The Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities’ Annual Symposium 2017

Last weekend (November 3-5) the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities held their 42nd Annual Symposium on Aegyptus: Under Roman Rule at the University of Toronto. In addition, there was a two day Scholars’ Colloquium held on the Friday and Sunday when scholars come to present their original research on any topic related to Egyptian history. There were many great speakers including, but not limited to: Prof. Jean Revez, Prof. Jean Li, Dr. Edmund Meltzer and Prof. Kerry Muhlestein. I also presented the paper on female masculinity, entitled “The Ascending Gender Paradox,” posted below.

Female Masculinity
SSEA 2017

Female Masculinity: The Ascending Gender Paradox

Good morning. My paper today is part of a broader study on gender fluidity and women’s roles in the New Kingdom. We know from recent history that when war called for men to fight abroad, it was the women who stayed behind and carried out the traditionally male occupations. The situation at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty must have been similar. With the creation of an Egyptian empire, soldiers were now required to march year round, which resulted in a deficit of able-bodied men at home to perform the mundane tasks in the “real” world. My goal is to understand this phenomenon in the New Kingdom and explore how femininity and masculinity were perceived. Today I will discuss images of female masculinity within the royal family.

I argue that to a large extent gender has been culturally constructed, and that society created the appropriate roles for men and women. What is intriguing about the symbolism of power employed during the New Kingdom by royal women is that it brings women into the historical spheres of the political and economic, when often women’s history has been about sex and the family. It is this new gendered imagery from the New Kingdom that appears in conjunction with sovereignty and dominion, that helps maintain the social order, but also promotes change.

It’s been noted by countless scholars that beginning in the Eighteenth Dynasty the role of royal women in the politics of ancient Egypt intensifies. This is a rare example in Egyptian history when war, diplomacy and high politics embrace the relationship between men and women. The usurpation of masculine images and prerogatives by queens legitimized their authority, conventionalized their image of power, allowed them to appropriate male privilege, and permitted them to replicate the symbolism of the divine creator gods. This phenomenon escalates at the end of the Seventeenth Dynasty, and culminates in the reign of Tawosret at the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty. I will make the following argument: Queens during the New Kingdom undercut the assumed connection between men and masculinity, and they demonstrated when and how a non-dominant masculinity could be utilized for domination and rule.

Here are some terms I will be using. First, the most recent use of the word “gender” refers to the socially constructed attributes of being male or female, or of femininity or masculinity. This rejects the biological determinism that’s understood in the term “sex.” Biological determinism refers to the theory that biological factors, as opposed to social and environmental factors, determine psychological and physical traits.

There are two scholars whose work is foundational for my research. Raewyn Connell’s work on masculinities theorizes a hierarchy of masculinities, which consists of multiple forms. And, Jack Halberstam’s work on female masculinity suggests that it could be separated from men. His work provides a model to help understand that while still supporting conventional attributes of kingship, royal women also challenged the contemporary form of hegemonic masculinity and subverted Egypt’s hetero-patriarchal culture. This study of New Kingdom queens exposes that female masculinity was another form of masculinity that existed in the past.

During the New Kingdom, there were many notable queens who deserve some discussion, but I am going to give you only snapshots of royal women, using gender as an analytical tool. So in other words, I am going to present some examples of royal women, who masculinized their public image to represent and enforce their power. Then I am going to explore why they did this and what it meant. I will spend most of my time exploring the case of Hatshepsut, one of the most unique and intriguing queens of ancient Egypt.

In an attempt to understand the gender dynamics of ancient Egypt, some scholars have assumed a male-female binary existed, similar to the traditional western view. Others have suggested that gender was more fluid and less firmly binarized. In point of fact, ancient Egypt offered both a male-female binary, in that gods, people, and words, could be categorized as either masculine or feminine, and it proffered a fluid gender system. It was this variability that allowed queens to manipulate their gender in creative ways for their own political gain. Male and female elements could be combined to make new compositions that could fit anywhere on the gender spectrum.

What is fascinating is that New Kingdom queens demonstrated that masculinity could be separated from the male body. Their gender tampering was not supposed to be an imitation of maleness, but rather it identified a “counterfeit masculinity” that was free from maleness. To us, masculinity embodies the qualities that have been culturally ascribed to men, and therefore mark the male gender. But these attributes need not be assigned exclusively to men.

Royal women used a multiplicity of strategies to masculinize their public image to give it agency and make it more efficacious in achieving their goals. Masculinity invoked legitimacy, privilege and power, and gender was not beyond their control.

Now, this option was not open to all women in ancient Egypt, but for those like Hatshepsut who already had an abundance of power, masculinity could be appropriated for political gain. Female masculinities offered alternate modes of masculinity that detached power from men, in the case of Hatshepsut, from Thutmose III. Hatshepsut’s gender presentation was complex and productive, and her masculinity was a product of her profession and her status. This was how she produced power and fostered new political relationships.

There are three concepts that preface female masculinity in the New Kingdom: creator deities as androgynous beings, the office of kingship as androgynous, and the fragmented nature of female rebirth. Lana Troy suggests that the character of the creator deities was expressed through the inversion of gender roles, the symbolic inversion of sexual function, and male-female composites. Creator deities exemplified a male-female binary superimposed by gender fluidity, and this reveals that androgyny characterized creation in ancient Egypt. In this context, the queens’ composite representations for political legitimacy would have been unremarkable. The main point is that queens’ gender manipulation was founded on the millennia-old canon of gender fluidity.

It is imperative to note that the notion of ancient Egyptian kingship was also androgynous. It was a construct that could vacillate between male and female manifestations of power.

Lastly, following Kara Cooney and Heather McCarthy, female rebirth in ancient Egypt entailed a sexual transformation. It was masculine creativity that allowed for the rebirth of the deceased, and a woman could access this regenerative power in several ways. For example, a woman’s name could be combined with that of Osiris’ and she likened to a male god. Also, throughout the New Kingdom a woman’s funerary equipment could be adapted to take on the male gender. Sometimes this was done through the use of masculine pronouns in the funerary inscriptions.

So let’s talk about some of these “masculinized” representations of royal women. My narrative begins at the end of the Seventeen Dynasty with the struggle against the Hyksos. I will discuss Ahhotep, Ahmose-Nefertari, Hatshepsut, Tiye, Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun and Tawosret, but the masculine images and prerogatives I’ve collected are not limited to these queens.

Ahhotep, the sister-wife of Seqenenre Tao II and daughter of Teti-Sheri was the first of several mothers during the New Kingdom to act as co-regent to her young son, after the unexpected death of his predecessor. And, it is possible that during this time, Ahhotep participated in combat, exercised command on the battlefield and administered military operations. Ahmose acknowledged his mother’s dedication on a stela he set up at Karnak:

“She has looked after her (Egypt’s) soldiers, she has guarded her, she has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters; she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels”

This inscription has been interpreted to mean Ahhotep led the Egyptian army and made significant decisions in battle, possibly taking up arms to protect Thebes and exercising real authority. She could have done this while Ahmose was still very young, or perhaps later, when he was abroad fighting. The chronology is confused.

Additionally, despite the disorder surrounding the recovery of Ahhotep’s coffin and burial goods in 1859, there were some intriguing finds which included ceremonial axes, three gold and bronze daggers, a necklace with three golden flies of valor, and an armlet thought to be an archer’s bracer. These items have been identified as conventionally masculine burial items and suggest the occupant had a military role of some sort. Kamose’s name appears on some of the objects but the name Ahmose appears more frequently, which has led scholars to postulate that Ahhotep was buried by her son Ahmose. Unfortunately, there is no scholarly consensus on whether the Ahhotep buried with these items at Dra Abu el-Naga is the mother of Ahmose or another Ahhotep. But either way, these women were commemorated for their participation in the military—a traditionally masculine sphere of activity.

Later, King Ahmose married both of his sisters, but it was Ahmose-Nefertari who became his chief Queen. Ahmose-Nefertari, King’s Daughter, King’s Sister, and King’s Great wife, also bore a new title— God’s Wife of Amun. This title gave her control over land, goods and a staff of male administrators.

Like her mother before her, Ahmose-Nefertari acted as regent to her young son Amenhotep I. Then, she resumed her role as partner to her son after he became a childless widower. After her death she was worshipped, along with her son, at the village of Deir el-Medina and was revered as a goddess of resurrection.

Ahhotep, Ahmose-Nefertari and her mother Ahmose not only acted as strong role models for Hatshepsut, but they also created a foundation on which she could base her own power. Now, Hatshepsut has attracted a great deal of attention for doing gender wrong, at least according to us. Today we are restricted in what we can learn about Hatshepsut personally, but the images that remain exemplify Hatshepsut as the virile woman, who broke the bond between masculinity and the male body.

Several scholars have claimed that Hatshepsut definitely dressed as a woman in “real-life,” while others have suggested that she may represent a third gender. Further still from the point, are scholars who theorize that she was transgender or that she was a cross-dresser. The truth of the matter is that we have no idea how she dressed from day to day since the art and artifacts that emerged from her campaign of visual representation limit our image of her. So, it needs to be acknowledged that we can only know how Hatshepsut wanted to be perceived in her capacity as king of Egypt—her public image.

Hatshepsut is the best-documented female sovereign from ancient Egypt. In her repertoire of preserved statuary and relief work, her compositional image as king is displayed in a variety of ways. She feminized aspects of the kingship and she masculinized elements of her biological sex. Through the development of her image, Hatshepsut eventually makes her female sex invisible. She negotiated her image and she managed to generate what she needed—to create what was deficient.

Hatshepsut had two issues to contend with: she was a woman and Egypt already had a legitimate king. There was a strong need for her and her administration to validate her reign and to display her legitimacy. She accomplished this in several ways. If her most controversial method was manipulating her gender, this was only one component of a complex campaign. The dual kingship gave Hatshepsut access to certain venues to promote her own authority and to present her policy and political self-definition. Even before she took the throne she had control over the official iconography of the central power. In the beginning Hatshepsut is totally absent in the official imagery of the kingship, but she gradually ascends in the imagery by obliterating Thutmose III. According to the tomb inscription of the official Ineni, Hatshepsut was in control of Egypt. She embraced the civic role of head of state and advanced the kingdom by building for the gods, leading military expeditions to Nubia, and organizing long distant trade missions. Hatshepsut built a monumental temple for her cult at Deir el-Bahri and included sanctuaries for other deities as well. She also abandoned her queen’s tomb and initiated the construction of a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings. In her monumental artwork, she placed herself in a dominant position in relation to her co-regent, Thutmose III.

There were compelling reasons for Hatshepsut to modify her gender, and the results of her public “cross-dressing” and were very effective. The use of a masculine guise gave Hatshepsut access to male social privilege and allowed her to by-pass the political restrictions of womanhood. Through her masculinity Hatshepsut acquired mobility and social power.

Now Hatshepsut was not the first female ruler to use masculine garb to manipulate her gender. However, she appears to have engaged in this sort of operation more consistently than anyone else. There is a statue of Queen Nefrusobek from the 12th Dynasty that illustrates this queen in male attire…and female attire.

Some consider Hatshepsut’s reign unsuccessful and assume a woman on the throne was unacceptable. This is not the message that the masculinization of her public representation should convey. Instead, we might appreciate the success of Hatshepsut’s experiment in using her non-dominant form of masculinity to challenge hegemonic ideals and to craft her authority. She ruled for over twenty years and Egypt prospered. Her successor, Thutmose III, maintained both her circle of officials and her plan to restore monuments Egypt-wide, which confirmed respect for her decisions. So perhaps Hatshepsut was doing gender right.

Hatshepsut is not the only historical figure to provide evidence that our modern perceptions of the gender binary in the New Kingdom are inaccurate. Here Senemut, one of Hatshepsut’s most important officials takes care of the princess Neferure.

Before I move ahead to the Amarna Period, and for the sake of chronological order, I present one of the queens of Thutmose IV, Iaret(?), wielding a mace and standing behind her husband as he smites Egypt’s enemies. This image of her is from a stela dating to year 7 that was found at the temple of Amada in Nubia. Here we do not see the masculinization of the queen’s body, but instead the appropriation of a masculine prerogative, the upholding of maat accomplished through the smiting of Egypt’s enemies.

Now to the Amarna Queens. During the reign of Amenhotep III Egypt was stable and prosperous and this affluence allowed Amenhotep III to build profusely throughout Egypt. Because of this, many images of his Queen, Tiye, survive. Several remarkable representations illustrate the queen of equal size with her husband. In the tomb of Kheruef, her strength and ability to act were presented in the form of a female sphinx trampling female captives. The sphinx was half lion and half king, and from the beginning it was invariably male. Between the chair legs there is another image of female captives.

Her usurpation of male prerogatives was not limited to decorative motifs; Queen Tiye was also known throughout the Near East and she involved herself in diplomatic correspondence with other great powers. Upon the death of her husband, international letters arrived at Tell el-Amarna addressed to her.

Now androgyny is a definitely a hallmark of the Amarna period and is quite evident in Akhenaten’s public image as an earthly representation of the asexual creator god, Aten. On a domestic stela, Akhenaten’s interaction with his children is also significant and reminiscent of the images of Senenmut. Here Nefertiti faces her husband, instead of sitting behind him, and her chair is more elaborate than her husbands’. She also takes on an androgynous body shape, with her positioning suggesting the masculinization of her political role. Additionally, blocks from the Hwt-benben show Nefertiti performing the king’s role as a priest, and on a block from Hermopolis she smites Egypt’s enemies. The relationship between Akhenaten and Nefertiti is gender fluid and the two can move across the gender spectrum at will. And of course, there is the likelihood of Nefertiti having ruled both as co-regent with her husband, and also independently after him.

Their daughter Ankhsenpaaten is noteworthy because of an intriguing passage found in the Manly Deeds of Suppiluliuma. The letter is addressed to the Hittite king:
“My husband has died, I do not have a son. But, they say, you have many sons. If you would give me one of your sons he would become my husband. I shall never pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband…he will be my husband and King of Egypt.”

This letter is unparalleled. Not only did Ankhsenpaaten actively pursue a husband, but she engaged in international correspondence, suggested she, a princess, marry a foreigner, invited an outsider to enter the Egyptian court, and proceeded as if a king attempting to establish a diplomatic marriage. Unfortunately, the Hittite prince Zananza was murdered on his way to Egypt.

There are several well-known Ramesside queens, but I would like to close my talk with a few remarks on Tawosret. She began her career as chief queen to Seti II who ruled for six years, she then moved to the position of regent during the reign of Siptah, and then finally rose to the job of pharaoh. Tawosret was universally accepted as ruler and she had control over all of Egypt.

Several parallels can be drawn between Tawosret’s reign and that of Hatshepsut. Both women were of royal birth, both were daughters or granddaughters of a king, and both were queens before they became pharaohs. Also, they were each the chief queen of the previously deceased pharaoh when they became regent and neither of their co-regents were their biological sons.

Unlike the evidence for the reign of Hatshepsut, there is only one known statue of Tawosret as ruler, which was discovered at Medinet Nasr in 1971. This headless statue shows a seated woman who is identified by the inscriptions as Tawosret. She is dressed in masculine garb and the remains of the lappets of her nemes-headdress are still visible on her shoulders. She wears a broad collar around her neck, sandals on her feet and a long pleated garment. According to Gae Callender, in the post-Amarna Period men and women wore similar clothing, but according to others this example is clearly the type worn by men. Her body, however, is female. Most of the titles and epithets are in the masculine form, but her two cartouche names give her a feminine gender.

Tawosret took advantage of her royal status and her position as co-regent by gaining access to certain venues to promote her own authority and to present her policy. Tawosret not only built a tomb in the Valley of the Kings and a Mansion of Millions of Years, but she also erected monuments at Giza and at several Delta sites. She built throughout Egypt, maintained trade and commercial contact with the Near East, promoted good will in the region, and solidified alliances despite the ensuing turmoil. There is some evidence to suggest Asiatics invaded Egypt around this time, and if this happened during the reign of Tawosret she must have defended Egypt militarily. There is a curious ostracon from the 20th dynasty in the Cairo Museum that depicts a queen in a war chariot firing arrows at a male enemy. It is possible that Tawosret was also a military commander like some of the queens who came before her.

Despite Tawosret’s many similarities with Hatshepsut, there were several significant distinctions between their reigns. While Hatshepsut’s image slowly transitioned into the masculine, Tawosret retained her female identity and only supplemented her representation with male regalia and dress. Tawosret combined masculine and feminine royal symbols but never reached a fully masculinized state; for example, in her tomb she appears wearing the blue war crown of a king but carrying a lily scepter, or queen’s flail. Tawosret appears as Pharaoh in some images and as King’s Great Wife in others: She embodied both royal offices. So, Tawosret’s gender fluidity revealed itself in her deeds and her official image. It is through her titles “Lady of Strength,” “Lady of Action,” and “She who Subdues Foreign Lands” that Tawosret confirmed that a woman could embrace female masculinity, and that it was an effective strategy to gain support and maintain control. Through her statuary and relief-work she negotiated within the patriarchal system, and again corroborated that masculinity could derive from outlets other than maleness.

There are several theories that might account for this historical change. One such theory pertains to the many princes who ascended to the throne in the New Kingdom, who were too young to rule alone. We have examples from early Egyptian history as well, such as Meritneith from the First Dynasty, who acted as co-regent with her son Den, and Ankhnesmeryre II from the end of the Sixth Dynasty, who probably took the throne along with her very young son Pepy II. So, mothers as coregents was not a new phenomenon, but in the New Kingdom it occurs on multiple occasions in a relatively short period of time. Another trend to consider is that in the New Kingdom princesses didn’t marry outside of the royal family. This practice decreased the number of claimants to the throne and allowed the royal family to maintain power. Likewise, brother-sister marriages, which had always been the norm, now converted to father-daughter marriages. The nature of these marriages is controversial and many think that these relationships entailed only the elevation of the daughter to a prominent position. An additional reason for the breakdown of traditional gender roles at this time may be the empire, and the need for a standing army. So, again, I return to my initial suggestion that women needed to take more responsibility at home while the men were away fighting.

To conclude, many queens re-gendered their image through a series of sophisticated campaigns incorporating many parts. The masculinization of the female body was reclaimed for the political purpose of dominion and authority. It was Hatshepsut who made maleness non-essential to masculinity. All of the queens I have mentioned today were able to negotiate their positions within patriarchy through their campaigns of visual representation. It is indeed possible that acting in their positions of authority encouraged the masculinization of their public images, and that their genders shifted with their jobs. In the case of Hatshepsut, her masculinization was not a disguise; this phenomenon sought to construct her identity as king, not as a man. Only masculine iconography existed to recognize kingship. The masculinization of the public image of royal women was more pronounced after her reign than it was before. Royal women negotiated with patriarchy and operated to access the privilege, power and legitimacy associated with men.

Presented on Friday, November 3, 2017 at the SSEA Scholars’ Colloguium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Statue of Hatshepsut from her temple at Deir el-Bahri. Photograph by Kelly-Anne Diamond

Photo by Kelly-Anne Diamond
Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir el-Bahri. Photograph by Kelly-Anne Diamond

Photo by Kelly-Anne Diamond
Tawosret’s Mansion of Millions of Years, 19th Dynasty. Photograph by Kelly-Anne Diamond

Female Masculinity in Ancient Egypt

By Kelly-Anne Diamond, PhD

Each society constructs its own version of how men and women should look, act, dress, speak and generally behave. These characterizations do not necessarily have anything to do with one’s biology, but there may be some overlap. For example, a man’s preference for the color blue over the color pink has been constructed by society, there is nothing innately biological about this choice. But, the association between men and strength is extant because most men are stronger than most women, but strength is not an exclusive trait of the male sex. It is true that not everyone conforms precisely to these societal norms, but people are judged by these standards accordingly.

The terms “masculine” and “feminine” refer to these gender stereotypes and are used to distinguish between members of the same sex. For example, it is not uncommon to hear a woman referred to as “feminine”; this implies that she embodies more feminine traits than the majority of her female counterparts. The opposite can also be true, if a woman looks or behaves like a man, she might be referred to as ‘masculine’; for example, if she cuts her hair short or plays sports. The same is true for a man who may resemble or dress like a woman according to society’s standards. This exemplifies the superimposition of a constructed stereotype onto a biological sex and confuses gender constructions with biological determinism.

Female masculinity is not an oxymoron. Because the manner in which a woman acts is dictated by the society in which she lives, there is nothing unnatural about her exhibiting characteristics or preferring activities which have traditionally been ascribed to men. It only signifies an aversion to the prescribed norm. In the case of ancient Egypt, this “norm” is only how we perceive it. The term female masculinity is an appropriate descriptions for some images of royal women from ancient Egypt. These images demonstrate that many of the characteristics that we today in the west have categorized as “masculine” were regularly embraced by women in ancient Egypt. This indicates several things. First of all, what was considered “masculine” and “feminine” in ancient Egypt was different than how we define those categories today. Second, it is possible that those categories did not exist the way we imagine them. These categories, if extant, may have been more fluid, or interchangeable.

This link to my Omeka Exhibit will visualize this phenomenon:

Source: Female Masculinity in Ancient Egypt

Mapping the Sacred District Scene at the Theban Necropolis and at Elkab

By Kelly-Anne Diamond, PhD.

In creating this Google Map I was hoping to clearly see patterns emerging in the construction of tombs that used the Sacred District scene in their decoration. By producing a layered map based on the reign of the king who was in power at the time when these tombs were built and decorated, I can track the production of these particular tombs over time, while taking into account where they were built, as well. Except for Theban Tomb 60, which dates to the early 12th Dynasty, the majority of the tombs with this scene date to the 18th Dynasty and are located on the west bank of Thebes. Additionally, there are a few tombs that have a post-18th Dynasty date, and three others that are located farther south at Elkab. In the making of this Google Map I color-coded the tomb markers according to the sub-division of the Theban Necropolis in which they are located.

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 1.51.14 AM

Each tab on the map equates with one ancient Egyptian tomb. I included all of the tombs I am aware of that have the Sacred District scene as part of their decorative program. Including Theban Tomb 60, there are thirty-nine tombs with this scene—all of them are included in this map. I positioned Theban Tomb 60 on the introductory page under Sheikh Abd el-Qurna because it is the prototype for the scene at this cemetery, at least according to what has been discovered thus far.

I had great trouble creating this map as far as the geocoding was concerned. The nobles’ tombs are not all well documented, so their coordinates are not easily available. I discovered the site, the On-line Geographic Information System of the Theban Necropolis, which is being created by P. Piccione and the University of Charleston, South Carolina. It should be possible to search the database of the Theban Tombs Satellite Mapping Project; however, the database is not yet up and running and therefore impossible to retrieve the tombs’ coordinates. I also tried but with no address, street name, etc. for the tombs, it was impossible to locate anything. When doing searches, it was not uncommon for me to find Google images of these tombs, or to discover other Google Maps with their locations pinpointed; it was surprising how frequently these locations were incorrect.

Other sites, such as and were indeed useful in getting me started in manually locating these tombs.
In the end, I mapped all thirty-nine tombs on my Google Map myself, without using any pre-determined coordinates. In many cases I could see the outline of the tomb on the map, which made its placement easier. I also used hand drawn maps from F. Kampp, Die Thebanische Nekropole : Zum Wandel Des Grabgedankens Von Der XVIII. Bis Zur XX. Dynastie and B. Porter and R. Moss, Topographical Bibliography, I, i. Google Earth provided a better image of the Theban Necropolis than did Google Maps, so I often had the two side by side in order to figure out where to locate a particular tomb. Once I found one tomb I could then continue by placing the nearby tombs around it.
I decided to use Google Maps for this project because it offered the layering feature that I thought would be useful in indicating the sequence and frequency of the creation of the Sacred District scene. I also thought it would be convenient to have all of my research together in Google Drive. I briefly reviewed Carto and JuxtaposeJS but Google Maps was simple and easy to use, while still capable of presenting my research and enabling me to explore the material further. One drawback to using Google Maps is that it is very limited in its stylization options. I color-coded the markers for each tomb and included photos for each tomb, but there were no other stylistic options as far as I know.

This map bore out some expected conclusions, such as the tombs that were built under one king all clustered around each other (except at Dra Abu el-Naga), the majority of the tombs were built in the sub-division of Sheikh Abd el-Gurna, and most of the tombs were built during the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. Unexpectedly, this map revealed that Theban Tomb 260, which is thought to have at least some elements of a Sacred District but is fragmentary, is located at Dra Abu el-Naga, and other than TT 39 (which is in Khokha and therefore close to Sheikh Abd el-Qurna), all tombs of this time period are in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. This leads me to suspect that under closer scrutiny the left wall of Theban Tomb 260 will not bare a Sacred District scene after all. The location is not consistent and neither is the organization of the micro-scenes.
Another idea that became clear was that beginning in the reign of Thutmose IV the Sacred District scene decreases in size dramatically and is often represented by only one or two of four micro-scenes: the Hbt-dancers, rows of shrines (open or closed), the rites to the Mooring-Post and the two obelisks. Another point I have realized is that the Mooring-Post should be considered only a subsidiary episode to the Sacred District, as it never occurs inside the temenos. It does, however, out last most of the earlier primary micro-scenes of the Sacred District. Furthermore, in the earliest scenes the obelisks appear by themselves, but after the reign of Thutmose III there are usually two men accompanying them. I am sure that the more I view this map, the more will be made clear.

Grouping the Sacred District scenes geographically and chronologically along with the visual images helped to reinforce and remind me of the many conclusions I have made so far. The fact that the scene moves from a large composition on more than one register to isolated micro-scenes during the early half of the Eighteenth Dynasty is reinforced through the visual aspect of my Google Map.
I found the process of creating this map illuminating, and the finished project allows for quick comparison between examples of the scene. The attempt to geocode was the most frustrating and time-consuming part, and in the end I placed the tombs on the map manually.

The Sacred District Scene in Private New Kingdom Tombs

By Kelly-Anne Diamond, PhD, Villanova University

Use this URL to see my visualization of the female ritualists in the Sacred District scene in private New Kingdom tombs.

Data Organization and Visualization: The Sacred District Scene in New Kingdom Private Tombs

When I began thinking about the project the first thing that came to mind was using my photographs of the Sacred District scene from the New Kingdom private tombs I visited. I have hundreds of photos of this scene, which can be sub-categorized by micro-scene. Each Sacred District is made up of a variety of micro-scenes probably chosen from a compendium of possible options. TimelineJS seemed to be a great way to exhibit these photos as well as chronicle their appearance during the New Kingdom. I could not use all of the photos in one timeline so I decided to visualize the photographs of only one micro-scene, that of two women kneeling before four basins of water. Not only are these illustrations beautiful but they also represent my earliest interest in the Sacred District scene, and are provocative (in my eyes) because the existing captions accompanying the depictions.

Although it is always enjoyable to “explore the data” I was hoping that viewing these scenes in chronological order would clarify any patterns I had not yet noticed, particularly trends in the head gear, dress or titles of the women or in the configuration of the basins.

Once I decided on using only the Four Basins photos I created an Excel spreadsheet to collect the metadata in one place. After this I proceeded to upload all relevant photos into an Omeka collection and complete the metadata sections. This part of the project was extremely time consuming and involved a lot of trouble shooting. This required me to be consistent with names and dates, or in other words, with the context of the images. I wanted to be uniform, but I noticed that some of the data consisted of photographs, some of line-drawings and some of paintings. I had most of the photographs saved in a file but I had to search for a couple of missing images—images I was aware of but had not yet located.

One of the issues I encountered in producing the Excel spreadsheet and the TimelineJS involved establishing dates of reigning kings. The majority of the micro-scenes featuring the two women kneeling before four basins of water were created during the co-regency of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. This sequence of reigns is complicated in that Thutmose III came to throne as a young boy ca. 1479 BCE and his step-mother/aunt, Hatshepsut, acted as co-regent to the young king. Sometime around year 7 of the reign of Thutmose III (ca. 1472 BCE), Hatshepsut took full kingly titles and began to act officially as the ruler of Egypt. That is not to say that she had not wielded full power prior to the 7th regnal year of her nephew’s reign since he was only a child. The confusion arises when attempting to allocate a beginning date and an end date for Hatshepsut reign. In antiquity this time period continued to be dated according to the regnal years Thutmose III, but with the regnal years of Hatshepsut superimposed. Officially, Hatshepsut ruled for approximately fifteen years as the senior king, but in actuality she was in charge for the previous seven years as well, giving her a reign of approximately 22 years. Thutmose III’s sole reign began after Hatshepsut passed away when he began to have full control of Egypt. This happened around his year 22. I employed the following dates for the purpose of this timeline: Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) and Thutmose III (1457-1426 BCE). This is important because tombs are often dated by the king who appears in the decorative program.

Another issue is the dating of a particular tomb to two consecutive reigns by archaeologists and art historians. For example, the tomb of Paheri at Elkab probably dates to the sole reign of Thutmose III, but its construction may have continued into the reign of his son Amenhotep II. In these cases, I assigned a display date corresponding to the end of the first reign and the beginning of the second, in order to give the impression that the tomb decoration is not assigned to only one reign or the other. At the same time, I acknowledge the span of the tomb’s construction by using the first regnal year of the earlier king and the last regnal year of the later king as the duration of the event. All dates are based on the chronology set forth in Kathryn Bard’s An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Although this seemed to be the most historically accurate plan, it did not visualize well. Many of the tombs overlapped and the bars for tombs without a specific date took up an unnecessary amount of space on the timeline.

I also did not realize I had to use negative dates for BCE, so getting the dating right was a small challenge. I had to play around with the start date and end date so that the tombs would not overlap in the timeline. Likewise, I did not want the months to appear so I had to choose a higher number to relate the tombs to each other but not clog up the line with months. I ended up choosing an appropriate date for a tomb’s construction and making it both the start date and the end date, and I ignored the display date. In this end, this worked well for the visualization.

I also had issues with displaying my data. Although the links worked in the spreadsheet, the photographs would not display in the preview version, except for the line-drawing of Theban Tomb 100, which came from This caused me to replace all of my Omeka links with wordpress links. This was disappointing considering the amount of time I spent on the metadata for those photos on

Stylizing the timeline was also confusing. I had trouble adjusting the background in the published version. I wanted to choose yellows and greens to symbolize the desert environment in which the tombs are situated and the gardens that appear within the Sacred District in the tomb decoration. Unfortunately these colors only appear on the spreadsheet. I did not want the timeline to appear minimalist or to have bright colors, such as red, jump out at the viewer. The font I chose seemed slightly feminine to me, which is what I wanted, considering the Four Basins micro-scene illustrates female ritualists performing their duties. I also adjusted the timeline to display a shorter span of time in order to highlight the quick succession of the building of these tombs in the middle of the second millennium BCE. Finally, I moved the timeline to the top of the screen because in the preview it appeared as though it was “relegated” to the bottom and not effectual.

I believe the timeline is effective because it shows the different renditions of this micro-scene beside each other. This allows the viewer to make closer comparisons between different versions of the same image than if one were looking at the entire tomb wall. The timeline is also successful in illustrating how often, and at what intervals, this micro-scene was utilized in the private New Kingdom tombs in the Valley of the Nobles and at Elkab. It can visualize pockets in time when this micro-scene was popular. By working on this timeline I realized the frequency with which the kneeling women terminated the Sacred District. I also noticed for the first time their close proximity to the Goddess of the West in several examples. Other combinations of micro-scenes also became clear, such as this micro-scene and the shrine of Osiris and this scene and the offering bearers. It is often placed in one of the bottom registers and although the women’s dress remains standard their head-gear can fluctuate from a white fillet to a red fillet to a white head scarf. TT 41, a late outlier, indicates that the water from these basins was used to irrigate the nearby gardens. This is not explicitly shown in any of the earlier examples. Fourteen out of the forty known examples of the Sacred District contain this particular micro-scene. Two examples are not included in the visualization because one example is unpublished (TT 172) and the other is no longer extant (RCT 4 at Elkab).

Review: New On-line Hieroglyphic Dictionary: VEgA

By Kelly-Anne Diamond, PhD, Villanova University

VEgA, or Ancient Egyptian Vocabulary, is an on-line digital dictionary created by both private contributors and the public.  The goal of the website is to act as an indispensable tool in the translation of hieroglyphic texts.  Through constant updates, this site intends to provide the most up-to-date scientific information from a network of international scholars.

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This website is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Egyptology and Computer Science.   Since 2013 there have been several contributors to VEgA.  Current contributors include, but are not limited to:  the joint research unit from Paul-Valery Montpellier 3 University, directed by Professor David Lefevre, LabEx Archimede and Intactile Design.  VEgA is headed by Egyptologist Frederic Servajean, Professor of Egyptology at Paul-Valery Montpellier 3 University.  VEga collaborates with various Egyptological projects to include vocabulary from as many sites as possible.  For example, Project Karnak has already made significant contributions from the inscriptions at the temples at Karnak. The hieroglyphs are generated from the JSesh tool.

This website offers a sharing platform dedicated to ancient Egypt.  The goal is to provide easy access to information for academics and the public alike, through an interface in HTML5, which allows access to the tool by a simple web browser.  The language of the interface can easily be changed depending on the user’s browser.  This allows visitors from all over the world to access the database.

In my opinion, the intended audience of VEgA should be the International Egyptological community.  It is, of course, open to amateurs, but it provides specialized knowledge for professionals.  VEga offers groups of words that can be cross-checked, so scholars can investigate their attestations, their various spellings and their references.  The interactive nature of the site also allows photographs of the glyphs to be posted.

There are three options to access VEgA: Basic, Student and Expert.   For the Basic subscription a potential user can access the site for two week free of charge, but after that the cost is 5 Euros for one month, or 55 Euros for a year membership.  A Student is charged 8 Euros per month or 88 Euros for a year.  And an Expert membership costs 10 Euros per month or 110 Euros for a year.  However, there are other ways for potential users to engage VEga apart from using the main website  for translation purposes. Visitors can also contribute through twitter, facebook and  

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These resources allow less experienced, or amateur Egyptologists a different way to interact with the dictionary staff, the committee and other users.  Having a less formal dialogue can also be useful to scholars who are interested in discussing their translations.

Once in the system, users can set up and utilize their own personal account.  In order to use the search engine a visitor can type in a transliterated word, a word in English, French, German or Arabic, or an ID number.  The site also offers a virtual transliteration keyboard for those who do not have one.

Under the heading “Presentation of the Tool” a legend is provided for users to review the various conventions employed by the website.  This is significant as different countries employ different conventions for transliterations and translations of a text.  This site also acknowledges if individual translations have been verified or not; there is a “Remarks'” tab where specialized information about an entry is included.  This is a peer-reviewed site in the sense that a publication committee corrects misreadings and misinterpretations in scholars’ contributions.  There are three categories that relate to the level of study a particular word has received; the third, and highest class indicates that the lexicographical notes for a word are complete and have been updated.  Items that may be included here are: the grammatical category of word, metaphorical uses, specific publications, and links to other records.  By presenting all available data viewers are capable of making educated decisions about the evidence.

There are multiple stages built into the review process so scholars can be assured of the accuracy of the data.  The digital format allows scholars to have subsidiary sources available that would normally take time to locate.  This resource allows the production of more efficient translations and easy access to supplemental material.  The corresponding entries for the seven major print dictionaries are also listed if the user chooses to consult them.   

It is relatively simple to navigate the site after you have read the instructions.  When you enter the dictionary there is a list of words displayed in alphabetical order and a transliteration keyboard to type the word you want to search.  You can also search in English, French, German and Arabic.  Once you select a word, the entry includes the following: the publication date of on-line entry, the ID, the category of completeness (1, 2 or 3), transliteration, glyphs, translation (offered in English, German or French), alternate hieroglyphic spellings, list of citations in print dictionaries and comments.  Unfortunately, when you have finished reading an entry and you close the window it is not obvious how to proceed since the screen goes blank.  However, once you move the cursor to the search box the keyboard reappears.

This should not be considered a teaching tool unless it is being used by students who have background knowledge.  This is a much needed addition for the academic community, as access to hieroglyphic dictionaries is limited.  They are available mainly at academic institutions that teach Egyptology, and they are quite costly to purchase, ranging in the hundreds of dollars.

One of the difficulties with this digital history site is that the translation from French is not exact.  This is a recurring problem with translation tools when dealing with specialized studies like Egyptology.  However, for the experienced Egyptologist, knowledge of hieroglyphs helps in navigating the site.  There are no bells and whistles and the presentation is simple.  There are large blank spaces on most of the pages, with the column of data situated on the left, which leaves room to make the pages more visually attractive.

Another issue is the exclusion of toponyms and divine names and epithets from the on-line dictionary.  Because these names appear regularly in the ancient texts, an additional appendix would be useful.

In the beginning I was impressed by this digital source and every word I searched came up with further references and attestations.  But when I began searching less popular words no entries were found.  This is troublesome and it gives me the impression that the dictionary is not quite complete.  Although the database is consistently updated there are many words that are not yet included in their most basic format.  I would consider this site a work in progress.

Currently, I have only six days left on my subscription but I am considering renewing it.  I wish this was available when I was writing my dissertation!

A seven minute video summarizing the on-line dictionary can be found here: