Agents of Construction

Ancient Egyptian Rock Inscriptions as Tools of Site Formation and Modern Functional Parallels

in Journal of Egyptian History
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This new analysis of the interaction between graffiti and their physical context examines the functionality of rock inscriptions for the ancient Egyptians and finds that the annexation and redefinition of the landscape was a key factor motivating the production of rock art and rock inscriptions spanning the Egyptian Predynastic and Dynastic Periods. Casting off the modern, negative, connotations of “graffiti,” new research comparing ancient and modern graffiti traditions—including a proper understanding of the territorial and artistic implications of modern “gang” graffiti—illuminates certain functional parallels and assists in the formulation of a new framework based on Alfred Gell’s theory on the material agency of art and subsequent critiques. In this framework graffiti simultaneously mark territorial boundaries and work actively to create and maintain territory on an ongoing basis. The application of the framework to an ancient Egyptian case study illuminates the dynamic relationship between rock inscriptions and site formation.



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  • Cartouche of Amenhotep iii (Prototype) with inscriptions of Merymose (Artist) in the Wadi Kanayis (edf 58: top; edf 59: bottom).
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  • Individual inscription of the Viceroy Merymose in the Wadi Bezeh.
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  • Inscriptions of three functionaries of Merymose that record the name and title of Merymose as part of their own title. Inscription 3A (edf 31) and Inscription 3B (edf 32) are both from the Site 2 rockshelter in the Wadi Barramiya. Inscription 3C (kom 06) is carved in the Wadi Bezeh.
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  • Distribution of the Sa-Amun inscriptional corpus in relation to the Eastern Desert gold mines.
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  • Rock inscription of Heqanefer in the Wadi Barramiya (edf 41).
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  • Rock inscription of Heqanefer in the Wadi Barramiya (edf 42).
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  • Dedicatory rock inscription of Heqanefer with Horus falcon in the Wadi Bezeh (kom 03).
    View in gallery
  • Rock inscription of Heqanefer in the Wadi Bezeh (kom 13).
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  • Rock inscription of Djehutymose of Miam (edf 13).
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  • Rock inscription of Rahetepu of Miam (edf 14).
    View in gallery


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