A recording will be available for those unable to attend the live session, plus a bonus lecture provided by Prof Richard Parkinson, for one month after the event!

In the year marking the 200th anniversary of Champollion’s decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs using the Rosetta Stone, you will hear plenty about the formal written language of ancient Egypt but what about the other side of this story?

It’s thought that less than 5% of the ancient Egyptian population were literate so how did the other 95% communicate, and how do they continue to speak to us today? This study day explores communication in ancient Egypt beyond the written word by examining three ways in which people shared ideas and expressive culture in non-traditional ways.

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Schedule (UK)

12:55 Event opens for attendees
13:00-14:00 Coming to see the temple of Djoser: Making graffiti in ancient Saqqara, Dr Julia Hamilton (Netherlands Institute for the Near East, Leiden University)
14:00-15:00 Bread Brands from Potmarks: Literacy Meets Non-Literacy in Early Dynastic Egypt, Dr Sabrina Rampersad (University of Toronto)
15:00-15:15 Discussion
15:15-15:30 Break (please do not log off the event)
15:30-16:30 Beyond the Written Word: Speech, Movement and Performance, Professor Robyn Gillam (York University, Toronto)
16:30-17:00 Discussion
 Event closes

Bonus lecture after the event: Performing Ancient Egyptian Poetry: Embodiment and Experimental Philology, Professor Richard Bruce Parkinson (University of Oxford)


Coming to see the temple of Djoser: Making graffiti in ancient Saqqara
Dr Julia Hamilton, Netherlands Institute for the Near East, Leiden University

Graffiti accompanies the human activities on the Saqqara plateau from the 3rd Millennium BCE through to the present day: from the scratched names of cult-priests in Old Kingdom mastabas; to painted dipinti left by New Kingdom scribes; to short inscriptions in Greek, Carian, Arabic, and other languages of visitors in later periods. This talk will explore how ancient and (more) modern graffiti are intimately bound to the life-history of ancient monuments in Saqqara, and the motivations for scratching, scrawling, and painting these marks of presence in this landscape.

Bread Brands from Potmarks: Literacy Meets Non-Literacy in Early Dynastic Egypt
Dr Sabrina Rampersad, University of Toronto

Recently bread branding activity was recognised formally in the late Second Dynasty settlement of Tell Gabbara in the eastern Delta. This exciting discovery was made during the study of textual potmarks that are deeply incised onto the interior of bread moulds, which would have imprinted the surfaces of loaves during the baking process. Not only does this evidence push the knowledge of Egyptian branding further back in time, but we can link it also to the earliest stages of mass-produced food commodities. As commodity markers, bread brands are highly amenable to the application of modern branding theory, which allows them to emerge as linguistically based messages as well as logos. The universal value of the brands as logos bears implications for how they were negotiated within the blended literate and non-literate working environment of the past. It is suggested, using literacy research from clinical neuropsychology, and branding studies in marketing and psycholinguistics, that non-literate people were able to negotiate the meaning of text-based brands because of the salient and symbolic qualities of the brand itself.

Branding on Bread Moulds (Sabrina Rampersad)

Beyond the Written Word: Speech, Movement and Performance
Professor Robyn Gillam, York University, Toronto

The formal texts that provide us with much of our knowledge of Egyptian culture are based on the speech and actions of the people who created it over nearly four thousand years. While their lives were structured by all manner of social routines and informal performances, more highly organized events are attested that challenge our current understanding of categories such as ‘drama’, ‘theatre’, and performance. Texts, images and material culture, along experimental performance can help reconstruct and evaluate what the Egyptians did at occasions such as funerals, performances of mythological events or religious festival events like the processional oracle. 

Ancient Egyptian Funeral Procession depicted in the Papyrus of Ani (British Museum EA10470,6)

Performing Ancient Egyptian Poetry: Embodiment and Experimental Philology
Professor Richard Bruce Parkinson, University of Oxford

The lecture will discuss the role of the performer’s voice in Middle Kingdom poetry, firstly from a historian’s perspective, and then from that of modern experimental performances. These poems were composed in writing but arguably intended for performance, although this is poorly documented. Modern experimental performances can offer different insights from traditional philological approaches, in terms of textual history, interpretation, and aesthetic, emotional impact. The lecture will illustrate a series of performances of the canonical poem The Tale of Sinuhe, from an ongoing project to record this and other 12th Dynasty poems with actress and author Barbara Ewing. These examples suggest ways in which we can consider how performance can communicate aspects of a text that are often overlooked in silent reading, and to suggest that performers can offer a valuable model for translators and Egyptologists to deal with words as a means of living expression. For an understanding of a work of verbal art, philology is never enough.



Julia Hamilton is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in Egyptology at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten (NINO), Leiden University, with a two-year project entitled ‘Writing the self into history: Graffiti from Old Kingdom Saqqara’. Julia completed her DPhil as a Clarendon Scholar at the University of Oxford (2015–20), and a BA and MA in Ancient History at the University of Auckland (2015) in Aotearoa New Zealand. Julia’s research interests include graffiti, onomastics, epigraphic habits, and the materiality of text.

Sabrina Rampersad is an Egyptologist with specialities in archaeological method and theory (University of British Columbia; University College London), Egyptian archaeology, ancient Egyptian language and literature, and Nubian A-Group archaeology (University of Toronto). As director of excavations at Tell Gabbara, a late Second Dynasty settlement in the eastern Nile Delta (c. 2700 BCE), she is working toward a better understanding of this still obscure era of the Egyptian past.

Robyn Gillam is an Egyptologist who lectures in the Programmes of Classical and Religious Studies at York University. She has studied the culture, texts and landscapes of Middle Egypt in the Old and Middle Kingdom (University of Toronto). For the last 20 years she has worked on performances of Late Period religious texts with her students at York University, as well as conducting further study of the archaeology and philology of Middle Egyptian landscapes through the lenses of Phenomenology and Human and Animal Studies.

Richard Parkinson is a Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford and a fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford. His research interests include the interpretation of ancient Egyptian literature, the philological study of manuscripts, working on material contexts, actors’ perspectives, literary theory and modern receptions in literature, art and film. He enjoys the experience of attempting an integrated reading of ancient texts, thinking about their context in the landscape, their performance, and their emotional and intellectual impact on their audiences.

Graffiti seen in the Tomb of Kagemni, Saqqara, (Julia Hamilton)

Please note

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the event. Webinars have a limited attendance capacity, so please only sign up if you’re confident that you can attend. We recommend that you join our online events using a PC or laptop.

We recommend live attendance to participate in the Q&A session with the speaker, but this study day will be recorded and available on YouTube after the event. 

Please ensure that you have read our guide to attending EES online events before the event begins. 

Cairo Associates

If you are an EES Cairo Associate, then please contact the Cairo Office to receive discounted tickets. You can also renew your Cairo Associate subscription or join by contacting the Cairo Office. The joining link will be emailed to you before the event starts. 

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