Maria Nilsson


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The main body of research is the unique corpus of early Roman Imperial quarry marks at the sandstone quarry of Gebel el Silsila (GeS) in Upper Egypt: vertical, work-completed quarry faces inscribed with over 5000 marks or symbols, a selection of which (based on the applicant’s ongoing study) represents contemporaneous deities and immediately associated, and occasionally syncretistic religious ideas and superstitions. However, a large body of quarry marks remains ambiguous and the symbolic code requires further study in order to comprehend/understand its complex messages. The project’s immediate aims, based on the already collated empirical data and achieved results, are to:

1) assess in more detail how the marks were used in the workmen’s community (within the quarries and at temple construction); 2) collect comparable data from other sandstone quarries in southern Egypt, and from temple architecture for which stone was extracted and transported from GeS; 3) explain in more detail the marks’ affinity with writing, i.e. associated, adjacent signatures and texts, 4) study the names and ethnicity of the workers in associated text graffiti at GeS (and if possible consider intertextual prosopographical identifications) relating to point 1, above.

The ultimate objective and synthesis of the project is to produce a case study that will enable the development of a (semiotic) phenomenological definition, a model, of a marking system and its significance and functions within a multi-cultural and religiously syncretistic society. Due to its interdisciplinary character, the results will enable comparable material for other marking systems (geographically and culturally).

(the current study is a continuation of the below summarized project)

For the first time in a comprehensive form, the project aims to document, categorise and analyse engraved marks (‘quarry marks’) in the ancient Egyptian quarry of Gebel el Silsila for the purpose of identifying who was responsible for making these stone cuttings and why. Although the traditional identification of these marks has always centred around masons or stone cutters, other options will also be explored, including a more religious or superstitious significance: this is expressed in the proposed project title ‘quarry marks, characters, codes and magic’. While these marks are commonly dismissed as (simple) masons’ marks, they have never been fully classified or studied, thus resulting in a possible misconception of their meaning and function. The marks are studied here according to an interdisciplinary approach, combining the concepts of classicism, Egyptology and art history with an iconographical and semantic analysis of form and appearance and an iconological, linguistic and hermeneutic analysis of meaning and function. The marks will be compared with contemporary characters on magical amulets and papyri, contemporary textual signs and with later masons’ marks as well as contextual material, such as Greek and demotic inscriptions and archaeological material in order to understand their function and meaning. A comprehensive database will be created.

UKÄ subject classification

  • Humanities


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