Cairns in context: GIS analysis of visibility at Stelae Ridge, Egypt.

Pethen, Hannah
Cairns in context: GIS analysis of visibility at Stelae Ridge, Egypt. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This thesis describes a new approach tor investigating cairns, stone enclosures, stone alignments and other small archaeological features found in the deserts around the Egyptian Nile valley. Investigation of these features has previously been restricted by their ephemeral nature, damage from modern development and the limited artefactual, epigraphic or archaeological evidence associated with them. This research focuses on a case study of eight cairns and adjacent courts at the Middle Kingdom carnelian mine of Stelae Ridge in the Gebel el-Asr quarries in southern Egypt. While accepting previous interpretations of the cairn-courts as ritual structures created for the worship of local divinities, this research sought a fuller interpretation of the site in its landscape context and a more nuanced understanding of the structures, their chronological development and the decisions which governed their location and layout. This was achieved through systematic visibility analysis of the eight cairn-courts with geographic information system (GIS) software, which provided new data concerning the patterns of visibility associated with the structures. Interpretation of these patterns in the context of the archaeological and textual evidence from the cairn-courts, practical experience of visibility at the site and evidence from the wider cultural context provided a new and more detailed understanding of the site. Stelae Ridge was chosen because cairns upon it made highly visible landmarks, particularly for people travelling south towards the other sites in the Gebel el-Asr gneiss quarrying region. Initially practical, the Stelae Ridge cairns also developed a ritual function, creating tension between the highly visible cairns and the secluded ritual courts, and suggesting that the cairn-building process became ritualised. By the end of the cairn-building period, in the reign of Amenemhat III, new cairns were constructed in less visible positions, suggesting that the ritual aspects of the cairn-courts had largely subsumed their earlier practical function as landmarks. This type of GIS research has never been undertaken on Egyptian archaeological sites and previous interpretations of visibility in Egyptian contexts have been limited. The detailed interpretation of the Stelae Ridge cairn-courts achieved here, shows that the technology and approach applied to this research can make a meaningful contribution to the investigation of other similar non-formal structures, and at Egyptian sites in general. It also reveals that GIS visibility analysis can answer relevant archaeological questions, when employed as a tool for data generation and properly contextualised with other evidence from the site.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Date: 2015-05-30 (completed)
Subjects: ?? D051 ??
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Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2015 08:10
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2022 01:27
DOI: 10.17638/02013379