Posted on Jun 5, 2014
*This is the fourth installment of a series by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Read part one, part two, part three and John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.
The real story of the informal sealings at Giza was brought to light with re-excavations in an area called AA a few years ago. What the Pottery Mound corpus was to defining “formality” at Giza, I think Area AA will be to our finally defining “informality.” Area AA lies in the Western Town of HeG and is composed of three structures that seem – based on the formals that we reconstructed from that area – to have been related to the administration and potentially the provisioning of a group of priests working for the Royal Funerary Workshop (or the wabet), largely dating to Menkaure’s time. (John has an article on these priests slated for publication in the next issue of AERA’s newsletter, AERAGRAM 15.1. Keep your eyes peeled!)
But mixed in with these formal priestly sealings were informals in a number that we had not really encountered in any other area of the site. And not only were they numerous, they were duplicates, and by piecing them all together I came up with a snazzy informal theoretical of my very own.… READ MORE »
Posted on Jun 3, 2014
*This is the third installment of a series by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Read part one, part two and John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.
So to recap a bit, broadly, John and I see all the seal types at Giza (and the Old Kingdom Egyptian glyptic corpus as a whole) as holding positions on this continuum between our formal and informal categories. That’s all fine and well art historically, but if we project our seals out into society and try to assign person to thing, what does this difference mean? If the Official seals represent scribes, priests, and all things royally administered, who or even what in ancient Egyptian society and economy do the informals represent?
Although it would be convenient for the Giza glyptic material to fall into two simple categories of “formal” and “informal,” with a corresponding continuum of “royal” and “individual,” the reality of the situation is probably as complicated and nuanced as the various contributing components of the larger Old Kingdom economy. There is a high likelihood that all sorts of sealed goods were shipped in from the countryside surrounding the plateau, all intended to help fuel Giza’s vast pyramid-building machine and the upkeep of the staff in the temples of the deceased pharaohs.… READ MORE »
Posted on Jun 1, 2014
*This is the second installment of a series by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Read part one here and read John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.
Early on, our ideas on the informal sealings were largely based on their lack of serekhs and some not-so-stellar carving, such that their overwhelming characteristic was really their decided un-royalness. For me, “informal” became a sort of catch-all term for stamp and cylinder seals with geometric motifs, animal scenes that could be wild and chaotic, and often crudely carved, blocky hieroglyphs – quite honestly, “informal” was the soup that contained everything that didn’t get passed to John’s side of the table for registration.
But in our corpus, there were glimpses of brilliant sigillographic fun that truly broke from the Official mold – a fabulous baboon, a tumbling acrobat, rows of catfish. And sometimes those glimpses looked really Mesopotamian to someone like myself with a non-Egyptological background. But they were one-offs, and in the world of sealings, sometimes a one-off just doesn’t cut it.
You see, finding an actual complete cylinder seal is rare. The vast majority of the time, we work from the sealings alone.… READ MORE »
Posted on May 28, 2014
*The next installments of our field blog will be a long story in four parts, by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Before you read these next installments, we suggest you read John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.
In a way, ancient clay sealings are a lot like postage stamps. To a philatelist, stamps encapsulate much about the society that they represent, be they a first-day issue 1847 5-cent Benjamin Franklin, an Egyptian 1879 5-piastre gray Sphinx and Pyramid, or a US 2013 Johnny Cash Forever stamp. A perusal of the offerings available in any US post office will give you a quick snapshot of that which American society values today: civic history and the battle for human rights; military history and heroes (even those 200 years removed from our own daily lives); beloved musicians, poets, athletes, and inventors; celebrated religious holidays and their most evocative imagery. But some stamps are purely decorative-colorful flowers, butterflies and birds, geometric designs-images chosen from the natural world around us. Just as the stamps you choose to buy in the check-out line of your post office speak volumes about you as an individual, so too will the images chosen for next year’s batch of new stamps tell philatelists around the world a good deal about your country.… READ MORE »
Posted on Mar 7, 2014Using Sealing Fragments to Hear Ancient Voices
by John Nolan
As strange as it may sound, much of our understanding of our excavations at Giza, rests on how we interpret small, broken chunks of clay that come out of the site. These fragments come from sealings, which were daubs of refined clay that were attached to doors, jars, boxes, and papyrus documents. They were often pressed down over a knot on a rope or cord when wet. Sometimes while it was still wet, the person who owned the item would roll a cylinder seal, inscribed with texts or pictures across the front of the sealing leaving behind an impression of the seal’s inscription. … READ MORE »