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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 123 (Vol 21.3) January/February 2021

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Proceedings of the Fourth British Egyptology Congress 7-9 September 2018, University of Manchester

edited by Carl Graves


Egypt Exploration Society, 2020

ISBN 978 0 85698 243 9

Paperback, £25.00.


In September 2018, the Fourth British Egyptology Congress was held at one of the University of Manchester’s Halls of Residence, and attracted almost two hundred delegates from around the world, as was reported in the pages of AE at the time. The Congress was hosted, on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Society, by the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, with assistance from members of the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society and AEMagazine’s Editor and Deputy Editor.


A representative selection of thirteen of the eighty-two papers and six posters presented at the congress have been chosen by Graves for inclusion in this volume and are attractively reproduced with full colour photographs. The papers are: The collectors and collections of the McManus Art Galleries and Museum, Dundee by Averil Anderson; Competition, conflict and control – suggestions of motive in the use of petroglyphs recorded from the Kom Ombo Basin by Gordon Dicks; The elephant’s shroud [from Hierakonpolis] by Anne Drewsen; Pomegranates of ancient Egypt – representations, uses and religious significance by Dina M. Ezz el-Din and Sahar Farouk Elkasraway; Why was a minor dislocation included amongst the more serious cases in the Edwin Smith papyrus? by Roger J. Forshaw; SR. 12191 – an example from the collection of hieratic ostraca from Mond’s excavation at Sheikh Abd el- Qurna by Faten Kamal; Egyptomania – some erotica and vandalism by Pauline Norris; The geomorphological evidence for the Early Dynastic origins of the Great Sphinx of Giza – a response to Drs Lehner and Hawass by Colin D. Reader; Art as writing, writing as art – selected case studies from New Kingdom Theban tombs by Marina Sartori; Gardens and agricultural elements in soul houses by Marisol Solchaga; Changing faces – the revising of three images of Seth by Ian Taylor; Upper Retenu and Lower Retenu by Alexandre Vassiliev; The text and traditional context of the ‘Hay cookbook’ and associated magical texts on leather by Michael Zellmann- Rohrer.

Many of the authors are independent researchers and all the articles chosen will be of interest to readers of AE. A Foreword by Dr Graves of the EES and Professor Rosalie David, co- Director of the KNH Centre, and lists of the titles and authors of the remainder of the presentations and posters complete the volume.



Egyptologists’ Notebooks

by Chris Naunton


Thames & Hudson, 2020

ISBN 978-0-500-29529-8

Hardback, £32.

Chris Naunton’s latest book is a colourful account of the work of the travellers, linguists, antiquarians, surveyors and excavators who can be called the creators of Egyptology. As indicated by the title, the material is taken from the personal journals, notebooks and sketch pads of scholars of the last few centuries, trawled from archives such as the Griffith Institute, the British Library and the Egypt Exploration Society.

Some of these documents formed the basis of formal publications, for example Loret’s descriptions of his work in the Valley of the Kings and Norden’s Travels in Egypt and Nubia, as well as other less successful works like Rifaud’s efforts to ‘rectify errors’ in the Napoleonic Survey and Kircher’s attempts to translate hieroglyphs. But the vast majority of documentation – Rifaud alone produced six thousand drawings and fourteen volumes of notes – remains unpublished to this day. Some names will be easily recognised by most readers, such as Belzoni, Petrie and Carter, but it is in the works of lesser-known characters that some revealing and entertaining glimpses into the development of Egyptology as a distinct discipline are to be found.

James Burton, whose vast collection of papers was left to the British Museum, produced excellent copies of hieroglyphs, detailing subtle differences between signs, while being unable to read the texts themselves.

Civil engineer Joseph Hekekyan was employed in 1851 by Leonard Horner of the London Institution to survey the areas of ancient Memphis and Heliopolis. The professional standard of his maps and plans is such that they form an important scientific record of significant archaeological sites now lost. His stratigraphic map of Heliopolis is included as a stunning fold-out.

The story of Marianne Brocklehurst’s encounter with Abd el-Rassoul and the mummy she bought from him, and Reisner’s bemoaning the “mad search for saleable curiosities”, remind us that unlicensed digging and the illicit antiquities trade have plagued Egyptology for centuries. The meticulous outline drawings and beautiful watercolours of wall paintings of Norman and Nina de Garis Davies led to their assistance in the creation of the definitive sign list in Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar.

The glorious illustrations throughout this book allow you to compare the varied visions of sites such as the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx, which record – some more convincingly than others – the state of the monuments at particular moments in time. A couple of typos and the transposition of the names Mariette and Maspero at one point, do little to spoil the enjoyment of this delightful book.

Hilary Wilson

‘Blood is Thicker Than Water’: Non-royal Consanguineous Marriage in Ancient Egypt – an Exploration of Economic and Biological Outcomes.

by Joanne-Marie Robinson.


Archaeopress Egyptology 29

Archaeopress, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78969-543-4

Paperback, £38. e-book £16.

Brother-sister marriages within the Egyptian royal family are well documented, particularly during the Eighteenth Dynasty and Ptolemaic Period, but the level of consanguineous marriages (between second cousins or closer biological kin) within the rest of the population is more difficult to determine. ‘Marriage’ was a private matter, with no obligation for couples to name their parentage until the institution of census returns in the Roman Period (where sibling marriages constituted 16.5% of 121 marriages listed). Marriages between close kin were not categorised differently; indeed, the scarcity of references to such unions may not be due to their rarity, but because they were an accepted level of kinship within marriage.

A further complication arises from the extended use of terms for kin, which leaves evidence open to misinterpretation; for instance ‘sister’ could be used to refer to a sister, aunt, cousin, friend or wife.

In this new study, Joanne-Marie Robinson looks for evidence of consanguineous marriages in the Ptolemaic town of Pathyris, and the village of Deir el-Medina during the Ramesside era, focussing on documentary evidence, funerary biographies and human remains. She then considers why such marriages were preferable amongst some families, and tests three ideas: there were economic advantages in terms of inheritance and marriage gifts (closer ties reduced disputes and allowed property to remain within the family); that such families were more willing to act altruistically and enjoyed better social support networks; and that any resulting congenital abnormalities in the children would not have been differentiated from other medical disorders.

Evidence for congenital defects caused by consanguinity is problematic. Robinson selects two known abnormalities: cleft lip and/or palette and intellectual and development disorders.

However, with only two case studies for the former (neither of which can be proved to be a result of consanguinity) and a lack of documentary evidence for the latter, she can only highlight that children with these abnormalities would have required a substantial level of care impacting on the family resources.

But, while the evidence presented does not conclusively prove any of Robinson’s arguments (which are presented with considerable repetition), her discussion shows the first two assumptions are highly plausible.

This study will be an invaluable resource to researchers, collating evidence for non-royal consanguineous marriage for the first time; and for the general reader, it offers a fascinating insight into the marriage arrangements of the ancient Egyptians.


Description of Egypt - Notes and Views in Egypt and Nubia, 1825-28

by Edward William Lane – edited by Jason Thompson.


AUC Press, 2020

ISBN 978-977-416-934-2

Paperback, £24.95.

This book is far from being new, written almost two hundred years ago by English orientalist Edward William Lane, best known for his Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836).

Had this volume been published as Lane intended in the 1820s, it would doubtless have made a significant impact. But delays caused by logistical problems and the appearance of books that covered similar ground meant the project was shelved.

Fortunately an almost entirely complete, handwritten manuscript survived, allowing Thompson – a noted Lane scholar – to publish the work in 2000, with a very useful introduction, annotations throughout and up-todate bibliography at the end, now reissued in paperback.

Lane undertook his travels some fifty years before Amelia Edwards enjoyed her Thousand Miles Up the Nile, and it is interesting to compare their experiences. While he adopts the same geographic approach as Edwards, Lane provides an intriguing amount of added detail drawn from several trips of much longer duration than those of Edwards. So soon after the decipherment of hieroglyphs, it is remarkable to see the historical connections Lane is able to make – and to note those assertions he makes that have been altered by more recent interpretations.

Undoubtedly, a subtle but pervasive racism (rooted in cultural misapprehension) underlies most such works; Lane’s account is no different, but it is especially important for the heavy use the author makes of Arabic sources.

As an accomplished Arabist, Lane was able to read (and acquire) a significant number of Arabic manuscripts that were inaccessible to most Western Egyptologists. This raises the tantalising question of how Egyptology might have developed if these sources were more widely known to Western audiences from so early in the history of the discipline. Certainly, Islamic scholars might have become better known to Western audiences, correcting to some degree the Eurocentricity of Egyptology.

Of particular interest is Lane’s choice to render phonetically the names of places he visited (requiring some sounding aloud by the reader!).

In general, he records more about the situation of sites as he found them, without overly romanticising them (as Edwards and others tend to do). This book was originally to have been accompanied by some 150 detailed illustrations, which are mostly here included in somewhat more modest form.

While undoubtedly a product of its time and though the wealth of information it contains is obviously filtered through a classically Orientalist lens, this book represents a heretofore little-known and important work, and is highly recommended for anyone wishing to gain a Western insight into Egypt, its people and sites of interest in the early Nineteenth Century.

Campbell Price

The Riddle of the Rosetta: How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs

by Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz.


Princeton University Press, 2020

ISBN 978-0-6912-0090-3

Hardback, £34.

This volume is a tour de force of scholarly research and thorough analysis.

The authors have made use of an enormous range of hitherto unstudied primary sources. The detailed notes provided for every chapter reflect an enormous amount of original work.

The authors themselves report that it has taken ten years to complete.

Both the protagonists – Champollion and Young – were born in interesting times. Thomas Young, raised as a Quaker, was influenced by encounters with many great thinkers. His published works covered several areas of natural philosophy and physiology.

The study of how sounds were formed in humans led to his interest in ancient languages. As a typical product of his age, he considered these generally inferior to the Greek and Latin which he had studied.

Champollion’s life was quite different, spanning as it did, one of the most turbulent periods of French history, from the Revolution through the Napoleonic era and the restoration of the monarchy. From an obscure provincial background, he came into contact with many notable scholars and intellectuals of the period.

The approaches of the two scholars were in great contrast to each other.

The detailed discussion of the steps by which each man reached his conclusions is accompanied by diagrams and tables illustrating various stages in their thinking. One aspect which caused much theorising was the relationship with Coptic, seen as a degraded form of ancient Egyptian, as well as the relationship between demotic and hieroglyphic text, and whether signs were alphabetic or symbolic.

The correspondence and discussions involved a huge number of people from several countries– such as de Sacy who studied Hebrew, Syriac and other ancient languages and was a major influence on Champollion, particularly in relation to his work on Coptic (which de Sacy believed shared its etymological roots with the languages he had studied). Later on the two fell out. Several ancient artefacts which had arrived in Europe provided a new field of research; the Philae obelisk and the Dendera zodiac led to much dispute in which Champollion became involved.

In a brief summary of this huge book, it is difficult to make a selection from the many examples of the processes and influences which affected the work of the two scholars. This is a tome for the serious scholar to use as a mine of information to illuminate a piece of individual research. It is not an easy volume for bed-time reading but no less admirable for that.

Hilary Forrest

A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology

by Toby Wilkinson.


Pan MacMillan/Picador, 2020

ISBN 978-1-5098-5870-5

Hardback, £25.

Toby Wilkinson’s latest book traces two intertwined stories: the rediscovery of ancient Egypt in the nineteenth through early twentieth centuries and, as a result of Egypt’s exposure to Western influence, Egypt’s modern rebirth. The period is bounded by two ‘bookends’: the decipherment of hieroglyphs (1822) and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb (1922).

Wilkinson retells and reconsiders this period in the history of Egyptology, informed by themes and research in recent studies, notably Egyptology as a possible “handmaid of imperialism”.

This review will focus principally on some of the individuals who feature in Wilkinson’s reassessment of Egypt’s “golden age of scholarship and adventure”.

The birth of Egyptology is generally considered to be Napoleon’s legacy from the Egyptian Campaign (1798- 1801). Description de l’Egypte triggered the beginning of Egyptian collections assembled by the likes of Salt, Belzoni, and Drovetti prior to the decipherment of hieroglyphs. Once Champollion cracked the code, scholars and archaeologists revealed the lost world of Egypt with better understanding, including Champollion himself with the Franco-Tuscan expedition (1828-9).

Through their respective Manners and Customs, Gardner Wilkinson (1837) and Lane (1836) made Egypt past and present accessible to general readers.

Lepsius with the Prussian Expedition (1842-5) achieved important advances in the documentation of history and chronology, having “conclusively demonstrated” the existence of the Old Kingdom through the study of sites previously ignored by Champollion. The author credits Lepsius with founding Egyptology as an “independent, scientific discipline”.

Mariette discovered the Serapeum in 1851, and here he receives criticism for his double-dealing with the Egyptian authorities, including clandestine digging and ruses to smuggle antiquities to France. Incredibly, in 1858 Mariette was appointed Director of the Antiquities Service and Museum, with exclusive excavation rights and the support of a corvée workforce. His discoveries increased quickly as he unearthed important Old Kingdom artefacts in Saqqara, Giza and Meidum. From the 1880s, Petrie practised careful, methodical excavations. He revealed Egyptian prehistory, discovered the Graeco- Roman mummy portraits of Hawara and uncovered paintings in the palaces of Amarna. Discoveries such as the Narmer Palette by Quibell further advanced the understanding of ancient Egypt. Egyptomania resulted from Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, but in Egypt the boy-king became the symbol of its independence in 1922.

Well illustrated with colour and greyscale images and three relevant maps, Wilkinson’s authoritative history is conveyed through lucid, jargon-free storytelling, which will appeal to a broad audience. Egyptologists will recognise the sources behind the theme of Egyptology as a vehicle for imperialism. A valuable perspective is the history of Egyptology presented alongside contemporary Egyptian history, including changes to the control of archaeology and antiquities over time.

Cathie Bryan

The Architecture of Mastaba Tombs in the Unas Cemetery

by Ashley Cook.


The Munro Archive Project Sidestone Press, 2020

ISBN 978-90-8890-894-1

Paperback €34.95; Ebook €9.95


Read for free: www.sidestone.com

The tombs of the Old Kingdom élite at Saqqara have been well studied over the last century in terms of their decorative programmes, but surprisingly little has been published on the architecture of these large mastabas.

Ashley Cook draws on his own research to put the record straight with a volume packed with colour photos and black-and-white diagrams, plans and reconstructions.

Focussing on the complex multiroom mastabas of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties bordering the pyramid complex of Unas, Cook studies the masonry and architectural features of these large tombs, using surviving remains to deduce elements that have not been preserved but were integral to the overall structure and function of the mastaba as a burial place, a stage for an ongoing cult for the deceased, and a showcase of the wealth and power of the new class of official.

He first explores the development of the Unas cemetery, presenting a gazetteer of the tombs including those of Khentkaus ‘kings eldest daughter’, Mehu ‘chief justice and vizier’ to Pepi I, and the ‘overseers of manicurists of the great house’, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep from the reign of Nyuserra. He gives a brief description of the overall architecture, referring the reader to Porter and Moss (1981) for further bibliographic references.

After considering the sources of stone (local limestone for lower courses, with white Tura limestone above for those officials fortunate to be gifted such prestigious material by the king), the author then presents a series of chapters focussing on a particular aspect of architecture, using examples from a number of tombs. We discover that the width of the corridors and rooms was limited by the dimensions of the limestone roofing slabs, while rooms more than two metres wide required columns and architraves or were unroofed. As few ancient doors have survived, we are missing important information regarding tomb decorative programmes; Cook attempts to reconstruct these important elements using a selection of Old Kingdom door styles and looking for clues from the surviving doorways.

This volume is the inaugural publication of a new series aiming to publish the excavations of Peter Munro and other scholars researching the Unas necropolis, and will be essential reading for anyone interested in ancient Egyptian funerary development.




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