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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 109 (Vol 19.1) August/September 2018

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Sekhmet & Bastet: The Feline Powers of Egypt

by Lesley Jackson


For anyone wanting to read about Egyptian gods and mythology, there is rather a large spread of titles avail able, but few offering an in-depth examination of all aspects of individual cults. Lesley Jackson however offers a more thorough investigation of individual gods and goddesses, with her previously published books focussing on Thoth (reviewed in AE74) Hathor (reviewed in AE90) and Isis.


This fourth volume is devoted to the study of the two major feline goddesses, Sekhmet the ‘Lady of Original Power’ and Bastet the ‘Goddess Great of Festivity’, and the array of lesser known feline goddesses, all of whom are linked to the concept of the solar eye. Jackson begins by considering the importance of felines in ancient Egypt, including lions, cheetahs, leopards and smaller cats, and their symbolism and appearance as deities. She discusses each of the feline gods, including their characters, aspects, iconography, relationships with other feline and non-feline gods, their festivals and associated rituals, and the myths associated with them.


There is also an exploration of their often contradictory duality (healer and destroyer, lunar and solar balance, fire and water associations) as well as their appearances in state and cult temples, tomb scenes and funerary and every day objects, and the popularity in later times of animal sacrifice in the form of votive cat mummies. Thus we learn that from the early Old Kingdom, the lioness-headed Sekhmet was associated with divine power and rage, as reflected in the story The Destruction of Mankind where she tries to wipe out humanity to avenge her father Ra, but is then tricked into drinking huge volumes of beer and becomes more docile. But while she is a bringer of war and disease, she is also a protector and a healer, the consort of Ptah of Memphis and sometimes of the hawk headed Sokar, and one of four lioness goddesses who guarded the body of Osiris. She is also considered to be the enraged alter-ego of Hathor whose form she returns to once pacified.


As the most important of the lioness goddesses, Sekhmet shares characteristics with other lesser goddesses such as Mehit (who was associated with Hierakonpolis and was viewed as a warrior goddess with a strong protective role), Pakhet (‘who tears her prey asunder’, the most aggressive of the feline goddesses) and Shesmetet (a manifestation of Sekhmet and some times Bastet). Bastet was also originally a lioness headed goddess, the ‘daughter or Atum’, but was not considered as aggressive as other lioness goddesses. She morphed into a cat goddess (‘she of the ointment jar’) sometime during the Late Period; the earliest depiction of her with a cat head (rather than lion headed) appears in a Twenty-first Dynasty papyrus.


Her association with the domestic cat led to her transition into a gentle, friendly goddess, associated with fertility, protector of pregnant women and women in childbirth. The book, which includes a number of the author’s own drawings and an extensive bibliography, is an engaging read and will interest anyone wishing to know more about ancient Egypt’s pantheon of deities – and of course anyone who shares the ancient Egyptians’ adoration for cats large and small.


Avalonia, 2018

ISBN 978-1-910191-06-4

Paperback, £17.99.


Sarah Griffiths


Tomb Robberies at the End of the New Kingdom: The Gurob Burnt Groups Reinterpreted

by Valentina Gasperini


When Flinders Petrie excavated the site of Gurob in the Fayum Oasis at the close of the nineteenth century, he documented what he believed was a distinctly curious ancient practice conducted at the site. “A very remarkable custom existed in this town,” Petrie wrote in 1891: “In many in stances the floor of a room has been taken up, a hole about two feet across and a foot deep was dug in the ground. A large quantity of distinctly personal property, such as clothing, a stool, a mirror, necklaces, kohl tubes, and toilet vases of stone and pottery, were thrown in, and then all burnt in the hole.” This wealth of material, known collectively as the ‘Burnt Groups’ was dispersed across multiple museum collections. Scholarly analysis of sections of the material over the years has resulted in a multiplicity of different interpretations of the purpose of these groups.


Up to now, in-depth investigation of these groups has been hampered by a lack of an all-encompassing publication of the archaeological materials of which they are comprised. Gasperini has undertaken precisely this project: by laying out the historical and archaeological context of the groups, the book methodically presents the material from the eight assemblages, ranging in date from the reign of Amenhotep III to the close of the Twentieth Dynasty. The final chapter comprises a discussion of the material wherein the author proposes a new theory to explain the existence of the groups, namely that they are the physical remnants of a widespread practice of tomb robbery at the end of the New Kingdom at the site of Gurob.


Accompanied by meticulous illustrations of 252 objects from the Burnt Groups (including vessels of pottery, faience and stone, tools, weapons, jewellery and toiletry articles) as well as an extensive bibliography, this publication will no doubt prove a boon both to scholars interested in New Kingdom material culture, and students eager to learn more about a fascinating period of Egyptian history and the important site of Gurob. .


Oxford University Press, 2018

ISBN 9780198818786

Hardback, £80.00.



Nicky Nielsen


Dr Nicky Nielsen is a Lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester whose research focusses on New Kingdom and Late Period settlement archaeology and material culture.


Saving the Pyramids: Twenty First Century Engineering and Egypt’s Ancient Monuments

 by Peter James


I was very much looking forward to reading this book. I’ve been aware for some years of the important work that Peter and his company CINTEC have been doing to conserve some of Egypt’s most vulnerable monuments. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was the number of sites and monuments Peter has actually worked on. For instance, I was not fully aware of the depth of their involvement in Old Cairo, nor of their work at the Temple of Hibis at the Dahkla Oasis.


In describing the work the company has undertaken, therefore, this book has opened my eyes to an entirely new body of work and my admiration for what they have achieved has been enhanced as a result. I was surprised that the opening chapter of the book dives straight into the technical aspects of the remediation techniques that CINTEC have developed.


For someone like me with a background in construction, this ‘under the bonnet’ insight was very welcome, but I am not sure it will be to the taste of the more general reader. Those who do not have a technical background should not be put off, however, because throughout the book, the tales of the immense engineering challenges that Peter and his colleagues have overcome are sprinkled with anecdotes; for anyone who has spent any time in Egypt, these humorous interludes will be very familiar.


Of the many projects CINTEC have undertaken, by far the most challenging must be their work in the burial chamber of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. For this project, the company combined a number of their innovative technologies and having read Peter’s account of the issues they faced, I really cannot think of another approach that could have been used to stabilise this invaluable structure. The book takes us through the planning phases of this project, as initial ideas were honed and refined until, with crossed fingers and bated breath, the rescue plan could be implemented. I am not in praise of everything presented in Rescuing the Pyramids, specifically Peter’s theories about the use of internal ramps during pyramid construction. I would be more than happy, however, to discuss my reservations with Peter if the opportunity ever arose and whatever the outcome of those discussions, I cannot see it in any way detracting from my admiration of what he and his colleagues have achieved in Egypt. The antiquities of Egypt face many challenges and I hope that, where appropriate, CINTEC continues to apply their innovative solutions, so that these wonderful monuments are preserved for future generations.


University of Wales Press, 2018

ISBN 978-1-7868-3250-4

Hardback, £12.99.


Colin Reader

Tutankhamun: The Treasures of the Tomb

by Zahi Hawass and Sandro Vannini


Originally published in 2007 (and reviewed in AE46), this is a repackaged compact ‘coffee table’ edition of Zahi Hawass’s illustrated catalogue of the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb, featuring over 300 of Sandro Vannini’s stunning colour photographs. The illustrations include 26 fold-out pages showcasing objects such as the ‘golden throne’, the rishi-style gold corslet, two of the ritual beds and the canopic coffinettes. Many of the images are larger than life, allowing the reader to study every tiny detail of the boy king’s jewellery, furniture, and funerary items.


Thames & Hudson, 2018

ISBN 978-0-5002-9390-4

Hardback, £29.95



 Sarah Griffiths


Queens of Egypt App for IOS 10 (Apple) devices only


by Aviametrix, LLC, 2018 Download free.

This free app for Apple devices, focussing on 216 queens of ancient Egypt was reviewed in AE108, but was at that time only available for devices upgraded to IOS 10. As a consequence of our review, the developer has now amended the app so it can be downloaded on devices (such as earlier ipad models) using the older IOS 9.3.5.



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