Recent Events

    Wednesday 15th August 2018: Summer Social and presentation by Frances Williams

    This report does not include the images

    This annual event, for the first time, included a short illustrated presentation, which complemented the refreshments catered by committee member Pat, the customary raffle, and the opportunity to socialise with other members of our society.

    Frances Williams, who is well known to us, and who has run Egyptological courses in Canterbury and Tonbridge for many years, described a recent visit she made to the Tomb of Meresankh III, which has recently been restored and opened to the public. She was accompanied by her husband, John, who is presently chairman of the Friends of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and much involved with Kentish archaeology.

    Meresankh III was the daughter of Hetepheres II and Prince Kawab and a granddaughter of Khufu. She was also the wife of Khafre, who built the second pyramid at Giza. She held the royal titles of King’s Daughter and King’s Wife, Great of Sceptre, and Frances explained that the first title could be adopted by either the daughter or grand-daughter of the ruler.

    Her talk lasted about thirty minutes, and she showed illustrations covering the Fourth Dynasty mastaba necropolis at Giza in which is the tomb of Meresankh. She then described the three upper chambers of the chapel, and the tomb chamber which is now accessible to the public via a modern staircase.

    In the upper chambers are remarkably well preserved reliefs of everyday scenes such as hunting and fishing, and there are also a number of deeply carved figures of, it is assumed, family members including her mother Hetepheres II. There are no preserved reliefs in the tomb chamber itself, but it did contain a granite sarcophagus.

    Wednesday 24th October 2018: Julia Hamilton, Veneration, personal names and naming practices in Ancient Egypt.

    This report does include the images

    There was a good turnout for Julia’s talk, which was particularly interesting as it dealt with a relatively poorly studied aspect of Ancient Egypt i.e. the graffiti which are widely found on monuments and in tombs throughout the land. The title of her presentation was Graffiti in the Teti Pyramid Cemetery at Saqqara, an area to which she was due to return a few days after our meeting in order to re-join the Oxford Expedition at Saqqara.

    Julia is presently studying for her final year PhD at Oxford, and she has ready access to the extensive records of the Griffith Institute. She remarked that past archaeologists often copied and photographed many graffiti but failed to study or publish them in detail, thus giving her the opportunity to do useful work on the subject.   

    The pyramid of Teti, the first king of the 6th Dynasty, is associated with many fine mastaba tombs such as those of Mereruka, Kagemni and Ankhmahor, and Julia showed us many depictions of graffiti from these tombs. She covered the types of graffiti and their meanings, and commented on the various methods of presentation.

    Graffiti artists have practiced their art from earliest to modern times and in most cultures, and modern Egyptians have taken their own artistic efforts to an impressive level. Julia demonstrated the modern flourishing of this ancient art by showing some slides she has taken in Cairo. These wall paintings sometimes include ancient Egyptian themes, but they are often used nowadays to comment on current political or social issues. Julia also showed some examples of Roman graffiti, such have been found to overburden some of the walls in Pompeii and Herculaneum. These were commonly political and personal in tone, and were often insulting or obscene, which was not generally the case for Egyptian graffiti art.

    Julia covered the varieties of scripts used by the graffiti artists over the ages, including Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, Demotic, Coptic, Greek, Roman and modern. She commented that the earliest examples comprised roughly scratched pictures, symbols and names, but little in the way of complete sentences. Julia suggested that in early times possibly only one percent of Egyptians could read or write, which could account for the amateur nature of some of the graffiti. In later periods graffiti using paint or ink have sometimes survived, such as the famous dedication in hieratic left by New Kingdom “tourists” when visiting the South House at Djoser’s complex. Some graffiti, such as the lengthy texts cut into the legs of the Statues of Memnon during Hadrian’s visit to Egypt, are of valuable historical importance, as is, to a lesser extent, Belzoni’s record of his opening of the Second Pyramid in 1818 and the many scribblings left by early visitors to Egypt during the C19th century.

    Julia’s particular interest is in onomastics, which is the study of the origin, history, and use of proper names. A person’s name was an integral and essential part of his/her essence, and to know ones name gave, to a certain extent, power over that person. That is why deities such as Ra and Amun often had “secret” names that were most closely guarded, a practice that continues today in some cultures. For example, Muslims believe that Allah has one hundred names, but only ninety nine are known to his followers. The tale is that the “secret” name is known only by the camel, which is why it has such a supercilious look on its face!

    Graffiti in the form of names and titles were sometimes inscribed shortly after a person’s burial, often in scratchings placed just in front of the character’s face, as though the intent was to communicate with the spirit of the dead person. Particular names were favoured at different times throughout Egyptian history, which can be useful when dating an inscription, and can even be specific to a particular period or dynasty.

    As a person’s name was sacred a ruler’s names had additional protection by being enclosed in a cartouche. To deface a person’s name was to put their identity at risk, and to attempt to completely erase every record of a person’s name was possibly aimed at putting their chance of an afterlife in jeopardy.

    As infant mortality was very high young children would not be given a name until there was a good chance of their survival, but once they had been given a name they had an identity. If they subsequently died their body could not be disposed of without ceremony, as could otherwise be the case. This practice even has echoes today, as in Egypt a child is, traditionally, only given a name on the seventh day after birth, called the Sebou Ceremony.

    Even the names of the lower classes could incorporate the names of deities, invoking, it was hoped, the lifelong protection of the god or goddess. Pet and nicknames were also common, such as “beautiful”, “strong”, “sweet”, “cat”, or even “monkey”, though less complementary nicknames such as “hook-nose” and “lame” were also possible. Even Roman Emperors were commonly known by their nicknames, such as Constantius Chlorus, implying that he had a “pale face”. Also, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was known as Caligula, or ”little boot”, a nickname given to him by soldiers who were amused to see him, as a lad, strutting around the palace wearing a child-sized soldier’s uniform.