The Catacombs of Kom el-Shuqafa are one of the best-preserved Alexandrian necropolis complexes from the Roman period. A modern tourist can descend into the catacombs much like an ancient visitor would have, allowing today’s visitor a shared experience with the past. Because Hypogeum I of the site is known primarily for its mixture of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman decorative elements, scholarship on the site is primarily descriptive, focusing on the visual components of the site that show evidence for cultural mixing or “hybridity”. A multi- sensorial approach, however, has yet to be taken. Due to its relatively well-preserved nature, as well as the lack of written evidence at this site, I argue that we can use a phenomenologically- oriented methodology to gain insight on ancient visitor experience, ultimately discovering that ancient visitors would have seen the descent into the catacombs as a descent into the underworld.
Laryssa Shipley is a Ph.D. student in the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World concentration at the University of Arizona. She researches cultural mixing in the Mediterranean, particularly during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, by looking at art, architecture, and materiality in the multicultural Eastern Mediterranean and Roman Near East. Additionally, she researches sensorial approaches in archaeology, specifically those consistent with phenomenological and landscape archaeology, with a special consideration for physical constructions of memory. Her advisors are Dr. David Romano and Dr. David Soren.
She has received my M.A. in Archaeology from Cornell University with concentrations in Mediterranean and Near Eastern Archaeology, and Ancient Art and Archaeology. Her master’s thesis, “A Phenomenological Approach to the Kom el-Shuqafa Catacombs,” utilizes phenomenological and multisensorial methods to investigate the Roman-period Kom el-Shuqafa catacombs in Alexandria, Egypt. She attended Baylor University as an undergraduate, where she received a B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Classics. She has performed fieldwork in Israel, Egypt, and Greece, having been funded by ASOR, the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies (CIAMS), and most recently by an Arcadian Fellowship for the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project.