although it's not clear if that's the way it would've been used in life or just how it was buried. There were linen blankets found near it which may've played the role of mattress, and other thicker blankets to be used as coverings during a cold night. Pillows are very rare in Ancient Egypt, instead they appear to've used headrests (see the photo) which don't look terribly comfortable to me. I say "appear to've used" because this came up in the questions at the end of the talk and Schutz discussed how in modern African cultures that use headrests they often aren't used to sleep on at night, instead are to rest on whilst watching herds during the day or something like that. So it's not entirely clear if Ancient Egyptians actually slept on them.

The textual evidence for beds confirms that they were used for sleeping, but it's not clear if they were in a bedroom as we would understand it. And in the questions Schutz said that she doesn't like using the word "bedroom" for any areas of Ancient Egyptian houses because that term brings along all our modern connotations and we don't even know for sure that Egyptians slept in the rooms we're referring to as bedrooms. Beds in Ancient Egypt also had other functions, as they do today: sex, birth, illnesses and death. And in Ancient Egypt they were also for social occasions, and for sitting on rather than chairs. In artistic representations thrones & beds show similarities & the terms used to describe them overlap - so as mentioned above an elaborate state bed was not entirely a distinct category of object to an elaborate state throne.

After a break for coffee & cake Schutz talked us through beds from Pre-dynastic to Roman times. Beds first appear in the Pre-dynastic era, but are not found everywhere throughout Egypt until the end of the early Dynastic era. Sometimes people were buried on beds, or next to them - and Schutz said that she thinks the "fetal" burial position common during the period is better thought of as a "sleeping" position. Partly because the Ancient Egyptians would've seen sleeping people more often than they'd've seen fetuses, and partly because death is associated with sleep throughout Egyptian culture.

The earliest known bed dated from the Naqada II period, but it has since been lost so the oldest bed Schutz showed us a picture of dated from Dynasty 0 (Naqada III). This bed, like most early beds is short - this is because they were for sleeping curled up on rather than stretched out. The legs of the bed are in the form of bovine legs - I'd generally say "bulls' legs" but Schutz explained that the legs could be either bulls' or cows'. Bulls are symbolic of fertility and strength which fits with the functions of a bed both as a place for sex & birth, and also as a safe place to sleep. The bull is also important in a funerary context - it's connected to Seth carrying Osiris in some versions of the Osiris myth, and the Apis Bull who is sometimes shown carrying the deceased. Cows also have protective meanings, as well as meanings in a funerary context - for instance there is the tale of the Heavenly Cow that carries Re to the sky. However it's worth noting that all the textual evidence for the meanings of bovine legs on beds is much later than the first known bovine legs on beds. So it's not clear if the stories arise because beds have bovine legs, or if beds have bovine legs because of the stories.

Bed And Other Furniture Belonging to Queen Hetepheres

Fewer beds are from from the Old Kingdom. One example is the bed of Queen Hetepheres which was buried with linen, that may've been bedcovers. Beds in this period get longer, and bodies buried on them are not in a contracted position. Whilst there are still bovine legged beds there are now also leonine legs on beds. Again this could either be male or female lions there's often no clear evidence either way. When they are definitely lions they tend to appear in pairs, which is a symbol of the sunrise and therefore a link to rebirth.

In the Middle Kingdom there are several types of beds. One of these types (also found in the Old Kingdom) is a frame without legs, and it's generally found in a funerary context under either the mummy or the coffins of the deceased. An example belonging to Djehutihotep is covered in protective texts. This type of slatted bed might be quite common, but as they're not always published in the excavation reports it's hard to tell how common. There are also beds with legs - there is one example where the body was buried on a bed which is rare in the Middle Kingdom. And there were also beds with pairs of lions as legs (as discussed above) with the coffin placed on top.

In the New Kingdom the coffin was placed on top of a bed as transport to the afterlife. Bovine legged beds came back into fashion, but with a slight difference - in the earlier periods the four legs of the bed mimicked the real legs of a bull (or cow) and consisted of one pair of front legs and one pair of back legs. But in the New Kingdom the four legs were identical. During this period elaborate beds were presented as tribute to kings, and Schutz showed us some examples. Tutankhamun was buried with several beds, including one that was in the sarcophagus under the coffins with short leonine legs & heads.

There is little evidence for beds in the Late Period, other than in reliefs. In the Graeco-Roman Period one sort of bed is generally found under the mummy, and has leonine legs and a slatted top like Middle Kingdom examples. However a key difference is that the tails of the lions are elevated on the Graeco-Roman beds, as a protective symbol. Schutz finished up her history of beds in Ancient Egypt by talking us through an example of a bed from the 2nd Century CE. This was found in the tomb of a pair of siblings, two children of 3-4 years old who were buried in the same coffin. The bed was not "just" a bed - in decorative motifs and in shape it's very reminiscent of temple architecture & reliefs, and it seems to've functioned symbolically as a temple within the tomb.

In conclusion Schutz said that beds were essential to sleep, procreation and death in Ancient Egypt. The various animal motifs (including the legs) are both protective of the sleeper and ensure the rebirth of the deceased in the afterlife.

This was an interesting talk about a subject that one often fails to properly consider - a bed is a bed after all, but Schutz made it clear that there was much more to beds & their uses than is obvious on the surface.

At the beginning of March Roland Enmarch came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about the ancient texts left on the walls of an Egyptian alabaster quarry in Middle Egypt.

He started his talk by giving us the geographical and geological context for the quarry. Hatnub is in the Eastern desert fairly close to Amarna. The name "Hatnub" (hat-noob) is how the original excavators of the site in the 1890s pronounced the ancient name that they read on the walls (which is transliterated ḥwt-nbw). Modern Egyptologists would pronounce it more like "Hut nebu" (hoot neb-oo) because the assumptions made about how the vowels sound have changed, but the name has stuck with the original pronunciation. It's quite likely that neither pronunciation bears much resemblance to what an actual Ancient Egyptian would've said. The name means "Mansion of Gold" which is reminiscent of the names of areas in temples - so was this perhaps a sacred place? Or does it refer to wet alabaster glistening after rare rainfall?

Hatnub is a place where Egyptian alabaster can be found. This name for the rock is technically incorrect - modern geologists use the term alabaster to refer to a specific sort of white rock which is not at all the same sort of rock as "Egyptian alabaster" (which is more accurately called calcite). It formed in the limestone in an earlier geological period when Egypt was wetter. The limestone got dissolved away by the water leaving cave systems. These were then filled by Egyptian alabaster, which was deposited from the water of hot springs into these caves. If the spring wasn't hot but instead was at ambient temperature then the rock that was deposited was Tufa limestone. Because of the way the Egyptian alabaster is formed in ancient cave voids it occurs in discrete pockets rather than long strata.

Egyptian alabaster was valued by the Ancient Egyptians for several reasons - of course one of these was the visual aesthetics of the stone. It's also relatively rare, as it needed a hot spring to've existed to deposit it which is a rarer occurrence than an ambient temperature spring. Enmarch said that the Egyptians also valued it for sacred properties, and it's often found in religious contexts. He also showed us a picture of the famous scene from the tomb of Djehutihotep in Deir el Bersha showing a large statue being moved by many many men - this statue was made of alabaster, and the text accompanying it includes "The road on which it came was very difficult indeed."

Hatnub was discovered in modern times by Percy Newberry & Howard Carter in 1891 while they were looking for the tomb of Akhenaten. The inscriptions weren't officially recorded at that time, but Enmarch said they were copied and circulated privately, so it was known that they were there. The texts were then properly recorded in 1907 by Georg Möller, and the work was published after his death by R. Anthes in 1928. Although other archaeological work has been carried out at the site (by Ian Shaw in the 1980s) this remained the most recent study of the texts until the study that Enmarch himself is undertaking. And this old study has limitations as the sole source of knowledge of the inscriptions - it has no photos, just drawings, and it was written up by someone who had never been to the site (and who could not always decipher what Möller had described). So Enmarch and his colleagues have embarked on a proper modern epigraphic study after an initial visit in 2012 showed that there was much that could still be learnt from these inscriptions. Their initial goal, which they have largely finished was to record all the inscriptions that have survived using modern methods (digital photography).

Enmarch next talked us through how you (or how an Ancient Egyptian would) approach the quarries at Hatnub. There are well preserved pre-classical roads in the desert which lead from the cultivated regions to the quarries. The road network includes causeways to build up the road so that the inclines are never too steep to pull large blocks of stone along. These might be built of blocks of stone, and still look pretty solid these days. Alongside the roads at intervals are small horseshoe-shaped man-made stone features which aren't yet understood - perhaps they are wind shelters? Part of the project is to investigate these & map them on the road network to see if anything can be learnt about them. As well as these structures there are also stone cairns near the road on a high part of the desert near Quarry P. These cairns could be for marking the route, but they may also have some sacred purpose. In front of the cairns themselves are rudimentary structures, and there are little cleared paths up to the cairns.

Quarry P is the part of Hatnub where most of the inscriptions have been found, and the rest of Enmarch's talk concentrated on this area. It is a large & deep oval pit, and nearly all the alabaster has been removed from it (there are fragments on the floor and some small parts left in the limestone walls of the pit). It is an open cast mine which definitely didn't have a full roof, although there may've been an overhang which has since collapsed, and there are giant (ancient) spoil heaps around it. Enmarch said that it feels like being in a volcanic crater (although obviously there is nothing volcanic about it).

The inscriptions are not evenly distributed around the walls of the quarry, instead they are concentrated in particular regions. Enmarch first talked us round these regions showing us the inscriptions that were previously known from the 1928 publication. The south wall of the entryway to the quarry has lots of features that were in this paper, some of which have been damaged since they were originally recorded in 1907. The oldest inscriptions here date to the reign of Khufu - they generally have both his cartouche and his Horus name, and may have his image and other protective symbols. They indicate the royal patronage of the quarrying expedition and the Pharaoh's domination of the area.

In the main oval area there is a boulder (a piece of rock which wasn't good enough quality to quarry) which is covered in carvings of little men - so it's called "little man boulder". Enmarch has identified 40 features mostly only noted briefly in the 1928 publication, which are mostly standing or sitting men with no texts. These are a lower class record of presence (rather than the royal inscriptions of the south entryway). They are mostly in relief or in red ink and many are now faded or eroded to near invisibility. Modern digital photography is a particularly useful tool in these circumstances & Enmarch showed us how he's been able to enhance the images to see these inscriptions clearly. For a lot of his images he'd first show us a picture of what looked like almost completely bare rock, and then the enhanced image with a fairly clear inscription or image - it was very impressive to see what could be revealed.

The north west wall of the oval catches the sun first thing in the morning, and there is a red ink inscription here dating to the time of Pepi II which shows the king seated alongside his royal names plus an account of the expedition. This says that the leader of the expedition extracted as much stone as was required and transported it to the king. The south wall of the oval is covered with texts and images, and is marked out with rocks and stelae (which were removed in 1907 and sadly were then in Berlin in WW2 and destroyed). Two large red ink inscriptions in hieratic date to the time of Teti I. Others of the inscriptions here are dated by which Nomarch had ordered the expedition - the dating on these is unclear, they might be during the First Intermediate Period or they might date to later. They are placed near the 6th Dynasty inscriptions, to gain prestige from associating themselves with them. There are also modern additions to some of these inscriptions - the figures outlined in white, which seems an odd thing to do. And sadly some have been deliberately defaced as well.

After a break for coffee & cake Enmarch took us round the site again, this time talking about the inscriptions that they have discovered which weren't published in 1928, and also to give us his thoughts on the motives behind some of the inscriptions. The older inscriptions are just royal names & images, but from the 6th Dynasty onwards there is also biographical details of the expedition leader like those you might find in their tomb. They are tweaked to be specific to the place rather than a tomb - for instance they include a formula about making offering to the inscription (and thus the person) but as this is a quarry the return you will get for doing so is that your own expedition will be successful. The later inscriptions that refer to Nomarchs rather than Pharaohs are all close in date (within a few decades) and explicitly address themselves to later expeditions that they expect will come after them. This is unusual for an Ancient Egyptian quarry and Enmarch suggested that perhaps it's because it's closer to home than many Egyptian quarries and so felt more like somewhere the living would be visiting after your death.

On the south wall of the entryway there are some panels that look almost bare to the naked eye (whilst still looking like panels) - Enmarch's enchanced digital images show up figures & texts in these, and he's doubled the number of texts dating to Pepi II's reign this way. These new texts include a red ink text written in hieroglyphs which is exciting as normally the red ink ones are hieratic and the hieroglyphic ones are carved. And as a counterpoint another new text is an incised hieratic text, again unusual. One of the inscriptions gives a name for the quarry which is "Northern Hatnub of the Hare Nome" (this dates to Pepi II's reign as well). The north wall of the entryway has no previously published inscriptions, but Enmarch's project has discovered some here as well. Some of them survive as no more than Pepi II's name, but one has a lengthy hieratic text listing the members of the expedition that left it behind. And on the Little Man Boulder there is also a newly discovered incised hieratic inscription that possibly lists the names of expedition members.

The south wall of the oval has several new texts. One of these is a big inscription found round a very faded figure which was only briefly noted in the 1928 publication. Image enhancement shows it up very well & it consists of multiple texts dating to the reign of a Nomarch called Djehutynakht (but which Djehutynahkt is unknown). It's mostly a moral biography like one would find in a tomb (where the tomb occupant lists the things they have done that they should've and the things they haven't done because they should not). Another interesting text in this area is written by the Scribe of the Portal Ahanakht, in which he presents himself as the best at everything he does. In the text he refers to himself several times as "a scribe", something he appears proud of, and there are many references to his knowledge & skill with words both as someone who can write words and someone who can construct a well turned phrase. Enmarch thinks that the handwriting of this inscription matches several others on this wall, and so Ahanakht may well have been the official scribe for several of these expeditions - and this inscription is him making sure that he is remembered as well as his masters.

One of the new inscriptions that they have discovered on the north west wall of the oval is high up on the quarry wall, and the style of the hieroglyphs is early dynastic. Taken together these imply that the early dynastic period is when this quarry was first worked. And it's corroborated by the fact that the inscriptions from the time of Khufu are lower down the walls, and so the quarry had been used for some time by the 4th Dynasty.

Looking at the dates of the inscriptions the quarry was worked out by early in the 12th Dynasty. However there's one inscription from a much later date - set within the 6th Dynasty inscriptions is a text that dates to the 18th Dynasty. This was a previously known inscription, but Enmarch has discovered a new line of text - which names a sculptor, possibly even the man who made the famous bust of Nefertiti, who possibly came from Amarna to assess if there was any stone left. Backing up the date of the inscription are pottery fragments found at the site of the distinctive blue painted ware of the era.

To sum up Enmarch told us that they haven't made many major changes to the known chronology of the site, but they have discovered new & interesting details. There is still more to learn - they are currently clearing the debris at the bottom of the quarry to expose more of the lower portions of the walls, which may have new inscriptions.

I really enjoyed this talk - one of my favourite places I've visited in Egypt is Vulture Rock which is covered with inscriptions from the prehistoric era through to Old Kingdom expeditionary inscriptions which are presumably much like the ones at Hatnub that Enmarch described in this talk. So this talk aligned well with my interests :) I also liked seeing what digital photo enhancement could do with these inscriptions, the amount of extra detail that could be pulled out was amazing.

In February Carol Andrews came to talk to the Essex Egyptology Group about Ancient Egyptian jewellery - in particular that worn by women. She structured her talk as an overview of the various types of jewellery and for each type she looked at both the archaeological evidence and at the artistic representations of the jewellery. Men wore as much jewellery as women, and in fact there are very few if any forms that were specific to women.

One of the common forms of jewellery worn by both sexes is the broad collar, constructed of several concentric strings of beads with pendants on the outermost string. At the ends of the strings there may be large ornate terminals, and the heavier collars needed a counterpoise at the back to keep it attractively balanced around the neck. The first surviving example dates to the Middle Kingdom, but they are depicted on statues at least as far back as the 4th Dynasty (including on the statue of Rahotep and his wife Nofret that is now in the Cairo Museum). Andrews talked about an example from c.1800 BCE discovered at Hawarra which had falcon heads at the ends of the collar and a counterpoise with a matching falcon design. This indicates that it was specifically for funerary contexts (with the falcon heads representing Horus). She also discussed an 18th Dynasty example where the beads are all floral motifs - lotuses, poppy seeds etc. To modern eyes these look feminine but they belonged to both men & women as a substitute for real flower collars (which are depicted in tomb reliefs showing scenes of parties).


It's just by chance that most of the surviving collars are for women - men definitely wore these collars as well. Broad collars are the most commonly depicted form of jewellery up until the Saite period, after which they are rare except in depictions of the Pharaoh or of deities. In fact, as Andrews pointed out, they're almost essential for depicting gods who have animal heads. Having a broad collar covering up the top of the shoulders & the base of the neck removes the need to represent the join between the animal head & the human body, many of which would be very awkward indeed. Like the goddesses with snake heads, often represented with a whole snake coiled up or the vulture headed gods whose scrawny necks would somehow need to join to their brawny human shoulders.

Some broad collars were made of precious metals, and the first example of these that she showed us was a fragmentary one found in the Valley of the Kings that she believes may possibly have belonged to Akhenaten. One might think that such heavy & expensive collars would all belong to men (either because it would take strength to wear them or because of the wealth it implied), but Andrews showed us that this was not the case by telling us about three surviving examples that belonged to women. The first was from the burial of three minor wives of Tutmosis III (the material from which is now in the Met in New York) which is a collar with metal beads with inlays, in the shapes of hieroglyphs. Another dating to 1550 BCE has falcon terminals and beads in the shapes of lions, gazelles & other motifs reminiscent of contemporary Aegean art, so perhaps a sign of "exotic" influences for this piece of jewellery. And finally a collar found in Giza dating to the 4th Dynasty has many beetle-shaped beads.

Another sort of necklace that the Ancient Egyptian women wore was a choker - 2 rings with vertical beads between them. None of these survive, we know of them only from depictions in reliefs where all classes of women are shown wearing them. Other necklaces had large pendants made using a technique called cloisonné. Andrews explained that this involved making little compartments with gold which are then filled in with inlaid stones. She showed us several examples of these - mostly from the Middle Kingdom period, when these pendants have only been found associated with women. However the designs on them might seem more appropriate for men - the cartouche of the king, or warlike and smiting scenes. Despite the earlier association with women, by the Late Period these pectorals are only seen worn by men (except in funerary contexts when women still have them).

The Ancient Egyptians didn't just wear necklaces. Another common form of jewellery is the diadem, which over time came to be solely for women. The earliest known example was from the Naqada II period, so this is a very early style. You can see in my photo above that the Old Kingdom statue of Nofret shows her wearing a diadem decorated with floral motifs, which a common theme that Andrews said was imitating wildflowers. There might also be other motifs on diadems such as protective vulture motifs for senior royal women, or gazelle heads which might be the badge for more junior royal women (minor wives or concubines).

Diadem with Gazelles, a Stag and Flowers

Another common item of jewellery was a fish shaped pendant - these were worn to ward off drowning. Andrews told us a story that the Ancient Egyptians told about the King travelling on the river in a boat rowed by women from his harem (as entertainment for the man who has everything) when one of the girls lost her pendant. The King offered to replace it for her, but she insisted she wanted her own one back - so the court magician parted the waters of the Nile and the pendant was retrieved from the riverbed and the journey could continue. Very reminiscent of the later Biblical story of Moses & the Red Sea, of course!

Both men & women wore girdles from at least 4500 BCE, these were strings of beads that were tied around the waist. One very common form during the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom for women consisted of beads shaped like cowrie shells (or later a more abstract representation of the shells). When these sorts of girdles were first discovered in the 19th Century they were referred to as "wallet" beads in a somewhat Victorian-gentlemanly fashion that ignored the more obvious symbolism. In Ancient Egypt the shape of the cowrie shell was symbolic of the female genitalia, and they were worn close to that region as a protective symbol. There were also sexual connotations - Andrews referenced the dancing girls painted on the walls of Nebamun's tomb who are young, nubile & wearing nothing but their cowrie shell girdles. But women from higher social classes were also buried with cowrie shell girdles - like the great queens of the 12th Dynasty. Andrews said that this was because the girdles were a symbol of the rejuvenation of their sexuality & fertility in the afterlife. Another sort of girdle worn by women in the Middle Kingdom consisted of beads shaped like acacia seeds. These seeds were used in Egyptian medicine to prevent haemorrhage after childbirth so it's thought that the girdles were again protective symbols worn round the appropriate area of the body.

There are many representations from the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom periods of women wearing anklets, formed (like chokers) of two rings with vertical beads between them. This form of jewellery dies out in the New Kingdom, Andrews speculated that the cause was an increase in sandal wearing which got in the way of the jewellery and also the the fashion for dresses had changed. Gods & goddesses continued to be represented with anklets tho - this was just a mortal change of fashion. Anklets often came in sets with matching bracelets & armlets, which means that it can be difficult to tell exactly which has been excavated unless the full set is discovered. One thing distinguishes some anklets - generally those worn by dancing girls - is that they have little claw amulets attached to them. These aren't royal lions claws, they are bird claws probably indicating the gracefulness of the dancer. But interestingly as with the cowrie girdles the great queens of the 12th Dynasty are buried with anklets with claws - again in the funerary context this is likely to represent fertility in the afterlife.

Bracelets are again found from early in Egyptian history - one example was found in the burial of Djer (a 1st Dynasty Pharaoh) which had been robbed a long time before archaeologists got there, what was found was a mummified arm stuck in a crack in the wall which had a bracelet on it. Andrews said this was probably Djer's own arm, not that of his wife (who may also have been buried there). This example isn't just early, it's also unusual in that the way it was discovered means that we have the order that the beads were strung in. Normally jewellery made of beads is discovered just as a collection of loose beads and so the order we see things strung together in a modern museum is pure conjecture (and sometimes museums restring the jewellery they have as they think of better ways to do so). During the Middle Kingdom bracelets often had spacers made of gold beads soldered to a baseplate (or just each other) which kept the rest of the beads in the right place. The great queens of the 12th Dynasty had spacers in their bracelets shaped like lions, over the centuries this motif changed from the regal & powerful lion to more feminine pussy cats via cats in lion poses (in the 17th Dynasty). Another form that bracelets could take was a rigid silver bangle, examples of these are found as far back as the pre-dynastic era. During the New Kingdom period this type was altered by making it hinged - examples of these were buried with three of Tutmosis III's minor wives.

Earrings were the latest form of jewellery to be adopted in Ancient Egypt, and are not seen before the Hyksos period (the Second Intermediate Period). But they weren't the result of Asian influences from the Hyksos rulers, instead they came from the fashions of the Nubian mercenaries that fought for the Theban kings of the 17th Dynasty. During the New Kingdom earrings were the fashion for everyone - male, female & children. Andrews showed us several examples of large & heavy gold earrings, all of which were worn in pierced ears (and looked rather uncomfortable to me!). Earrings also show up in depictions of people in reliefs - for instance in Nefertari's tomb she's depicted with several different styles of earrings in the different scenes. Even mummy cases are shown wearing earrings. Interestingly, though, the Pharaoh isn't ever shown wearing earrings - in the question section at the end of the talk Andrews was asked about this & she said that she thought it was a public/private distinction. When the Pharaoh had his crown on and was in formal or ceremonial settings then he didn't have earrings, but when he was in private he still wore them.

Finger rings were the last type of jewellery that Andrews showed us. A lot of finger rings have been found, some of them even on the fingers of mummies, but you never see anyone depicted in a relief wearing one which is a bit odd. Many rings were used as seals - either with a swivelling bezel (perhaps scarab shaped) or static stirrup shaped rings. Women's seal rings had their own names on them, which implies they were able to authorise their own documents etc. Other than rings found on the fingers of women it can be hard to tell which gender a ring was for just from the design. The shape of the ring might hold some clues - Neith or Mut are both goddess associated with women, for instance. Frog shaped rings might have associations with childbirth, or cat shaped rings with Bastet. But this isn't a certain diagnostic, and Andrews showed us a few examples of "feminine" themed rings where it's certain that they actually belonged to men.

Andrews finished up her survey of Ancient Egyptian jewellery worn by women with a short summary: whilst some forms of jewellery might've been more commonly worn by women at one time or another there were no forms of jewellery that were exclusively for Ancient Egyptian women.

This was an fascinating overview of a subject I'd not previously given much thought to. I found it particularly interesting that some jewellery types are only known from archaeological evidence and some only from the art that the Egyptians left us. Accidents of survival can make quite a difference to how we see the past.


Subscribe to