Rune Rasmus Olsen
Karen Blixens Plads 8, 2300 København S
The Socio-Economy of Private Tomb Construction in Ancient Egypt
My PhD project focuses the socio-economic aspect of private tomb construction in New Kingdom Egypt (ca. 1550-1069 BCE), the goal of which is to illuminate the value and significance that the ancient Egyptians themselves put on the tombs, but also to introduce a new angle on the field of economy, particularly the ancient economy.
One of the key terms in economic discussions is that of quantification, as it is important to be able to identify trends and tendencies in the material, which cannot be done with only a few examples. The problem about ancient economy is exactly that, as material evidence is often sporadic and almost never complete. The same is indeed true for the documentation relating to ancient Egyptian economy.
What Egypt lacks in terms of coherent and connected documentation of economic nature (e.g. a shop owner’s archive or generations of receipts in a tax office) it more than makes up for in archaeological material. Although this is not immediately related to economic studies, it is possible to gain economic and socioeconomic knowledge from it. Due to the geographical conditions of the Nile Valley most of the surviving material – be it pottery, papyrus or pyramids – come from or is situated in the desert bordering the fertile soil on the banks of the river. The tombs belonging to private individuals are also situated here and as a result of the long history of the country, there are literary tens of thousands of tombs throughout Egypt. Out of these I have selected a group of tombs from the same area, Thebes (modern day Luxor), and from the same period of history (the 18th Dynasty ca. 1550-1300 BCE), in total 213 tombs. These are rock hewn and often consist of an accessible ‘chapel’ and the inaccessible shafts or corridors leading to the burial chamber(s).
I reduce the tombs to ‘simple’ numbers and using these in a statistical analysis. What this means is that I calculate the dimensions of the tombs from Thebes on the basis of the overlooked economic fact that size does matter. In this instance, the larger the tomb constructed, the greater the cost in resources and time would have been. This way I provide factual numbers to an area of economic history otherwise devoid of evidence, and, further, provide the basis for an average construction output of tombs as seen over time. Comparing this basis to the ancient Egyptian documents relating to tomb construction (e.g. work journals, rosters, and supply lists) gives a more accurate picture of how the tomb was perceived by the ancient Egyptians in terms of economic and socio-economic importance. By combining the archaeological and the textual evidence I will in the end be able to put a ‘price-tag’ on the individual tombs, although not in modern cash prices, but in terms of time spent building, manpower and resources used.