Review of Theban Mapping Project



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Theban Mapping Project

The Theban Mapping Project (TMP) Web Site offers the equivalent of hundreds of printed pages on a number of related topics. Contrasting a frustrating array of inconsistencies with a well-conceived and unifying visual design throughout, this Site, overall, is an excellent resource that would benefit from an organizational audit. Ambitiously combining what easily could have been four separate Web Sites (the Theban Necropolis, the Valley of the Kings, KV5, and Egyptology), this is currently the most accessible source of information about the work of the TMP. Seasonal preliminary reports in the scholarly press are not readily available to the general public nor will they ever be as fully illustrated as this Site, with its countless photographs, drawings, and computer reconstructions. While the TMP is also producing a more detailed CD publication, it is not available yet. Nor will it be free of cost. For these reasons, and for the flexibility of Web publishing that the TMP exploits, this Site is a welcome addition to the Internet.

The Site is too large to detail fully. Instead, discussion is limited to the more helpful or remarkable features of the Site, divided by "Navigation," "Graphics," and "Content."

Navigation:

Information is broken down into highly illustrated two-to-three page blocks. A fixed top frame provides links to the Home Page and to sectional front pages. A color-coordinated section menu occupies the left-hand frame, identifying the current section, but not sub-section. Text and illustrations always appear in the right-hand frame and both a header and a text-only menu at the bottom of the page identify sub-section pages.

Despite the careful measures taken to orient the visitor, there are occasional lapses. Within the Theban Sites sub-section of the Theban Necropolis section, for example, the navigation menu does not fully agree with either of the two clickable maps provided. Confusing matters further, some sites are shown on a map and not discussed, while others are discussed but not shown (e.g. Malqata and Tomb of Ramose, respectively.)

The Site is organized exceptionally well and it is difficult, though possible, to get lost. Timelines, for example, are listed only in the Egyptology menu, although they can be accessed via hyper-linked words in the Theban Necropolis "History" sub-section as well. In order to accommodate their extra width, a side navigation bar does not accompany timelines. If one accesses a timeline from the Theban Necropolis section and then follows a link within that timeline, she emerges in the Egyptology section, necessitating the browser's "back" button to return to the originating page.

Graphics:

One of the greatest strengths of this Site is its use of images; virtually every page is illustrated. These images enhance the text dramatically, and engage the viewer in a compelling narrative exploration of the TMP's work. Many of the images are clickable, leading to further information.

Two excellent applications of still photography are found in the Theban Sites sub-section of the Theban Necropolis section. "Ballooning Over Thebes" provides eight color photographs of the TMP's efforts to photograph the Valley of the Kings by hot air balloon, including an impressive (142K) panorama. Additionally, "KV Then and Now" tracks topographical changes in the Valley of the Kings caused by new roads, clearing, and flash floods. This photo-archive is part of the TMPs attempts to preserve and protect the Valley. A clickable map directs visitors to comparative pairs of historical (George Daressy, circa 1910) and modern photographs of the Valley.

Additionally, three of the four main sections (Egyptology being the exception) contain QTVR (Apple Quicktime® Virtual Reality) sub-sections, all of which are interconnected.

Nine different QTVRs are available:

1. A panorama of the Theban Necropolis.

2. A demonstration of the close proximity of KV 5, 6, and 55.

3. The burial chamber of KV 2 (tomb of Ramesses IV).

4. A panorama of the Valley of the Kings near KV 62 (tomb of Tutankhamun).

5. The burial chamber of KV 16 (tomb of Ramesses I).

6. A "fly-through" inside KV 5.

7. A 3-D wire-frame image of KV 5.

8. The different stages of the TMP's on-going excavation of KV 5.

9. The uncovering of the skeleton found in KV 5.

Of these, the most fun is the QTVR excavation in which earth is removed layer by layer, exposing the skeleton below. One experiences this find as if witness to the actual excavation with more of the thrill of archaeology than a linear series of photographs could provide. The real gems, however, are the tomb interiors. As with all QTVRs the view is prescribed: one cannot zoom in on wall decoration or walk around an imposing sarcophagus. Despite these limitations, these virtual tomb visits are rewarding and may be utilized effectively in a classroom setting.

Content:

Theban Necropolis

The essence of the Theban Necropolis section is the "Theban Sites" sub-section. Two clickable, and virtually identical, maps ("Theban Sites" and "Northern Theban Sites") define this sub-section. Useful site descriptions include the current state of repairs, history, and description of each site but, unfortunately, lack continuity. Some provide wall by wall detail, others merely a cursory treatment. Additionally, while the discussion of the Thoth Hill Temple focuses on the work of the Hungarian Expedition there, no other expedition (save the TMP) is paid as much attention.

Of concern to me is the brief mention that the Valley of the Queens receives, as compared to most other sites. Despite the presence of more than 90 royal tombs there, not one is described individually. This oversight must be corrected.

Valley of the Kings

The "Exploration" sub-section illustrates an outline of 19th Century European activity in the Valley with 18th Century maps - another excellent use of images to enhance the text.

"KV Sites" currently details sixteen tombs, all are linked through the Valley of the Kings Site Map, and more are promised. For each, the description includes a history of activity in the tomb, decoration, finds, condition, touristic activity and/or potential, and a bibliography. These are among the strongest pages in the Site. Discussions of the various tombs, while not entirely consistent, do not suffer from the same erratic treatment as those of the Theban Sites. A common thread throughout these pages is the architectural and iconographic development of the tombs, successfully conveyed to a general audience.

Each tomb or site discussed in this Web Site is located by latitude, longitude, and, occasionally, sea-level elevation, but the use of these measurements is not consistent. In this section, for example, the only location indicators are TMP grid numbers and elevations. Without an explanation of the TMP grid and benchmarks, it is difficult to make sense of the relative geography of the Theban Necropolis as a whole.

This section includes two biographical sub-sections as well: a "Family Tree" of the 19th Dynasty, and "Personal Profiles" of numerous New Kingdom Egyptians. This feature is echoed in the Theban Necropolis section, acquainting the visitor with the individuals responsible for these ancient monuments.

KV5

For students and scholars already well versed in the prior topics, the KV5 section holds the most promise of new information. KV5, or "The Tomb of the Sons of Ramesses," has received much attention in the popular press, but has not been comprehensively published. The Web Site provides access to the preliminary results of the excavation, albeit in less than scholarly detail, while formal studies and publications proceed. Captioned images of the tomb, in the "History" sub-section, present our evolving knowledge of the tomb's plan from Burton's 1825 sketch plan to the 1997 QTVR 3-D plans produced by the TMP.

The "Tour" sub-section centers on a clickable plan of the tomb. One may click on individual rooms for a more detailed look at what was found within. Currently, only half of the labeled rooms are available. Each room page is illustrated and briefly describes the architecture and contents.

A discussion of artifacts found in KV5 is presented in the "Finds" sub-section. Divided into pottery, objects, and wall reliefs, it includes a general description of the finds (e.g. potsherds, canopic jars, ushabtis, finials, ostraca, relief fragments) and the basic steps taken in their processing. These pages are extremely general, including neither scientific nor individual details. I am left anxiously awaiting the CD, which promises greater access to the TMP's architecture and object databases.

The "Personal Profile" sub-section for KV5 offers brief biographies of TMP/KV5 Staff members, whereas the "Sons" sub-section names the first 16 sons of Ramesses II, but does not offer biographic information. For the three sons known from KV5, the relevant evidence is shown.

Quarterly "Progress Reports," written by Dr. Weeks, update the visitor on major KV5 developments. The most recent (July, 1998) mentions a technical report that "should appear in about six months." Although lacking scientific detail, these reports are among the most current information available at the time of their on-line publication.

Egyptology

The "Bibliography" sub-section is a valuable scholarly resource. It is a compilation of bibliographies: twenty-six that are linked to the TMP Site, plus more than eighty more, arranged by subject matter. New entries are added regularly, aiming for a bibliography "containing over 30,000 references." Bibliographies are nested throughout the Site but their only direct link is from the Egyptology menu, and they do not link back to the main Bibliography page. This is unfortunate, as I anticipate the primary reason for return visits to this Site will be the excavation reports and bibliographies.

Clearly geared towards advanced students, the bibliographies are multi-lingual and do not shy away from highly specific articles from the scholarly press. The use of annotation, however, is erratic and confusing. Each bibliography links to an abridged bibliographic abbreviations list which further references the standard LÄ style: Egyptology 2: Liste der Abkürzungen und Kurztitel in ägyptologischen Publikationen (Berlin: IAE, 1994).

The "Timeline" sub-section links to two timelines ("Ancient Egypt" and "New Kingdom") that are also accessible from the Theban Necropolis "History" sub-section. The former groups the entire Predynastic period under "Neolithic Cultures" - an unnecessary simplification. Both timelines utilize absolute dates while making no reference made to the absolute chronology employed therein. This is surprising, as the Valley of the Kings Section nods to chronological debate by citing different authors for each absolute date provided.

The "Personal Profiles" sub-section introduces some of the early European "Egyptologists," as well as Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egyptian Undersecretary of State for the Giza Monuments. There is a noticeable absence of American Egyptologists and a heavy bias towards the British. Giovanni Belzoni is incautiously called "the first 'modern' excavator in the Valley of the Kings" with no mention of his ignominious tendencies, which included mummy destruction and heavy looting. Additionally, the latter half of the twentieth century is scarcely represented. At present, this list presents students with a stilted view of the history of Egyptology. I expect, however, that this sub-section will be expanded.

Conclusions:

I have observed the TMP Web Site through numerous updates that have demonstrated a commitment to improvement. Many of my initial concerns (both navigation and content based) were addressed while I wrote this, requiring constant revisions to my text but reassuring me nonetheless. I am, therefore, confident that the future holds the addition of more sites to the Theban Sites map, including descriptions for those sites already shown, but not discussed. I also expect that further KV5 rooms will be available for virtual exploration.

The systemic inconsistencies that plague this Site are due partly, no doubt, to the number of contributing individuals. A stronger editorial hand could remedy the confusion resulting from this accretion of error upon error. In addition, the presentation of textual data would benefit from a unifying effort across sections and sub-sections. The discussion, for example, of active archaeological Schools and Expeditions at each site would be welcome. Finally, the enhancement of main section menus with drop-down menus, or a Site map available in the top frame, could improve navigation and orientation.

Overall, the tone simplifies, succeeding in clear explanations of archaeological concepts and practices. Unfortunately, a glossary of specialized terms is noticeably absent. Words such as pylon or magazine are explained at their first occurrence. Others, like hypostyle hall, receive no explanation at all. Given the non-sequential nature of Web browsing, one-time definitions might be missed. I would like to see a glossary added, with each of the included words linked directly to its definition.

Despite the criticisms raised herein, this Site is an excellent resource and one of the finest Egyptology Sites on the Web. I look forward to Site expansion and applaud the TMP for dedicating time and resources to such an impressive example of electronic publication.



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