Abstracts for New Perspectives on Ritual Landscapes in Ancient Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities

By Alexandra Woods


Thursday 28 February 2019, 9.30am-2pm

Recreation Room (S2.6), Level 3, Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University

The informal workshop on the topic of ritual landscapes in ancient Egypt offers an opportunity for scholars and students in Sydney and beyond to meet, share papers on their research, and exchange ideas.

The workshop is generously sponsored by CACHE - Centre for Ancient Cultural Heritage and Environment. CACHE brings leading and emerging researchers from MQ’s Department of Ancient History – including the disciplines of archaeology, art history, cultural heritage preservation, papyrology, philology and cultural history – into dialogue with leading scientists from biology, environmental sciences, geography and planning, and the social sciences.

All are welcome! Registration is free, with tea and coffee provided for all attendees.

Organisers: Dr Karin Sowada Twitter Dr Alexandra Woods Twitter

Keynote Lecture

Professor Miroslav Bárta | Charles University, Prague, CZ

Visible and yet concealed: Agency and form in some early Old Kingdom tombs in Ancient Egypt

The study addresses several mutually interconnected themes – agency and form as reflected in symbolical relevance of local landscape of Abusir and Saqqara. In addition, specific form of transitional tombs of the Third Dynasty, and finally the evolution of false door as a focal cultic point in Old Kingdom offering rituals will be discussed in context. At the same time, means of communication between the profane world and the netherworld as conceptualised by the Ancient Egyptians in architecture are discussed in a broader context of social legitimisation and status.

Georgia Barker | PhD candidate, Macquarie University

Eternal Nourishment: A Comparative Study of Funerary Models and Wall Scenes

The image in ancient Egypt served a ritual function in provisioning the deceased for the afterlife. During the late Old and Middle Kingdoms, both funerary models and wall scenes were included in tombs to serve this purpose. The two artistic media display many similarities in design and so the models are regularly labelled by scholars as duplicates of the scenes. However, there are several significant differences that are yet to be acknowledged. Through a case study of the granary, this paper will challenge our understanding of the relationship between the two media and highlight some of the unique features of the three-dimensional medium.

Dr V. Gae Callender | Charles University, Prague, CZ

Art and Meaning in Some Hieroglyphs from Akhmim: Extending the Ritual Landscape

Egyptian statues, wall reliefs and paintings - as well as beautiful objets d’art - attract a great deal of attention and appreciation for their high aesthetic value among Egyptological experts as well as individuals among the general public; hieroglyphs, however, are all too easily and often overlooked in the context of an “art form”: they are usually viewed for their narrative context as an ajunct of Egyptian language. Fair enough: this was their primary purpose.

This discussion paper will examine just a handful of hieroglyphs from the Macquarie University excavation work at El Hawawish and show how productive and meaningful a closer look at the hieroglyphs from the Akhmim cemeteries can be. While nearly all of these chosen examples have some artistic merit, the way in which the Akhmim artists contrived to add extra layers of meaning to their script will be the aim of this paper. These Akhmim hieroglyphs display both sophisticated and often astonishing attributes. Such hieroglyphs comprise an important stratum within the meaning of Egyptian art.

Genevieve Holt | MRes candidate, Macquarie University

Cracks in the Wall: A look at the term “palace-facade”

The term ‘palace facade’ is used to describe elaborate mud brick niching on Early Dynastic mastabas, ornately styled false doors of the Old Kingdom, the decoration on some Old and Middle Kingdom coffins and the representation on the lower half of the serekh. This interpretation, developed during the 19th and early 20th century among early Egyptologists, has rarely been questioned. This paper looks at the origins of the term in an article published in 1898 by Ludwig von Borchardt. My research has lead me to believe that he is the first to develop the arguments linking mud brick architecture, false doors, coffin decoration and serekhs under the concept that they all represent a palace. Many of his arguments are flawed. I propose that these flaws are still inherent in the concept of “palace-facade” and that for this reason the term should be re-examined.

Nicolle Leary | PhD candidate, Macquarie University

Animal Figures and the ‘Canon of Proportion’ in Old and Middle Kingdom Wall Scenes

Elite tombs provided a ritual complex for the owner’s regeneration and eternal well-being, and the imagery they contained played a vital role in complementing this function. Animal figures are an intrinsic feature of ancient Egyptian wall scenes, yet they have received little attention when it comes to artistic analysis in comparison to their human counterparts. The current research aims to shed new light on the technical processes used by Egyptian craftsmen when rendering animals during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods by investigating an artistic convention known as the ‘canon of proportion’, which, thus far, has only been linked to the human form. The study centres on wall scenes in elite tombs from the Upper Egyptian sites of Meir and Beni Hassan where existing grid systems survive with three animal species – cattle, ducks, and oryx.

This paper will present the results of developing a new digital methodology which enables the surviving grids associated with animal figures at Meir and Beni Hassan to be reconstructed. Once reconstructed, hypothetical versions of the grid systems are used to examine a corpus of cattle, ducks and oryx from elite cemeteries across Egypt dating from the 5th to the 12th Dynasties. Applying the hypothetical Meir and Beni Hassan grids to the wider corpus allows for an examination of regional and temporal patterns in the proportions of the animal figures, and in turn the potential use of craftsmen’s guides. Investigating the existence of a proportional guide for animals generates new information regarding the techniques implemented by Egyptian craftsmen when illustrating non-human subjects in two-dimensional form.

Dr Alice McClymont | Research Assistant, Macquarie University

Causing His Name to Live: Restoration, Reconsecration, and Reuse in the Theban Necropolis Following the Amarna Period

This paper will present the results of my 2017 Macquarie Ancient Cultures Research Centre Junior Research Fellowship project, which extended upon my doctoral research into the Amarna Period erasures in the Theban necropolis. The religious upheaval of the Amarna Period saw the intentional destruction of specific words and images – particularly those relating to the god Amun – from monumental decoration across Egypt, but many of these erasures were recarved or repainted by subsequent generations. Such restoration work is conspicuous at temples sites, wherein it contributed to the official effort to reinstate the cult of Amun following the Amarna Period. Less acknowledged in the scholarship, however, is the extent to which similar activity occurred in non-royal monuments. The aim of this project was to identify instances of restoration in the non-royal Theban tombs that had been targeted during the Amarna Period, and to examine the practical and ideological mechanics behind this activity. Practical aspects include the methods used by the restorers, the apparent ‘accuracy’ of the supplied text and images, and the location of restorations within individual tombs and throughout the necropolis. Ideological aspects relate to the possible motivations behind these restorations. Some instances of restoration are confined to the exterior or focal areas of the tomb, while others occur throughout the monument and are accompanied by other activities such as graffiti or reuse. The diversity evident in the restoration work in the Theban necropolis suggests that there were multiple agents at work, with some tombs being restored as part of the official program and others undergoing private, sometimes familial, reconsecration. These multiple scenarios reflect the varying usages of the Theban west bank area as a sacred space for both royal and non-royal activities, and demonstrate the nuanced engagement of ancient Egyptian society with the monuments of their past.

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Alexandra Woods

Alexandra Woods is a senior lecturer in the Department of Ancient History, Faculty of Arts. She studied Egyptology and Ancient History at Macquarie University (2001-2003), and completed an Honours degree in Egyptology (2004) before undertaking doctoral studies at Macquarie (2005-2008) based on analysis of Old Kingdom elite tomb iconography. At Macquarie University Alex now teaches Egyptology with a focus on Egyptian archaeology, art history and Old and Middle Kingdom studies.