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New: Article on the Medieval minsters of Beverley, Rippon and York, submitted by Stuart Sharp.

We now have an RSS feed so you can stay up to date with the latest news here.

We've added lots more images. Check out the new photos on our Roman history site, such as Hadrian's Wall. Great new photos of Stonehenge and Avebury are on megalithic sites


Our castles pictures and notes have been updated with Farleigh Hungerford Castle. A full list of the historical galleries we have on line is also available now.

Society and Technology

Egyptian building technology as an example of the social shaping of technology.

Using the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt as an example, there is debate over how society and building technology interacted and developed. The central feature of Ancient Egyptian society was the dominance of the strong centralised monarchy able to engage the whole population in the Pharonic cult of the afterlife. Monument building was a central organising factor. The image of Egyptian buildings existing only to serve a cult of death is a distortion, partly reflecting the fact that domestic and administrative buildings were made of mud brick, as throughout the Mesopotamian area, and have seldom survived (David, in Chant, p 23).

Stone was locally available and Egyptians had developed advanced quarrying and stone dressing skills. However the Pharaohs - who valued stone for its use in funerary monument construction - ensured that the stone was used for monuments rather than domestic buildings. Moving large stones from the quarries and building the pyramids required specialist-lifting technologies in very labour intensive operations (Chant & Goodman, pp 37-38).

Herodotus assumed the workers were under compulsion. (Herodotus in Chant, p 21). However, David argued that there was a corveť system that obliged the populace to work for the state for a set time, assuring peasants of food and occupation when the Nile flooded. She noted that the Pharonic belief system was an element in securing the workers' compliance, as workers who built or decorated monuments shared in the Pharaoh's afterlife expectations. The most skilled craft workers in Deir el-Medina could even build their own tombs. (David, in Chant, pp 23-28).

Thus, against technological determinism, no strikingly new technologies drove the pyramid building, despite Herodotus' assumption that cranes were used (Herodotus, in Chant, p 21), and access to a water supply was not a necessary precondition for building worker's settlements (David, in Chant, p 23). In some support of social constructionism, the system of labour conscription was the outcome of negotiation between groups; the wealthy could avoid it and the poor were fed. However, it is probably more valid to focus on how the centralised power of the pharaohs, supported by a shared belief system (Chant & Goodman, p 35) drove the ways that existing and new technologies were used.



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