Tessa Dickinson

A landscape and material-based approach to Egyptian royal mortuary architecture in the early third millennium BC

This research examines the role that the building of royal mortuary complexes (RMC hereafter) played in the consolidation of the Egyptian state between the reigns of kings Khasekhemwy and Shepseskaf, c. 2,700-2,500 BC. The theoretical basis for this research is inspired by cross-cultural studies that demonstrate a) that a monument’s location, design and construction materials reflect a balancing of both logistical and symbolic concerns and b) that monuments are not only the after-effect of a centralised state system, but may themselves be integrative strategies that contribute more directly to a state’s formation and consolidation.

The main analysis offered here consists of a sequential, monument-by-monument archaeological assessment of RMC location, landscape setting, building history and construction materials with a particular emphasis on the role of a specialist workforce. This research combines both quantitative and qualitative methods that are designed to help flesh out possible logistical and symbolic implications associated with the decision-making process behind each RMC. The working and symbolic properties of a whole range of individual construction materials is determined via careful use of the limited contemporary, and more abundant later, Egyptian documentary sources, as well as demonstrable patterns of material use in the archaeological record. A geoarchaeological analyses of mudbrick provides an important category of additional necessary information on the sourcing of, and the labour organisation, behind this material which has received only very limited attention.

This locational and materials-based approach brings together a wealth of complementary information pertaining to functional and symbolic aspects of these monuments, and their wider landscapes that is usually treated separately and selectively. It also provides the tools necessary for addressing a well-known shift from mudbrick to stone in RMCs. Overall it provides a more dynamic and holistic framework for understanding the role that monumental building played in this early period of the Egyptian Pharaonic state.


 Educational background

  • Joint BA with First Class Honours: Ancient History and Egyptology, University College London, 2004
  • MA, Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, 2005
  • ‘In the field’ mudbrick analysis
  • Limestone core of Khufu’s pyramid, Giza, Egypt
  • Granite quarries, Aswan, Egypt

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