Leçon inaugurale de la Chaire Marc Bloch de l’USIAS

Des sables de Bahariya aux ors de la cour de Thèbes : un parcours d’égyptologie interdisciplinaire

Par Frédéric Colin, USIAS, Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, UMR 7044 Archimède

Abstract: With an introduction by David Le Breton, USIAS Chair of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds.

     An Egyptologist is traditionally thought of as a specialist in the ancient history of a chrono-cultural area defined by linguistic and cultural criteria: the Nile Valley and the bordering regions that were home to populations whose writing and language were documented for over 3,000 years, from the third millennium BC to the first millennium AD.

     In theory, Egyptology is a synthetic discipline, involving archaeology (studying objects and structures discovered on excavation sites), philology (editing ancient texts), history (combining archaeological and textual sources to answer historical questions) and other fields from social sciences and humanities that can shed light on the dynamics of societies. In reality, researchers and institutions tend to specialise in one of these sub-fields. From an epistemological point of view, this specialisation is a spontaneous phenomenon that may be required to advance increasingly sophisticated knowledge. However, it also generates reassuring internal and external disciplinary boundaries, which owe more to contingent traditions of teaching than to the objective needs of advancing knowledge.

     The lecture will include several examples to illustrate the value of scientific wandering that often overpasses artificial borders, provided that one dares to take a temporarily naive look at a well-known problem, which can generate unexpected creativity.

     It will also emphasize the usefulness of developing first-hand experimental techniques and skills to which we do not always pay the greatest attention in the humanities because of an affinity for theory and idea-driven knowledge. From this perspective, testing and improving archaeological applications of digital photogrammetry in the Egyptian collection of the University of Strasbourg and on the excavation site of the Assasif proved fundamental to be able to capitalise on an important chance discovery in 2018, 2019 and 2021. The photogrammetric method that was systematically used to document the excavation, both for the stratigraphy and for the objects, provided valid support for the contextual interpretation of the finding. Without this flexible, accurate and rapid tool, the highly unstructured context from which the five 3,500-year-old coffins came would have made real-time data recording and post-excavation interpretation extremely difficult. This method has also allowed the rigorous recording of a “crime scene” that attests to acts of vandalism against funerary monuments in Pharaonic antiquity, of which modern and recent examples in the context of the antiquities market are much better known.

Cite this paper as: Frédéric Colin, « Des sables de Bahariya aux ors de la cour de Thèbes : un parcours d’égyptologie interdisciplinaire », Leçon inaugurale de la Chaire Marc Bloch de l’USIAS, 1er juin 2023, https://clae.hypotheses.org/3989, consulté le XX/XX/XXXX.

L’archéologie du rituel dans le Livre des Morts. Entre texte et pratique

Par Isabelle Régen, Ingénieure de recherche, université Paul Valéry – Montpellier 3, UMR 5140 CNRS

Abstract: The archaeology of ritual in the Book of the Dead raises the question of the relationship between two media of expression of ritual, text and archaeology (without forgetting the existence of a third form, oral, since these formulas were recited). This notion was highlighted more than twenty years ago by John Scheid in an article in which he called for scholars to become a kind of scientific policemen adopting an interdisciplinary approach in the analysis of the most tenuous traces of a ritual act. In the absence of being able, like the ethnologist, to witness the ritual in vivo, the Egyptologist finds himself confronted with “cold cases”. In this research, an immaterial part of the ritual is difficult to access, in particular the sensory aspect, which reminds us that our knowledge of the Egyptian ritual world is more than fragmentary.

     In the absence of being able to assemble a multidisciplinary team, a relatively accessible approach is that which consists in confronting texts and archaeology for a given ritual. Indeed, in the different types of notices accompanying the spells of the Book of the Dead, there are what are commonly called “prescriptive notes” or “prescription notes”, so named because they seem to describe the modus operandi of the ritualist. The relevance of this term will be questioned by invoking cases where text and archaeology agree, and others where they diverge. We will ask to what degree the archaeological and the textual data are connected, and what function(s) these so-called “prescriptive” notices fulfil.

Résumé : L’archéologie du rituel dans le Livre des Morts soulève, en filigrane, la question des relations entre deux médias d’expression du rituel, le texte et l’archéologie (sans oublier l’existence d’une troisième forme, orale, puisque ces formules étaient déclamées). Cette notion a été mise en lumière il y a plus de vingt ans par John Scheid dans un article où il appelait de ses vœux les antiquisants à se muer en policiers scientifiques adoptant une approche interdisciplinaire dans l’analyse des traces les plus ténues d’un acte rituel. À défaut de pouvoir, comme l’ethnologue, assister au rituel in vivo, l’égyptologue se retrouve en effet face à des « cold cases ». Dans cette recherche, un pan immatériel du rituel est difficilement accessible, en particulier l’aspect sensoriel, ce qui vient nous rappeler que notre connaissance du monde rituel des égyptiens est plus que fragmentaire.

À défaut de pouvoir rassembler une équipe pluridisciplinaire, une approche relativement accessible est celle qui consiste à confronter pour un rituel donné, les textes et l’archéologie. En effet, dans les différents types de notices accompagnant les formules du Livre des Morts, figurent ce que l’on désigne communément sous l’appellation « notices prescriptives » ou « notices de prescription » nommées ainsi car elles paraissent décrire le modus operandi du ritualiste. On s’interrogera sur la pertinence de cette dénomination en invoquant des cas où texte et archéologie concordent, et d’autres où ils divergent. On se demandera jusqu’à quel point les données archéologiques et les données textuelles sont connectées et quelle(s) fonction(s) remplissai(en)t ces notices dites « prescriptives ».

Cite this paper as Isabelle Régen, « L’archéologie du rituel dans le Livre des Morts. Entre texte et pratique », conférence du cycle « Culte mortuaire et accompagnement funéraire sur les terrains de l’archéologie égyptienne », organisé par Fr. Colin & C. Hartenstein à l’Université de Strasbourg le 1er avril 2021, https://clae.hypotheses.org/1634, accessed XX/XX/XXXX.

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