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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 122 (Vol 21.2) November/December 2020

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Ancient Egyptian Jewelry: 50 Masterpieces of Art and Design

by Nigel Fletcher-Jones


AUC Press, 2020

ISBN 978-977-4-16965-6

Hardback, £18.95.


Who cannot be overcome with awe when face to face with the stunning jewellery created by the master craftsmen of ancient Egypt? So much gold and the vibrant colour of semi-precious stones such as carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli – it is literally breath-taking. Of course as with all things ancient Egyptian, these pieces represent far more than decorative trinkets. As Nigel Fletcher-Jones emphasises in his new book, ‘jewelry’ (he uses the American spelling throughout) signified status, power, wealth and intimacy with the pharaoh, and also gave divine and magical protection to the wearer.


This small book highlights fifty of the most beautiful pieces of jewellery ever created – anywhere – illustrated by the stunning photography of Araldo De Luca (Archivio White Star). For each item the author gives details of the owner and date, materials used, dimensions, current and original location, and museum catalogue numbers, followed by a short description of the features of the design, its construction, the symbolism of the various components and the historical context. An introduction covers how the materials were sourced across the pharaonic period, although there is no explanation for why these particular pieces were chosen and several items are not jewellery in the strictest sense of the word – for example the ceremonial daggers of Tutankhamun, the glass kohl holder and Sithathoriunet’s mirror. However no one can argue with the fact that all of these artefacts are deserving of the title “masterpiece”.


Personal highlights include the pectoral of Amenemhat III, Tutankhamun’s necklace with a lunar boat, the duck bracelets of Ramesses II, and the oyster-shaped pendant of Princess Mereret which adorns the front cover.


Although the price is a little on the high side, the book is a brief but attractive introduction to ancient Egyptian jewellery and is sure to make the Christmas wish lists of many Egyptophiles!




Mummy Portraits of Roman Egypt: Emerging Research from the APPEAR Project

edited by Marie Svoboda and Caroline Cartwright.


J. Paul Getty Museum, 2020

ISBN 978-16060-6654-6

Paperback, £45.


The so-called Fayum Portraits – thin wooden panels painted with an image of the deceased and placed over the heads of mummies of Roman Period date – make some of the most captivating displays in any museum. This book published the first four years’ worth of research by the Ancient Panel Painting, Examination, Analysis & Research (APPEAR) Project, sponsored and hosted by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, which has its own important collection of Graeco- Roman Egyptian material. It is the first large-scale, genuinely multidisciplinary interrogation of this remarkable object class of around a thousand surviving examples. Recent research presented in the volume has expanded somewhat to include other painted surfaces such as shrouds, doors and even shields.


This book derives from a series of conference papers, and is chiefly technical in nature. Contributions concern materials and techniques used in the production of the paintings. Clearly, new technologies have allowed more sensitive and sophisticated analysis (multispectral imaging, for example), reducing the need for destructive sampling.


Some older research seems to be validated – for example previous sampling that indicated that most panels were made from imported European limewood – but clearly the ability to detect individual component materials has improved considerably, making the complexity of the creation of the paintings much clearer.


Although based on mainly scientific studies, there are a number of interesting cultural points that emerge, notably about the possible organisation of particular workshops and – most interestingly to the reviewer – that many of the panel paintings fit a standard visual formula that may change depending on how a particular panel is angled – which rather casts doubt on the fact that these were true-to-life mimetic portraits in a modern Western sense. Pleasingly, there are no studies that try to tie CTscan data to the images on panels in an attempt to prove ‘accuracy’ of the depiction.


The studies gathered here will have a broader appeal beyond Graeco- Roman Egypt aficionados and artefacts’ conservators, to those with interests in painting techniques generally and in ancient technologies in particular.


Plans to include more examples of panel paintings from additional collections – such as Manchester Museum – continue apace. For anyone interested in this dynamic research (worthy of its super acronym!), the project website complements this informative publication:




Campbell Price


The Many Histories of Naqada: Archaeology and Heritage in an Upper Egyptian Region

edited by Alice Stevenson and Joris van Wetering


GHP Egyptology 32

Golden House Publishing, 2020

ISBN 978-1906-13769-4

Paperback, £60.


The region of Naqada, an important Upper Egyptian settlement and cemetery site occupied throughout the pharaonic period and particularly well known for its Predynastic remains, was the subject of a focussed workshop at University College London in 2016.


Bringing together international specialists on Naqada, the workshop explored issues relating to the archaeology and heritage of this unique site within a wider framework, as well as the associated excavation record, including archival documents from Flinders Petrie’s 1894-1895 excavations in the region. One of the organisers of this event was the indomitable Geoffrey J. Tassie (Tass), expert on Naqada and on the Predynastic Period, who sadly died during the editing of this volume just before his 2019 season at the site was due to begin. Happily, the editors were able to ensure that Tass’ article on the Past, Present and Future of the Naqada Region was included in the contents of the proceedings of this workshop, meaning that his hopes and ambitions for the site can guide future work in the region.


The importance of the material and archival record of excavations in the Naqada region, now kept in museums around the world, is emphasised throughout the volume. Finds from the early excavations in the region were distributed around the UK, as well as to museum collections in mainland Europe and the United States.


Several of these have been included by the authors to add further context to their discussions; for example, Grajetzki’s article (Naqada in Pharaonic Times) draws upon objects from the site now kept in the Petrie Museum, UCL, as well as in collections across Europe, to contextualise a wider conversation about the complex history of the site after the Predynastic Period.


In his article on Christian heritage in the region, Dekker explores the archaeological, architectural and philological evidence for human activity at the site during late antiquity, supported with contemporary objects in museum collections. The chronological span of the volume, covering thousands of years from the Predynastic Period through to the modern day, underlines the importance of the Naqada region to our understanding of Egyptian history.


Illustrated throughout with blackand- white line drawings and greyscale images, this volume will be of interest to readers wishing to learn more about this fascinating region and the history of its excavation.


Anna Garnett


The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History

by Greg Woolf.


Oxford University Press, 2020

ISBN: 978-01994-612-9

Hardback, £25.


Think of ancient cities and we conjure up images of glittering metropolises such as Rome, Carthage, Athens, Alexandria – great urban centres that represent the pinnacle of human achievement. But this is a myth; with the exception of Rome, early cities were small in both their physical size and number of inhabitants.


Forget what you think you know about state formation and the spread of urbanisation – Greg Wolf, Professor of the Institute of Classical Studies, argues for a re-evaluation of the development of ancient cities using an evolutionary approach: our biology predisposes us to living together in urban settlements, but there is no planned “civilising process” that makes urban living inevitable. Cities were successful because they gave their inhabitants some competitive advantage over their neighbours.


Cities were created by accident, not as stand-alone islands but as hubs in complex long-distance networks of exchanges (trade), spanning out from the earliest urban centres in Mesopotamia and Egypt.


Wolf focusses on the Mediterranean world, which he argues was always better suited to small settlements due to its fragmented landscape, arid conditions and scarcity of fertile land.


Cities could only expand as long as they could sustain their populations.


The giant cities – such as Rome – that emerged in the last century BC, put a huge strain on resources and could only survive as part of an empire, where the ruler could afford to “tax globally and spend locally”; if imperial power collapsed, so did the cities.


This short review can only touch on some of the fascinating (and highly recommended) discourse on the development of urbanisation, which covers the emergence of Mediterranean urban networks, the invention of politics in response to community tensions and violent conflict, the emergence of the Greek city states, and the rise of the Persian and Roman Empires – the “more brutal histories of connection”, before looking for answers for the dramatic contraction of Rome and the other giant cities in the early third century (AD). Wolf ends with a cautionary note for those who believe our current rate of globalisation will continue indefinitely: “there have been many urban moments, but few that have lasted more than a few centuries”.




Archaeology of Empire in Achaemenid Egypt

by Henry P. Colburn.


Edinburgh University Press, 2019

ISBN 978-1-47445-236-6

Hardback £85; e-book £85.


Often instinctively avoided because of its ‘otherness’ or due to an assumed lack of evidence, the Persian Period (Twenty-seventh and ‘Thirty-first’ Dynasties, 525-404 and 343-332 BC) is little-discussed in most standard histories of Egypt. This accessible new academic treatment sets out to challenge the prejudices of earlier commentators (starting with the ancient Greeks), and illustrates very effectively the ways in which scholarship is as prone to bias as any other aspect of human activity.


Colburn begins with a useful deconstruction of the biases of previous commentators in approaching the subject of Persians in Egypt before presenting a detailed review of archaeological evidence for the period within the Memphite area and the Western oases. When considering the surviving sources, the author acknowledges that much material conventionally labelled ‘Twenty-sixth’ or ‘Thirtieth’ Dynasty in date may well derive from a time outside these convenient chronological poles, and may well relate to a time when Egypt was ruled by ancient Persia (the area of modern Iran). There then follows a thematic discussion of élite identity formation – chiefly in the form of stone temple monuments such as statues – and of the more commonplace concerns of eating, drinking and spending money – attested chiefly through the considerable evidence of pottery and coinage.


The book is summarised and concluded in a chapter about the challenges of interpreting the various experiences of an imperial power such as Persia. The points Colburn makes about (mis-)interpreting ‘ethnic’ identity based on material culture could equally be applied to Nubian or Graeco-Roman material in Egypt, or to other archaeologies.


While this is undoubtedly an academic work based on a Ph.D. thesis, it packs in a lot of information, the great majority of which will not be known beyond even a subset of ancient historians. Most importantly, it is engagingly written and for anyone with a real interest in learning more about this blind-spot of ancient history is worth the University Press price.


Campbell Price


Hieroglyphics Pro

by Aviametrix, LLC.


App for IOS, £3.99.


A portable hieroglyph translator would be high on the wish list of anyone visiting tombs, temples or museums, and there are several apps available, mostly developed by enthusiasts as opposed to software companies.


The first of two reviewd here is Hieroglyphics Pro has been developed by Ira Rampil (who’s article on the brain is in AE120).


The app contains a database of 1,100 hieroglyphic signs organised by Gardiner categories and a dictionary of over 22,000 common words and phrases which are built into the app so an internet connection is not required.


There are three different levels depending on your skill. In beginner mode you simply search for a hieroglyph from 200 of the most common signs. Student level provides 600 signs with transliterations while Pro level gives the full set. The ‘student’and ‘pro’ settings also allow you to type in the Gardiner code and give you access to an MdC shortcuts table. The app provides a translation that can be saved to the clipboard for use outside of the app. You can also type in a word in English to find the hieroglyph equivalent. It can be quite time consuming scrolling through all the signs and there are a few glitches, but the app is still work in progress and the developer very much welcomes feedback.


He is also currently working on a Shazam-style app that allows you to point your phone camera at a sign and get an instant translation.






by Simon D.Schweitzer.

App for Android, Free.


Another recently released app – this time for Android, is the AED – Ancient Egyptian Dictionary – designed for English and German students of Egyptology. The dictionary lists more than 30,000 words based on the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities database.


It has a simple Google-like search slot allowing the user to type in a transcription (in MdC or Unicode) or Gardiner code. The resulting list gives the transcription and translation in German and English), and you can click through to a website (internet connection required) to find further references.


You can also type in words in English or German to find the hieroglyph equivalent.



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