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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Eighteen Issue Four - February 2018

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

 

Ancient Egypt (Pocket Museum)

by Campbell Price

 

To summarise millennia of Egyptian History and to encapsulate the essence of that culture in a mere 200 or so objects is a mammoth undertaking which would seem impossible to most of us. Campbell Price has risen magnificently to the challenge in this new addition to the ‘Pocket Museum’ series.

The book is arranged in chronological sections from the Predynastic through to the Roman Period, allowing the reader to follow the process of cultural change over time.

The objects included cover a wide spectrum, including artefacts that might be expected to figure in such a collection: the Narmer palette, statues of familiar rulers such as Senusret III and Akhenaten, the bust of Nefertiti and, of course the great funerary mask of Tutankhamun. But there are also less well-known items important for our understanding of ordinary life, each with a description (with a human hand symbol to indicate size) and discussion of its purpose or significance.

Examples include a basket of workman’s tools from Kahun and a model set of stone tools for the ritual opening of the mouth ceremony.

Many of the objects reflect the outstanding quality of craftsmanship displayed throughout Egyptian history; examples include a Predynastic hippopotamus bowl, wonderful examples of Middle Kingdom jewellery and the extraordinary seated statue of Horus as a Roman soldier. But the collection also includes examples of less sophisticated items, such simple, crudely-modelled clay figurines of female enemies from the Middle Kingdom, roughly formed and depicted with their hands tied behind their backs. These do not reflect a lack of artistic ability but rather the concept of the magical subjugation of the enemy.

For anyone who wants to understand the huge diversity of Egyptian culture over the centuries and would like to get to grips with the subject in a manageable format, this is the book to buy even though you might need a heavy duty pocket to accommodate its treasury of goodies.

 

Thames & Hudson, 2018

ISBN 978-0-500-51984-4

Hardback, £12.95.

 

Hilary Forrest

 

Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis: New Discoveries and Research 2012-2014

edited by Elena Pischikova

 

This volume is the second joint publication of the members of the American-Egyptian South Asasif Conservation Project directed by Elena Pischikova, and discusses the work carried out during the seasons 2012-14.

The Project is committed to the clearing, restoration and reconstruction of the tombs of Karabasken (TT 391) and Karakhamun (TT 223) of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, and Irtieru (TT 390) of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty.

Little is known of Karabasken and his family, but it is considered that he held the office of Mayor of Thebes and Fourth Prophet of Amun from about 725 to 705 BC. Even less is known about Karakhamun, other than that he was a priest of Amun during the Kushite Period. The tomb of Irtieru is one of the most intriguing tombs of the Theban necropolis with Irtieru’s titles including those of Chief Attendant to the God’s Wife Nitocris and Female Scribe, which place her among the highest female elite during the early Saite Period.

The various chapters of the book are written by eleven of the Project members, as well as an initial chapter by Mansour Boraik, who presents the results of his recent excavations at Karnak, and introduces hypotheses relating to the historical evolution of the embankments in front of the temple complex.

The next three chapters describe the actual excavation and conservation work undertaken in the tombs on the Asasif. An interesting chapter by Dieter Eigner discusses the sunken courtyards in the Late Period tombs of the Theban Necropolis. These were a prominent and essential element of architecture in these monumental ‘temple-tombs’ of the Kushite and Saite periods, and the symbolic meaning of the Karakhamun’s tomb decoration is analysed in some detail.

The middle section of the book surveys the various epigraphic studies undertaken in the tomb of Karakhamun, relating to the Book of the Dead and Rituals of the Hours of the Day and Night. Ken Griffin looks at the importance of these texts in our knowledge of this poorly understood composition, as they provide the earliest source of the ‘awakening’ hymns, an essential element of this work.

The reuse of the tombs of the necropolis in later periods is then reviewed. Of note was the chance find of a stela in the tomb of Karabasken which identified a previously unknown High Steward of the God’s Wives, Padibastet, who followed on from Ankh-hor. Finally, this comprehensive publication examines the pottery and faunal remains discovered in the tombs as well as finds of later Coptic ostraca.

The sixteen chapters of the volume cover different areas of field work and research based on new discoveries, and the publication is an important addition to our understanding of Kushite Thebes and the Theban necropolis during the Twenty-fifth and Twentysixth Dynasties.

 

AUC Press, 2017

ISBN 978-977-416724-9

Hardback, £45.

 

Roger Forshaw

Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon

by Joyce Tyldesley

 

In a modern world hooked on celebrity and fame, Nefertiti’s face is arguably one of the most recognisable, encapsulating the exotic world of ancient Egypt more than any other artefact or monument (aside from the golden mask of Tutankhamun). Her beautiful face, with its finely chiselled features, dazzles us from the covers of countless books, posters and magazines. Her image has been used extensively in advertising, design and jewellery. She has become an obsession for many – her name appropriated for online personas by hundreds of internet ‘Nefertiti wannabes’. Tyldesley herself admits to a 25-year fascination with the bust, her imagination sparked by a replica in the Bolton Museum.

It is a beautiful face – scientific analysis has shown we are inherently attracted to symmetrical facial features – but does this timeless beauty distract us from the real Nefertiti, distorting our understanding of the enigmatic Amarna Period? Nefertiti was long known from a series of reliefs and statues, but given less prominence than Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother; that is until the discovery of her bust in 1911, which propelled Nefertiti to centre stage in the Amarna story, whether or not she deserves to be there.

In her fascinating new book, Joyce Tyldesley sets out “to explore the creation of a cultural icon”. This is not a biography of the queen (which is already covered in her previous book Nefertiti: Egypt’s Sun Queen, Penguin 1999, revised 2005); this is a history of the bust itself, its creation in the workshop of sculptor Thutmose, its possible purpose, the discovery by Ludwig Borchardt (and controversy over its authenticity), its display (in the Neues Museum Berlin) and its dual role as “a political pawn and artistic inspiration”.

That inspiration takes Tyldesley to some of more surreal examples of the bust as ‘artistic muse’, including the bizarre headdress worn by Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein and several modern art projects, not least the notorious 2002 installation The Body of Nefertiti, where the actual bust itself was attached to a specially created metal body, sparking outrage and angry demands for its return to Egypt. The bust has also spawned an industry of models and replicas, which Tyldesley assesses, including a brief history of the Bolton replica, and the shifts in opinion that have seen replicas displayed and removed from museum exhibitions.

She documents the difficulties of making a Nefertiti replica – with brother Frank drafted in to sculpt a model of the bust – and argues against the thoughts of fellow Boltonian Shaun Greenhalgh (creator of the infamous ‘Amarna Princess’ fake) who believes the Berlin bust to be a fake.

Tyldesley is rightly renowned for her fluid story-telling style of prose, which makes her writing accessible to a wide general audience. She provides notes and a comprehensive bibliography for “the more curious reader” and a selection of colour photographs and, as ever, her research is impeccable.

Overall this book challenges our preconceptions of this enigmatic icon, and makes for an absorbing exploration of how we in the modern world are inspired by, and interact with, the fascinating culture of ancient Egypt.

Profile Books, 2018

ISBN 978-178-1-25050-1

Hardback, £20.

 

SG

Violence and Power in Ancient Egypt: Image and Ideology before the New Kingdom (Routledge Studies in Egyptology)

by Laurel Bestock

 

Contrary to its title, the author of this book begins by asserting that it is not about violence; rather it is a work about pictures of violence, which are often much more complex than first meets the eye. Using a controversial cross-cultural example of a €2.5 coin issued by Belgium to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the author explores how one nation’s representation of a historical military event can be significantly different to another’s and in doing so, asks questions of authors and audience that are equally applicable to ancient Egyptian sources.

This book addresses pre-New Kingdom sources, with the view that later imagery is notably different in terms of content and context, and also that it has been extensively studied from the perspective of power and ideology.

The author also focuses on visual, rather than written, material, but usefully translates supporting inscriptions to provide a more holistic account of sources for the study.

The book investigates the origins of violent imagery, both within and beyond Egypt, assessing the ancient Egyptian royal sources according to context: whether situated in mortuary complexes, divine temples, within the landscape (such as rock art) and on portable objects. Familiar objects representing violent imagery, including the Narmer Palette and Macehead, and the Gebel el-Arak knife handle, are presented alongside perhaps less wellknown objects including decorated textiles and ceramic vessels. The author also provides an interesting point of comparison by presenting a chronological overview of private monumental images of war, focussing mainly on tomb scenes. This usefully allows the reader to compare contemporary imagery of violence, in both royal and non-royal contexts. A checklist of these sources is also provided at the front of the book, which allows readers to visualise more easily the chronological development of violent scenes according to context, to understand further the development of these images as a tactic of power.

Contextual black-and-white images and line drawings are provided to enhance the author’s assessment of the source material, and chapter notes and an extensive bibliography allow the reader to further pursue research into this fundamental aspect of ancient Egyptian artistic expression.

Routledge, 2018

ISBN 978-113-8-68505-5

Hardback, £105; e-book £39.99.

 

Anna Garnett

Collections at Risk: New Challenges in a New Environment

edited by Claire Derricks

 

Although largely targeted at curators or researchers working with museums, this volume gathers a number of littleknown stories behind the formation, interpretation and display of collections of Egyptian artefacts. As such, it has value to the more general audience, although all the papers are unlikely to appeal to a single reader.

Some contributions are technical – such as Badawi’s scientific paper on collections’ care at the Grand Egyptian Museum and National Museum of Egyptian Civilization – or about museum education programmes. These are additionally valuable as having an interest beyond the field of Egyptology.

The broader social contexts in which museums sit also receive attention, such as the effects of the World Wars on collections, which is rarely acknowledged elsewhere. This volume thus fits well within an increasing consciousness of the random routes by which collections appear – asking us to reconsider constructions of ‘ancient Egypt’ based on such idiosyncratic material. This is achieved more and more through the discovery and utilisation of archives.

Thus, the article on the Mariemont collection, in Belgium, provides key dates for changes in aspects of displays – a useful tool for those interested in the changing trends in museum presentation.

A particularly interesting example of collections history is the chapter on the life of Sarah Belzoni, who found herself financially challenged after the death of her famous ‘circus strongman’ husband Giovanni. Evidence of how some of the objects that passed through her hands and ended up in Brussels reveals more about the people behind famous ‘discoveries’ and can shed light on the identity and provenance of individual objects.

Finally, another useful function of such a crop of museum-based studies is that they signal the existence of Egyptological material in often overlooked places – such as Croatia, Porto, Madrid, and Vercelli in north-western Italy. Curators (and others with a special interest) can use articles contained in this volume to track down further examples of well-known sets of objects, such as shabtis. More generally, should one find oneself in any of these places, you will both know of a collection’s existence and have the advantage of a background in their collections’ histories!

 

Lockwood Press, 2017

ISBN 978-1-9370-4060-4

Paperback, £41.

 

Campbell Price

Pharaoh's Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors

edited by Pierce Paul Creasman & Richard H. Wilkinson

 

Pharaonic Egypt was not static and homogenous, but rather it was a ‘rich tapestry’ which constantly changed and evolved, largely as a result of the development of interconnections with the wider world, and particularly involving the exchange of ideas and commodities. The connections between ancient Egypt and its neighbours have been the subject of much previous study, but this volume is unique in that it also addresses issues relating to natural events – including natural disasters and epidemics – to assess their impact on the development of pharaonic culture over 3000 years.

This book divides fifteen chapters, written by specialists in their respective fields, into five main themes relating to these issues: pathways, people, objects, ideas and events. The editors balance broad geographical and social contexts (for example Egypt’s land and maritime connections) with more focussed case studies, including an examination of how scarabs were traded and copied in Egypt and beyond.

The overarching message presented is that the glory of pharaonic Egypt would not have existed as it did without the influence of surrounding cultures.

The level of detail provided relating to aspects of these surrounding cultures, including Nubia and Minoan Crete, means that readers can also usefully extend their knowledge of areas outside of Pharaonic Egypt.

Accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography and illustrated with colour and black-and-white images and line drawings, this accessible volume will be equally useful for academic researchers, students and readers enthusiastic to learn more about the complexities of ancient Egypt’s foreign relations.

 

Oxford University Press, 2017

ISBN 978-0-19-022907-8

Hardback, £25.99 .

 

Anna Garnett

 

Book Reviews Index

 

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