Adventures in Egyptology: Art, Fashion, Magic, and Hieroglyphs
Screen slab of King Psamtek I. 26th Dynasty, reign of Psamtek I (664-610 BC). Found in Alexandria. The British Museum. ©Photo by Sandra Alvarez
For the past few months I've been spending some of my free evenings wading into ancient Egyptian history. Egyptologist Dr. Colleen Darnell, has been offering various online courses in art history, how to read hieroglyphs, magic and religion, and starting today, fashion in ancient Egypt.
How to Read Hieroglyphs
I took an introductory course in Hieroglyphs with Dr. Darnell in autumn last year and enjoyed it so much that I decided to keep going. This latest unit, held in early 2022, was the next level – learning intensive grammar and language structures. Every unit consists of five classes, once a week, with each lasting one hour. In each class, she goes over a specific aspect of ancient Egyptian grammar and then we work through a translation together using Gardiner's Sign List, her own grammar handouts, and Faulkner's A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. The great thing about the online classes is that they're relatively small so there is time at the end of each class for questions. Another perk is that if you didn't get a concept, or you feel that something moved too quickly, you have a chance to catch up because it's all recorded. Dr. Darnell sends recordings after every class so that you can replay them and go at your own pace.
Sandal soles from a mummy covered with depictions of bound foreigners. 1st century BC – 1st century AD. Ägyptisches Museum München. ©Photo by Sandra Alvarez
You also get plenty of useful free PDF resources to help with your studies. If you're really stuck, you can always email her - she's approachable and happy to answer questions. In the upper-level Egyptian grammar classes, she assigns homework for you to practice deciphering and then goes over it in class, breaking it down in detail so that you can see how everything is structured and if there are alternative interpretations or exceptions. She is great about taking the time to explain things. Am I an expert yet? No. I'm definitely not running around reading off every sarcophagus in the British Museum, but I am able to decipher some things and recognize certain patterns. As with any language, practice makes perfect, so I'll definitely continue my study of hieroglyphs with her next class and maintain what I learned with my study-buddy who meets up with me regularly to decipher things over a pint at the pub. Deciphering hieroglyphs is difficult but it is incredibly rewarding when you're able to come up with a half-decent translation. Dr. Darnell will be offering another mid-level class at some point in the near future for those who want to be able to read inscriptions but not necessarily get into the nitty gritty of complex ancient Egyptian grammar. Whether you are an absolute newbie or you have some grasp of hieroglyphs, these classes offer an opportunity to start your learning journey and interact in a small, unintimidating class setting with an expert.
Painting of a woman with a wig and head cone, circa 1250–1200 BC. ©Wikimedia Commons[/caption]
Art, Fashion, and More!
As I mentioned earlier, How to Read Hieroglyphs was not the only course I took with Dr. Darnell. I also took The Dawn of Egypt I and II - Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt. These classes focused on general history, art history, and architecture. We looked at the beginning of ancient Egyptian inscriptions before hieroglyphs, and took a deep dive into the meanings behind the drawings on famous pieces such as the Narmer Palette. This series will continue into the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and Ptolemaic periods at some point in the future – classes have yet to be announced. I also took a class on Ancient Egyptian Magic that looked at the use of magic in religious practices, the use of spells and incantations, magic in funerary texts, and how religion and magic were deeply intertwined. Currently, I'm enrolled in Ancient Egyptian Fashion, which will begin this evening, running over the course of the next 3 weeks for one hour per session. This class will cover: 'Three Millennia of Dress', 'Hair, Makeup, and Jewelry', and a fun class entitled 'Getting Dressed with Nefertiti'.
Darnell is also teaching online classes that are geared more to absolute beginners/children in partnership with Varsity Tutors. She is giving a class entitled: Cleopatra: The Most Interesting Woman in the World on Friday, April 22nd, for $10 (free to Varsity Tutors members) that is geared to grades 5-9. For more information on upcoming classes, follow Dr. Darnell on Instagram: @howtoreadhieroglyphs and @vintage_egyptologist