ARCE Lecture: Understanding Ancient Egyptian Comics

Conversations, Quarrels, and Songs in Ancient Egyptian Tombs

Stephen Harvey

Ahmose and Tetisheri Project

Since Egyptian hieroglyphs could first be read again in the modern era, it has been recognized that texts recorded on tomb walls include conversations, speeches, songs, and exclamations. The discovery of the tomb of Paheri at El Kab by the French expedition in 1799 was followed by the recognition by Champollion as early as 1828 that a "Song of the Threshers" might be recognized amidst the other texts accompanying the agricultural scenes, an identification that was met at first with skepticism. A series of other songs, speeches and conversations are featured in the scenes illustrating the seasons of Planting and Harvest on the west wall of Paheri's burial chamber, and form a revival in the earliest New Kingdom of an important aspect of Old and Middle Kingdom tomb decoration. With their relatively straightforward sequences of tilling, sowing, harvesting, and processing, agricultural scenes have often productively been used in analyses of sequence in Egyptian visual narrative, and the recognition that speech captions function together with these scenes has led comics scholars (e.g. Scott McCloud) and some Egyptologists (Babcock, Angenot) to claim that Egyptian visual narratives may be seen as some of the earliest precursors to modern comics. A fresh look at some of the scenes and texts in Paheri's tomb attempts to specifically address the aptness of the comparison between Egyptian visual strategies and comics, within the broader project of a re- examination of Egyptian narrative art at the dawn of the New Kingdom.

Since 1993, Stephen Harvey has been Director of the Ahmose and Tetisheri Project, which centers on excavation of the pyramidal complex of King Ahmose at Abydos, southern Egypt, under the aegis of the Pennsylvania-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts, NYU Expedition to Abydos. He received his Ph.D. in Egyptian Archaeology in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania, and his B.A. in Archaeological Studies from Yale University in 1987. Harvey's fieldwork in and around the pyramid complex of Ahmose (ca 1550-1525 BC) has resulted in major discoveries, including several previously undiscovered temples, the identification of the pyramid of Queen Tetisheri, and the analysis of thousands of fragments of the temples' decorative program. In addition to extensive fieldwork at Abydos, Harvey has worked in Egypt at Giza and Memphis, as well as on archaeological projects in the United States, Syria (Tell es-Sweyhat), and Turkey (Gordion).

Harvey has held teaching and curatorial positions at a number of leading Egyptological institutions. He has been interviewed for and consulted on many international television documentaries, including "Building Pharaoh's Chariot" (NOVA, PBS 2013), as well as "Egypt: Engineering an Empire" (History Channel) and "Egypt's Golden Empire" (PBS), as well as on national news programs in the US. He has been invited to lecture at many institutions in the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Egypt, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Harvey has also been a popular lecturer for many years on tours to Egypt and the Near East sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum, the Explorer's Club, the Petrie Museum in London, and the Archaeological Institute of America. He has also taught several courses for the Bloomsbury Summer School in London and in Egypt.

Registration is required at

Admission to lecture closes 10 minutes after scheduled start time.

Reception to follow.

Please check for event updates.