Dr. Sonja Guth (née Gerke)

Project title: Images of the shepherds - Investigations on a culture-immanent view of an ancient Egyptian group of people

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening, Prof. Dr. Sabine Obermaier

Dissertation project:

In many ways animals formed a basis to daily life in ancient Egypt, which becomes evident by their presence in numerous sectors like mythology/religion, scripture, magic/medicine etc. The reason for this lies ostensibly in the dependence of man on animals in their roles as supplier of food, as working- or/and sacrificial-animal. This "dependence" creates a special interest in the animal world that was more or less "determined by its purpose" and went along with a special knowledge, which handling of animals always implies and requires.

The focus of this research is centred on distinct groups of persons and/or professions that "took care" of animals, meaning persons that were in charge of breeding, nourishment or medical treatment of animals. Therefore, the main emphasis lies on the group of the herdsmen, but also titles and professions like "stable master", "fattener of cattle" or "overseer" of animals or places linked to animals in general will be included in the investigation (e.g. "overseer of cattle", "overseer of the pasture" etc.). The research is based upon iconographical sources (e.g. the very detailed scenes of tomb decoration, especially from the Old Kingdom) as well as on textual sources (e.g. administrative documents etc.).

On the analytical basis of these groups and professions, it shall be examined both how, in which context and why specific knowledge about distinct animals is depicted or described, and if it is possible to retrace, how it has been collected, systematized and shared. Furthermore, it shall be considered if some kind of hierarchisation of specific knowledge is recognisable, i.e. which specific group of people did have (or was allowed to have) what kind of knowledge at their disposal, and to which extent could this knowledge therefore have an influence on the social status of individuals or of a whole group of persons. The results, however, may in some cases appear quite ambivalent, which can be illustrated by the example of the herdsman: The way in which herdsmen are depicted in the scenes of tomb decoration of the Old Kingdom for example (with a huge belly, bald patch and naked), gives the impression of a very low social status of the depicted persons. However, the fact that the herdsman in his role as "good shepherd" is applied as epitheton and ideal or paradigm for the king as well as for several deities, stands in clear contrast to the former statements.

To detect and identify potential developments, changes or external influences in the results, it is necessary to extend this research to a long term perspective (i.e. Early Dynastic till Roman Period).

The dissertation project was completed in July 2016.

The work was published as Guth, S., Hirtenbilder. Untersuchungen zur kulturimmanenten Sicht auf eine altägyptische Personengruppe (Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur (SAK), Beihefte 21), Hamburg 2018.