Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The Walking Dead at Saqqara. The Making of a Cultural Geography

The main case study of the project is the cultural geography of Saqqara, the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, and its development.

2017 - 2023
Lara Weiss

This project analyzes the formation of the cultural geography of Saqqara, the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. It was a center of major political and religious importance throughout Pharaonic history. Kings as well as commoners choose to be buried here from the earliest times onwards, resulting in the first monumental stone building (the Step Pyramid complex of King Djoser, ca. 2600 BCE) and a myriad of other smaller, non-royal tombs. From the New Kingdom to the Late Period (ca. 1500-332 BCE), Egyptian kings were buried elsewhere, but Saqqara remained an important cultic area and numerous monumental tombs, funerary temples and shrines were built there until the end of ancient Egyptian history. This evidence has never been studied in its broader historical context and we still know little about how people dealt with organized religion in day to day practice and how things may have changed over time. Having served as a memorial site for non-royal individuals and kings, as well as a center for the worship of gods for millennia, Saqqara not only provides chronological depth, but also the necessary thematic breadth to study the ways in which religion changed and impacted on the physical environment and contemporary society, and how, in turn, contemporary society and restrictions and possibilities offered by the environment shaped the site’s dynamic cultural geography. The proposed research project for the first time attempts to analyze this pivotal site for the study of religious agency and change in ancient Egypt in a diachronic and multi-faceted way and will provide an important heuristic tool for future studies of religion in general.

A first workshop offered a comparative confrontation with neighbouring disciplines and an enlargement of the methodology by specialists from a larger period in both time and space including the Mediterranean, Asia, and European area from the Bronze Age to the Greco-Roman and Medieval periods in order to test, criticize, and contextualize methods as well as the project’s first results. A summary of the workshop is now online.

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