A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Division of the Humanities in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
By John S. Nolan
© 2010 All Rights Reserved
The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The University of Chicago
Commitee: Robert Ritner, Janet Johnson, Peter Dorman, McGuire Gibson
In the Spring of 2005 while working at a site previously identified as "Area A" at Giza, the Giza Plateau Mapping Project directed by Mark Lehner recovered and registered 1,199 pieces of sealing clay from just one small excavation area called Pottery Mound. 1,039 of these pieces proved to be sealings with seal impressions. The complete database and catalog of these objects is presented in the accompanying "Supplementary DVD." The density of the sealing deposit as well as the high degree of replication among the seal impressions singled out Pottery Mound as one of the most significant discoveries of Old Kingdom sealings in recent years. Upon closer examination, 424 of the impressed sealings from Pottery Mound were found to have been made by a restricted group of just twelve "core" seals, all of which belonged to officials claiming the title "Scribe of Royal Documents." These men were important scribal officials who recorded and implemented the will of the king. In addition, the appearance of the names of just two Fourth Dynasty kings (Khafre and Menkaure) strongly suggests that the Pottery Mound sealings had been deposited by a scribal community active in the Fourth Dynasty during a formative period in the development of the Egyptian state.
While the seals reconstructed from the replicate impressions identify the administrative actors, the sealings they left behind indicate how these seals had been used. In addition, the archaeological provenance of the excavated sealings helps determine the relative dating of the sealings whereas the other objects and artifacts found along with the sealing suggest where the sealings might have been made. Analysis of this evidence suggests that the Scribes of Royal Documents named in the seal impressions worked close by. Animal bone from two of the most important Pottery Mound deposits shows that they were not disturbed after they had been laid down. In essence these two features represent two discrete episodes in the development of this scribal community. By examining the seals in use in these two features it appears that a few, generic Scribes of Royal Documents who had received their seals under Khafre are active early in the Pottery Mound stratigraphic sequence. Later these scribes are supplemented by at least nine other Scribes of Royal Documents whose seals date to the reign of Menkaure. In addition some of these scribes were specialized in an apparently new development. Furthermore, at least four of these scribes seem to have focused on "Royal Instructions" perhaps related to the educational infrastructure related to the royal household.
The Pottery Mound sealings seem to date to a transformative period during which the existing family-centered administration evident early in the Fourth Dynasty is giving way to a highly structured, professionally managed bureaucracy typical of the early part of the Fifth Dynasty. Scholars still debate the drastic, sudden nature of this change. The Pottery Mound sealings apparently give a rare, contemporary glimpse into the ramping up of the palace educational system during the reign of Menkaure, suggesting that the seeds of the bureacracy of the Fifth Dynasty may have been planted by Menkaure at the end of the Fourth Dynasty.
- Download the full text of this dissertation in Adobe Portable Document (PDF) format
- View John Nolan's supplemental database of "Pottery Mound" sealings and sealing-related objects associated with this dissertation
John S. Nolan ©2010
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations