Archaeology, Museums, Heritage Seminar – School of Humanities Archaeology, Museums, Heritage Seminar – School of Humanities

Archaeology, Museums, Heritage Seminar

Dr Olivier P. Rochecouste | Macquarie University

The Predicament of Identifying Ancient Egyptian Elite Tombs of the Early Dynastic period

Discussions about social differentiation for ancient Egyptian studies use archaeological evidence from mortuary contexts as a main point of reference. Numerous analogies have been used from Sociology, Anthropology and Archaeology to emphasise markers of social differentiation from mortuary contexts to distinguish the presence of social groups, including elites. The term “elites” became a fixture of literature focusing on the Early Dynastic period (c. 3000-2600 BCE) when a category was needed to label the tombs and associated archaeological material from North Saqqara, against the evidence for the royal tombs located at Abydos. However, the theme of elite tombs has been rarely questioned for the Early Dynastic period, especially since there are other Early Dynastic tombs from other cemeteries across Egypt which are comparable to the tombs at North Saqqara; for example, tombs from Tell el-Farkha, Abu Rawash, Turah, Helwan, Tarkhan, Beit Khallaf and Naqada.

This presentation aims to review the theme of identifying elites from the mortuary record by considering the literature which points out these elite tombs from these Early Dynastic cemeteries and their associated archaeological data. Constituting the funerary features of these elite tombs have been used to  promote the emergence of state formation, including mortuary provisions for craft specialisation, written evidence for administrative activities and distinctive tomb architecture for social complexity. The funerary features used to highlight the presence of elite tombs from these cemeteries will be evaluated using an inductive approach, inspired by Jean Pascal Daloz, that involves evaluating whether any modalities of social distinction for elites can be accounted for from Early Dynastic tombs, whether they be external signs, embodied signs and/or vicarious signs of superiority. Determining the ‘superiority’ of these three modalities means to assess the utilitarian and symbolic qualities associated with archaeological evidence deemed to be beneficial for social standing purposes. The expected outcome is to determine what forms of archaeological evidence can be used to distinguish elite social groups for Early Dynastic studies, especially since the presence of elites are a crucial component for the origins of the first Egyptian state.


The Department of Archaeology hosts a number of lively departmental research seminars. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Online on Zoom

8 May 2020,
4:00-5:00 pm


  • If you are already registered for the Archaeology, Museums and Heritage seminar series, you will receive an email containing the link to the Zoom meeting.
  • If you would like to be added to the Archaeology, Museums and Heritage seminar series email list, please contact the convenors (email below) or fill in this form

Seminar Series convenors:
Agata Calbrese,Lorraine Leung, Kieran McGee, Simon Wyatt-Spratt, and Sareeta Zaid
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The Department of Archaeology is part of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI).

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May 08 2020


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


This event is free





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