The Elise Richter Project: Foreigners in Egypt.
The Archaeology of Culture Contact in an Egyptian Settlement
The proposed project sheds light on several aspects of archaeological theory, that have been discussed for a long time, by means of archaeological remains recovered in Egypt. Archaeological proof for migration as opposed to trade connections or diffusion must often remain tentative and problematic. Whilst during the early years of the twentieth century change in material culture was often ascribed to migration, this view later fell out of fashion. Only relatively recently new have attempts been made to formulate a theoretical frame work for a complex phenomenon and to isolate a catalogue of criteria for archaeological proof of migration. In particular, scrutiny of the ‘internal domain’, the private sphere of migrants, promises good results, because it can be assumed that in the private sphere people adhered to their original culture. It remains to be tested as to whether this model can be taken over unchanged within Egyptian archaeology, where literary texts and art also exist for analysis.
Egypt, often considered as isolated culture, that developed without external influences, can add substantially to this question and several others especially in the period of the late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period (ca 1800 – 1550 BC). An organically grown settlement of the late Middle Kingdom is situated at Tell el-Dabca in the north eastern Nile Delta and therefore at the crossroads of the Egyptian and Levantine cultures. In terms of its street plan, architecture and archaeological artefacts (ceramics, lithic finds, grinders, querns, stone vessels, mortars, animal bones and archaeobotanic remains) as well as its tombs with contents belonging to the Levantine Middle Bronze Age culture and to a lesser extent to the Egyptian cultural sphere, it shows a mix of both cultures. The analysis of this settlement, especially of the ‘internal domain’ will give important clues as to whether the inhabitants are indeed immigrants from the Levant and, if so, how their acculturation process developed. Of special importance in this analysis is the spatial distribution of the artefacts and their quantitative concentration, because in this way unusual combinations will become obvious and can be tested. This collection of data also allows one to answer several other questions that are high on the agenda of archaeological theory and anthropology, namely the complicated topic of ethnicity, horizontal stratification of society, trade relations and their volume, gender issues, the use of space in antiquity as well as ecological themes. Comparison with settlements in Egypt and the Levant will highlight parallels and affinities although settlement archaeology is still neglected in both areas.
Scientific methods that provide new data and thus new possibilities for interpretation were developed quite recently, including the comparison of levels of stable isotopes of strontium in biological and earth samples as well as in human teeth. A significant difference in these levels can give insights into the residential mobility of people. Unfortunately, this possibility is currently unavailable for specimens from Egypt due to the export ban on any kind of archaeological sample, but it is hoped that this problem can be overcome in the future.
Head of the project
Mag. Dr. Bettina Bader