Pretty much the whole of my last week was spent preparing for; or actually at, the 15th Current Research in Egyptology conference, where recent graduates and early-career Egyptologists gather to present their work and discuss their research.
For me, it was exciting (and nerve-wracking!) as this was the first time I would present my research to other scholars – and see whether it held up under scrutiny. I presented a paper on infant jar burials, something I worked on as part of my MSt last year:
Precious deposits: new interpretations of infant jar burials in Egypt and Sudan
Infant jar burials are a persistent feature along the Nile Valley from the Neolithic to early Christian period, and hold a particular fascination. However their interpretation has been restricted and their relative rarity on sites often overlooked. Rather than a cheap, standard method of disposal, I suggest these burials allow us an insight into the perception of children in Ancient Egyptian society and can aid towards understanding of social identity and community.
This paper will use evidence from El-Kadada, ‘Ain Asil, Elephantine and Abydos among others to discuss the meaning of particular ceramic forms used, rather than assuming all vessels to be a sign of low value. Assessing patterns of deposition, this will be used to critique the ‘womb metaphor’ often cited in understanding the relationship between the infant and the vessel, and suggest instead that infants were associated with domestic space. This in turn has repercussions for the idea that children were not full community members.
Bringing ceramics into social analysis is proving to bring new insights into the understanding of Egyptian social culture, and this paper hopes to demonstrate the validity of such an approach.
However I also decided to take the opportunity to put feelers out about a part of my thesis research, and did a poster on red painted bowl rims in Third Intermediate Period Nubia:
Deliberate drips: developments in ceramic decoration at the end of the New Kingdom in Nubia.
Great strides have been made in clarifying ceramic chronologies for the end of the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt. However, in Nubia, it still remains extremely difficult date graves closely. This is problematic for our understanding of social and political shifts in Nubian societies leading up to the Napatan era. It is increasingly apparent that there are noticeable differences in contemporary ceramics in Egypt and Nubia. Recent fieldwork in Sudan has thrown up a substantial amount of ceramic material which can aid towards our understanding of where exactly Nubian ceramic development differs from that in Egypt.
This paper will focus on one observed trait; the increased tendency for red-painted bowl rims to bear uneven drips. Using examples from Amara West, Missiminia and Hillat el-Arab, this is suggested to be a deliberate feature choice by potters rather than carelessness, starting at the end of the New Kingdom and increasing in popularity in the early Post New Kingdom.
If this feature is found to appear at other contemporary sites within Sudan, it may act as a chronological marker, whilst establishing that these sites had aspects of a regional style even under New Kingdom control.
With those out in the open, I now feel like a proper Egyptologist!
The conference was also a chance to hear about some of the fascinating and wide-ranging research going on within Egyptology at the moment – and it was wonderful to dip back into that world once again, which I am getting increasingly anxious to re-enter!
It was opened by Dr Alice Stevenson, curator of the Petrie Museum, with her Keynote lecture discussing the role of museums in early excavations; as well as the AHRC project she is running, a collaboration between the Petrie, the EES and the Griffith Institute. This three year project aims to track down artefacts dispersed from EES excavations between 1883 and 1915, and ultimately to make this information freely accessible online. So hopefully there will be less desperate rounds of emails to museums/collectors (we’ve all been there…).
This year, the conference was its biggest yet, with two or three parallel sessions running each day; so I only saw half of what was going on really, often racing between lecture rooms to be sure of hearing those that piqued my interest. I was particularly interested in ‘Tells, toponyms and the Third Intermediate Period: constructing a new topographical settlement map for the period’ by James Bennett, a PhD student from Durham University, as I envisage developing my pilgrim flask typology during my PhD is going to be particularly challenging for vessels from this complex period. Carl Walsh gets the prize for a presentation I haven’t been able to stop thinking about with his ‘Establishing the proper etiquette: diplomacy and transmission of courtly lifestyles between Egypt and Kerma in the Middle Bronze Age’. He discussed the idea of sitting as a form of courtly display in Kerma, culminating in the appearance of chairs and funerary beds in Kerman graves. This referenced the fact that sitting down as we do today is actually an unnatural posture, and is in fact damaging to the body. I now think about this almost every day in my office job, when my back inevitably starts to ache! I was interested to see another discussion of infants on the programme; ‘The liminal status of the unborn and newborn child in Graeco-Roman Egypt’ by Ada Nifosi. My study focused on establishing the value of children through the vessels themselves, using ceramics to try and access reasoning behind pot burial; so it was interesting to see a study from a later period, where Egypt was heavily influenced by Greek and Roman cultural values, and to bounce ideas off each other.
“Deviant burials from the predynastic to the Middle Kingdom’ by Antje Kohse was fascinating, because I had read about deviant burials from Europe – mostly relating to bog bodies, which are often staked to the ground, possibly to stop them rising. I was intrigued to discover that stakes have also been found in Egyptian burials; and while I was aware of the various ritualisations of the body after death in the predynastic, had no idea it continued into the Middle Kingdom.
There were so many I could wax lyrical about: from the University of Waseda presenting the results of their conservation of Amenhotep III’s tomb, exciting because most of their findings are typically published in Japanese; discussions of current excavations at Gebelein and Saqqaara; preliminary findings from early PhD days and proud presentations of 3 years of hard work at the end of PhDs. The other keynote speakers were particularly interesting. Dr. Richard Bussman’s discussions of early temples and how habit and tradition in themselves establish meaning to religious beliefs was an intriguing and unusual approach to temple analysis, bringing some useful anthropological ideas into play.
Chris Norton, director of the EES, closed the conference with a discussion of the society’s plans for the future, which is a good look at the near future of the discipline in general. With six major projects – The Theban harbours and waterscapes survey; the Delta Survey; work at Quesna; the Imbaba prehistoric survey and Tell Basta (for some reason I have completely forgotten the sixth one!) – the society has a continuing strong presence in the field. However it also publicly announced for the first time, that they are offering 3 annual scholarships to Egyptian archaeologists to come to London for a month, using the library facilities and engaging in dialogues with British archaeologists, which can only benefit good international disciplinary relationships. With the EES newsletter now also to be published in Arabic, this is looking good!
Ending with looking to the future was an ideal way to close the conference; however, as with most archaeology conferences, it was certainly not all work and no play; with drinks receptions every night, a conference dinner, and a conference party at Kings (which incidentally has the most amazing bars, one overlooking the river and one akin to a swanky hotel bar!). Perfect way to wind down after concentrating all day, as well as to get people chatting!
With the CRE, conference season seems to be upon us, with the annual Sudan Archaeological Research Society on the 19th May, at the British Museum, next on my list. But for now, I need to get my act together and write up my presentation while the conducive dialogues it sparked are still fresh in my head!