Predynastic Egypt

Egypt at Its Origins – conference day!

Fun! This is a conference day – I love those! One of the best bits of being an archaeologist is sharing ideas and finding out more and more! Lots of stuff to get my head into and to get thinking about. And best of all… being at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. So the day started with leaving the family with the relatives and heading into Manhattan. And then a nice American coffee to perk me up! Predynastic Egypt and what is going on research-wise. It’s all about Hierakonpolis before lunch (ancient Nekhen). Some absolutely great talks – definitely things that link in with my research into the Predynastic population there. And definitely some people that I want to invite to give research talks to us in my department in Southampton. I particularly enjoyed that by Xavier Droux from Oxford – relating the symbolic burials of animals with power, control, annihilation of chaos. Wonderful! And then Sean Dougherty! Obviously great talk – cremated humans! And he’s such a wonderful presenter of material. I think Sean is probably the only pyromaniac human osteologist! One of the most dynamic talks ever!
Lunch was a quick trip for good old NT pizza slice and a sit in Central Park. Gotta do these things and get some fresh air before heading back into the museum. The afternoon started with the eastern Nile Delta. Alice Stevenson had the last talk of the day – always hard to be just before the official conference reception – especially when it is in the Temple of Dendur! But she did a fab job – it’s amazing what we can still do going through past excavation records and material. There’s so much to do – and so much potential. Can we link the records with the human skeletons? I do hope so – and it would be great to do it!
Then it was great – the family came and joined me briefly for the reception. Nothing like the reaction of a toddler to the monumental nature of Egyptian architecture – even if it is Roman! And baby was well-behaved too. Made it out to the roof of the museum – but then it started to rain. We’d planned to walk to the subway but instead it was a flag-down-a-taxi frantically end to the day with 2 wet kids! Great day! Reinvigorated in archaeology and Egyptology! Bring on the skeletons!

Shedding new light on the past

I’m finally getting down to writing my first post of the day! I am occupied with several tasks today which capture the essence of my past few weeks, basically doing museum and desk-based archaeology:

  1. Finishing up various loose ends for a 1-year research project at the University of Oxford I was working on until recently: “Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) System for Ancient Documentary Artefacts” (RTISAD);
  2. Submitting job applications (and trying not to get too depressed about the lack of jobs in my field of Egyptian Archaeology!);
  3. Taking advantage of the time I now have to address my publication backlog (important for the success of no. 2).

I’ll write a bit about about no. 1 now, and then must get back to drafting a chapter for a publication on the development of early Egyptian writing/art. RTISAD involves some super exciting developments in the digital imaging of cultural heritage. The RTISAD project is a collaborative endeavour funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2010 via the Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact (DEDEFI) scheme. A press release about our project results can be found here and a more detailed explanation of RTI is found on our project partner’s (Cultural Heritage Imaging) website.  My task at Oxford was to test the RTI lighting dome on various inscribed material types. I had the fantastic opportunity of working with Ashmolean collections, imaging cuneiform inscribed clay tablets, early Egyptian and other objects (for a pic of the RTI dome and some results click here).

PTM of the Battlefield Palette

PTM detail of the Battlefield Palette, perhaps from Abydos, EgyptLate Predynastic period, c.3150 BCE, EA 20791, © The Trustees of the British Museum

I also spent a week at the British Museum where I imaged the so-called Battlefield Palette (or Lion Palette) and Hunters Palette, 1st Dynasty inscribed labels and more.

RTI has been brilliant for my research on early Egyptian graphical culture as technology process and material practice. For the chapter I now need to go work on I have been analysing surface marks on the palettes to understand how the production process such as evidence for tool types and the techniques the artisen(s) used to produce these incredible scenes. For now I will leave you with a close up of the Battlefield Palette (right) on wich I have found evidence for recarving.