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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 124 (Vol 21.4) March/April 2021

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Oxford Handbook of Egyptian Epigraphy and Palaeography

edited by Vanessa Davies and Dimitry Laboury.


 Oxford University Press, 2020

ISBN 978-0-1906-0465-3

Hardback, £125.

Following a recent publishing trend to produce hefty ‘Handbooks’ for the most niche areas of certain subjects, this example is much more effective (and certainly more up-to-date) than the gargantuan and massively delayed Oxford Handbook of Egyptology, also released in 2020 (and to be reviewed in the next issue of AE). That may be because it concentrates on the different written forms of ancient Egyptian writing and the methods employed to record and study them.

Chapters begin by considering the ancient production of texts – with particularly useful sections by Tamas Bacs on the process and philosophy of copying, and Denys Stocks on tools and production techniques – but also covering the makers of, and audiences for, inscriptions. The ‘efforts’ of mainly nineteenth century epigraphic projects are considered in some detail before turning to more modern developments in the discipline, using a case-study approach to temples, such as Edfu, or the so-called ‘Chicago House’ method, employed chiefly in Luxor.

This is therefore far more than simply a manual on ‘how to do’ epigraphy in Egypt today, although that subject is covered from a variety of perspectives.

An emphasis on different scripts – hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic – highlights the many sources and techniques that exist in this subbranch of Egyptology, very effectively including state-of-the-art accounts that would be impossible in a book of this size for ‘Egyptology’ in general.

Minor quibbles (a few English slips) aside, this is a detailed, reliable and up-to-date account of practices used by those working with the copying of texts in Egyptology today, and is likely to become a standard work for some time to come. At the steep price of most such OUP books, it is most likely to be consulted in a library or in excerpts online.

 Campbell Price

The Oasis Papers 9: A Tribute to Anthony J. Mills after Forty Years of Research in Dakhleh Oasis

edited by Gillian E Bowen and Colin A Hope.


 Oxbow Books, 2019

ISBN 978-1-78925-376-4

Hardback, £60.

 One of the first Manchester Ancient Egypt Society meetings I attended back in 1998 or thereabouts, was a presentation by Anthony Mills on his work at Dakhleh. I remember the lecture vividly because perhaps for the first time, it made me realise there was more to Egypt than just the River Nile. Since then, I have visited Dakhleh on about three occasions and it’s every bit as fascinating as I remember from that early MAES meeting.

I was very happy therefore, to get the chance to review this book and have read it avidly. I should probably state is this is not a book for the general reader. However, for those with an interest in Egypt’s deserts, a fondness for the Oases or a desire to understand more about how ancient Egypt operated ‘at the margins’, this collection of papers from a June 2018 conference provides a hugely valuable summary of our current understanding.

The first papers set the scene, providing an overview of the work that has been undertaken mainly in Dakhleh and Kharga Oases over the past forty years or so, including the rock art of the area (which is revisited in a number of later papers). There are then a series of papers that look at the geology of the area, the impact of natural climate change over the last ten thousand years, and the people that have inhabited the region.

The majority of the book presents a generally chronological exploration of an impressive range of subjects, addressing almost every facet of life and (naturally, being Egypt) death in this ancient Egyptian frontier region.

So for example, I was fascinated to read about the indigenous cultures that inhabited the Libyan Desert, before the inhabitants of the Nile Valley began to take an interest. A number of themes are revisited by several contributors to illustrate how aspects of life, such as communication, trade, transport and governance, evolved throughout the pharaonic era through to the Christian period.

Although the focus of the book is the Dakhleh Oasis, a number of the authors present their work in the wider context of the broader Western Desert, cross-fertilising with other research to address issues such as long-distance travel across the desert and the factors, such as trade, that led the inhabitants of Dakhleh to leave the relative comfort of the oases and venture forth into the wide desert expanses.

In addition, to drawing comparisons with the cultures of the Nile Valley, many of the papers are keen to identify the ways in which life in the oasis differed, examining such issues as the differences in locally-produced ceramics.

Perhaps most surprising is the evidence which suggests that, during the early Old Kingdom, rather than conquer, the Egyptians were happy to live alongside the original indigenous population.

Overall, Oasis Papers 9 provides a comprehensive and very welcome account of life in one of ancient Egypt’s marginal regions.

 Colin Reader

Seeing Perfection

by Rune Nyord.


 Cambridge Elements: Ancient Egypt in Context Cambridge University Press, 2020

ISBN 978-1-108-74414-0

Paperback, £15.

Forget what you think you know about Egyptian art. If you can fight your way through the academically dense text, you will appreciate ancient Egyptian images in a completely different way. Rune Nyord invites us to think like an ancient Egyptian: consider images not as attempts to achieve likeness, or symbolism to be decoded, but rather as manifestations of the beings depicted: “as objects adequate for the embodiment of a particular entity”.

An investigation of ancient Egyptian image terminology reveals the concept of an image (whether 2- or 3-dimensional) as presenting the deeper underlying nature of an entity – not simply an attempt to recreate an exact likeness. Images represent both the abstract and material presence of a god, and can be guides enabling the relationships and processes they depict.

Nyord reassesses several long-held concepts. He argues that rather than representing aspects of a person’s soul, depictions of the ka show the potential of life (of which a being is the manifestation), while the ba is the capacity of a being to become manifest. A consideration of images as substitute bodies rejects the popular view of shabtis as servants to carry out onerous work for the deceased; rather the ‘work’ inscribed refers to rituals the owner would wish to perform in order to increase their involvement in the regeneration of the cosmos.

The author discusses the uses of materials (drawing out the inherent powers within), the extent to which aesthetics played a role in the creation of images, and the ways the ancient Egyptians used images, such as “presentification” – allowing the image to function as a manifestation of the being. He includes examples of ritual manipulation of images, transferring adverse effects (such as an illness) from person to image, and images inducing change (such as fertility and execration figurines). A section focussing on changes of image invites a different perspective on Akhenaten’s iconoclasm: an attempt not to proscribe all gods except Aten, but rather to update cultic rituals and roles.

This title is the first of “a new concept in academic publishing”: slim, concise volumes providing “comprehensive coverage of key topics” to inspire future thinking by a wider scholarly audience. This particular “element” aims to provide an introduction to Egyptian material for non- Egyptology disciplines (e.g. anthropology and art history) while providing Egyptology scholars with multiple perspectives that extend beyond more traditional Egyptological approaches.

This is a highly academic work that requires a certain familiarity with ontological concepts, philology and the methodologies and vocabularies of art history, but will reward the determined general reader with a completely fresh take on Egyptian art – and plenty of food for thought.



Egyptomaniacs: How We Became Obsessed with Ancient Egypt

by Nicky Nielsen.


Pen & Sword History, 2020

ISBN 978-1-52675-4011

Hardback, £19.99.


Nicky Nielsen dreads such questions as: “You’re an Egyptologist? Then you know about the aliens, right?” These ‘Egyptomaniacs’ of the title may have driven him to write this book. The objective of his book is to chart and explore the reception of, and fascination with, ancient Egypt.

Nielsen organises his work into two sections of four standalone chapters.

For each topic, the format comprises: outline history; antecedents; examples; and issues. Part one: “Investigating Ancient Egypt” covers the reception of ancient Egypt from the Classical period through to Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign (1789-1801), the formation of European Egyptian collections, the development of Egyptian tourism and the appropriation of pharaonic Egypt by fascist and nationalist regimes. Part two: “Inventing Ancient Egypt” examines common tropes and myths relating to ‘Tutmania’, the mummy and “pseudo- Egyptology”, ending with investigation of who ‘owns’ Egypt’s past.

Part one is largely a condensed history of Egyptology. Rome perceived Egypt – a place of great antiquity – as the ultimate ‘other’: dangerously exotic, a “spiritual haven” and a repository of power, wisdom and magic.

Publications of the Nile Campaign and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone triggered a race to acquire collections of Egyptian antiquities.

Nielsen considers Egyptian tourism an important factor in the sustained interest in pharaonic Egypt, but argues that modern tourism continues to exhibit some “colonial nostalgia” and orientalism. The appropriation of ancient Egypt by fascism (Nazism in particular) is an interesting case study.

Hitler considered the bust of Nefertiti a model of Aryan beauty, and Nazi views about Akhenaten as an Aryan were prevalent. The precursor for Mussolini’s obelisk and its symbolism was imperial Rome’s use of obelisks.

Part two examines ‘Tutmania’ and the mummy through the media and film. Ancient Aliens™ explores alternative Egyptology past and present – theories to explain the function and construction of the pyramids and the misapprehension that the Egyptian civilisation was incapable of achieving such great feats of building and engineering.

Herodotus and subsequent Classical authors accurately reported that the pyramids were tombs of kings, but vast and varied surprising theories on the subject developed over time. The two television series, Pyramid Code and Ancient Aliens™, perpetuate alternative Egyptology as a legitimate approach. Lastly, Nielsen explores claims for ‘ownership’ of Egypt’s heritage and theories about the genetic nature of the Egyptians. This includes the view that Egypt was a Black civilisation, as well as eugenics, Afrocentrism, Pharaonism and DNA studies.

This slim volume is written for the interested public, and it could be useful as a handbook of key themes in Egyptomania alongside an abridged history of Egyptology. One quibble is the lack of credits for the 16 illustrations – the basic captions do not indicate date of the works or collection from which they are taken.

Cathie Bryan

The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69: The Pharaonic Sites

by David N. Edwards.


 Archaeopress, 2020

ISBN 9781789696493

Hardback, £75 Free pdf download at www.archaeopress.com

The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia (ASSN), undertaken over six years from 1963–1964, was a major component in the UNESCO Nubian archaeological campaigns which responded to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. This comprehensive project documented the region between the Second Nile Cataract and the Dal Cataract at the south end of Lake Nubia (Lake Nasser), revealing substantial evidence for life in this part of the Nile Valley over thousands of years. This survey team, who identified and documented hundreds of previously unknown archaeological sites, covered around 130km of this region. The archaeological data they amassed is an invaluable record of the region – which is now largely lost under the waters of Lake Nubia – however much of this work remains unpublished.

In this richly illustrated volume, Edwards takes the reader on a journey along the Nile investigating the evidence for human occupation in this area during the pharaonic period.

Working from north to south, a site-bysite assessment of the sites revealed by the ASSN teams (which include ancient rock art) provides readers with a detailed understanding of each individual site, while also promoting a more holistic understanding of the history and geography of this region. The relationship between Lower (northern) Nubia, and surviving areas of Middle and Upper Nubia to the south, is still not clearly understood. By combining written excavation records with detailed archaeological illustrations and images from the vast ASSN photographic archive (containing more than nine thousand images), Edwards sheds further light on this complex relationship during the pharaonic period.

As well as a plethora of pottery, some of these images feature stunningly beautiful objects excavated by the ASSN team, including items of jewellery.

The study effectively integrates both museum and field data to illustrate the theme of the book: for example, a number of objects excavated during the ASSN are now kept in the Sudan National Museum, Khartoum; their details are presented here in a comprehensive appendix.

The landscape of the discipline of Nubian Studies has changed significantly since the 1960s; an important issue that Edwards makes clear to the reader in his introduction. For example, he highlights that archaeology described as ‘pharaonic’, ‘Egyptian’ and Nubian’ by the ASSN team in the 1960s is now understood to be much more nuanced in light of more recent scholarship on encounters between Egyptians and Nubians during this period, which presents potential problems for our understanding of these encounters. In a positive move towards acknowledging the unique and diverse history of this region and its people, it is good to see the integration of Nubian site-names alongside the English renderings, as well as an Arabic overview of the different sites presented in the book.

Comprehensively illustrated throughout with colour and blackand- white photographs and line drawings, with a supporting bibliography and data appendices for the interested reader, this volume will be essential for those intrigued by the landscape and the human history of this fascinating region.

 Anna Garnett

Writing, Violence and the Military:
Images of Literacy in Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt

by Niv Allon.


 Oxford University Press, 2019

ISBN 978-0-1988-4162-3

Hardback, £58.

 Traditionally, in the simplified and rather misleading ‘pyramid’ that is often used to describe ancient Egyptian society, ‘scribes’ and ‘military’ are seen of two distinct classes.

That is what makes sense to a modern hierarchical mind. Niv Allon very cleverly collapses that distinction by showing, at least in the Eighteenth Dynasty, how literacies (a useful plural) are inherent in recording, accounting, and in some sense organising personnel and goods. A key theme throughout is memory and memorialisation – not just writing as record or display.

The author points out that, where images survive in élite tombs at Thebes and Saqqara, visions of violence or coercion are closely attended by busily writing ‘scribes’. Focussing on the figure of army-general-turnedking Horemheb, these concepts seem strongly interlinked. The book uses Horemheb as an exceptional case of a pharaoh who very consciously shaped his royal statements to reflect his understandings from his time as a non-royal (albeit élite) person.

A chapter specifically focusses on Horemheb’s well-known ‘scribal’ statue (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where the author is a curator in the Department of Egyptian Art) and includes reference to a much less well-preserved parallel from Memphis with a hymn of praise of Tutankhamun. The following chapter considers Horemheb’s other texts in more detail.

Using some effective modern comparisons, Allon’s very engagingly-written book challenges many preconceptions – even in the rather well-worn subject of ancient Egyptian writing practice. The format of the book is also particularly pleasing, and represents a good way to disseminate recent research in an accessible form, through a reliable publisher. The only slight criticism is that some of the images of objects could have been made larger, for the sake of clarity.

This is an accessible and engaging book for anyone interested in ancient Egyptian society and literacy.

 Campbell Price

Nefertiti, Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt: Her Life and Afterlife

by Aidan Dodson.


 AUC Press, 2020

ISBN 978-977-4169-908

Hardback, £29.95.

 This volume is the third in a series on Egyptian pharaohs by Aidan Dodson following Sethy I (see AE116) and Ramesses III (see AE119). The subject of this work has been explored in countless publications since 1923 including earlier work by the author of the current fascinating volume. The author himself justifies this new publication by explaining that much new research has made him reverse his earlier conclusions. Piecing together evidence of a period of time which was deliberately expunged by its successors is a complex task fraught with difficulty. Aidan Dodson has looked in detail at the whole range of sources from historical writings, royal titles, reliefs and graffiti, artefacts, human remains and modern scientific studies involving DNA.

Several aspects of this period present problems; the later life (or death) of Nefertiti is controversial, while the mysterious individual Smenkhkara, the mummy of the so called younger lady found in the tomb of Amenhotep II, and the skeletal remains suggested to be those of Akhenaten have all fuelled huge debates examined here in detail.

Various theories on Nefertiti’s origins and background are discussed.

Some have suggested she was a foreign princess, although based on the evidence of her titles this seems unlikely, while others propose she was the daughter of Ay. It is possible that Nefertiti was a cousin of Akhenaten. This would fit in with the DNA evidence.

The name Neferneferuaten has also provided much fuel for debate. Some scholars have suggested it was an alternative for the mysterious Smenkhkara who seems so have ruled as coregent with Akhenaten. It has even been suggested that this individual was actually Nefertiti in a different guise. The debate still rages but it seems most likely that Smenkhkara died as a young man. Nefertiti’s status seems to have been enhanced after this. The proposition that Nefertiti could have been raised to the status of Pharaoh, co-ruling with Akhenaten until his death, appears to be backed by inscriptional evidence but is still open to question, as is the identity of the younger lady who appears from DNA evidence to be the mother of Tutankhamun. While some believe her to be Nefertiti, no academic study has yet been published to back up this idea. The recent theory that Nefertiti might be buried in undiscovered rooms within Tutankhamun’s tomb has now been disproved by a subsequent survey of the tomb.

This is a well-illustrated book, offering a comprehensive introduction to Nefertiti and the intense debate surrounding her.

 Hilary Forrest



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