Digital Resources for Teaching Ancient Egypt

As two newcomers to the teaching world, the Nile Scribes are interested in how they can apply digital humanities to their classrooms in the future. During our brief careers as students of Egyptology, we have been personally acquainted with how far digital humanities has come over the last decade, and the development of online resources for Egyptologists. This week, the Nile Scribes are taking a look at some of the digital tools that are available online to help with teaching Egyptology.

1. Describing Egypt

Virtual tours to archaeological sites and museums with Egyptian collections have been on our mind for a long time. DescribingEgypt.com is a project which begun in 2012 as the work of motion designer Salma el-Dardiry and developer Karim Mansour. With a focus on describing the sites around the country “through Egyptian Eyes”, they have partnered with the wonderful resources of OsirisNet.net (see below) as well as the ThebanMappingProject.com to add important contextual information to their virtual tours. Visitors to Describing Egypt can choose from various sites such as royal tombs of the New Kingdom to tombs of Old Kingdom private officials and several temples from later periods. The team is constantly working on adding new sites to visit with the tomb of Horemheb (KV 57) as the latest addition.

The area around Djoser's Step Pyramid complex comes immediately alive for the visitor (Screenshot)
The area around Djoser’s Step Pyramid complex comes immediately alive for the visitor (Screenshot)

The high-quality photographs and ease of navigation allow the visitor a chance not only to look at the scenes in close detail, but also provide much-needed context for many of the reliefs we so often see in print as 2D representations. In my visit to the tomb of Ptah-hotep, for example, I marvelled at scenes of fishing and hunting and was then able right away to look at scenes of production and manufacturing. We often see these scenes isolated, but seeing them in their original context reiterates the notion that these scenes are all part of an overarching, connected artistic and religious programme.

Tip: It works on your tablet device as well – try panning around with your finger and pinching to zoom.

2. Digital Giza

What began as a digitisation project at the Museum of Fine Arts to create an online library of publications has grown into a digital resource incorporating excavation notes, photos, letters, and maps, plans, and drawings which are organised by monuments and persons. The Giza 3D Project contains 3-dimensional renderings of Khafre’s pyramid complex and the Giza Sphinx that online visitors can navigate through, even entering the King’s Chamber of Khafre’s Pyramid. Digital Giza also contains a dozen pre-made animated tours that of various elements of the Plateau, including the mastaba tomb of Queen Meresankh III, the tomb of Queen Hetepheres, and the Sphinx Temple. The result is a complete archival resource of objects, architecture, and scholarship in a searchable format.

Digital Giza is a great archival tool to find out about objects, architecture, and scholarship at Giza (Screenshot)
Digital Giza is a great archival tool to find out about objects, architecture, and scholarship at Giza (Screenshot)

Tip: Use the Search bar to find a specific tomb, ancient person, archaeologist, or object type from the Giza Plateau.

3. JSESH

JSESH is a free, downloadable word processor designed by creators Serge Rosmorduc and Serge Paul Thomas for typing, formatting, and publishing Egyptian hieroglyphic texts. The JSESH open-access software also comes with a large collection of pre-typed inscriptions that illustrate the design and layout options. Its features allow you to make cartouches, insert shaded portions for lacunae (gaps in the texts), and write in red or black ‘ink’. JSESH is a crucial tool for those of us who teach (or plan to teach) Egyptian hieroglyphs – the ability to quickly type and arrange practice sentences for slides, handouts, homework, or exams means forgoing the less standardised options of hand copying or photocopying for a uniform font.

JSESH includes many pre-typed inscriptions that can easily be used in teaching (Screenshot)
JSESH includes many pre-typed inscriptions that can easily be used in teaching (Screenshot)

Tip: Hieroglyphs can be arranged to create columns that read from right-to-left, left-to-right or even vertically.

4. OsirisNet: Tombs of Ancient Egypt

Our understanding of ancient Egypt is in many cases still very dependent on the tombs that have survived since antiquity. These tombs provide detailed insight into the minds of the ancient people, so OsirisNet was born to translate this information thoroughly to the researcher, student, or general public alike. Founded by Thierry Benderitter and supported for a long time by Jon Hirst,  OsirisNet is an extensive database that provides information on a large number of mortuary sites all around Egypt. OsirisNet really shines in their descriptions of private tombs as the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings have receive ample attention, especially with the well-known ThebanMappingProject.com.

Each tomb is described architecturally and artistically, but images and translations of inscriptions in the tomb provide further context for the reader (Screenshot)
Each tomb is described architecturally and artistically, but images and translations of inscriptions in the tomb provide further context for the reader (Screenshot)

A thorough description takes the visitor through the various parts of the tomb, and each tomb page is replete with illustrations and plans. Not only does the visitor gain a better understanding of the artistic repertoire found in these tombs, but the ancient texts have also been translated by the webmaster into English from their original hieroglyphic. An extensive bibliography finally follows each entry and makes for easy access to more information about the tomb. Recently, the team has even added 3D reconstructions of some of these tombs for further contextual information.

Tip: As you read through the description, click on the photos to travel along the scenes.

5. Digital Egypt for Universities

Hosted by the University College London since 2000, Digital Egypt charms as a wonderful resource that has been created mainly by Stephen Quirke with contributions by Wolfram Grajetzki and Narushige Shiode. Drawn extensively (if not almost exclusively) from the collection of the well-known Petrie Museum of Archaeology, Digital Egypt focusses well on using the pictures from the Petrie Museum in a teaching manner and emphasises the varied and multitudinous nature of Egyptian material culture. Hover over the images to further learn about topics such as Ideology and Beliefs or The Exact Sciences among many others. Because the site is organised chronologically in these areas, it allows the visitor to gain a comprehensive overview of the changing styles when it comes to pottery, for example.

Digital Egypt also provides learning tips and strategies to make use of this website in the classroom. In one example, they provide some sample topics and ways to approach these without having to be an expert in the field. Recent additions bring the past alive through 3D models of important monuments that can be accessed either as videos or as interactive virtual tours.

Digital Egypt shines in their use of material culture to explain chronological change and development (Screenshot)
Digital Egypt shines in their use of material culture to explain chronological change and development (Screenshot)

Tip: Check out the A-Z index to quickly find resources on a specific term.

6. Digital Karnak

Studying Egyptian architecture thousands of miles away has its obvious disadvantages; as students of Egyptology, we became accustomed to using Digital Karnak since its inception in 2008, and were saddened in 2016 when the UCLA website was archived. Nevertheless, many of the website’s features and videos can still be found around the internet (unfortunately, the Timemap which allowed you to scroll through the construction of the temple overtime seems to be nonfunctional). Under ‘Experience Karnak‘ teachers can utilise the 3D models of most element of the temple for any classroom, searchable by feature, chronology, or architectural type. If you have Google Earth installed on your laptop, a downloadable Virtual Reality model can also be utilised in that way, showing Karnak’s ancient form in its modern setting.

Explore the various parts of Karnak with detailed descriptions, images, and 3D models (Screenshot)
Explore the various parts of Karnak with detailed descriptions, images, and 3D models (Screenshot)

Tip: Use the Archive page to find all the construction projects at Karnak belonging to a certain king, such as Shoshenq I.


Technology, Teaching, & Egyptology in the Twenty-First Century

The difficulty we encountered in writing this blog is the speed with which technology moves ahead. Many of the technologies in use a decade ago are today superseded by better, more efficient, and more feature-packed renditions. A project’s digital ambitions can seem worthwhile, and perhaps with this image they can secure funding  to get the project off the ground. However, with the ever-increasing pace of changes in technology – with advances in hardware or software and the requirements of further funding to continue operations – how feasible and useful are some of these projects in reality? In this context, we have chosen several resources that have seen continuous redevelopment over the years (such as Digital Egypt for Universities and JSESH) and others that are beginning to show the results of recent investment with the advent of virtual or augmented reality (such as Describing Egypt). We look forward to seeing what the future holds in store for teaching with Digital Egyptology.


What are some digital tools that you use in/out of the classroom to teach courses on Egyptology or other ancient histories?

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