Paper title: Out of the Shadows: Artificial Light in Ancient Egypt.
PhD (2014 – Present), University of Cambridge, Division of Archaeology
MA (2007 – 2009), University of Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Thesis – Let There Be Light: A Study of Natural and Artificial Light in New Kingdom Egypt
Meghan has been interested in artificial light in Ancient Egypt since her Masters research on the ‘torch ritual’ in the Ancient Egyptian funerary texts known as the Book of the Dead. Prior to beginning her PhD at Cambridge, she worked as a researcher, writer and photographer for the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo and for the Luxor-based projects of the American Research Center in Egypt.
When discussing light in Ancient Egypt, the vast majority of scholarly attention is placed on the sun, a physical constant of the landscape and the primary source of illumination. The development of ideas on the significance of natural light in Ancient Egyptian culture is abundant, particularly in religious sources. Studies on artificial light, however, stand in stark contrast to the number of academic publications on natural light. F.W. Robins in The Story of the Lamp perhaps summarized the issue best in that “the one thing that seems shrouded in mysterious darkness is that of Egyptian methods of artificial lighting”(Robins, 1970, 44). This has formed a very lopsided view of lighting in Ancient Egypt, but creates the opportunity for a more comprehensive study on the significance of artificial light within the Egyptian cultural tradition.
The objective of my research is to increase our understanding of the development, usage and social significance of artificial illumination in Ancient Egypt. This will expand on the minimal information about lighting technology in Ancient Egypt, as well as the transmission of Egyptian lighting methods across the Mediterranean. My paper will utilize archaeological and art historical sources to open a dialogue on the types of artificial lighting used in Ancient Egypt and the significance of this illumination to ritual space and enactment. This is an undeveloped topic in the field of Egyptology and one that could prove useful to the study of other ancient religions and rites.