BMCR 2021.04.05

Epigraphy through five millennia: texts and images in context

, , Epigraphy through five millennia: texts and images in context. Sonderschrift/Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo, 43. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020. Pp. xii, 315. ISBN 9783447113847 €98,00.

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Under the auspices of the German Archaeological Institute, two conferences were organized in 2013 and 2016 on the diversity of epigraphy in Egypt. Now S. C. Dirksen and L. S. Krastel have extended that interest to a wider audience, publishing a volume of nineteen essays written by archaeologists and epigraphists of ancient Egypt. The volume promises to address a broad spectrum of topics and new approaches and to discuss both current research questions and future perspectives, and in many ways it delivers on that promise. What we get is a fresh approach and some new interpretations of older puzzles. “Epigraphy through five millennia”, with its subtitle “Texts and images in contexts”, thus sheds light on an area of research that risks being overlooked by mainstream epigraphists and archaeologists. Epigraphy is never exclusively a study of texts, nor is it limited to the reconstruction of texts carved in stone. Rather, most inscriptions are artistic monuments, which are designed to achieve a certain effect within their architectural context.

The majority of the articles in this volume are in English, although the contributions by L. Borrmann-Dücker, J. Hallof and T. Krapf are in German. The book opens with a foreword by S. J. Seidlmayer, who also gave the welcoming speeches during the above-mentioned conferences. His preface is followed by a brief introduction which sketches the main aims of the book and its scope. Chapter 1 (“An archaeological and cultural study of three Islamic sandstone stelae recently discovered on Elephantine Island, Aswan”) concentrates on three Islamic tombstones dated to the 10th and 19thcenturies CE and found on the Elephantine Island. In fact, the region of the First Cataract stands at the centre of attention in the majority of articles in this volume, with only six texts departing from the territories of Aswan and the Elephantine. L. Borrmann-Dücker is the author of two contributions. In Chapter 2 (“Men at work. Textless rock inscriptions in the Aswan area”), she discusses dynastic rock images at Tabyat al-Sheikh and Sehel Island, concluding that these depictions represent non-elite individuals, lower-ranking officials, soldiers and policemen, and that they are of particular importance for revealing aspects about the local memorial landscape. In Chapter 3 (“Royal stelae revisited. Neue Überlegungen zu altbekannten Texten”), Borrmann-Dücker provides an overview of four royal rock stelae from the 18th and 19th Dynasties in the southern part of modern Aswan. Chapter 4 (“Of fish and vendors. The Khnum Temple Graffiti Project”) is one of two articles in the volume which focus on the courtyard of the temple of Khnum at Elephantine. Here, J. H. F. Dijkstra discusses 199 figural and textural graffiti, which are mainly Graeco-Roman and Christian. He concludes with an interesting observation: in the Roman period the temple forecourt most probably served as an open-access court, recalling the functions of the agora. The subsequent contribution by T. Krapf in Chapter 11 (“Vom Hofpflaster zur dritten Dimension. Der Kontext der Graffiti des Chnumtempelvorhofs von Elephantine”) considers the sculpture decorations from the courtyard of the same temple.

Chapter 5, written by R. Döhl (“Of signs and space. Rock art in Wadi Berber, Aswan”, pp. 73-92), is another article devoted to the rock art from the Aswan area. In Chapter 6 (“Meroitische Inschriften im Gebiet des Ersten Katarakts”) J. Hallof looks at thirty-one Meroitic inscriptions from the temple at Philae which concern the peace treaty between the Meroitic kingdom and Rome in 21/20 BCE. Chapters 7 (“Rock art and the transformation of landscape in the Kharga Oasis”) and 8 (“The rock art landscape of the Wadi Abu Dom, Northern Sudan”) depart from the First Cataract region, with the former focusing on the rock art from the Kharga Oasis, while the later concentrates on the rock art of the Wadi Abu Dom in the Bayuda Desert of the Sudan. In Chapter 7, S. Ikram convincingly shows that in this case the rock art’s function was to transform the hostile environment of the desert into a ‘safe space’. Paintings and graffiti marked a safe passage through a dangerous landscape, revealing interactions between men and nature. Chapter 9 returns to Aswan in order to discuss the epipalaeolithic rock art (“Epipalaeolithic rock art from the east bank near Aswan. Types, landscape, and meaning”). Chapter 10 by H. Kockelmann (“The epigraphy of Philae”) opens with an interesting review of previous research on the temple texts of Philae. The author describes different approaches among scholars of the 18th and 19thcenturies, starting with those who travelled to Egypt with the Napoleonic army, passing through Champollion’s methods of publishing the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Philae, and finishing with a discussion of Bénédite’s editorial methods. In Chapter 12, L. S. Krastel, one of the editors, discusses Coptic inscriptions from Deir Anba Hadra, which is also known as the monastery of St. Simeon (“Words for the living and the dead. The Coptic inscriptions of Deir Anba Hadra”). This article highlights the advantages of new methods used in epigraphy and archaeology, such as the processing of photos of inscriptions using the plugin DStretch, the creation of 3D models of preserved monuments and sites, and the analysis of archaeobotanical material. Another new approach is introduced by E. Laskowska-Kusztal in Chapter 13, who combines epigraphic study with stylistic analysis of reliefs in research on decorated architectural fragments of Ptolemaic and Roman temples located on the Elephantine Island (“Tightrope dancing. Research on religious building decorations on Ptolemaic-Roman Elephantine”).

Chapters 14 and 19 take us to the region of Sebarit el-Khadim in Sinai (“Cross cultural contact reflected in rock-art from Rod el-Air, south-western Sinai” and “Who carved first? A methodological approach for analysing the stratigraphy of intersecting and interacting rock art at the ‘resting place’ of Rod el-Air, south-western Sinai”). In the first contribution of this set, L. D. Morenz deals with the Egyptian stele and rock inscription which are dedicated to a single individual, albeit in two different styles. Specifically, on the Egyptian stele a leader of Canaanite people is depicted in an Egyptian fashion and his name is inscribed in a hieroglyphic inscription, while the rock inscription shows him in a Canaanite style with his name recorded by the geometric mark. In the following chapter, D. Sabel’s article is a very ‘technical’ text which reflects on two rock art palimpsests from Rod el-Air. Here, the author examines the lines of rock art, focusing on two categories of tool mark (scoring mark and chisel mark) in order to determine the chronology of all inscriptions and carvings found on these multi-layered palimpsests. After this, in Chapter 15 H. Navratilova and I. Rutherford tackle the thorny problem of texts which mention the name Neilammon (“Religion and epigraphy at Elephantine in the Graeco-Roman Period. The case of the deity Neilammon”). They conclude that perhaps this was the local Greek name for the god who presided over the Nile. Newly discovered rock art from Gebel el-Silsila is discussed by M. Nilsson and J. Ward in Chapter 16 (“Rock art through the age. Rupestrian memoranda at Gebel el-Silsila”). P. L. Polkowski contributes one of the longest and most analytical articles in this volume (“World of images or imaginary world? Rock art, landscape, and agency in the Western Desert of Egypt”). While some of the chapters serve mainly as research reports, this one offers new insights into studies on rock art and stimulates further discussion about this fascinating feature of Egyptian epigraphy. In particular, the author offers a new approach to studies on petroglyphs, by arguing that, instead of focusing on their chronology, the rock art should be studied within the context of its landscape. He begins with a brief presentation of preserved petroglyphs, before turning to interpreting the rock art in the Dakhleh Oasis by means of a ‘biographical’ approach (Love 2007),[1] which relates the art to its surrounding landscape. Chapter 18 (“Walking up Hermupolis high street: lost in translation? Script in public spaces of Hellenistic Egypt and beyond”), written by C. Römer, differs from the rest of the texts presented in this volume and might have been better situated as the closing piece (the last, nineteenth Chapter, is the already-mentioned article by Sabel on two rock art palimpsests from Rod el-Air). In it, Römer discusses the evidence for scripts in public space in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, scrutinizing the levels of literacy and illiteracy in the Graeco-Roman Egyptian societies. The main category of her sources are papyri, but occasionally, she turns to literary sources and even graffiti from Pompeii.

My overall opinion of the volume as a whole is very positive. Brief historical and archaeological introductions to almost every article, as well as a number of pictures, maps, and drawings make the volume more reader-friendly and accessible for those who are less familiar with Egyptian epigraphy. “Epigraphy through five millennia” will thus likely be important not only for scholars interested in ancient history in general, and ancient Egypt in particular, but also for postgraduate students who are encountering this evidence for the first time. The book is also a worthy addition to the ongoing research and discussion on epigraphy in Egypt,[2] and the interplay between inscriptions, images and their architectural context.[3] I have only two minor objections. First, the articles are in alphabetic order by author’s name rather than in a thematic or chronological order, which sometimes makes the book difficult and un-natural to read. A thematic (and, perhaps, chronological) layout would have been more useful, so that the texts on the temple of Khnum at Elephantine follow one another. Second, it is always welcome when collaborative volumes such as this one include brief biographies of all contributors (which this one does not).

Authors and titles

Stephan J. Seidlmayer, Vorwort
Svenja C. Dirksen, Introduction
Lena S. Krastel, Mohamed A. Abd, An archaeological and cultural study of three Islamic sandstone el-Latif Ibrahim stelae recently discovered on Elephantine Island, Aswan
Linda Borrmann-Dücker, Men at work. Textless rock inscriptions in the Aswan area
Linda Borrmann-Dücker, Royal stelae revisited. Neue Überlegungen zu altbekannten Texten,
Jitse H. F. Dijkstra, Of fish and vendors. The Khnum Temple Graffiti Project
Rebecca Döhl, Of signs and space. Rock art in Wadi Berber, Aswan
Jochen Hallof, Meroitische Inschriften im Gebiet des Ersten Katarakts
Salima Ikram, Rock art and the transformation of landscape in the Kharga Oasis
Tim Karberg, The rock art landscape of the Wadi Abu Dom, Northern Sudan
Adel Kelany, Epipalaeolithic rock art from the east bank near Aswan. Types, landscape, and meaning
Holger Kockelmann, The epigraphy of Philae
Tobias Krapf , Vom Hofpflaster zur dritten Dimension. Der Kontext der Graffiti des Chnumtempelvorhofs von Elephantine
Lena S. Krastel, Words for the living and the dead. The Coptic inscriptions of Deir Anba Hadra
Ewa Laskowska-Kusztal, Tightrope dancing. Research on religious building decorations on Ptolemaic-Roman Elephantine
Ludwig D. Morenz, Cross-cultural contact reflected in rock-art from Rod el-Air, south-western Sinai
Hana Navratilova, Religion and epigraphy at Elephantine in the Graeco-Roman Period.
Ian Rutherford, The case of the deity Neilammon
Maria Nilsson, Rock art through the ages.
John Ward, Rupestrian memoranda at Gebel el-Silsila
Paweł L. Polkowski, World of images or imaginary world? Rock art, landscape, and agency in the Western Desert of Egypt
Cornelia Römer, Walking up Hermupolis high street: lost in translation? Script in public spaces of Hellenistic Egypt and beyond
David Sabel, Who carved first? A methodological approach for analysing the stratigraphy of intersecting and interacting rock art at the ‘resting-place’ of Rod el-Air, south-western Sinai

Notes

[1] S. Love, ‘Materialisations of memory. Remembering and forgetting the pyramid kings’, in: J.-C. Goyon, C. Cardin (eds.), Proceeding of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists, Grenoble, 6-12 September 2004, OLA 150, Leuven 2007, pp. 1169-1180.

[2] A. Bowman, C. Crowther (eds.), The Epigraphy of Ptolemaic Egypt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020;  V. Davies, D. Laboury (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Egyptian Epigraphy and Paleography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

[3] Especially W. Eck, P. Funke, Öffentlichkeit – Monument – Text: XIV Congressus Internationalis Epigraphiae Graecae et Latinae, 27. – 31. Augusti MMXII – Akten. Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum. Auctarium, series nova, 4. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014.