an online repository for middle kingdom scenes
an online repository for middle kingdom scenes
A PDF version of this text can be downloaded here
The MEKETREpository provides users with a collection of themes and scenes attested in the decorative programme of the tombs of officials dated or datable into the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2150 – 2040 B.C.) and Middle Kingdom (ca. 2040 – 1640 B.C.) of the Ancient Egypt. The repository was first made available for general use as a beta version in summer of 2011; new data resulting from ongoing research are being incorporated regularly.
The monuments included are rock-cut tombs, free-standing tombs (mastabas) and other funerary structures commissioned by nomarchs and high officials as their “houses of eternity”; that all testify to the high quality of contemporaneous craftsmanship. They are located throughout the Nile valley; the best-known are, however, situated in the cemeteries of Middle Egypt such as Beni Hasan, Meir, Asyut and Deir el-Bersha. At present, more than 100 decorated tombs of this era are known to the research community. These are recorded in the repository and identified by the name of the necropolis, tomb number, tomb owner, date, and bibliographical references. A reference to a published ground plan and its image are included when possible.
Sample record of a fragment:
Furthermore, wall fragments in the museums and archives of certain origin and dated, or securely datable, to the period covered by the repository, though no longer in situ, are considered as well. These objects are identified by museum and inventory number. Additional information, such as origin (necropolis), tomb number, date, name of the owner, bibliographical references, and an image are provided, when possible.
Sample of a fragment record:
The repository seeks to encompass all theme complexes attested in two-dimensional art on the monuments during the period in question. These are: • Tomb owner and his occupations, • Marsh-related activities, • Desert and desert-related activities, • Agricultural pursuits, • Pasture and animal husbandry, • Aviculture and bird-processions, • Gardening, • Orchard scenes, • Manufacture of wine and oil, • Food preparation and storage, • Craftsmanship, • Commerce, • Dance, music, and games, • Festivals, • Warfare and war- related activities, • Medical procedures, • Journeys to Abydos and Busiris, • Funerary rites and funeral scenes, • Depictions of royalty and divinities. These larger complexes are sub-divided into themes that represent the upper layer of the database.
In the repository, every attestation of a theme represents a single record, and this is always linked to a monument (tomb or wall fragment) mentioned above. Beside basic data such as the necropolis, tomb number, tomb owner, date and title of the theme, the entry includes information on technique (execution), exact location in the tomb, and bibliography. The primary publication is labelled “1”. Each theme record bears in addition a reference to the main image (if published). When necessary, bibliographical references to other important drawings and/or photos of the theme are recorded as well. Some images are provided online and can be enlarged, to study details and check references, by clicking on them.
For every single theme a general description was composed to help users understand the activity depicted, providing some observations on the development of the motives and icons from an art historical point of view. A theme description is common for all related theme records and appears along with each of them.
Sample record of a specific theme:
The general themes constitute the upper layer of the repository. Users can probe downwards to more refined levels to reach particular scenes and their associated motives in a hierarchical tree structure. Every theme record in the repository is subdivided into categories that are listed under the heading “details”, and these can be explored by clicking on the arrows beside them. When an image of the theme is available, these categories are regularly highlighted in colour on it. Finally, individual icons are listed separately in a similar way (“annotations of icons”). Entries on scenes, motives, and icons may contain references for further reading.
Sample record of the hierarchical structure within a theme:
This basic structure enables the user to access archaeological, bibliographical, chronological, and geographical information about Middle Kingdom scenes and details of scenes throughout Egypt.
As already stated, the decorative programme is classified in the repository into theme complexes, themes, scenes, motives, and icons. These terms are defined as follows:
Theme complex: umbrella term for a group of related themes forming a large semantic entity determined by the location where the activities depicted take place or from inner-contextual relationships between them. Themes belonging to the same theme complex must not necessarily be juxtaposed on the tomb’s walls. Some theme complexes are, e.g., marsh- related activities, agricultural pursuits, etc.
Theme: group of related scenes which together form a narrative or procedural reflection of an activity or event (e.g. fighting boatmen, papyrus harvest, linen production, pottery making, etc.). A theme can comprise one or more scenes; in the former case, it might be identical with the scene. The theme tomb owner fowling with a throw-stick might, for example, be understood as a scene as well as a theme.
Scene: group of related motifs, comprising an independent and self-contained unit in a particular theme. For example, the theme pottery making can include scenes of kneading the clay, throwing pottery or firing, which themselves are divisible into motifs. The scene is consistent within itself and depicts, in most cases, smaller series of operations or events. It can, however, consist of a single figure; in such cases a scene might be identical with a motif.
Motif: the smallest entity with narrative content within a scene, composed of one or more icons. A single figure performing a particular activity can amount to a motif. The scene firing in the theme pottery making contains motifs like fuelling an oven or removing fired vessels from the oven.
Icon: the smallest pictorial element; a set of icons comprise a motif. For example, the motif fuelling an oven is made up of icons such as the figure of the worker, his costume, the stick used for fuel, the oven itself, etc.
In its current version, the MEKETREpository allows users to “search” for specific monuments, themes, scenes, motives and icons recorded (google-like search). Depending on the term sought, the results are divided into tombs, fragments, and themes which can be filtered by necropolis, date, technique (execution), etc. In order to reach the data on the chosen item, the user clicks on one of the results.
Another possibility to navigate is to browse through the repository in its entirety (“browse”). The user can choose between browsing via “categorization” or “all items”. With “categorization”, the hierarchical categorization tree with theme complexes will be presented. From this layer, all related themes, scenes, and motifs can be expanded and consulted. After clicking on the magnifying glass next to one of the categorization fields, users will be redirected to search results that match the chosen category. With “all items”, the user is able to browse all tombs, fragments, and themes recorded in the current version of the repository.
All bibliographical references in the MEKETREpository are cited with a short title. Every reference is, however, linked to the related entry in the Egyptological literature database (Literaturdatenbank Ägyptologie Wien) containing detailed information on every cited publication. The literature database can also be used on its own.
The editors (Lubica Hudakova, Peter Jánosi, Andrea Kahlbacher), who entered the individual tombs, fragments, and themes into the repository are identified by notes on authorship (move the cursor over the “i”–button in the upper right corner of the window). The repository and its web application have been programmed by Christian Mader, who also created the web design.
The MEKETREpository is part of an interdisciplinary research project, conducted at the Institute of Egyptology in cooperation with the Department of Distributed and Multimedia Systems at the University of Vienna. The realisation of the project was made possible by the generous support of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF); project number P21571.
The authors also wish to express their gratitude to all colleagues and institutions that have supported them and/or contributed to their project by making available unpublished material.
If you have comments or suggestions relating to specific themes or entries in the repository, please do not hesitate to contact the editors. For those pertaining to general aspects and features of the repository, please email or send post to MEKETREpository, Institut für Ägyptologie, Frankgasse 1, A–1090 Wien.
If you possess personal, high-quality photographs recording the decorative programme or any part of a particular monument, the editors would be very grateful for an opportunity to consult them.