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Did Pharaoh Control the Ancient Egyptian Economy? New Perspectives from Old and Ugly Pots

Date and Time: 
Monday, October 19, 2020. 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Standardization in Ancient Economies
Meeting Description: 

Thinking of Egypt and Egyptians as defined by their state apparatus is common; the scholarly and public focus on kings and royal monuments necessarily forward such a perception. Warden looks at ceramics with the aim expanding our discussion of Egyptian life to encompass more than the royal monumental sphere. 

Vessels during this time were generally utilitarian; the same vessel types were used by all classes in society, across the country. Most interesting for economic study are beer jars and bread moulds, the coarsest of coarse ware vessels. During the Old Kingdom, these forms dominate the ceramic record of both settlements and cemeteries. The commodities that they held, beer and bread, were labor wages: the cornerstones of the Egyptian economy. By studying beer jars and bread moulds it is possible to follow the distribution of these wages; by focusing on volumetric standardization we can speak to how commodities were measured and controlled. Standardization studies show that there was no central control of these payments, nor of ceramic production, through the whole of this period. Egyptians, it would seem, had far more control of their economic realities than suggested by royal narratives.

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Leslie Anne Warden (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Roanoke College. Her research focuses on Egyptian society and social structures, with focus on settlement archaeology, the provinces, and ceramic analysis. She directs excavations at the Old-Middle Kingdom settlement site of Kom el-Hisn (as the Kom el-Hisn Provincialism Project) and is Head of Ceramics Group for the Realities of Life Project at Elephantine Island (directed by Dr. Johanna Sigl, German Archaeological Institute). She has published on Egyptian economy, social and political change, and provincial archaeological sites.

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