»Communities Reassembled« aims to challenge the simplistic view of community and identity in ancient Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period and early New Kingdom (ca. 1780–1500 BCE) by applying a multi-theory approach to the material culture and social practices evident at four core sites: Saqqara, Qau el-Kebir and Badari, Thebes, and Tell Edfu. The late 19th and early 20th century framework of sharply defined, monolithic cultural groups with a uniform set of material culture still prevails, and archaeological evidence that does not fit this narrative is frequently dismissed as an outlier or exception to the rule.

This new appraisal of the archaeological evidence will demonstrate that multiple, diverse ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 1998) existed at these sites and can be disentangled from the strict ‘Egyptian’ vs. ‘Nubian’ dichotomy through a novel theory-based appraisal and rigorous new documentation of objects.

Qualitative analysis of material culture and social practices at the core sites will be achieved with a framework of tailored theoretical models: communities of practice, behavioral chain (Skibo and Schiffer 2008), and assemblage theory (Harris 2018; Harris 2014). The project expects to find evidence for a more complex and diverse relationship of nested communities of practice than is currently distinguishable in Egyptology. It is the occurrence of nested and overlapping communities of practice that should allow the data to be resynthesized into groupings more representative of ancient communities and perceive how material culture and social practice does (and does not) relate to identities.

This is the first theory-based investigation of identities in both funerary and settlement landscapes targeted specifically at contexts that display combinations of material culture and practices that do not fit with current perspectives of ‘Egyptian-ness’.

In modern societies, we are able to acknowledge the complexities involved in the construction and negotiation of our varied identities and community memberships, but how can we distinguish this in past societies? The nuance we recognize in our own multifaceted identities becomes over-simplified in scholarship about ancient Egypt, where monolithic identities like ‘Egyptian’ and ‘Nubian’ are imposed on a culturally diverse landscape.

Principal investigator




ESPRIT Programme [ESP 293-G], Austrian Science Fund