The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut nĂ©erlandais du Proche-Orient

Elizabeth read Egyptology and Coptic at Liverpool University, attaining a First Class Honours degree. She went on to achieve an M.A. with Distinction in Archaeological Techniques at University College London. She achieved her PhD at the same institution with a thesis investigating Persian period amphorae recovered from sites along the Eastern Mediterranean littoral. For this topic she adopted a multi-faceted approach encompassing techniques of ceramic petrography, theoretical analysis of patterns of regional distribution and multiple image analysis to assess the extent of formal variability.

Since 1989 she has worked extensively in the field in Egypt, at the sites of Saqqara, Tell Muqdam, Tell el-Hibeh and Buto, as well as at Dongola in the Sudan. Most recently she has been part of the Dakhleh Oasis Project as a member of the Leiden University team led by Prof. O.E. Kaper documenting wall-paintings in the mammisi at Kellis. While her roles in the field have included being a ceramicist, excavation supervisor and surveyor, her longest-standing task has involved the documentation of pharaonic reliefs and wall-paintings.

During her epigraphic work at Kellis she recognised how a painted hieroglyphic sign offers multi-faceted evidence concerning the scribe/draughtsman who created it, his writing processes and practices and his educational experiences. That palaeographic features of a sign’s formal outline can be distinctive to individual scribes is well recognised. Yet painted hieroglyphs can also manifest aspects of ductus, including the identification of individual brush-strokes and the sequence in which they were applied. She regards detailed documentation and analysis of features of palaeography and ductus as offering the potential to characterise and distinguish robustly the ‘hands’ that painted hieroglyphs.

Elizabeth’s current project, co-directed with Dr Ben Haring at Leiden University, aims to employ recently developed digital techniques to enhance the documentation, characterisation and publication of painted hieroglyphs in the tomb of Inherkhau (TT 359) at Deir el-Medina. This tomb is an ideal candidate for this project as, unusually, but happily for the documenter of hieroglyphic inscriptions, two scribe/draughtsmen, Nebnefer and Hormin, left their ‘signatures’ among the inscriptions to confirm their authorship. Much is already known about these siblings from hieratic inscriptions. Data gathered during the documentation of their hieroglyphs will offer fresh insights into the extent to which the hieroglyphic handwriting between these brothers varied, and to what degree hieroglyphic signs can vary within the handwriting of one individual, a particular concern for scholars studying the scripts of ancient Egypt.

Digital techniques being employed to achieve these goals include close-up and macro digital photography and digital epigraphy to record particularly small features and those characteristics indicating how the sign was formed. An Archetype digital framework is being created to publish the data-set and allow for data search and image manipulation. Archetype is an award-winning, integrated suite of web-based tools recently developed by King’s Digital Laboratory (KDL) at King’s College London (KCL). Devised to augment palaeographic research, it allows comparison and manipulation of multiple close-up photos and illustrations. This tool has been applied to Greek, Latin, Hebrew and medieval English manuscripts, but not to hieroglyphic inscriptions.

Benefits of this online tool include a search facility of text, images, and parts of images. Results can be manipulated and presented in a variety of forms and visualisations. Scholars can draw together, compare and evaluate multiple images according to their academic interests and use the facility of sharing their findings with the wider academic community.

This year, with the assistance of KDL staff, an Archetype hieroglyphic framework is being created with its structure adapted to fit the unique characteristics of the hieroglyphic script. Data is being in-putted from documentation of hieroglyphs on wall-fragments from Inherkhau’s tomb now stored in museums in London and Berlin. The performance of the Archetype framework will then be tested at KCL. In the coming years, once data from the tomb itself are in-putted, the interactive database will go online, potentially on the Ifao website. It will thus create a significant, and currently unique, scholarly resource which documents aspects of the hieroglyphic script from a funerary context in Deir el-Medina, a community where literacy skills were apparently more prevalent than in any other in ancient Egypt.

Selected published works