Theodore N. Romanoff Lecture (ARCE): "The Medium is the Message"

The Mechanics of Egyptian Royal Living-Rock Stelae

Jennifer Grice Thum

Harvard Art Museums

We usually think of ancient Egypt as a culture of 'big building,' especially at the hands of the king. Yet there are some cases where royal stelae, bearing the officially sanctioned messages of the royal establishment, were inscribed into natural features rather than being set up in architectural spaces. These stelae were carved directly into 'living rock'--outcrops that are still where they were formed geologically. How did Egyptian views of living rock as a material inform this practice, and how was this monument type perceived to 'work'? This lecture explores the circumstances that led Egyptian kings to use the landscape as a monumental medium, and what those messages can tell us about how the landscape was understood.

Jen Thum is the Inga Maren Otto Curatorial Fellow in Academic and Public Programs at the Harvard Art Museums. She recently completed her PhD in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University, with a dissertation on ancient Egyptian royal living-rock stelae. The field research for this project was funded by an ARCE ECA fellowship, a CAORC Mellon Mediterranean Regional Research fellowship, and a SPARC Fieldwork Award from the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas. Before studying at Brown, Jen received her MPhil in Egyptology from Oxford and her BA in Anthropology from Barnard College. She also was awarded the Theodore N. Romanoff Prize from the American Research Center in Egypt. Jen is dedicated to public outreach and to teaching learners of all ages through hands-on investigations of art and artifacts in the field, museums, and classrooms.

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