Navigating new economic networks in ancient Egypt

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Rune Olsen


DKK 875,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


The project seeks to examine the economic and social relationships of ancient Egyptian tomb owners. Drawing upon both textual and archaeological sources, in particular the interplay between them, the project will analyse new quantifiable economic data from private rock-cut tombs during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BCE) in order to determine the economic impact these funerary monuments had on society. Utilising ‘Social Network Analyses’ the project will qualify the flow of resources that was invested in the building of the tombs. The project will not only identify, collect and analyse the relevant data in a broader historical context adding important new quantifiable data to the field of ancient Egyptian economics, it will also provide a method for qualifying and evaluating the dataset.


The culture of ancient Egypt continues to fascinate, no aspect more so than the elaborate and beautifully decorated tombs. There is no doubt that vast amounts of resources were spent on constructing these funerary monuments, but we do not know how they were financed. However, most of the tombs belonged to officials representing the state administration and there is textual evidence to suggest that the construction of their private mortuary monuments to a large extent was funded by diverting resources away from royal, religious, or public institutions. By mapping the social network of the tomb owners, the project will be able to discern patterns in the Egyptian social elite to substantiate this suggestion.


While the preserved texts pertaining to economic transactions and accounting from ancient Egypt number in their thousands, they can rarely be quantified over extended periods beyond a few months at best. The project will overcome this by including archaeological and quantitative economic data from tombs that survives in vast numbers from all periods of Egyptian history. The resulting construction scale baselines will then be qualified by investigating the individual tomb owner’s social and economic status as well as political influence. The hypothesis is that the size of a tomb and the level of social standing of the tomb owner should be identifiable in the density of the tomb owner’s social network, and indirectly the access to financial and political capital.

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