Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations

First Advisor

Joseph Wegner

Abstract

Birth and fertility were central concerns in everyday life and a focus of popular religious practices in Egypt. Much of the previous scholarly literature on Egyptian fertility practices had approached the subject from conception through birth and early childhood. Still others had narrowed their focus on certain material or contexts. However, neither of these approaches had addressed the extent of change and continuity of birth and fertility practices through time. Given that the period from the Middle Kingdom (2000-1650 BCE) through the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE) is roughly a thousand years, with significant religious transformations, a chronological focus is necessary to understand the development of popular religion. The dissertation addresses birth and fertility practices in ancient Egypt in light of the social and religious changes during the Middle Kingdom through the New Kingdom. This work focuses primarily on the archaeological record of birth and fertility beliefs from tombs, temple, and domestic contexts, as well as discuss birth-related texts, such as medical-magical spells. Through this study, it is clear that there was a clear development of birth practices over time. These rituals did not occur in an exclusively female sphere of influence, with objects associated with men, women, and children. In addition, the customs did not undergo a “democratization,” meaning an expansion of previously elite traditions to common people. The material had association with non-elites from the beginning. Likewise, while objects such as nude female figurines and certain amulets occurred all over Egypt, others belonged to regionally specific domains. This work, by examining the temporal and archaeological context of material pertaining to birth and fertility, sheds light on a major aspect of popular religious beliefs.

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