Rozenn Bailleul-Lesuer, NELC, University of Chicago
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Ancient Egyptians left researchers of the 21st century a most valuable gift in the form of a vast repertoire of iconography, rich both in quantity and quality. A myriad of representations, from the solemn settings of temples and funerary offering chapels, to the more mundane media that are stone flakes and pot sherds, are at our disposal and provide plentiful material for us to evaluate of the role of birds in the lives of ancient Egyptians. It has often been assumed that these birds had a dominant role in Egyptian culture since they figure so prominently in both literary and artistic compositions. Is this prominence reflected in the actual daily lives of ancient Egyptians or is bird imagery a purely metaphorical, propagandistic, and symbolic construct? The research I have conducted during the past few years has led me to review a plethora of data involving the birds, which may have been pragmatically exploited along the Nile Valley, from the actual avian bones recovered in archaeological assemblages, to administrative accounts and personal letters recording ad hoc needs for fowl. It should come as no surprise that most of the evidence, especially the written material, has come from institutional settings, revealing that birds were an essential components of offerings presented to the gods. What about the Egyptians themselves, most especially the non-elite: did they eat birds? Did they have birds in their backyards? If so, which birds? Where did they come from? Proposing possible answers to these questions is challenging to say the least, considering that the demographic under consideration is for the most part silent in the record. During this workshop, I look forward to presenting my views on how the ancient Egyptian villagers incorporated birds in their lives, and how these interactions changed over time.
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