I am an Egyptologist working on the material manifestation of private religious practices and demonology. At the moment, the Late Bronze Age cult of the cobra is my obsession!

A day for planning, changing, disseminating Ancient Egyptian demons

Our Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: Second Millennium BC meeting is coming up today. Big decisions will be made about changing the look of our  DemonThings website.  Rather a mundane task, but an important one. We want the site to be friendly and inviting, and of course, look good on all platforms! I believe that sharing (whether through dissemination or active engagement of ideas) of archaeological data and information is just as important (if not more so) than new discoveries. We’re not currently actively involved in excavations in Egypt, but rather digging up material long lost in the dusty recesses of archives, obscure books, and museum storerooms. We think it’s pretty cool stuff. I mean, who doesn’t like active little monsters, demons, daemons, and gremlins?!

Speaking of which, the image is of some of the ones we have been working on reproducing using various 3d technologies (from simple clay to using a 3D printing pen.  🙂

Databases and Materials

Back from library, 9 journals in hand. Spent far too much time trying to figure out how to link my Mac to the photocopier so that I can send scans from it back to myself. More and more I find that I do not like paper copies of articles. I much prefer digital versions that I can then edit using PDFExpert on my iPad. This allows me to export all my notes and highlights separately (with page numbers attached), and paste it them into Endnote.

More tedious emails to deal with, and must photocopy and submit those PhD forms!

Computers now all updated, so that this weekend and next week I can really get cracking finalising the data in my database. Then I can start playing with the numbers, looking for patterns and correlations. If I were better with spreadsheets, this would be more fun—as it stands I need to find someone who IS good at it to help. The goal is data-driven research, rather than strictly being hypothesis-driven. I don’t want to miss any possibly important patterns by focussing on pre-conceptions… more can be found on my usual blog ancientegyptiancobras.blogspot.co.uk/. The next few weeks will be really hectic—I have an apprentice to help map the findspots (there over 700 fragments to deal with) and input the data on the replicas we made.

grins, here is some artwork I made for a ‘research as art’ competition held here at Swansea University. It didn’t win, but I think it encapsulates what I am working on …

Demon Blasters and Fiery Goddesses: Ancient Egytian Clay Cobra figurines 

Demon Blasters and Fiery Goddesses: Ancient EgypPan Clay Cobra figurines

“Who am I? Broken now in pieces, a fragment of ancient Egyptian religion, ritual and magic.
Who shaped my serpent form from soft clay found at the banks of the Nile, so long ago? I was passed through and transformed by the element of fire…
I spit fire and flame, illuminating the darkness, a conflagration invoked against demons that trouble the night. Imbued with the power of the fiery goddess, the Egyptians worshipped me, in the Delta, across the Mediterranean Coast from Libya to Lebanon, they chose me to take on their travels. Today you wonder: Who made me? Who prayed to me? Whose fears did I soothe? How many demons did I destroy? How many lives did I touch? Who broke me? And why …”
These figurines provide clues to how the Ancient Egyptians coped with the vicissitudes of daily life, in many ways not so very different from ours.


Now, off to another university meeting—this one on e-learning.

PhDs and Libraries

Right, first thing on my agenda is to submit forms related to 2 of my PhD students. Paperwork, ugh. Not something we usually think of when doing archaeology!

Next, it’s off to the library to get some articles related to an article that I am writing on demonic devices. Yup, demonic devices. When I first started as an Egyptology student, I had a deep interest in that area. It has taken many years to finally be able to explore this subject. The material manifestation of religious practice, ritual and magic if you will, have always fascinated me. It sounds trite, but it is true. Working with objects that somebody else touched thousands of years ago humbles me, and makes me rethink all of the objects that surround me today, now. How will somebody view my office years from now?

office cobra Egypt archaeology

My office with replica clay cobras and other figurines

My Day of Archaeology Off to a Late Start

Lots of things on the to-do list today—the first of which is to get to my office at the uni. As an Egyptologist, I do much that does not at all fit the image of Indiana Jones. Today is a typical example. First, I check my twitter feed for updates and news to pass on to colleagues and students. Then, er, now, I head off to get to the office! I’ll be upgrading my iMac there to OS Lion, and installing Filemaker Pro 12. That is what I use to run my cobra database, but getting a ride now, so gotta run!

Networking and more networking

Clay Cobra figurine originally from Amarna Egypt, now in the British Museum

I find that much of my time is spent writing emails, networking, and well, more emails. Today, I have had to write emails regarding an upcoming trip to Egypt to do GPR work with a colleague in glaciology. The emails had already gone out, but the relevant person is on holiday, so now have to be resent. Aaargh.  I’ve also had to write to a potter with whom I will be working. She is going to make replicas of the cobra figurines I am working on (let’s see if I can figure out how to attach an image– this one from a poster I made. I can’t figure out how to place it, so it’s somewhere below). She is going to make 40 of them and then colleagues from engineering will perform fracture experiments. These figurines have been said to have been ‘ritually’ broken. We’ll see if we can tell! Anyway, tight communication is required to make sure we are on the same page!

One of my students also dropped by to get advice from me. This is why I use my office to do admin and teaching related activities — research I save for when I am home, away from the inevitable interruptions and knocks on the door from people saying ‘can I see you for a minute?’.

I’ve also had the opportunity to ‘hang-out’ with three other archaeologists using Google-hangout. This was after taking a break to go to a retirement party for some colleagues. Toasting with wine is also part of the job *grins*. Anyway, it’s a great tool to see what other people are up to, share ideas, debate, etc. Ironically, I ended up chatting to someone who is also in the same town I am in, and I know his partner very well. Small world indeed!

Right back to the tedious grant proposal…

clay cobras, demons, grant-writing in Wales

This is a wonderful way to procrastinate and avoid tackling the grant proposal that I should be doing. It is my least favourite task when it comes to archaeology. It should be fun. Somehow, it should be easier to convince people that exploring the little known world of demons in second-millennium BC Egypt is fascinating. And it is! We get to look at artefacts like inscribed hippopotamus tusks, figurines, coffins with both text and representations, and even furniture such as inscribed headrests and try to figure out what role they played in the lives of ordinary people. It’s part of a larger Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project. The goal of this one though is in part to create digital data resources for other scholars and eventually the public. Databases, statistical analyses, data visualization—all important parts!

But first, time to email the Beirut Museum and chase up information from other excavators so I can get all the info I need to complete my project on Late Bronze Age Clay Cobra Figurines of Ancient Egypt and the Levant. It’s a real problem sometimes, and there will be gaps simply because I cannot get the data. Oh well, I’ll have good info on at least 400 or so of the 650+ fragments that have been found. They too were used to keep away demons … Right, enough procrastination! No more posts until I have complete a task!

Checking in on students

On the way back from the osteopathy clinic, I checked up on the 3 students that are just finishing  their 4-week placement course in the Egypt Centre — Swansea University’s museum of Egyptian antiquities. This is a brand new module, only open to students who passed our Introduction to Egyptian Archaeology module last year. They earn 20-credits towards level 3, and see what it is like to really work in a museum. It’s proven to be more work for me than expected, but once we get the bugs out it will run more smoothly. Next group starts end of August. Now, back to organising our digital heritage group!

Over-eager alarm

For some reason, my alarm to remind me that this is indeed, the DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY, went off at 3:20 am. I was not amused, as although I am dedicated to my work, this was a bit much!

6 hours, I am in my office in the department, as I am due to be on-call in case any students come by asking questions. On the books after I get back from a brief appointment is setting up a Blackboard site for a group of us working on a potential new degree scheme. Then, that task I dread most … (to be continued…)