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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Nine Issue One - August 2008

Book Reviews Index

 

Egyptology Today

 

Edited by Richard Wilkinson

 

This book looks at the ways in which modern Egyptologists, archaeologists, curators, conservators, scientists and scholars examine all aspects of ancient Egypt, by bringing together a collection of essays written by those actually undertaking the work.

 

Contributors include Kent Weeks, Donald Redford, Rosalie David, Rita Freed and James P. Allen.

 

Chapters examine the techniques and methods used to study and understand the ancient culture, and cover aspects such as how tombs and other monuments are discovered, excavated, recorded and preserved, as well as the study of Egyptian history, art, artifacts, and texts.

 

This is the first publication on the subject of Egyptology and whilst books on aspects of ancient Egyptian history and life can be fascinating, it is important to understand and appreciate how we actually obtain that information.

 

The science of Egyptology has evolved over the last two centuries, and, as this book explains, is still developing rapidly, using new and exciting techniques to unlock the secrets of the past.

 

This useful and informative publication adds a much-needed new dimension to the study of ancient Egypt.

 

Read sample pages from this book on amazon.co.uk

 

Published by the University of Arizona, 2008.

ISBN 978 0 521 68226 8. Paperback, price £17.

ISBN 978 0 521 863643. Hardback, price £45.

 

Egyptian Mummies and Modern Science

 

Edited by Rosalie David

 

 

The work on mummies by the KNH Centre at the University of Manchester has featured in recent issues of AE. Scientific research on mummies at Manchester has been conducted for well over thirty years and whilst the results of some of the earlier work have appeared in popular publications, the most recent research has, until now, been publicised only in specialist journals.

 

Much of the work now being undertaken uses cutting-edge technology and the contributors to this book all bring their own areas of expertise to their work.

 

After an introductory overview of Egyptian mummies and the background of the Manchester Mummy Project, sections look in some detail at Disease and Death in Ancient Egypt – Diagnostic and Investigative Techniques; at the Treatment of Disease in Ancient Egypt; at the Resources for Studying Mummies; and finally at the Future of Biomedical and Scientific Studies in Egyptology.

 

Written by experts, to some extent for experts, one might expect the chapters to be too full of science and technical terms for the more general reader, but I certainly found this was not the case. The contributions are well written and illustrated and understandable by someone like me, whose scientific and human biological knowledge is minimal.

 

I found every chapter fascinating, giving a real insight into the lives of the ancient Egyptians. The chapter on Pharmacy in Ancient Egypt is of particular interest: it would seem that we need to re-write the history books, for it was not the Greeks who were the ‘fathers of Pharmacy’ but the ancient Egyptians. Indeed much of ancient Greek medicine appears to be based on what they learned from Egypt. The chapters on dental health and the use of imaging techniques for mummies were equally enlightening.

 

The work of the team at Manchester continues to be of great importance and their multi-disciplinary approach is now being applied to international research projects on Egyptian mummies and the history of disease in general.

 

Whilst this book will be absolutely essential for anyone interested in mummies, disease or medicine in ancient Egypt, the new perspective that this research brings to Egyptology will be of interest to the more general reader too.

 

Read sample pages from this book on amazon.co.uk

 

Published by Cambridge University Press, 2008.

ISBN 978 0 521 86579 1. Hardback, price £60.

 

 

Living Images:
Egyptian Funerary Portraits in the Petrie Museum

 

Edited by Janet Picton, Stephen Quirke and Paul C. Roberts

 

 

Museums around the world include in their collections funerary portraits found in Roman Egypt. These paintings were first discovered by Flinders Petrie and a large number of them are now housed in the museum at University College London that bears his name.

 

In recent years, the fragile portraits have undergone special conservation and cleaning and this book describes and illustrates all fiftythree of them for the first time.

 

The book describes how and where these portraits were found and tells how the portraits were painstakingly cleaned and conserved. It describes the various stages in the process and shows how, as a result of this work, we now know much more about the way they were created.

 

The final chapter lists and illustrates all of the portraits excavated by Petrie at Hawara in 1888 and 1911, now scattered around the world.

 

The portraits themselves are truly fascinating, providing a rare glimpse of the appearance of ordinary people from the ancient world, but the story of their discovery and the work of conserving them and understanding how and why they were made is equally remarkable. This book, written by specialists and experts, will be an essential reference for both scholars and general readers alike.

 

Living Images has been long in the planning and was the long-held ambition of Barbara Adams, who was a Curator at the Petrie Museum for thirty-six years. Sadly Barbara died in 2002 at the age of fifty-seven, and this book is dedicated to her memory; it contains two chapters on her life and work in Egyptology, with a list of her publications.

 

Published by Left Coast Press, 2007.

ISBN 978 1 59874 251 0. Paperback, price £25.

 

 

Unlocking Ancient Egypt:
Fifty Years of the Czech Archaeological Exploration in Egypt

 

by Miroslav Verner and Hana Benesovska

 

 

The last issue of AE featured an article on the work of the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Abusir, but the Institute has a long record of work in Egypt and this publication celebrates fifty years of Czech Egyptology.

 

Well written, and illustrated with archive images of excavation work in progress showing many of the significant objects discovered over the years still in situ, this is a really interesting and wide-ranging book.

 

Chapters cover the work of the Czech Institute in the rescue campaign of the Nubian monuments in the 1960s, which was when the now long-standing work at the Old Kingdom Pyramid field of Abusir began. The latter features significantly in this book.

 

Unlike other sites in Egypt, Abusir is not always visited by tourists and much of the work there, and the discoveries, have received less publicity than they really deserve.

 

This book sets the record straight for the more general reader (we have mentioned many of the more technical publications in previous reviews).

 

Also mentioned are discoveries at the South Abusir cemetery, which includes some remarkable Old Kingdom tombs, statues and funerary objects; and some of the Late Period tomb shafts, also at Abusir, one of which, that of Iuffa, was discovered to be an intact burial. This was not the only intact burial found by the team.

 

Not only does this book provide an important record of the work and discoveries of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, but it provides a new insight into several different and important periods of ancient Egyptian history.

 

If you can get hold of a copy of this excellent book, then do so; you will not regret it.

 

Published by Charles University in Prague, 2008.

ISBN 978 80 7308 206 2. Hardback, price unknown.

 

 

The Ancient Egyptians for Dummies

 

by Charlotte Booth

 

 

 This is one of the ‘Dummies’ guides, most of which have the more familiar titles of ‘Computers for Dummies’ and the like.

 

Whilst I have no problem buying such books to understand my PC, and will admit to being a bit of a ‘dummy’ (otherwise known as an ‘idiot’ to those of us in the UK) on that subject, a title like this would turn me off completely from buying this particular book, either for myself or for friends; I would never refer to an absolute novice to the subject of ancient Egypt as a ‘dummy’.

 

This volume follows the familiar ‘Dummy’ format, with its wasp-like black-and-yellow cover. You can tell, perhaps that I don’t really like the outside of this book!

 

However, I have to say I am impressed with the wide range and quality of the contents, which in over three hundred and fifty pages, provide an absolute wealth of information.  It is a book that can be dipped into for the odd snippet of information as and when the mood takes one.

 

Chapters cover the geography and a broad and full history of ancient Egypt, royal women, food and entertainment, disease and medicine, religion, mummification, art and hieroglyphs, temples and tombs. The final chapters look at ten break-throughs in Egyptology, ten famous Egyptians, ten ancient Egyptian achievements, ten places to visit in Egypt and ten key Egyptologists.

 

Interspersed with the mass of factual information is the occasional cartoon and anecdote. The book is well written and easy to read, though inevitably the information contained within it is selective. (Included in the ten famous Egyptians are two, Asru and Nesperenub, both only known by some people today because of recent studies on their mummies). Some of the entries are shorter than one would perhaps like, but in a book like this deciding what has to go in is as difficult as deciding what has to be left out.

 

What is sadly missing is a good bibliography or list of titles for further reading. No good book on Egypt is really complete without this. Illustrations are minimal and in black and white, and I would like to have seen many more, and in colour, but that would have made the book enormous and more expensive.

 

My prejudices about the title and appearance of this book apart, it would indeed be a useful read for those new to the subject who might not mind being referred to as a ‘dummies’!

 

Read sample pages from this book on amazon.co.uk

 

Published by Wiley, 2007.

ISBN 978 0 470 06544 0. Paperback, price £15.99.

 

Ancient Asyut:
the First Synthesis after 300 years of Research

 

by Jochem Hahl

 

 

Assyut, as this book explains, was never a capital city of ancient Egypt, nor did it play a central role in the ancient state, and, because of this, it is a site that had been forgotten for a long time and overlooked when archaeological work began at many of the major sites in Egypt.

 

Some work was done in the 1920s, but it was not until 2003 that a new field project began, which, for the first time has started to piece together the history of the ancient necropolis and town site. Situated on major ancient trade routes, it is now clear that the site was actually one of strategic importance, and not just in antiquity.

 

As this book reveals, European travellers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries described the town of Asyut and the surrounding areas, and, somewhat disturbingly, recorded that the mountain that contained many tombs was used as a quarry.

 

Sadly, much vital evidence must have been lost before the first archaeologists appeared on the scene; even in more recent times, illicit digging at the site has both revealed and lost further evidence.

 

By looking at the more recent history of excavation and exploration at the site, not all of which has been published, we learn of the sacred landscape of Asyut and of the Temple of Wepwawet, the chief deity of Asyut. The Middle Kingdom tombs here are of great importance and over the years have yielded many fine objects, including, from the tomb of Mesehti, two splendid and well-known models of soldiers, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. These tombs are large and impressive and later tombs from the New Kingdom have also yielded objects and some splendid wall reliefs.

 

Clearly written and with plans, drawings and many photographs, much of the information included here will be new to most readers.

 

This book, Volume 1 in what will eventually be a series of publications on ancient Asyut, summarises the work done at the site so far. It is intended to establish Asyut’s place in the memory of modern mankind and give an overview of the history, the art and the people of the ancient town. It does just that.

 

Published by Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007.

ISBN 978 3 447 05666 3. Hardback, price 40 euros.

 

Conflicted Antiquities:
Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity

 

by Elliott Colla

 

 

The history of the archaeology of ancient Egypt is fairly straightforward, one might think, but, as this excellent thought-provoking book reveals it is far more complex than that.

 

Conflicted Antiquities looks at the history of European and also Egyptian interest in ancient Egypt and how the emergence of the science of Egyptology and the understanding of the ancient culture’s legacy had consequences for all involved. For example, who does ‘ancient Egypt’ belong to and who should be given the task of administering the ancient sites and artefacts?

 

The answer is now, of course, the Egyptians themselves, and quite rightly so, but the last two hundred years have seen international struggles for control over the antiquities and also disputes and repercussions within Egypt.

 

As this book shows, the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun came at a time when conflicts over the issues of ‘ownership’ of ancient Egypt, and the political situation with the rise of Egyptian Nationalism all came to a head.

 

The author draws on mediaeval and modern Arabic poetry, novels and travel accounts, on British and French travel writing, on the history of archaeology in Egypt and on the history and evolution of European and Egyptian museums. This book shows that the study of ancient Egypt and its material legacy was as important and as consequential for modern Egyptians as it was for Europeans. It is a fascinating and enlightening story.

 

Published by Duke University Press, 2007.

ISBN 978 0 8223 3992 2. Paperback, price £12.99.

 

Topographical Bibliography of Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings

 

by Jaromir Malek and others

 

 

This is a work for the serious student of Egyptology. It is part of a series of volumes, the first seven of which dealt with references for ancient Egyptian monuments still in situ and of objects from controlled excavations, where their provenance is known.

 

There are a huge number of objects in museum collections around the world for which we have no provenance.  Some of these are important objects. This volume looks at unprovenanced stelae from the Early Dynastic Period to the Seventeenth Dynasty. Stelae are an amazing source of information for students because of the, sometimes very detailed, inscriptions and scenes carved on them.

 

The stelae are listed in chronological order. Useful indices enable readers to identify all the stelae; for example, which of them include the title ‘Overseer of the Granaries’ or which include the written name of the god Ptah and/or his image.

 

An on-line version will be available (http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/3stelae.html) Using the latest technology will be an important aspect of future publications, making it easier and faster to locate objects and references to them.

 

This volume, and indeed the earlier volumes in the series, represents a huge amount of work and research. Jaromir Malek, in his introduction, quotes a prominent Egyptologist, Professor Cerny, who once said, “The trouble with young Egyptologists is that they do not remember what it was like without the Bibliography.” All Egyptologists should be grateful that small teams of dedicated people are still willing, and have the funding, to continue this important documentation and publication.

 

Published by the Griffith Institute, Oxford, 2007.

ISBN 978 0 900416 88 0. Hardback, price £65.

 

Thutmose III: A New Biography

 

Edited by Eric H. Cline and David O’Connor

 

 

One of the problems with writing biographies of ancient Egyptians is that much of the information we would perhaps assume was essential to modern biographies, such as where and when the subjects were born, their childhood and intimate details of their lives, are simply not available.

 

Instead many biographies can be little more than basic information: what monuments might relate to that particular person and often little else.

 

Of all the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, one perhaps most overlooked by authors is Thutmose III, the pharaoh whose fifty-four year reign saw the creation of the Ancient Egyptian Empire and which saw ancient Egyptian culture reaching new heights, with developments in art, architecture and in the very role of the pharaoh.

 

This book takes us from the early reign of Thutmose III and the co-regency with Hatshepsut, through his military campaigns, to the end of his reign and the accession of his son Amenhotep II.

 

Chapters, each written by an expert in their field, look in some detail at religion in his reign, at his monumental architecture and building programme, at his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, at the statues of the king and at the artistic production during his reign. Foreign relations are also covered in the accounts of his military campaigns, and of Egypt’s domination of Nubia at this time and also in a chapter on Foreigners in Egypt.

 

We are perhaps lucky that so many monuments survive from the reign of Thutmose, along with his ‘annals’, recorded on the walls of the temple of Karnak. This was also a time when more biographical information was included in private tombs and monuments. The authors draw extensively on this wealth of information to compile a substantial and comprehensive account of possibly the most important king of the New Kingdom, and such a biography has long been overdue. Biographies of Hatshepsut inevitably touch on the reign of Thutmose, but he deserves, and now gets, his own full biography and one that will be hard to better.

 

With over five hundred pages, this is a substantial book and one that will appeal to anyone who wants to find out more about this most important and formative period of the New Kingdom.

 

If I have one major criticism, it is in the area of illustrations. A selection of black-and-white photographs and line drawings and plans are included at the back of the book, but they really do not do the subject justice. Many images of Thutmose III’s tomb are included, which tell us perhaps more about religion than about the life of the king. There are surprisingly few illustrations of the many and impressive statues of the king that survive and, most disappointingly, there is no image of the mummy of Thutmose, which was found in the Royal Cache of mummies and which is now on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

 

Having said this, perhaps the full colour and glossy illustrations are better suited to more popular publications, for it is indeed the text that is important here.

 

This is a finely-bound book, with a plain coloured cloth cover, printed on acid-free paper, and one clearly designed to last. This is just as well, for it is likely to become a major and well used reference work and the first port-of-call for anyone wanting to learn about the life and times of Thutmose III.

 

Published by The University of Manchester Press, 2006.

ISBN 978 0 472114672. Hardback, price £55.50.

 

RP

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