Secrets of the Sand Symposium: Mummies, tombs and funerary culture in ancient Egypt

Saturday 25 March, 10am–5pm Powerhouse Museum Book Tickets

Join keynote international speakers Dr Nigel Strudwick and Dr Helen Strudwick (Cambridge University) as well as some of Australia’s foremost Egyptologists from Macquarie University (Professor Naguib Kanawati, Associate Professor Boyo Ockinga, Dr Jana Jones and Dr Ronika Power) for this special one day Symposium exploring the latest ground-breaking research being conducted into ancient Egyptian mummification, burial practices and the funerary industry in ancient Egypt.

This Symposium is organised by Macquarie University, the Australian Centre for Egyptology and the Rundle Foundation and is presented in association with MAAS.

Arrive 9.30 am for a 10.00 am start.



Master of Ceremonies: Associate Professor Boyo Ockinga (Macquarie University)

1. Dr Helen Strudwick (University of Cambridge)The Funerary Industry of Ancient Egypt
In recent years, new studies of coffins from ancient Egypt have revealed how they were constructed and the skill of the craftsmen who worked to create them. Evidence of widespread recycling of coffins has been found but CT scanning of complete examples reveals the extent of re-used materials in some coffins. This talk, focusing on objects in the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum collections, will illustrate what we can learn about the operation of the ancient Egyptian funerary industry from studying material remains.

2. Dr Nigel Strudwick (University of Cambridge)Rediscovering a Private Tomb of a Theban Noble
The University of Cambridge’s Theban Mission has been working in the ‘Tombs of the Nobles’ on the West Bank of Luxor in Egypt since 1984. The most recent and biggest project undertaken has been the excavation and study of the tomb of Senneferi (TT99), a senior official in the administration in Thebes of King Thutmose III, 18th Dynasty, ca.1450 BC. The project has attempted to cover all aspects of a Theban tomb; including conserving and documenting damaged wall paintings, investigating the underground burial chambers, and examining the ransacked burials of Senneferi and his family, and also of several families who reused the tomb from about 1050 BC to 650 BC and again in the Ptolemaic Period. The tomb was also used by Coptic monks and as a dwelling in the 19th Century AD. This talk will survey all the insights into an Egyptian tomb learned from many years of work.

3. Naguib Kanawati (Macquarie University): Investigating the Tombs of the Nobles of Meir in Middle Egypt
The recent fieldwork by Macquarie University at El-Qusiya (the sites of Quseir el-Amarna and Meir) shows that the nobles buried there during the Old and Middle Kingdoms were closely connected to the royal family. At first subtle royal claims were made, which were gradually increased, culminating in the middle of the Twelfth Dynasty in the usurpation of many royal prerogatives and a flagrant use of royal symbols of divinity and power. There is no evidence of a violent reaction from the king, but apparently the opportunity presented itself when the last member of the governing family, Wekhhotep III, did not produce a male heir, for the king to interfere and put an end to this family’s rule and growing power.

4. Dr Jana Jones (Macquarie University): Silent Witnesses. Mummies: Old Theories, Modern Analyses
Mummification was fundamental to the ancient Egyptians’ belief in eternal life. A well-preserved body resembling the once-living person was crucial for the deceased to pass into the afterlife. This presentation will explore the physical procedures, the ritual and symbolism involved in the process. Modern, minimally invasive scientific tools, including biochemical analysis of embalming substances, protein analysis and virtual autopsy expand our understanding of how these individuals may have lived, suffered and died, as well as illuminating the ‘art’ of the ancient embalmers.

5. Dr Ronika Power (Macquarie University): From the Cradle to the Grave: Child, Infant and Foetal Burials in the Egyptian Archaeological Record
Child, infant and foetal mortality was much higher in ancient societies than it is in the developed world today. Did this have implications for the ‘value’ of children? How and where were the youngest members of Egyptian communities buried if they didn’t survive into adulthood? Were they even buried at all? To date, scholars have argued that published cemetery data rarely include significant numbers of child, infant and foetal burials, thereby rendering them unavailable for study. This apparent absence is attributed to differential burial practices for these individuals, based on an assumption that at this young age, they were not considered embodied or ‘valued’ members of the community. However, these ideas have been formed without consultation of the available historical, archaeological and skeletal evidence. As a result, children are marginalised within Egyptian archaeological narratives. This presentation engages the fields of history, archaeology, physical anthropology and philosophy to investigate the true nature and scope of ancient Egyptian child, infant and foetal burials, and offer a recalibrated perspective of the lived experiences and cultural capacities of children in ancient Egyptian society.


Symposium & Egyptian Mummies exhibition entry Adult: $72.50 Concession: $43.80 Members: $62.50 Symposium only Adult: $50 Concession: $30 Members: $40 Back to top of page

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