Company of Images: Modelling the ancient Egyptian imaginary world of the Middle Bronze Age
International Conference: 18-20 September 2014: Institute of Archaeology, University College, London
Thursday 18th September 2014
1330-1500: Theory of function and ontology
Conceptions of demons in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts
Zuzanna Bennett, Swansea University
The ancient Egyptians came into contact with a wide range of supernatural entities in daily life and in the afterlife. In the Middle Kingdom, images and descriptions of demonic beings were manifested onto objects such as the apotropaic ivory wands, figurines and coffins. Whilst modern scholars would consider these beings to be imaginary, to the Egyptians they were the real embodiment of their hopes and fears. The demons in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts represented a great potential threat to the continued existence of the ‘spirits’ of the ancient Egyptians after death. Although these beings are rarely depicted visually, their appearance and iconography are often described in the accompanying texts. Nevertheless, the category of ‘demon’ is difficult to distinguish from other entity types that occur in the Coffin Texts, such as deities and animals, due to similarities in names, appearance, functions and behaviours. Thus, scholars have debated over the definition of an ancient Egyptian demon and differed in their opinions of which entities should be considered to be demons. This paper aims to examine how the ancient Egyptians conceived the demonic beings in the afterlife during the Middle Kingdom. Through doing this, new criteria for entity classification will be proposed with the aim of clarifying the etic category of ‘demon’ for ease of academic discourse. These criteria can also be used as a modifiable framework for researchers of other supernatural entities, or demons from other types of material evidence or other time periods.
Imagined Past and Present of Egyptian Autobiographies: a Semiotic Look at Middle Kingdom Stelae
Renata Landgráfová, Czech Institute of Egyptology, Prague
Egyptian autobiographies are usually not connected with the idea of „imagined worlds“. The texts of the genre are interpreted as (more or less) authentic, albeit idealized, accounts of the protagonists‘ lives. A closer look at both the texts and accompanying scenes, however, and their analysis within the framework of Peircean semiotics, allows us to see them differently: the past of the life lived must be interpreted with reference to an imagined, ideal world of the Egyptian system of Ma’at, without which the account is often meaningless. The present, which is often the subject of the scenes, again, is meaningless without a second level of semiosis which connects it to an imagined, idealized world that the Egyptian society was striving to actualize.
The paper will analyze these past and present imagined worlds in the form in which they can be derived from the texts and images of the autobiographies, and the ways these worlds served as reference schemata in them.
‘An image of the owner as he was on earth’: Representation and personhood in Middle Kingdom funerary images
Rune Nyord, Christs College Cambridge
A significant proportion of figurative practices in Middle Kingdom funerary material culture leave the exact entities represented by the images relatively obscure to the modern observer. However, in other categories of objects, notable examples of which are shabti figurines and certain ‘fertility’ figurines, the ostensible point of reference is made clear by a combination of iconography, inscriptions and conceptual context. Still, the relationship between representation and represented is not necessarily straightforward in such cases either, as e.g. when Schneider (Shabtis 1977: I, 46) deduced a ‘double notion of the shabti as a substitute both for the master and the servant, but entirely in the former’s interest’. This paper explores the questions raised by such objects concerning the nature and function of representation, and the corollary potential for substitution for (and influence on) the ‘original’, in Egyptian funerary culture, with possible consequences for our understanding of the ontology of the image and the human being.
1530-1700: Image production
From technical aspect to practical functions: the wooden funerary models case (end of VIth dynasty-XIIth dynasty)
Gersande Eschenbrenner-Diemer, Histoire et Sources des Mondes Antiques, Lyon
Wooden funerary models represent people or everyday scenes of life, used by Egyptian elites for funeral furniture between the end of the Old Kingdom and the XIIth dynasty (cir. 2350-1850 BC). The examination of wooden models, significant of political and religious deep changes at the origin of new customs and funeral faiths between the VIth and the XIIIth dynasty, specifies the geographical, historic and social context associated with their manufacture. The analysis of these objects allows a refinement of the perception of the relationship between craftsmen and power, omnipresent in the Egyptian society from the Predynastic period.
This paper will first try to identify the methods of production and the types of diffusion used for this funerary furniture, typical of the Middle Bronze Age in Egypt. In the first part we will examine a map of wooden workshops between the end of the VIth dynasty and the XIIth dynasty. Then we will question the inherent functions of these objects in the religious thought of ancient Egyptians and more particularly the narrow relationship which unites this furniture and the funeral practices between the end of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Middle Kingdom.
Figurines as folk culture?
Anna Stevens, British Museum and Amarna Project
Taking as its point of departure small hand-modelled mud plaques in the form of naked females, this paper will explore how ideas were transmitted into everyday material culture in ancient Egypt and whether we might find traces of ‘folk culture’ in figurine production.
Striking in their stylized representation of the human form, plaque figures were produced from the Middle Kingdom into the late New Kingdom (and probably beyond). They have a notably long period of circulation, in which they overlap with both moulded female figurines, in pottery and faience, and with more elaborate hand-modelled figures.
This talk will focus on the processes involved in making figurines (hand modelling versus moulding, firing versus sun-drying, etc) and on the interplay between manufacturing and decorative traditions. It offers that figures such as the hand-modelled plaques provided a canvas onto which certain elements found repeated expression and were clearly prioritised, but which allowed people to present them in their own combinations and with their own flare. It explores how hand-modelled plaque figures may have been particularly suited to absorbing current or spontaneous ideas, far more than moulded figures. And it asks whether we might find within them traces of local or community traditions.
Composite worlds: some comparative thoughts on image, technology, and institutional change in early states
David Wengrow, University College London
The recent exhibition 'La fabrique des images' provides a bold scheme for modelling image worlds, both ancient and modern, based upon a four-field classification proposed by the anthropologist Philippe Descola. While the emphasis there is on image and ontology, my paper will discuss how modes of image making are also affected by changing scales of social organisation, and by accompanying changes in the technologies of image making and image distribution. The example of early Egypt will be placed in a comparative perspective, which includes neighbouring parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East.
1800: Drinks reception