A few of you who know me know that I am a graduate student, and my foreign language exam for my Master’s degree is quickly approaching. In order to practice my French, I’ve decided to revisit an article that I summarized when I first started this blog, having hashed out the basic skeleton of the narrative using my rudimentary French and Google Translate. The French is a lot better now (though if you find mistakes, feel free to drop me a note—unless you are a spambot, then, please do not).
This article is fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s an account of an excavation in Middle Egypt that yielded a lot of Ptolemaic period coffins. This makes it intrinsically interesting to me. On one hand, it provides a provenance for several coffins, mummies, and masks that are now in museum collections in Budapest, Krakow, and Cairo. Provenance is a rare thing when we are talking about items extracted from the ground around the turn of the century.
On the other hand, the article serves as a harsh reminder of what was until the fairly recent past, the standard in archaeology. I was reading an article this morning which really (unintentionally) drove this point home with the quote (Perales, 2015):
“While the burial practices for the elites of Egyptian society are well known and documented, the less-prominent members of Egyptian society – the people performing the work on the elaborate and often grandiose tombs – had no role in the elaborate rituals (embalming, a stone tomb to protect the body, and burial items) themselves. Burial practices for the none elites remain a mystery because no graves or remains have survived”
This is not really true. As you will see, Dr Kamal (and others) discovered many such non-elite burials and either found them too unimportant to fully document, or left them unexcavated because of their lack of promise. These are burials about which we may never know more, not by any fault of the ancients, but because of a modern value judgement on the worth of the items buried with the dead. Gamhoud has since been destroyed by cultivation.
Those hoping for more in-depth information on the richer items, and the location in which they were discovered will only be slightly more satisfied. I have to suspect that the vagueness when specifying locations has to do mainly with preventing looters of the unofficial variety from pillaging the site. This scant article and official permission seem to be the line that separates the archaeologist from these freelance tomb-robbers.My intention is not, of course, to bear harshly on Kamal, who was a pioneer as the first Arab Archaeologist in Egypt. The fault is in the standards of the time. However, the sparse nature of the report and the focus on the richer objects is a reminder of how far we’ve come, and the places where we could still improve.
For those wanting to learn more about the fate of some of the Gamhoud finds, I’ll publish a full-er bibliography when I’ve finished translating the article into English.
Perales, G. “Newly Discovered Sarcophagus Highlights Tomb Recycling”. The New Historian. Published 12/1/2015. Accessed 12/1/15.