Dr. Kathryn Piquette (COFUND 2012-13)

University College London

UCL Centre for Digital Humanities / Department of Information Studies

Senior Research Associate


Personal Profile

Dr Kathryn E. Piquette received her MA and PhD in Egyptology from the UCL Institute of Archaeology. Prior to joining the Excellence Cluster TOPOI as a COFUND fellow in February 2012, Kathryn was a Research Assistant for the AHRC-funded project ‘Reflectance Transformation Imaging Systems for Ancient Documentary Artefacts’ (RTISAD) at the University of Oxford. In 2010 she joined the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities as a Research Associate, conducting research on the phenomenology of reading in analogue and digital contexts for ‘Implementing New Knowledge Environments’ (INKE), a SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiatives Program. As Research Fellow at Trinity College in Dublin from 2008-2009, Kathryn worked on the PRTLI IV ‘Greek and Egyptian Papyri Digitisation Project’ in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Observatory. She is also an Honorary Research Associate at the UCL Institute of Archaeology.

Building on the themes of script and image as material practice and the critical use of digital technologies in her previous research, Kathryn is undertaking A Comparative Study of Scribal and Artistic Spaces in Early Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Integrating micro- and macro-scale analyse’. With the aid of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) for capture and analysis of inscribed and decorated artefact surfaces, evidence for the creation and engagement with these material spaces, such as technological choice and embodied practice, will be explored. A central aim of the research is to gain new understandings of the ways in which early Egyptian and Near Eastern writing and art was deployed in the construction and transformation of space and cultural knowledge.

Current focus of research

Kathryn is currently based the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities working as a digital imaging specialist and senior researcher on an international, multidisciplinary project that is assessing the feasibility of using nondestructive digital imaging technology to make texts visible in images of papyrus in mummy mask cartonnage for open research and analysis. Data will be made freely available and lessons-learned published on findings and imaging methodologies for further research.

Focus of research of during her time as a COFUND alumna

Early Egyptian and Near Eastern graphical spaces and cultural knowledge construction, integrated approaches to text and artefact, phenomenology and practice of early writing and art, archaeological method and theory, qualitative analysis (ATLAS.ti), digital imaging (Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI))

Postdoctoral research project during her time as a COFUND alumna

A Comparative Study of Scribal and Artistic Spaces in Early Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Integrating micro- and macro-scale analyses

Between 5200–5000 years ago the world’s first writing emerged in three main regions: Proto-Cuneiform in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), Proto-Elamite in Elam (southwest Iran), and Egyptian hieroglyphic in the lower Nile Valley. Past research on this material and contemporary artistic evidence commonly prioritises institutional-level explanations, and focusses on the economic, political and ideological requirements of an increasingly centralised administration. Philological interpretations are often retrospectively derived and chronological relationships discerned on palaeographical bases, to the neglect of archaeological context, including methods of physical expression and the implications of spatial contexts. Past studies also tend to neglect technological qualities of writing and other forms of image-making, including influences of materials, tools and technology.

These issues thus motivate the particular formulation of my project aim—to complement top-down macro-scale understandings of systems of artistic and linguistic representation, with a bottom-up approach emphasising micro-scale evidence for imagery as material practice. Essential to this re-materialising approach is the detailed documentation and examination of surfaces for evidence of image-making processes and subsequent engagement, such as reading and viewing. I am undertaking research on a range of inscribed and decorated artefacts in order to characterise these as graphical spaces and investigate the ways in which the materiality of expression informed semiotic meaning and the representation of cultural knowledge.

Though several museum research visits and field work, I am documenting 100 objects dating to this early period of graphical development (c.3100-c.2500 BCE) in both southern Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley. My datasets comprise both portable objects (e.g. cylinder seals, impressed sealings, cuneiform tablets, labels) and fixed image-bearing surfaces (e.g. stelae, tomb relief, rock art).

In addition to applying a material practice approach to early writing and art, an innovative aspect of the research is the application of advanced digital technologies. Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) enables the systematic photography of artefact surfaces lit from numerous angles. Multiple captures of an artefact’s surface are amalgamated using a particular mathematical algorithm into a single high-resolution image that can be virtually re-lit from different positions to flesh out details of surface topography. I am also using the relational database and workbench for qualitative analysis, ATLAS.ti, to collate and study the artefact image data. I am investigating the relationships between material type, methods and techniques of inscription/surface elaboration, possible tool choice, features of image composition and appearance, and also considering their possible impact on subsequent acts of perception and use. Archaeological data associated with these graphical spaces, including broader spatial and temporal information are compared and contrasted to understand how material choice impacted on the form, function and meaning. By charting similarities and differences between the data from early Egypt and southern Mesopotamia, the research aims to elucidate the relationship between the material visualisation of cultural knowledge at local and regional levels and larger-scale processes of ‘state emergence’.

(Outline by Dr. Kathrin Piquette)

Articles in Academic Journals

Piquette, K. E. Forthcoming. Signs and Symbols. In Gardner, A., Lake, M. and Sommer, U. (eds), Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harris, S. and Piquette, K. E. 2015. Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) for visualising leather grain surface morphology as an aid to species identification: A pilot study. Archaeological Leather Group Newsletter 42: 13-18. PDF: https://www.academia.edu/16259299/Reflectance_Transformation_Imaging_RTI_for_visualising_leather_grain_surface_morphology_as_an_aid_to_species_identification_a_pilot_study._Archaeological_Leather_Group_Newsletter_42_13-18

Piquette, K. E. 2014. Scribal Practice and an Early Dynastic Stone Vessel Inscription: Material and aesthetic implications. In Dodson, A. Johnston, J. J. and Monkhouse, W. (eds), A Good Scribe and an Exceedingly Wise Man: studies in honour of W.J. Tait. London: Golden House Publications, 241–250. PDF: https://www.academia.edu/4770946/Scribal_Practice_and_an_Early_Dynastic_Stone_Vessel_Inscription_Material_and_aesthetic_implications

Piquette, K. E. 2013. ‘It is Written’?: Making, remaking and unmaking early ‘writing’ in the lower Nile Valley. In Piquette, K. E. and Whitehouse, R. D. (eds), Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium. Cambria Press, 213–238. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bai.k

Piquette, K. E. and Whitehouse, R. D. 2013. Introduction: Developing an approach to writing as material practice. In Piquette, K. E. and Whitehouse, R. D. (eds), Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium. Cambria Press, 1–13. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bai.a

Piquette, K. E. 2013. Structuration and the Graphical in Early Dynastic Culture. In Dann, R. and Exell, K. (eds), Egypt: Ancient histories and modern archaeologies. Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press. 51–99. PDF: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/272357/9/Earl_et_al_EVA2011.pdf

Earl, G., Basford, P. J., Bischoff, A. S., Bowman, A., Crowther, C., Hodgson, M., Martinez, K., Isaksen, L., Pagi, H., Piquette, K. E. and Kotoula, E. 2011. Reflectance Transformation Imaging Systems for Ancient Documentary Artefacts. In Electronic Visualisation and the Arts, July, London. Available online: http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/22357/9/Earl_et_al_EVA2011.pdf

Piquette, K. E. Documenting Early Egyptian Imagery: Analysing past technologies and materialities with the aid of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). In Graff, G., Jimenez-Serrano, A. and Bailly, M. (eds), Préhistoires de l'écriture: iconographie, pratiques graphiques et émergence de l'écrit dans l'Egypte prédynastique/Prehistories of writing: Iconography, graphic practices and the forming process of writing in Predynastic Egypt. Actes de la table-ronde de décembre 2010, Aix-en-Provence. Préhistoires méditerranéennes, 89–112.

Piquette, K. E. Reflectance Transformation Imaging: A new method for the digitisation and study of early Egyptian graphical culture. In Graff, G. (ed.), Préhistoires de l'écriture: iconographie, pratiques graphiques et émergence de l'écrit dans l'Egypte prédynastique. Préhistoires Méditerranéennes.

Piquette, K. E. 2010. A Contextual Approach to a First Dynasty Inscribed Label Fragment from the Tomb Complex of Qa’a. Zeitschrift für ägyptische sprache und altertumskunde 137: 54–65. Available online: http://www.oldenbourg-link.com/doi/pdf/10.1524/zaes.2010.0005

Taylor, K., Dobson, T., Piquette, K. E., Warwick, C., and INKE-team. 2010. Humanists’ Use of Digital Technology for Teaching and Research. Society for Digital Humanities/Société pour l'étude des médias interactifs (SDH/SEMI) 2010.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

Piquette, K. E. 2008. Re-materialising Script and Image. In Gashe, V. and Finch, J. (eds), Current Research in Egyptology 2008: Proceedings of the ninth annual symposium, which took place at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, University of Manchester, January 2008: 89–107. Bolton: Rutherford Press Limited.

Piquette, K. E. Representing the Human Body on Late Predynastic and Early Dynastic Labels. In S. Hendrickx, S., Friedman, R. F., Ciałowicz, K. M., and Chłodnicki, M. (eds), Egypt at Its Origins: Studies in Memory of Barbara Adams: Proceedings of the Conference on the Origin of the State: Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt, Krakow, 28th August–1st September 2002, 923–947 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 138). Leuven: Peeters.

Edited Volumes

Hagen, F., Johnston, J. J., Monkhouse, W., Piquette, K. E., Tait, J. and Worthington, M. (eds) 2011. Narratives of Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Literary and linguistic approaches (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 189). Leuven: Peeters.

Piquette, K. E. and Love, S. (eds). 2005. Current Research in Egyptology: Proceedings of the fourth annual symposium, which took place at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 18–19 January 2003. Oxford: Oxbow Books.


Piquette, K. E. 2009. Visual and Written Culture in Ancient Egypt. By John Baines. Pp. xvii + 420, chronological table, map, figs., (in text) 51, tables (in text) 2. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978 0 19 815250 7. Price £91”. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 95: 296–299.

Piquette, K. E. 2002. American Research Center in Egypt, Fifty-Third Annual Meeting, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, 26th–28th April 2002. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 13: 121–124.

Piquette, K. E., Monson, A. and Tassie, J. G. 2001. Encounters with Ancient Egypt, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 16–18 December 2000. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 12: 133–138.

In preparation

Piquette, K. E. and Whitehouse, R. D. (eds). Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium. Accepted in principle by Cambria Press. To be submitted in early 2012.

Piquette, K. E. An Archaeology of Early Egyptian Writing and Art: Meaning through marks, materials and embodied practice. Monograph accepted in principle by the University of Pennsylvania Museum Press.

Piquette, K. E. The Worth of a Bird in the Net: New insights into early Egyptian iconographies of social power. To be submitted to Zeitschrift für ägyptische sprache und altertumskunde.