Stanford University Press

Constructing the Sacred

Visibility and Ritual Landscape at the Egyptian Necropolis of Saqqara

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  • “Unimaginable in any other format, this publication is a one-stop shop for our attempt to untangle the significance of Saqqara over time.”
    Peter Der Manuelian, Harvard University
  • "A huge boon to Egyptian archaeology, it will take the field decades to exhaust the use of this project.”
    Laurel Bestock, Brown University

The long-lived burial site of Saqqara, Egypt, has been studied for more than a century. But the site we visit today is a palimpsest, the result of thousands of years of change, both architectural and environmental. Elaine A. Sullivan uses 3D technologies to peel away the layers of history at the site, revealing how changes to sight lines, skylines, and vistas at different periods of Saqqara’s millennia-long use influenced sacred ceremonies and ritual meaning at the necropolis.

The author considers not just individual buildings, but re-contextualizes built spaces within the larger ancient landscape, engaging in materially-focused investigations of how monuments shape community memories and a culturally-specific sense of place. Despite our modern impression of the permanent and enduring nature of the site, this publication instead highlights that the monuments and their meanings were fluid, as the Egyptians modified, abandoned, resurrected, forgot, or incorporated them into new contexts. Virtually placing the reader within a series of landscapes no longer possible to experience, the author flips the top-down view prevalent in archeology to a more human-centered perspective, focusing on the dynamic evolution of an ancient site that is typically viewed as static.

Elaine A. Sullivan is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.