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Lecture reveals history behind ancient Egyptian pottery

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Major Weatherly
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« on: February 02, 2010, 01:27:12 am »

Lecture reveals history behind ancient Egyptian pottery
Jennifer Lewis
Issue date: 1/28/10 Section: TruLife

The Egyptian pottery residing in the Ophelia Parrish art gallery is accompanied by a story about how it had been unearthed and nestled safely in those glass cases. Sara Orel, art history professor and temporary curator of the exhibit, told the story in her faculty forum presentation "The Garstang Excavations at Beni Hasan, Egypt" on Jan. 26 in Magruder Hall 2001.

Orel said she is intimately familiar with the pottery, on loan from The Royal Ontario Museum, because she wrote her dissertation in 1989 on the excavations performed by John Garstang in Beni Hasan, Egypt, where the pottery originated. She said she chose to focus on Beni Hasan because of its size and significance to the ordinary people of ancient Egypt.

"It has one of the largest and best-excavated and preserved sets of burials of people who are essentially part of the middle class," Orel said. "I have always been interested in daily life, not kings or queens and historical artifacts, but more the archaeological material."

Orel said Beni Hasan is an Egyptian tourist site, but the numerous middle class tombs often get overlooked because of their simplicity.

"There are some beautiful rock-cut tombs on the cliff above that belong to provincial governors," Orel said. "Then down below there are all these pits, which are essentially tombs, and people go to see the tombs at Beni Hasan and they see the really nice rock-cut ones and they don't even see the 800 tombs that are on the hillside below."

She said she thinks the most interesting thing about the pottery artifacts of the middle class is the lingering impression of human use.

"You can really see how people used it, what they did with it, and you can often see fingerprints on the pottery," Orel said. "It's more immediate. You can see a temple, and it's a temple, but with pottery somebody held this, somebody made this, somebody drank from it or ate from it. That's much more interesting to me."

Orel said she took all the information she had stored about the Garstang Excavations and the pottery discovered there and decided to funnel it into a faculty forum lecture and organize the arrival of a collection of the very pottery she was discussing.
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Major Weatherly
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2010, 01:28:53 am »

 "People should see the exhibit as well because they are two parts of the same project," Orel said.

Orel said her favorite part of studying ancient pottery is it can tell anthropologists so much about the people who used it.

"The best thing about the material is what you've got is what people leave behind," Orel said. "It's the trash. Essentially what you're looking at is really what people were like then. These people are of the same class that most of our students come from, so it's a slice of life of a different society, and students should be interested in people."

Amber Johnson, chair of anthropology, geography and sociology, said Orel's exhibit is important anthropological material for students to study.

"The material is not the really fancy dynastic stuff that everybody thinks of when they think of Egyptian pottery," Johnson said. "They're really fairly simple pottery pieces that might be kind of clumsy looking, but we learn a lot from those when we know something about the context in which they were found and the role that they played in the lives of the people that might have used them."

Johnson said Orel's exhibit and presentation is especially important for people with an interest in archeology in Egypt because its simplicity makes it different from excavations usually shown in the mass media.

"It will give a different perspective on material from Egypt than a lot of what you see on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel," Johnson said.

Sheila Garlock, co-chair of the Faculty Forum Committee, said experiencing presentations and exhibits like Orel's is what makes the practice of having faculty forum lectures so important.

"Sometimes people will be an invited guest to another university and they go show other people what they're doing, but sometimes the people right around you don't ever have that opportunity," Garlock said. "The faculty forum gives us an opportunity to show off ourselves. "

Garlock also said she appreciates the faculty forums because she enjoys having the opportunity to learn new things.

"I'm really excited about Sara's lecture and exhibit." Garlock said. "I think it is a great opportunity for students and the general community to see something in Kirksville that we would not typically be able to see, to come and see some artifacts from Egypt and learn how Sara's been involved in that whole process."
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