Sally McAleely

Arranged Plant Material as Material Culture: Featuring Archaeobotanical Remains from Ancient Egypt, colloquially known as 'Flower Arranging'

Organic remains in the form of deliberately placed plant material, prearranged to form bouquets, wreaths, garlands, pillows and collars, have been excavated from a number of archaeological sites, providing evidence of a long-standing multi-cultural behavioural trait which continues to the present day. The author has studied extant remains from ancient Egyptian contexts (circa 3500BP-2000BP). Non-Egyptian material is rare, but includes a recent find from the Scottish Bronze Age and contested pollen data from a Neanderthal site. This project proposes a typology and seeks to provide a framework and guidelines for future excavation, conservation and interpretation.

Floral offerings found in burial contexts elicit an empathetic and emotive response, and scholars have remarked that they add 'a human touch'. They provide a means of non-verbal communication, acting as an interface for symbolic interaction between humans and between humans and their beliefs and deities. A bouquet might say 'congratulations' or 'I worship you', and humans have the cognitive capability to read the context and understand the difference. Archaeological evidence for the notion of ‘the human touch’ and the question of what it means to be human is often ambiguous or elusive, and the author believes that analysis of the inherent symbolism in floral offerings will contribute to our understanding of cognition and its development. The author uses experimental archaeology and the analytical concept of the chaîne opératoire to explore ways of knowing and the notions of savoir faire and connaissance.

Although largely ignored by archaeologists, deliberately arranged plant material artefacts form part of the material culture of a society, and therefore can be analysed to aid interpretation in fields such as technological prowess and environmental reconstruction. The seasonality and co-seasonality of the constituent plants allow for fine chronological resolution. The author aims to interpret the data from this novel category of material culture within the framework of the extensive Egyptian corpus, so that the findings can be applied by analogy to plant remains and representations of plants in other cultural contexts.

Supervisors

 Educational background

  • BSc (Hons), Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 2001

McAleely, S., forthcoming. Garlands from the Deir el-Bahri Cache. Proceedings of The Oxford Radiocarbon Dating And Egyptian Chronology Project Symposium, Oxford, March 2010.

McAleely, S., 2005. Flower Arranging In Ancient Egypt? In Piquette, Kathryn and Love, Serena (eds.), 2005. Current Research in Egyptology 2003: Proceedings of the fourth annual symposium which took place at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 18-19 January 2003. Oxbow Books: Oxford.

Conference Presentations:

Flower arranging in Ancient Egypt? CRE IV Current Research in Egyptology: fourth annual symposium, University College London, January 2003.

More about Flower Arranging in Ancient Egypt: some New Kingdom and Roman Period archaeobotanical remains examined from a material culture perspective. CRE VI Current Research in Egyptology: sixth annual symposium, Cambridge, January 2005.

Looking Outside the Box: using Egyptian data to demonstrate how the analytical concept of the chaîne opératoire can be applied to artefacts made from plant material. CRE VII Current Research in Egyptology: seventh annual symposium, Oxford, April 2006.

Plant Remains as Material Culture: using the analytical concept of the chaîne opératoire to study wreaths and garlands from Egypt. IWAA 5 The Fifth International Workshop for African Archaeobotany, July 2006.

Plant Remains as Material Culture: using the analytical concept of the châine opératoire to study wreaths and garlands from ancient Egypt. Institute of Archaeology, 2nd Graduate Student Conference, April 2007.

Garlands from the Deir el-Bahri Cache. Oxford Radiocarbon Dating And Egyptian Chronology Project Symposium, Oxford, March 2010. Invited speaker.

Experimental Recreation of a Funerary Garland. Experiment and Experience: Ancient Egypt in the Present, Swansea, May 2010. Invited speaker.

mms://mrcstr1.swan.ac.uk/cema_conf/sally_mcaleely.wmv

Television:

BBC 2, A New Year At Kew. Broadcast February 2007. Recreation of the funerary garland of Ramesses II. Available on DVD.

  • Experimental Archaeology: recreation of an Egyptian funerary garland
  • Garland of flower petals and leaves circa 2000 years old

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