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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Sixteen Issue Four - February 2016

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

 

Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt

by Helen Strudwick and Julie Dawson

 

This beautifully illustrated book accompanies the current exhibition (reviewed on page 12) at the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, exploring ancient Egyptian burial practices and how those beliefs changed over time. Both the exhibition and the book capture years of extensive scientific analysis and imaging research into the museum’s coffins and their decoration and inscriptions.

A brief history of the museum’s collection is given, followed by a selection of essays covering coffins of the Middle Kingdom (Wolfram Grajetzki) and New Kingdom (John H. Taylor) and coffin construction and decoration (Julie Dawson et al.), each with a brief further reading selection.

The second half of the book is an annotated catalogue of over fifty objects from the exhibition, grouped into themes (such as early burial practices, funerary gods and beliefs, decorated anthropoid coffins and economic and political influences). Each object is shown as a half page or full page colour image, with CT scans and X-ray images highlighting construction techniques, conservation work and various anomalies in some key items.

A survey of the well-known nest of coffins of Nespawershefyt revealed some unusual findings (see page 10), as well as allowing a rare opportunity to compare the work of different craftsmen working on the same coffin set. CT scanning helps to show up details of the woodwork beneath layers of paste and paint and reveals the mistakes and fixes made by the craftsmen trying to shape substandard materials into a beautifully crafted luxury item. Other highlights include the painted wooden coffin of Nakht, the tomb models of Khety, a redshrouded Roman period mummy and the cartonnage coffin of Nakhtefmut (with a preserved ‘bouquet’ of garlic cloves threaded onto palm leaf strips).

Full results of the research will be published later in an academic catalogue – so this book acts as a preview, written for a wider audience, an ideal souvenir from the exhibition, and absorbing guide for anyone interested in ancient Egyptian coffins and funerary provision.

 

The Fitzwilliam Museum/D Giles Limited, 2016

ISBN 978-19078-0471-7

Hardback, £35.

 

SG

Win a copy of this book by entering our photo competition on page 8!

Household Studies In Complex Societies: (Micro) Archaeological and Textual Approaches

edited by Miriam Müller

 

This seminal volume publishes the papers from the Oriental Institute Seminar Household Studies in Complex Societies held at the Institute in March 2013.

As its editor points out, research into the way in which day-to-day life was conducted in the houses of ordinary people in ancient societies has tended to be fragmented, looking at the layout of architecture, the artefacts and the textural evidence separately, without considering the interaction of these factors in determining the behaviour of the inhabitants. In the seminar, experts gathered to present their latest findings in order to present a coherent view of progress in this growing area of interest to archaeologists.

Comparisons were made between societies from across the ancient world: Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, Israel, Babylon, Greece, Nubia, Pompeii and of course Egypt. Of particular interest to AE readers will be the papers from some well-known Egyptologists: Kate Spence (University of Cambridge) – Ancient Egyptian Houses and Households: Architecture, Artifacts, Conceptualization, and Interpretation; Felix Arnold (German Archaeological Institute, Cairo) – Clean and Unclean Space: Domestic Waste Management at Elephantine; Neal Spencer (British Museum) – Creating Neighbourhood within a Changing Town: Household and other Agencies at Amara West in Nubia; Nicholas Picardo (Harvard University) – Hybrid Households: Institutional Affiliations and Household Identity in the Town of Wah-sut (South Abydos); Brian P. Muhs (The Oriental Institute) – Property Title, Domestic Architecture, and Household Lifecycles in Egypt; Miriam Müller (The Oriental Institute) – Late Middle Kingdom Society in a Neighborhood of Tell el-Dab'a/Avaris; Nadine Moeller (The Oriental Institute) – Multifunctionality and Hybrid Households: The Case of Ancient Egypt.

There is no way in which a short review can do justice to this highly important publication, which will provide the bedrock for much future research, and a source of fascinating reading for anyone interested in ancient Egyptian domestic life.

 

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2015.

ISBN-13 978-1-61491-023-7 ISSN 1559-2944

Paperback, £18.

 

JPP

 

Gardens and Gardeners of the Ancient World: History, myth and Archaeology

by Linda Farrar

Here is a book to appeal to students of ancient and mediaeval history and plant enthusiasts alike. It covers the plants and gardens from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean, classical Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Mediaeval gardens. This wide-ranging study contains an enormous amount of detailed information.

Of particular appeal to plantsmen is the inclusion of plant names with their botanical equivalents for each period covered by the book, providing the opportunity to compare. The chapter on ancient Egypt for example begins by connecting the growing of plants with religious belief and practices.

Links between plants and deities, such as Min and the lettuce, Hathor and the sycomore fig tree and the creation of Osiris beds, are all covered in the first section. This is followed by a discussion of the nature and function of sacred gardens associated with the rituals of various deities.

The planting of trees around mortuary temples has been proved by archaeological evidence; great brick-lined pits were filled with good soil, and trees or shrubs planted in them, at sites like Dahshur and Deir el-Bahri (where actual plant remains, of sycomore fig and tamarisk, were found).

Temples like the Ramesseum, and Medinet Habu, and religiously focussed sites such as Amarna, produced a huge variety of plants, some edible and others for making offerings.

Tomb wall paintings show that there were gardens in other temples too, with avenues of trees, gardens of flowers and fruit trees providing resources for temple offerings and garlands, while pools and lakes could provide both water for the plants and for purification rituals.

Not all Egyptian gardens were planted for religious reasons. Flower gardens were sometimes planted for pleasure; there is evidence for many flower species including hollyhock, camomile, blue cornflower, jasmine, poppy, convolvulus, the Madonna lily and of course the very popular blue lotus. Evidence for gardening and gardeners is also examined using tomb paintings from Beni Hasan and el- Bersha while the tomb of Ineni provides insight into the life of a gardener working for Thutmose III. He was responsible for the care of five hundred and forty trees including date, carob, sycomore fig, and pomegranate.

The chapter is well illustrated with plans of gardens and examples taken from tomb reliefs.

Perhaps this Egyptian prayer for eternity sums up how the ancient Egyptian felt about their gardens: “Each day I may walk unceasingly on the banks of my water that my soul may repose on the branches of the trees which I planted. That I may refresh myself under the shadow of my sycamore”.

Windgather Press/Oxbow Books 2016

ISBN 9781-90968-685-4

Paperback, £25.

 

Hilary Forrest

The Tomb of Ptahhotep I

by Anna-Latifa Mourad

 

Ptahhotep, ‘overseer of the two houses of gold’, ‘overseer of all property of the king’, ‘overseer of all works of the king’ and ‘chief lector priest’ was vizier to the Fifth Dynasty king Djedkara (c. 2414 – 2375 BC). His mastaba tomb (discovered by August Mariette in 1850) is situated west of Djoser’s Step Pyramid in a family complex of tombs. Built of two types of limestone, with a pillared portico entrance and two small obelisks on either side, it was described by Margaret Murray (who published it in 1905) as “the most beautiful in Saqqara”.

This monograph represents an updated and comprehensive report by Macquarie University’s Australian Centre for Egyptology, following their work re-clearing and re-recording the tomb. There is a detailed analysis of Ptahhotep himself (his titles, dates and family) and the tomb’s scenes and architecture, illustrated with 150 detailed colour photographs and high resolution drawings, with chasings of drawings made by Murray where scenes have been damaged or have disappeared since she recorded the tomb. Highlighting the best in Old Kingdom art and craftsmanship, this is a stunning record of an important Fifth Dynasty monument.

The Australian Centre for Egyptology: Reports 37 Aris and Phillips Ltd., 2015

ISBN 978-0-85668-851-5

Paperback, £75.

 

SG

Medicine and Morality in Ancient Egypt: Gender and Sexuality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

by Sherry Sayed Gadelrab

 

This publication is an extensive analysis of the sensitive subject of sexuality and morality in Islamic society and in Egypt in particular. An important theme of the book is the author’s discussion of how anatomical sexual differences between the male and the female have been interpreted and debated in relation to the role of women in society and the alleged inferiority of women.

Although primarily concerned with discourses relating to sex differences, sexuality and morality in Egypt between the years 1827-1928, the study commences with an examination of how Graeco-Roman medical and natural philosophical theories influenced early Islamic thought. In the Mediaeval Period the author describes how natural philosophers, physicians and religious scholars debated this subject resulting in a rich and varied scholarship aimed at rationalising Islamic doctrine.

Medical texts from the nineteenth century are reviewed in an attempt to demonstrate the important changes to the medical and biological interpretation of sexual differences that were now occurring. Debates on marriage and divorce are explored as well as discussions on controversial questions such as the veiling of Egyptian women and prostitution. Fatwas issued by muftis demonstrate the multiplicity of religious opinion on sex-related issues, such as marriage, polygamy and illicit sex.

The study presents a comprehensive overview of sexuality in scientific, religious, legal and intellectual discussions and is an original contribution in to our understanding of gender and sexuality in Egypt.

 

I.B. Tauris, 2016

ISBN 978-1-78076-751-2

Hardback, £64.

 

Roger Forshaw

In Bed With The Ancient Egyptians

by Charlotte Booth

The title of this book is somewhat delicate and perhaps even a little obscure, as it really fails to give a proper insight into the true nature of the publication; a more honest title might be ‘Sex and the Egyptians’. The author has clearly made a most exhaustive study of this often misunderstood or overlooked topic. Love, marriage and childbirth, as expected, are discussed within the pages but it is probably the chapters on ‘Homosexuality’, ‘Prostitution’, ‘Sex and Medicine’, ‘Sex and Religion’ and ‘Sex in the Afterlife’ which are most likely attract the attention of the general reader. As information on these topics has not been readily available, this publication fills a void in the published material and in the study of ancient Egyptian beliefs and attitudes.

Modern publications can often tell us more about our own attitudes and current day preoccupations than those of the actual ancients themselves. A case in point would be the reliefs in the famous ‘Tomb of the Two Brothers’, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, at Saqqara which are often cited as positive evidence for the existence of homosexuality in ancient Egypt. But here Charlotte Booth is to be congratulated for the balanced way in which she weighs up the evidence and conducts a well observed discussion of the subject.

The author supports her scholarly research with literally hundreds of quotes from ancient texts. Indeed, so numerous and extensive are the sources and quotes given that, by the end of the final chapter, one quite wonders how the ancient Egyptians ever found the time to build such huge temples and make such fabulous works of art. As such this publication forms an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to look at these topics in greater depth.

 

Amberley Publishing, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4456-4343-4

Hardback, £20.

 

Victor Blunden

Ahmose: An Egyptian Soldier’s Story

by Bill Petty

 

This highly readable book is a narrative history of one of the best known soldiers in ancient Egypt, Ahmose son of Ibana, and his role in the reunification of Egypt which led to the founding of the New Kingdom. Written almost as an adventure story, this is the author’s interpretation of events, based on the tomb autobiography of Ahmose, various historical texts and extensive research into the events and conditions in Egypt at the advent of the early New Kingdom.

The book opens with a short prologue: a young apprentice scribe dreams of being a soldier, but his teacher tells him the soldier’s life is “one of suffering”. (The dialogue, based on the famous Satire of the Trades, is a composite of translations recorded in the Papyrus Lansing and Papyrus Anastasia). But the elderly scribe neglects to highlight the rewards of military life, and the possibilities of advancement for the smart and ambitious soldier. The scene is set for the story of Ahmose and the Theban Seventeenth Dynasty, from the rise of the Hyksos in the north to the death of Ahmose during the reign of Thutmose III.

As he makes clear from the start, Bill Petty uses a “substantial amount of supposition and conjecture based on ‘reading between the lines’ ” – which may not appeal to purists, but makes for an absorbing read, and helps bring to life one of the most exciting periods of ancient Egyptian history. What will keep the more academically- minded reader happy is the full translation and commentary of Ahmose’s autobiography, which takes up a third of the book. Each column of hieroglyphs is shown with a transcription drawing, transliteration and translation, plus notes on the translation and general commentary. There are also translations of some of the main texts including the letter from Apepi to Seqenenra, the Kamose stela and the Carnarvon Tablet.

Appendices include family trees, a timeline and a brief overview of the organisation of the Egyptian army in the Seventeenth Dynasty.

There are one or two quibbles – we now know the name of Senakhtenra was Ahmose and not Taa; the Hyksos should refer to the warrior kings in control of the Delta, not used as a general term for Asiatic migrants; and there is no evidence that Kamose was the son of Seqenenra Taa II. But these minor points do not detract from an excellent, well-illustrated biography of a man caught up in one Egypt’s most tumultuous periods, who lived to see Egypt become one of the world’s first great superpowers.

 

CreateSpace, 2014

ISBN 978-1-494961-4-73

Paperback, £10.

SG

Herihor in art and iconography: Kingship and the gods in the ritual landscape of Late New Kingdom Thebes

by Steven R.W. Gregory

Herihor, former general to Rameses XI, High Priest of Amun and ruler of Thebes, is often seen as a usurper of kingship. He is given titles such as ‘priest-king’, showing him as in some way inferior to the more ‘legitimate’ Twenty-first Dynasty kings at Tanis, who were considered to be the ‘sole continuation of the pharaonic line’.

But was Herihor the instigator of Theban disaffection? Or did his rise to power stem from the more long-term resentment of the Theban elite ‘deprived of their birthright as the legitimate ruling line’? In this monograph, Steven Gregory attempts to reassess the nature of Herihor’s kingship and the political nature of Thebes during the post- Ramesside era. He begins by assessing recent scholarly research and interpretations which have led to the perception of Herihor as a high priest with royal titles, as opposed to a bona fide king. He then turns his attention to the decoration of the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak, arguing that Herihor’s texts and imagery give the strongest evidence for the legitimacy of his kingship.

Other chapters include an exploration of the iconography of Herihor’s attire (including the significance of the ‘priestly’ skullcap and lack of artificial beard), the extent to which his artwork reflected the traditional pharaonic values (as opposed to expressing a new style of theocratic rule), and the nature of the role we refer to as ‘priest’ (the perception of which better reflects modern notions of religion than the ancient offices held by Herihor and his contemporaries).

He concludes that while no unifier king, Herihor brought about significant political change, restoring political autonomy to Thebes, and should be considered not as a high priest who usurped kingly authority, but as “one of the more dynamic rulers of pharaonic Egypt”.

 

Golden House Publications, 2015

ISBN 978-1-906137-38-0

Paperback, £45.

 

SG

Inside the Egyptian Museum with Zahi Hawass: Part I Ground Floor - From the Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom

by Zahi Hawass & Sandro Vannini

There is nothing like the smell and feel of a book – especially a large glossy tome full of beautiful photographs of Egyptian treasures. But combine the stunning photography of Sandro Vannini with the ipad’s high resolution display and enhancements that only digital devices can give, and you have something far more exciting than the pages of a book! This is the first of a new four part ebook series, based on Zahi Hawass’s 2009 book of the same title but enhanced with new sections, search tools and many more photographs to highlight 200 of the author’s favourite objects and those he considers are key to understanding ancient Egyptian civilisation.

In part one, Zahi Hawass explores the Ground Floor collections with objects from the Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom. Each object is displayed with information about its importance, the materials, measurements, date and location of find, and a small map showing its location so you can find it in the museum if you are using the app as a guide. Many of the objects are presented as a carousel of photos showing different views – you simply swipe to change the view – or tap and zoom in to see tiniest details! There are also full-screen images of associated monuments (such as pyramids and temples) and you can navigate through the ‘book’ using the page thumbnails at the bottom of the screen.

Hawass begins with an introduction to the history of the museum, illustrated with close-up photographs of its Egyptianising architecture, images of the original blue-print paintings and photographs of the museum’s galleries.

(He also gives us his account of the attack on the museum during the 2011 protests in Tahir Square.) After presenting five of his favourite objects from the whole museum (including the black diorite statue of Khafra, the statue of the dwarf Perniankhu and of course the golden mask of Tutankhamun), he explores the ground floor highlights including the Narmer palette, the statue of Djoser, the ‘Sheik el-Balad’ (Lector priest Kaaper), the seated Osiris statue of Mentuhotep II, the statue of Amenemhat III as a priest and the wooden Ka statue of Hor.

The interactive index of objects at the end is really useful – just tap any of these to be taken straight to the right page – and there’s a comprehensive bibliography at the end. This is certainly an exciting way to explore the collection whether in the museum itself or from the comfort of your favourite armchair.

 

Laboratoriorosso, 2015

Interactive e-book for iPad, iPhone and Mac iBooks £1.99.

 

SG

 

Join our Facebook group a t www.facebook.com/groups//officialaem for a chance to win one of two free downloads of this e-book!

 

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