3rd Millennium BCE

“Perceptions of Seth” Ian Taylor

Photo by John Patterson, of a (heavily restored) statue of Seth & Horus (not shown) crowning Ramesses III now in the Cairo Museum

At the beginning of December Ian Taylor, one of the members of the Essex Egyptology Group, talked to us about the subject of his PhD: Seth. He began by talking about the modern image of Seth*, before turning to the evidence for how the Ancient Egyptians thought about this god. The common modern perception of Seth is as the dangerous enfant terrible of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon who brought death to the gods by murdering Osiris & came into conflict with Horus by usurping the throne. This comes to us by way of Plutarch, whose “Isis and Osiris” was the only version of the myth known before the translation of hieroglyphs. *As an aside Taylor mentioned here that while the name of Seth is different in different places and at different times he was going to stick to using “Seth” throughout his presentation. In Plutarch’s text Seth along with his… Read More »“Perceptions of Seth” Ian Taylor

“Missed and Underrated Criteria for Authenticating Egyptian Artifacts” Marcel Marée

At the beginning of June Marcel Marée came to talk to the Essex Egyptology Group about the criteria he uses to authenticate Ancient Egyptian artifacts and detect modern forgeries. A lot of people bring artifacts to the British Museum to be authenticated, including art dealers, and so he’s interested in improving and systematising the authentication process. Often experts rely on intuition, but that relies on such a breadth of knowledge that not many people can be sure they are right. Artistic merit is also often used as an indicator of authenticity, but that’s a dangerous criterion to rely on as pieces that look like they are good quality are not necessarily old (nor vice versa). In this talk he laid out the criteria he looks at when he’s examining an artifact – he said that he looks at several criteria because one is rarely sufficient to determine whether or not… Read More »“Missed and Underrated Criteria for Authenticating Egyptian Artifacts” Marcel Marée

“Shalfak: A Middle Kingdom Fortress in Lake Nubia” Claudia Näser (EEG Meeting Talk)

A photo of a tomb model of a granary from the Middle Kingdom tomb of Meketre in the Met Museum

At our May meeting Claudia Näser came to talk to the Essex Egyptology Group about her work excavating at the fortress Shalfak in Lake Nubia. Shalfak is an ancient Egyptian fortress, part of a chain built along the Nile during the Middle Kingdom in Nubia. These forts were once thought to have all been drowned in the lake that was formed when the High Dam was built in the 1960s. The name of this lake is Lake Nasser for the portion inside Egyptian borders, and Lake Nubia for the portion inside Sudanese borders – Shalfak is 50km south of the Egypt/Sudan border and thus is in Lake Nubia. In the early 21st Century Google maps images showed that two of the drowned forts were actually above the water level of the lake and projects were begun to re-excavate them with modern techniques. It did take a while to get everything… Read More »“Shalfak: A Middle Kingdom Fortress in Lake Nubia” Claudia Näser (EEG Meeting Talk)

“Tomb Security in Ancient Egypt from the Predynastic to the Pyramid Age” Reg Clark (EEG Meeting Talk)

At the beginning of April Reg Clark came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about his work on tomb security from Prehistoric to Early Dynastic Egypt. While are lots of lurid stories about tomb robbers (and Clark showed us some clips from films) these date to later in Egyptian history, and the measures taken to prevent robbery in earlier periods are not much studied in their own right. Clark began by talking about why tombs need to be protected. The first obvious answer is that the Egyptians were buried with grave goods, so an elite tomb had treasure in it and was worth breaking into. The second reason that they didn’t want this to happen is that the tomb and the body are necessary for a good afterlife. After death a person’s spirits/souls separate from their body, the ka will remain in the tomb and the ba… Read More »“Tomb Security in Ancient Egypt from the Predynastic to the Pyramid Age” Reg Clark (EEG Meeting Talk)

“Decrees, Papyri and Biographies in the Age of the Pyramids” Nigel Strudwick (EEG Meeting Talk)

At the beginning of March Nigel Strudwick returned to the Essex Egyptology Group to tell us about his work on Old Kingdom texts. He did his PhD on administration in the Old Kingdom, so he told us that he has read every Old Kingdom text that has been discovered. Since his PhD he has spent a lot of time researching the New Kingdom in Luxor, and tomb robbery in New Kingdom Thebes was the subject of the talk he gave to the group in 2016. But more recently he has returned to the Old Kingdom texts with the desire to pass on his knowledge of them to a wider audience. The standard compendium of texts was compiled by the German Egyptologist Kurt Sethe and published in the 1930s. It gives no indication of how the original text was written – it re-writes the hieroglyphs running in a left to right… Read More »“Decrees, Papyri and Biographies in the Age of the Pyramids” Nigel Strudwick (EEG Meeting Talk)

“Ancient Egyptian and Nubian Leather Technology” Lucy Skinner (EEG Meeting Talk)

At the beginning of February Lucy Skinner came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group about her work on leather technology in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. She’s been a conservator working on leather for years, and is now doing her PhD at the University of Northampton and the British Museum. Earlier in her career she worked conserving leather items from Europe as well as from Egypt & Nubia. The European leather is generally waterlogged, so the dessicated leather from the Nile Valley is very different to work with as a conservator. There are other differences too, and she became interested in why it’s so different and how it was made. Skinner told us that the main questions that her PhD research is focused on are: what animals were used to make Ancient Egyptian and Nubian leather? what processing techniques did they use? is Ancient Egyptian leather different from… Read More »“Ancient Egyptian and Nubian Leather Technology” Lucy Skinner (EEG Meeting Talk)

“Religion in the Ancient World” Glanville Study Day & Lecture 2018

This year’s Glanville Lecture in Cambridge was given by Jan Assmann who is an expert on the religion of Ancient Egypt, and to go along with the lecture there was a study day which had 6 speakers (including Assmann) who each told us about a different topic to do with religion in the ancient world. (Well, the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern portion thereof.) Glanville Study Day: “Religion in the Ancient World” “Egyptian Concepts of Cosmogony and the Origins of Philosophy” Jan Assmann The day started off with Jan Assmann’s first talk, about the theology of Ancient Egyptian ideas about the creation of the world/universe. His key point was that the Ancient Egyptians believed the world evolves from a transformation of god rather than being created by god. It is not chaos then cosmos, instead there is pre-existence which has continuity with existence. The canonical cosmogony (theory of the origin of the universe)… Read More »“Religion in the Ancient World” Glanville Study Day & Lecture 2018

“Illuminating the Path of Darkness: Artificial Light in Ancient Egyptian Ritual” Meghan Strong (EEG Meeting Talk)

In December Meghan Strong, a PhD student (about to submit her thesis!) at Cambridge, came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group about the use of artificial light in Ancient Egyptian ritual. Light in ritual is something we’re still familiar with in the modern world – think of Divali, Advent (or the Easter Vigil service), Hannukah and many other examples. Strong’s argument is that the Ancient Egyptians were no different from modern people in this respect. She began by giving us context for both artificial light in pre-history & in the ancient world, and for the study of light in an archaeological context. Fire is the basis of ancient artificial light. The first evidence of its use as a tool is around 1 million years ago, and Strong said that it can be argued that this is part of what makes us human (as distinct from animals). The… Read More »“Illuminating the Path of Darkness: Artificial Light in Ancient Egyptian Ritual” Meghan Strong (EEG Meeting Talk)

“Delta Myths and Legends” Penny Wilson (EEG Meeting Talk)

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… Read More »“Delta Myths and Legends” Penny Wilson (EEG Meeting Talk)

“Ancient Craft – Modern Science and The Evolution of Mummification” Robert D. Loynes (EEG Meeting Talk)

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… Read More »“Ancient Craft – Modern Science and The Evolution of Mummification” Robert D. Loynes (EEG Meeting Talk)