“Walking in Ancient Footsteps: The High Priest of Osiris Wenennefer and Ancient Abydos.” Dr Stephen Harvey, 6th June 2021

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Only rarely can we follow the activities and interests of ancient non-royal individuals as they moved across ancient landscapes. Thanks to the large number of monuments found across ancient Abydos dedicated by the High Priest of Osiris Wenennefer, including some recently discovered in our excavations at South Abydos, we may reconstruct the religious landscape traversed during the reign of Ramesses the Great by a member of one of Egypt’s most prominent families. Not unlike the Medici family in Renaissance Italy, which held power in religious and civil administration while deeply influencing and supporting the arts, Wenennefer’s family included generations of powerful individuals who occupied high priesthoods and some who rose to become Vizier of Egypt, the highest position below the pharaoh. Extraordinary works of art commissioned by Wenennefer attest to the vibrant literary and artistic innovation of the Ramesside era at Abydos and elsewhere. From the Temple of Osiris to the Early Dynastic places of royal burial and commemoration in North Abydos, to the temples of Seti I and Ramesses the Great in the center of the site, and all the way south to the pyramid complex of Ahmose, founder of the New Kingdom, we are able to trace the activity and interests of Wenennefer as he renovated, explored, and innovated temples, tombs and sites that were already of great antiquity in his day. At Abydos, an oracle of the deified Ahmose was drawn during the reign of Ramesses the Great into the processional routes of divine boats across the entire site, perhaps an innovation inspired by Wenennefer himself. Fragments of a recently identified royal decree found at the Ahmose pyramid site may also indicate an emphasis on the divine cult of Ahmose’s sister and wife Ahmose-Nefertary, whose cult was so important at Ramesside Thebes. Ancient Egyptian intellectuals like Wenennefer acted as explorers and historians, uncovering the monuments of the past even as they sought to bring new life to religious and artistic expression.

Since 1993, Dr. Stephen Harvey has been Director of the Ahmose and Tetisheri Project, which centers on excavation of the pyramidal complex of King Ahmose at Abydos, southern Egypt, under the aegis of the Pennsylvania-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts, NYU Expedition to Abydos. He received his Ph.D. in Egyptian Archaeology in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania, and his B.A. in Archaeological Studies from Yale University in 1987. Harvey’s fieldwork in and around the pyramid complex of Ahmose (ca 1550-1525 BC) has resulted in major discoveries, including several previously undiscovered temples, the identification of the pyramid of Queen Tetisheri, and the analysis of thousands of fragments of the temples’ decorative program. In addition to extensive fieldwork at Abydos, Harvey has worked in Egypt at Giza and Memphis, as well as on archaeological projects in the United States, Syria (Tell es-Sweyhat), and Turkey (Gordion).

Harvey has held teaching and curatorial positions at a number of leading Egyptological institutions. From 2003-2006, Harvey was Assistant Professor of Egyptian Archaeology in the Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago. In 2006, he led the reinstallation of the Picken Family Nubian Gallery of the Oriental Institute Museum, together with co-Curator Bruce Williams. From 1998 to 2002, Harvey was Assistant Director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology and Assistant Professor in the Department of Art of the University of Memphis, TN. Harvey was Assistant Curator for Egyptian Art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland from 1996 to 1998. Harvey has also held research associate appointments at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and Stony Brook University. He has been interviewed for and consulted on many international television documentaries, including several episodes of “Unearthed” (Windfall Films, 2018-2021); “Mysteries at the Museum” (Travel Channel, 2018); “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot” (NOVA, PBS 2013); “Egypt: Engineering an Empire” (History Channel); and “Egypt’s Golden Empire” (PBS), and “Lost Treasures of Egypt” (National Geographic), in addition to national and local news programs in the US. He has been invited to public and academic audiences throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Egypt, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Since 2000, Harvey has also been a popular lecturer and host on 19 tours to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum, the Explorer’s Club, and the Petrie Museum. He has also taught several courses for the Bloomsbury Summer School in London and in Egypt.

This talk was given at the June 2021 meeting of the Essex Egyptology Group, which was held on 6th June 2021 via Zoom – click here to download the review of this meeting.