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Monday, 30 November 2020

Standing Tall in Karnak’s Great Hypostyle Hall

The blog for this week is written by Marissa Lopez, who holds a degree in anthropology with a focus on archeology. She spent a year studying Egyptology at the American University in Cairo where she worked directly with Dr Kent Weeks and Dr Salima Ikram. She currently lives in Maine, USA, and takes unsuspecting friends to the Boston Museum of Fine Art to lecture them about the Egyptian exhibit.

There are many sights from ancient Egypt that are awe-inspiring, but few that make you feel minuscule at the same time. The Karnak temple complex in modern day Luxor is a required stop for anyone with even a passing interest in ancient Egypt. Built, modified, deconstructed, and expanded within 250 acres for over 2,300 years, it is probably the most sizable ancient temple complex in both space and time. Although invaders, locals looking to reuse the blocks, the ravages of time, and an earthquake have caused considerable damage to the many buildings, statues, columns, and obelisks, tireless work from various Egyptian and foreign missions have restored as much of the temple as possible, and their work is ongoing. This includes the massively impressive Great Hypostyle Hall (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall (Photo by Marissa Lopez)


Seti I started building what would be known as “Seti-is-beneficial-in-the-House-of-Amun” (the Great Hypostyle Hall) in his second year. It was built to be a temple with its own priesthood and not just another addition to the larger complex. Seti is clear in one inscription; after many sleepless nights, this was his idea, his thoughts, and his instructions for this temple. Little did he know that his son would also impose his thoughts on the temple as well.

Walking through the Second Pylon, visitors are greeted by a forest of huge columns that seem to touch the sky. They are easily the first thing to capture your attention. There are 134 in total. Traveling west to east from the Second Pylon to the Third, the path is flanked by twelve 22.4m columns with a few slabs up top, which are all that’s left of the roof. Looking up, one can see stars decorating the underside of the roof slabs, the color still visible in some places. On the north and south side of the colonnade are the remaining 122 columns, each at almost 15m tall. In ancient times, a roof would have covered the entire hall on both levels, while clerestory windows above the center of each pylon let in some light (fig. 2). Carved under the central window is an ankh symbol flanked by the bulrush (South) and bee (North). The central twelve columns were thus exposed to light. As ancient Egyptians observed and were inspired by the natural world, the capitals are depicted as blooming papyrus flowers, particularly because the plant buds stay closed in the dark and flower in the sun. The columns are surrounded by walls filled with inscriptions and depictions of pharaohs and the gods.

Fig. 2: Clerestory windows in the Hall


It seems almost impossible for so many columns, each with a circumference of 15m, to be erected in an area that is 103m wide by 52m deep (fig. 3). The current hypothesis is that the area was slowly filled with sand as the column stone slabs were put in place. After the columns were completed, the sand was removed and scaffolding was used to carve and paint each one. The columns were completed during the time of Seti with his cartouches inscribed at the top, although they were recarved by Ramesses II.

Fig. 3: A congested hall (Photo by Marissa Lopez)


There are two types of columns in the hall, 122 monostyle columns aligned with each other in rows of nine and seven, and the 12 campaniform central columns. The campaniform columns were likely erected by Amenhotep III or Horemheb, although it is unknown by whom. Each column has a ring around the top depicting the cartouches of Ramesses II, although research has shown his name replacing that of Seti I (fig. 4). Ramesses II had a long history of usurping the monuments of his ancestors and those of his father was no exception. The other reliefs show tribute and the worshipping of the Theban Triad by Ramesses II on the campaniform columns, and Ramesses IV on some outer columns. The papyrus stalk imagery is completed with leaves carved on the bottom register of the column.

Fig. 4: Cartouches of Ramesses II recarved over those of Seti I


There are quite a few interesting scenes on the walls. The exterior north wall depicts war scenes including taking of a fortress in Pekanan, an ambush by Bedouins, tributes of booty to Amun, Sekhmet-Mut, Khonsu, the Theban Triad, the capture and massacre of prisoners, and of course, Seti’s triumphant return (fig. 5). The west jamb of the northern entrance doorway is carved for Ramesses II, an addition he liked to make when door jambs were available. The exterior south wall is heavily damaged, yet is thought to recount the military expeditions of Ramesses II to Palestine and Kadesh, much like the north wall, and with an emphasis on duality. For example, Ramesses is compared to Horus and Seth, and is seen trampling over two defeated enemies, bringing back two rows of enemies with their arms bound behind their backs.

Fig. 5: Smiting scene of Seti I

On the internal walls, the Persea tree is depicted twice. Once on the northern wall where Thoth writes the duration of Seti’s reign on the tree leaves in a beautiful and intricate raised relief. In comparison, on the Southern wall, Ramesses II is depicted kneeling in the Persea tree as Thoth stands behind him, writing his name on the leaves as Amun extends to him the symbol for the Sed-festival (fig. 6). The scene continues onto the coronation of Ramesses II and the race of the Apis Bull, in which Seti is represented as walking behind the sacred barques, suggesting he has rejoined with the one who created him.

Fig. 6: Persea tree scene (Photo by Marissa Lopez)


The eastern interior wall shows Seti in the different phases of the Ritual of the Daily Divine Worship. This includes breaking clay seals to open the doors to heaven, making a fire for offerings and libations, and holding the ankh while presenting a list of offerings.

You can’t help but notice the inscriptions during the time of Seti were beautiful and intricate raised bas-relief carvings while Ramesses II quickly moved towards the faster sunk relief method. Ramesses even had the southern wall recarved in sunk relief so he could take credit for the scene. Perhaps he was trading quality for quantity, or making it more difficult for future kings to recarve his own cartouches, there are many possibilities.

The Great Hypostyle Hall in the Karnak temple complex has fascinated people for millennia. It was repaired during the Graeco-Roman Period and other kings added their name, such as Ramesses IV. That fascination continues even today and I can promise you, from the scenes on the walls to the dizzying heights of the columns, it is a wonder to see!

Bibliography:

For the Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall Project website, with its extensive bibliography, see https://www.memphis.edu/hypostyle/

Blyth, Elizabeth 2006. Karnak: evolution of a temple. London: Routledge.

Schwaller de Lubicz, R. A. 1999. The temples of Karnak. Photographs by Georges de Miré and Valentine de Miré; translated by Andrè Vanden Broeck. London: Thames & Hudson.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Blame it on the Eighteenth Dynasty

The blog post for this week is written by Iris C. Meijer, who has been gripped by ancient Egypt from an early age. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Law from Leiden University, where she spent as much time as she could at the marvelous Dutch Museum for Antiquities and took every Egyptological course she could, up to and including an elective in Ancient Egyptian Law. When her career collapsed due to severe chronic illness, she took a leap of faith and moved to Egypt. For the last eighteen years, she has been there, deepening her understanding of the monuments, as well as being active in animal rescue, raising animal welfare awareness through her book and workshops for kids in Egypt, and community efforts to promote Egypt, the land that makes her heart sing!

I blame the Eighteenth Dynasty. I do. If the subtle lines and serene beauty of the Maya and Merit statues at Leiden hadn’t grabbed my heart and mind as a ten-year-old and hung on to it, I wouldn’t be living in Luxor right now, and I wouldn’t have been able to visit Karnak, the “Most Select of Places”, the amazing temple complex that may be the biggest one in the world, so many times. I thought I knew quite a bit about this splendid place, but this course of Dr Ken Griffin is giving me a whole new perspective and so many new insights. The chronological approach Dr Griffin has chosen throws a whole new light on the development of the magnificent temple we are confronted with today—a giant, overwhelming, glorious mass of edifices, pillared halls, shaded sanctuaries, fabulous festival halls, and more (fig. 1). No one entering Karnak, for the first time or the twentieth time, can escape being overwhelmed and gaping in awe. But by tackling the temple chronologically, Dr Griffin causes an adjustment to our mind’s eye. We can ‘see’ the temple developing from quite a modest structure in the Middle Kingdom to the incredible place we have today.

Fig. 1: View of Karnak looking east to west


And again, I blame the Eighteenth Dynasty
😉. Even though arguably the most famous part of Karnak, the very impressive Hypostyle Hall dates from the Nineteenth Dynasty, the sprawling vastness of the Amun complex is mostly down to the Eighteenth Dynasty, as we learned in part two of this wonderful course (fig. 2). The Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs ... names that evoke so many intriguing stories and images. Ahmose II, Hatshepsut, Thutmose (I–IV), Amenhotep (I–III, and even IV 1/2 let’s say—he who later became Akhenaten), Tutankhamun, Aye, Horemheb—even if you have only a passing interest in Egyptology instead of a passion, you will have heard of at least one or more of these.


Fig. 2: Annals of Thutmose III


Ahmose II, the proud Upper Egyptian king who stood up against the foreign usurpers and reunited the Two Lands; my personal favourite, Hatshepsut (fig. 3), the woman who declared herself pharaoh—and who, as Dr Griffin rightly says, gets far less recognition than she deserves—; Thutmose III, who built Egypt into a vast Empire; Amenhotep III, the Golden Pharaoh who presided over the pinnacle of ancient Egypt’s might and wealth; Akhenaten, the Heretic King; Tutankhamun, the young king whose undisturbed tomb has made millions marvel at the glorious art of this period; and last but definitely not least, Horemheb, the ones who put it all back together again after the thankfully short-lived heresy of Akhenaten and paved the way for the restoration of Egypt’s might under the following, warrior-like Nineteenth Dynasty. They all wanted to make their mark on the precinct of the mightiest God of them all: Amun-Ra. And they did. They did it by, in our view perhaps quite ruthlessly, tearing down older structures at Karnak to make space for their vision. And they built and built and built—not in mudbrick as much as had been done before, but in strong, solid, lasting stone. Pylon after pylon, sanctuary after sanctuary, obelisk after obelisk shot up in this dynasty (c. 1550–1292 BCE).


Fig. 3: Hatshepsut and Thutmose III on the Red Chapel


The work on the adjoining precinct of Mut, the consort of Amun-Ra, also started in earnest in this time. Today, there is not much left standing of this wonderful temple to that goddess, but what is there evokes a visual of a once magnificently beautiful temple—and let’s not forget the hundreds of statues of mighty Sekhmet found there (fig. 4)! The last pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Horemheb, completed a causeway between the two holy places, lined with magnificent and gigantic ram-headed sphinxes. Mostly overlooked by the general tourist who only has time (and attention span) for the main axis of the Amun complex itself, it is well worth a wander to this side axis and then from its gate via the other side to the temple of Mut. Uniquely, Karnak seems to be the only ancient Egyptian temple that has both a major east-west axis as well as a north-south one, connecting all the temples of Luxor’s East Bank into one glorious religious landscape. It boggles the mind, when you really try to stretch it to encompass all of it in your physical or mind’s eye!


Fig. 4: Sekhmet statue in the Mut Complex


But back to Karnak. Thankfully, though they did tear them down, the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs did not fully destroy the older stone chapels that were there before their own personal building projects, but instead used the blocks as infill for the magnificent pylons that they erected. Due to serious hard work by expert restorers, the stunning restored chapels, shrines, and columns can now be admired in Karnak’s lovely Open Air Museum—it may be an extra ticket, but well worth it (fig. 5). Because the structures were torn down relatively early in their monumental lives, they survive in often pristine condition when put back together, and escaped later purges, defacements, and destruction. There are some real gems in there, and they tell us so much about the development of Karnak. Dr Griffin must have studied them with a magnifying glass, he gave us so many beautiful and interesting details to go and find on the next visit to Karnak!


Fig. 5: Beautifully carved relief of Thutmose IV in the Open Air Museum


The Eighteenth Dynasty properly started the New Kingdom, the era of Empire and one of the greatest heydays of the long, long history of ancient Egypt. Amun merged with Ra, and became the most important deity in all of Egypt. And of course, the proud Upper Egyptian dynasty needed to reflect that in the magnificence of his home, his temple. And oh my goodness, did they ever! And is there yet more to discover? Oh yes! Not many people are aware of this, but there are thousands upon thousands of blocks neatly lined up at Karnak, just waiting, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, to be matched and put together into yet more structures (fig. 6). Some of the decorations on these blocks are truly sublime, and yet others, as Dr Griffin showed us, are more unassuming but invaluable in what they can tell us—about history, veneration, and development at Karnak.


Fig. 6: Fragment of a large quartzite statue of Amenhotep III


So when you (next) visit Karnak, for the first or the umpteenth time, do take more than an hour or so. Take at least a whole afternoon, schedule in a nice break at the café at the beautiful Sacred Lake, and wander, just wander. Wander to side rooms and chapels, don’t just stop at the holy of holies but go further, to the great Festival Hall of Thutmose III (fig. 7). Go to the south and explore the magnificent side axis. Go north-west and take in the Open Air Museum. Wander between the rows and rows of blocks still waiting, waiting… You will be stunned at how vast this temple complex really is, and how much vision was behind how everything was put together. And when the vastness gets to you, do like I did: blame the Eighteenth Dynasty. They did most of it!
😊

Fig. 7: Columns in the Festival Hall of Thutmose III

Monday, 16 November 2020

Middle Kingdom Karnak: The Complexities of a Decorated Wall

The blog post for this week is written by Yvonne Buskens-Frenken, from the Netherlands. She is a member of the Dutch Egyptology society Mehen and a former student of Egyptology at Manchester University (Certificate 2015 and Diploma 2017). While Yvonne has never been to the Egypt Centre before, she hopes to visit in the near future, perhaps with other Mehen members. 

Last week a fabulous new online course was launched by The Egypt Centre called Karnak: The most select of places. From my experience of previous courses, I’m sure that this course will again be brilliantly hosted by Dr Ken Griffin. Ken will discuss the temple chronologically, with week one dedicated to the origins of this temple complex until the New Kingdom.

Many of you may have visited Karnak temple and its surroundings. Although I visited Karnak temple several times, every visit leaves me in awe. There is so much history packed into one spot, available for us to explore, but almost impossible to comprehend. Many excavations and restorations have taken place at Karnak and it is still an ongoing process. These excavations and new discoveries, which lead to new theories, teach us even more about the history of this awesome temple complex.

Karnak temple lies on the east bank of the River Nile in modern Luxor. The landscape of Karnak changed considerably over the millennia and latest research suggest it was actually built on an island (Graham & Bunbury 2005). Karnak now comprises three main complexes covering a vast area of 750 acres: an Amun Complex (Khonsu temple, Ptah temple, Opet temple, Amun-Re-Horakhty temple, Osiride temples/shrines), the Mut complex, and the Montu complex (fig. 1). Not all are open to the public. The Montu complex is closed, but the Mut complex has been open to the public for some years now.


Fig. 1: Ahmed Bahloul Khier Galal, CC BY-SA 4.0
<https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


The Karnak complex was known in ancient times, more specifically since the Middle Kingdom, as I͗pt-swt (“the most select of places”). Other names are pt-ḥr-sꜣ-tꜣ (“Heaven on Earth”), ḫnty-wꜣst (“Foremost of Thebes”), and ḏw-n-bi͗ꜣt (“Mountain of Wonders”?). The main temple is dedicated to the god Amun. We don’t know exactly when the temple was founded as there are indications that Amun was worshipped in earlier times. The god Montu, for instance, was worshipped in Thebes in earlier times as well. Does mean that there was not already a temple dedicated to the god Amun? Not necessarily, but the most concrete architectural evidence for worshipping Amun dates from the reign of Intef II of the Eleventh Dynasty. An eight-sided sandstone column found in 1985 bears the text: “(Monument in favour of) Amun-Ra, lord of heaven, (by) the mighty of the land, pillar of Victorious Thebes, (his) praised one, his beloved one, the (protecting) Horus, king of Upper and Lower Egypt, son of Ra Intef the great one, the victorious one, born of Neferu, which he made as his monument on behalf of this god […]”. This column is now in the Luxor Museum (fig. 2).
The earliest reference to a temple of Amun also dates to the Eleventh Dynasty and is from a fragmentary stela of Rhwi now at the Manchester Museum (5052). It reads, “I supplied the house of Amun (in) years of scarcity of shutting off the slaughter, in order to provide the altar tables at each opening of the month and to endow (them) at each opening of the year.”


Fig. 2: Column of Intef


The most ancient parts of the Karnak temple complex itself are the White Chapel of Senwosret I, a large brick ramp towards the Montu precinct (north-west side), and the Middle Kingdom court. I want to highlight some aspects of the Middle Kingdom court. Why? First of all, most visitors usually walk straight from the sanctuary of Philip Arrhidaeus, over the large open Middle Kingdom court towards the so called Akh-menu, a more popular tourist attraction within the complex. But this almost empty yard does not make it less interesting; sometimes less is actually more! (fig. 3) 
Although today only three granite doorsills, in a line along the axes east-west, and some remains of an alabaster pedestal are visible for the visitors (fig. 4), excavations done by Luc Gabolde (Co-director of the CFEETK project) inform us that underneath this court are the foundations of a Middle Kingdom temple. These possibly date to the Eleventh Dynasty, but were certainly extensively redeveloped by king Senwosret I. The Middle Kingdom temple was built of limestone and surrounded by a mudbrick wall. It had a façade with twelve portico pillars each with a statue of the king in Osirian form (fig. 5). The limestone pillars of the court were carved in fine raised reliefs—similar to what we know from the White Chapel now in the Open Air Museum—of the king worshipping Amun, Atum, Horus, and Ptah.

Fig. 3: View of the Middle Kingdom course

Fig. 4: Remains of the Middle Kingdom temple

Fig. 5: Osiride columns of Senwosret I

This temple was probably in use throughout the Pharaonic Period. It was made of limestone, which is not always the best material to use in an architectural structure with a long lifespace. Therefore, by the time of the New Kingdom, it needed to be refurbished. This brings me to another Middle Kingdom aspect to be found close to the court and easy to miss when heading towards the Akh-menu. It relates to the southeast wall of the so-called Hatshepsut’s suite, which also needed to be refurbished (fig. 6). The south wall of this structure is decorated with two almost identical scenes, both depicting a king sitting on a throne, flanked by two lions (fig. 7) and the smꜣ-tꜣwy motif (the binding of the heraldic plants of Upper and Lower Egypt symbolising the union of the Two Lands). It is a copy from a scene dating to Middle Kingdom (fig. 8). At some point during the New Kingdom, this limestone wall was replaced by a sandstone one, either because of its bad condition (decaying limestone) or because it was deliberately demolished to fit into the building programme for either Hatshepsut or Thutmose III. There is still much debate amongst Egyptologists as to which king replaced the Middle Kingdom wall and how it was integrated into the Hatshepsut suite. According to Luc Gabolde, the most eastern scene on this south wall was carved during the reign of Hatshepsut when she replaced the Middle Kingdom wall. It depicts king Senwosret I with only two columns of text as the rest is now lost. The western end of the south wall shows a similar image, but here Thutmose III is shown. The big difference here with the eastern depiction is the fact that more text is available for us. The text is known as the Texte de la Jeunesse. The text is mainly meant to be autobiographical as it boasts about how Thutmose III, still as a young man (hence the name of the text) is chosen to be king of Egypt by Amun, his titulary given by the gods, and his ascension to the throne as a sole king.


Fig. 6: Passage leading to the southern wall of the Hatshepsut suite

Fig. 7: Lion under the throne of Senwosret I

Fig. 8: Southern wall of the Hatshepsut suite (Larche 2009, fig. 1)


Whether it was Hatshepsut or Thutmose III who was responsible for refurbishing this wall and to what extent it was made to fit into the New Kingdom building, for now it is important to understand that Thutmose III was devoted to Senwosret I and/or important to identify himself with the actions of the this great Middle Kingdom king.
 

Bibliography:

Blyth, Elizabeth 2006. Karnak: evolution of a temple. London: Routledge.

Gabolde, Luc 1998. Le “Grand Château d’Amon” de Sésostris Ier à Karnak: la décoration du temple d’Amon-Rê au Moyen Empire. Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, nouvelle série 17. Paris: Diffusion de Boccard.

———. 2018. Karnak, Amon-Rê: la genèse d’un temple, la naissance d’un dieu. Bibliothèque d’étude 167. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.

Graham, Angus and Judith Bunbury 2005. The ancient landscapes and waterscapes of Karnak. Egyptian Archaeology 27, 17–19.

Larché, François 2009. A reconstruction of Senwosret I’s portico and of some structures of Amenhotep I at Karnak. In Brand, Peter J. and Louise Cooper (eds), Causing his name to live: studies in Egyptian epigraphy and history in memory of William J. Murnane, Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 37. 137–173. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Monday, 9 November 2020

The Jig is Up – An Imposter in the Egypt Centre!

The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have already written several posts on the wooden funerary figures of the Egypt Centre. As part of my research, one of the first tasks was to ensure that all of the objects that had been labelled as wooden funerary figures were actually correctly classified – and not all was as it seemed. 

Fig. 1: EC940

The figure discussed here (EC940) was not on display, and at first glance is an extremely unassuming piece (fig. 1). It is very small, measuring just fifty-six millimetres tall, crudely carved in human form, appearing to be unfinished, although close examination does show some very small traces of remaining gesso, indicating a surface layer may well have once been present. The limbs do not survive, but there is a hole through the shoulders, as well as through the three prongs at the bottom of the figure. My initial thoughts were that this could indeed be a crude figure from a funerary model, with the prongs being used to attach it. I included an image of this figure when presenting my research for the Wonderful Things conference 2020 for the Egypt Centre. Following on from this event, I discussed several of the figures with Angela Tooley, one of the leading experts in wooden funerary models. She suggested the object was more likely to be a ‘jigger’ doll or ‘limberjack’. Nicholas Reeves describes similar figures as “proto-automata” (Reeves 2015: 43).


Fig. 2 Sam presenting her research as part of the Wonderful Things conference 2020


These articulated figures are relatively rare, but are known from around the Twelfth Dynasty. Examples with a similar functionality are known, such as A.1971.139 in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh (fig. 3), and several examples in the Petrie Museum, University College London (UC7151, UC16686, UC16687, & UC7401).

Fig. 3 Comparative figure A.1971.139, The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.


The Egypt Centre example is not as finely carved nor to the same canon of proportion as the examples in Edinburgh or the Petrie Museum, but this can be excused as a greater compositional freedom often found in smaller-scale items (Reeves 2015: 47). Such objects typically have legs attached into the two recesses created by the prongs, and arms loosely attached to the shoulders via the aperture through the torso, so that the figure gives the impression of dancing when manipulated and shaken in a similar way to the well-known “dancing dwarfs” from Lisht (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 34.1130). Similar dolls are often used by modern street performers around the world. The dolls jig and wiggle their loose limbs, normally upon a board or plank to add a percussive element to the performance. A video of a jigger being used can be seen here:

 

https://youtu.be/Im9WTwQglMA

The most likely use for such objects in ancient Egypt is assumed to be as a toy, or a form of entertainment, but this may be a modern reaction to an ancient object, as a result of our own perspective and preconceptions. A religious application cannot be ruled out as the use of puppets as part of the rituals in the festival of Dionysus is referred to by Herodotus, and the movements created may mimic that of a ritual performance by real dancers (Reeves 2015: 48–50). Regrettably, as EC940 is an unprovenanced piece, it is impossible to draw any conclusions with any certainty.

This little unassuming figure has proven that looks can be deceiving, and also shows that research in a museum collection is never complete, requiring constant reassessment as new information arises. I hope that post-lockdown, a place can be found for this little figure on display in the Games Case, and that I can find further parallels to support its identification. The figure also shows the importance of events such as the Egypt Centre’s Wonderful Things conference, which provided the opportunity to highlight these figures to a wider audience. I would like to express my thanks to Angela Tooley for her suggestions and opinions on this figure, as well as several others.

Bibliography

Exner, C. 2004. Practical Puppetry A-Z: A Guide for Librarians and Teachers. McFarland & Co.

Pickles, P., & Howson, K. 2018. The Brightest of Entertainers: Jig Jolls from Britain and Beyond. East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

Reeves, Nicholas 2015. A rare mechanical figure from ancient Egypt. Metropolitan Museum Journal 50, 42–61.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Karnak: The Most Select of Places (short course)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK-wide lockdown in March, staff at the Egypt Centre have been looking at new and creative ways of engaging with an online audience. One such method has been the creation of short courses (5 weeks), which have been delivered via the Zoom platform. Three courses have taken place so far (Funerary Artefacts, Egyptian Religion, Deir el-Medina), with each helping to generate much needed income for the museum. The next course will commence this Sunday, with the topic (chosen by participants of the previous course) being the magnificent site of Karnak!

Fig. 1: View of the Amun complex
(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karnak_Temples.jpg)


Many readers of this blog will be familiar with Karnak, either from visits, documentaries, book, or photographs. While the main temple is dedicate to Amun-Re, dozens of other temples and chapels are scattered throughout the site. It is easy to see why Karnak has attracted visitors for generations, with many, including myself, seeing it as their favourite site in Egypt. Despite visiting Karnak on over sixty occasions, every time I do so I discover something new. With over 2000 years of development, it is difficult to cover everything in a five-week course, which will largely take a chronological approach.

Week 1 (Sunday 08 and Wednesday 11 November): Karnak and its Origins

Week 2 (Sunday 15 and Wednesday 18 November): The Eighteenth Dynasty

Week 3 (Sunday 22 and Wednesday 25 November): Gods, Priests, and Festivals

Week 4 (Sunday 29 November and Wednesday 02 December): Third Intermediate & Late Periods

Week 5 (Sunday 06 and Wednesday 09 October): Graeco-Roman Period

Fig. 2: Plaster cast of a relief from the Ptah Temple at Karnak (EC1959)

In order to be as accessible as possible, lectures will take place twice a week:

-        Sunday evenings 6–8pm (UK time)

-        Wednesday mornings 10–12am (UK time)

Additionally, one of the sessions will be recorded and made available to participants who may not be able to attend the sessions. Participants have the option to attend either the Sunday or Wednesday session, or both, as they see fit. When relevant, I’ll be drawing on objects in the Egypt Centre collection.

The course costs £40, with proceeds going directly to the Egypt Centre, and can be booked via the following link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/karnak-the-most-select-of-places-tickets-124819084241

 

** Participants of this course will have received an email from me in the last 24 hours with instructions on how to access the course. If you believe you have paid for the course but have not received this email, please contact me (k.griffin@swansea.ac.uk) immediately! **

Monday, 26 October 2020

Launch of the New Egypt Centre Online Catalogue

Several weeks ago (08 October), the Egypt Centre soft launched its new online collection catalogue. The catalogue was not initially planned for release until mid-2021. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the museum being closed to the public for the foreseeable future, we decided to push ahead with an early launch. When the Egypt Centre launched its previous online catalogue back in 2005, it was one of the first museums to have its entire collection accessible online. However, the catalogue was quite limited, with most images not suitable for research purposes, and the site being difficult to maintain and update. The new online catalogue (fig. 1), brought to you by Abaset Collections Ltd, was designed specifically with the Egypt Centre in mind. Sam Powell, a student at Swansea University and volunteer at the Egypt Centre, used her experience of working with the collection to design a new bespoke platform that would allow it to be appreciated virtually. Through working closely with the Egypt Centre staff, the catalogue has been honed to ensure that the user experience is as intuitive as possible and meets the needs of a diverse collection. 

Fig. 1: Home page of the new online catalogue

As this is the soft launch of the catalogue, a lot more work is needed. For example, descriptions were imported directly from our internal MODES catalogue, which was not intended for public use. Many of the descriptions and other fields need to be cleaned and expanded upon over the coming months. Therefore, please bear with us as these improvements are implemented. Additionally, new photos are being produced and are being added daily. The sizes of the images have been reduced to save server space and costs, and although high-res images are available on request, the image quality is still suitable for research and use in presentations. There are currently 5661 items listed, accompanied by 9618 photos. The majority of the items were collected by the pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome and arrived in Swansea in 1971 as part of the distribution of his Egyptian collection (fig. 2).


Fig. 2: Word cloud of collectors and institutions represented in the collection

 

The new catalogue has many advanced features, some unique. For example, since many of the objects originate from early twentieth century auctions, users can narrow down their searches to specific auctions and even lot numbers. The catalogue also has a number of thematic trails, which allow visitors to take a “virtual tour” of the collection (fig. 3). New features will be added in due course, including the ability of users to create their own trails. This feature offers the possibility of students to create their own trails/curate their own virtual collection. Lecturers could also do the same based on a specific module. This might be particularly appealing to some given the push for more online/blended learning due to the current pandemic.  


Fig. 3: Online trails
 

One benefit of the data updating in real time has been the ability to make changes whilst working remotely. Using a combination of Zoom and the Online Collection, it has been possible to complete audit checks on objects in real time, with Ken measuring objects in Swansea and Sam updating the information in the Forest of Dean (fig. 4)!


Fig. 4: Updating records via Zoom
 

We welcome any feedback, positive or negative, in order to help us improve things further. To do so, please email Ken Griffin at k.griffin@swansea.ac.uk or Sam Powell (Abaset creator) at abasetcollections@outlook.com

 

Please feel free to share this will students and colleagues. We hope you enjoy exploring our collection virtually!

 

We are immensely grateful to the Greatest Need Fund and the Swansea University alumni who helped fund this project.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Object Biography of Rectangular Predynastic Palette AB79

The blog post for this week is written by Matt Szafran, an independent researcher specialising in the study of ancient tools and technologies. His current research focuses on the manufacture and use of stone palettes in Predynastic Egypt, using experimental archaeology and advanced imaging technologies, such as microscopy and Reflectance Transmission Imaging (RTI) to complement textual studies.

Predynastic Egyptian palettes are typically flat, or slightly pillow-shaped, sections of stone. Interestingly, all of the known palettes are made from the same greywacke stone from the Wadi Hammamat. This implies that there is significance to this material, or the Wadi Hammamat location itself, in the use of a palette that could not be achieved with other stone types. Since their nineteenth century rediscovery they have been associated with pigment processing, having been described by Petrie in 1895 as being used for ‘grinding malachite’. We will look into how correct this was later in this post.

Fig. 1: Palette AB79

Whilst palettes have been one of the most commonly found objects in Predynastic burials, with over 1200 known examples in museum collections alone, it should still be remembered that these are most likely elite items—and not something that was owned by all members of the Predynastic societies. It takes a significant investment in time and an equal amount of skill to create a palette, this alone would restrict their availability and elevate their status and the status of any owner.

The shape of palettes evolved over their use; starting as lozenge-shaped in the Badarian Period (circa 5000–4000 BCE), becoming rhomboidal in the Naqada I Period (circa 4000–3500 BCE), before becoming shaped like the silhouette of animals such as fish and birds in the Naqada II Period (circa 3500–3200 BCE). They then became more simplistic shapes of rectangles and ovals (and sometimes just barely shaped stones) in the Naqada III Period (circa 3200–3000 BCE), and finally these gave way to the intricately carved ‘ceremonial palettes’ (such as the Narmer Palette) in the late Naqada III and Early Dynastic Period (circa 3100–2690 BCE). AB79 is one of the later rectangular palettes, probably from the Naqada III era (fig. 1). It has been suggested that the stylistic change from the complex animal-shaped palettes to the oval and rectangular shapes was because of the ruling elite beginning to restrict access to both raw material and also to the craftspeople to work this. Palettes would still be an elite item at this time, perhaps more so than ever, and it would be a status symbol to have even a simple greywacke stone from the Wadi Hammamat.

So, whilst AB79 may be less exciting to modern artistic and aesthetic proclivities than a complex animalistic representation, the meaning behind this change and apparent simplicity helps to demonstrate the beginnings of Egypt’s social stratification and the control rulers could impose over their subjects.

The edges of the palette feature a simple incised decoration. This is commonly seen on the rectangular and oval palettes of the Naqada III Period, and is the only form of embellishment typically seen on palettes of the time. Somewhat unusually, although not unprecedented, this palette also features a hole drilled through one edge. Holes were commonly seen on the earlier animal-shaped palettes, and have been typically called ‘suspension holes’, with scholars differing in opinion as to whether this was for storage, for wearing on one’s person, or even for suspending the palette during ritual use where the palette was struck to produce a sound. This latter theory is supported by the presence of surface pitting on both sides of the AB79 palette; it has been suggested (by the author) that this surface pitting on palettes was caused by idiophonic striking the surface of the palette, perhaps to produce a sonorous component to ritual usage of palettes. Later Dynastic magic, or heka, requires the speaking of words to ‘activate’ a spell and perhaps this practice started in the Predynastic. Experimentation with replica palettes has shown that striking a palette with a smooth pebble produces a melodic note, somewhat similar to hitting an instrument like a triangle.

Fig. 2: AB79 with traces of red pigment

One side of the AB79 palette features a patch of red staining in its centre (fig, 2). This is most likely ochre, which has been mixed with a base (such as oils, fats, plant resins, or even water) and used as a form of paint or cosmetic. Contrary to the nineteenth century rooted descriptions that all palettes were used for pigment processing, a study by the author of almost 1200 Predynastic palettes has shown that only 4.7% actually demonstrate any form of pigment trace. Scholars again differ in opinion and suggest that this pigment use was a sun defence, to ward off files, for medicinal use, a tegumentary use (as a form of mask), or even for more complex ritual use—the archaeologist’s favourite cliché! This is of course speculative as we have no definitive proof of the use of palettes, especially as there are no written records from the Predynastic era and none of the (limited) iconography shows the usage of a palette.

Fig. 3: Grave 1348 at Tarkhan with the palette located behind the occupants head

This ochre staining appears to be on top of the surface pitting, which indicates that the palette was already pitted when it was used with the ochre. Perhaps this was all in the same ritual, or perhaps it is evidence of multiple different uses of palettes over a longer time. Studies have also shown that palettes with ochre staining are typically found in settlement contexts, rather than palettes with malachite staining which are typically found in burials. However, AB79 was re-discovered in grave 1348 at the site of Tarkhan, by the British School of Archaeology (BSAE) during their 1912–13 season (fig. 3). Perhaps this means that the palette was used in everyday life, where it was stained with the ochre, before finally being deposited in the grave. The object was gifted to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth by John Bancroft Willans, a subscriber of the BSAE, who received the object in 1913 (fig. 4). It was subsequently gifted to the Egypt Centre in 1997.

Fig. 4: List of objects from Tarkhan sent to Aberystwyth in 1913

Hopefully this study of AB79 has shown that what appears to be a basic rectangle of stone actually has a rich story behind it, demonstrating the beginning of Egyptian state control, possible uses in funerary rituals and also possible use in everyday life, but also with many questions on its full use still to be answered and much more.

For the catalogue entry for AB79, see: https://egyptcentre.abasetcollections.com/Objects/Details/5425

Bibliography:

Baduel, Nathalie 2008. Tegumentary paint and cosmetic palettes in Predynastic Egypt: impact of those artefacts on the birth of the monarchy. In Midant-Reynes, B. and Y. Tristant (eds), Egypt at its origins 2: proceedings of the international conference “Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt”, Toulouse (France), 5th–8th September 2005, 1057–1090. Leuven: Peeters; Departement Oosterse Studies.

Ciałowicz, Krzysztof M. 1991. Les palettes égyptiennes aux motifs zoomorphes et sans décoration: études de l’art prédynastique. Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization 3. Kraków: Uniwersytet Jagielloński.

Ellis, Chris 1992. A statistical analysis of the protodynastic burials in the “valley” cemetery of Kafr Tarkhan. In Brink, Edwin C. M. van den (ed.), The Nile Delta in transition: 4th–3rd millennium BC. Proceedings of the seminar held in Cairo, 21–24 October 1990, at the Netherlands Institute of Archaeology and Arabic Studies, 241–258. Tel Aviv: E. C. M. van den Brink.

Grajetzki, Wolfram 2004. Tarkhan: a cemetery at the time of Egyptian state formation. London: Golden House.

Hassan, Fekri A. and Shelley J. Smith 2002. Soul birds and heavenly cows: transforming gender in Predynastic Egypt. In Nelson, Sarah Milledge and Myriam Rosen-Ayalon (eds), In pursuit of gender: worldwide archaeological approaches, 43–65. Lanham, MD; Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

Needler, Winifred 1984. Predynastic and archaic Egypt in the Brooklyn Museum: with a reexamination of Henri de Morgan’s excavations based on the material in the Brooklyn Museum initially studied by Walter Federn and a special zoological contribution on the ivory-handled knife from Abu Zaidan by C. S. Churcher. Wilbour Monographs 9. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum.

Petrie, W. M. Flinders 1895. Archaeological news, The American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts, 10 (3), 369–375.

———. 1914. Tarkhan II. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account [26] (19th year). London: School of Archaeology in Egypt; Bernard Quaritch.

———. 1921. Corpus of prehistoric pottery and palettes. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account [32] (23rd year). London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt; Constable & Co.; Bernard Quaritch.

Regner, Christina 1996. Schminkpaletten. Bonner Sammlung von Aegyptiaca 2. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Stevenson, Alice 2007. The material significance of predynastic and early dynastic palettes. In Mairs, Rachel and Alice Stevenson (eds), Current research in Egyptology 2005: proceedings of the sixth annual symposium, University of Cambridge, 6–8 January 2005, 148–162. Oxford: Oxbow.

———.2009. Palettes. Edited by Willeke Wendrich. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009 (August). Available at: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7dh0x2n0.

Szafran, Matt 2020. Object biography: Manchester Museum 7556. Birmingham Egyptology Journal 7, 70–86.