Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 125 (Vol 21.5) May/June 2021
Golden Mummies of Egypt: Interpreting Identities from the Graeco-Roman Period
by Campbell Price.
Manchester Museum and Nomad Exhibitions, 2020
ISBN: 978 1 526199 67 6
Golden Mummies of Egypt is based around a touring exhibition of mummies and associated artefacts from the internationally significant collection of the University of Manchester Museum. With its 200 splendid photographs, this impressive volume is not merely another account of the wonders of ancient Egypt but an illuminating perspective of Graeco-Roman mummies.
Commencing with a detailed history of the Manchester Museum, the author describes how the collection did not come about through chance, but through a complex network of political circumstances, philanthropic patronage and personal taste. The collection has always maintained a strong assemblage of Graeco-Roman material especially from the cemetery site at Hawara. Here the liberal use of gold on the non-royal mummies and the captivating ‘Faiyum Portraits’ have always been popular with visitors to the museum.
A central theme to the volume is interpretation and the author considers how in the past the many collectors, archaeologists, curators, writers and artists interpreted the ancient past to fit a narrative attractive to themselves and their audiences, and how this viewpoint is in need of a critical reassessment and reinterpretation.
It was through the extensive fieldwork of Flinders Petrie at Hawara that the Graeco-Roman necropolis, located to the north of the pyramid of Amenemhat III, was excavated. The vast quantity of funerary material, which had accumulated over a long period of time, permits important observations about burial practices and expectations of the afterlife in ancient Egypt.
The increased use of black resin during the Graeco-Roman Period is now interpreted as a key component of the ritual transformation of the deceased and an increased desire to ensure rebirth, rather than as evidence of covering up poor quality embalming or a greater reliance being placed on resin as an embalming agent. The surfeit of gold used to decorate the mummies was not only an indicator of the wealth of the deceased but, importantly, embellishing the corpse with gold promoted and affirmed the divinity of the deceased. The gilding upon the face imitates the golden skin of the gods as related in the Book of the Celestial Cow.
The strikingly life-like mummy portraits, the painted wooden panels found on Roman Period mummies, have always invited discussion among both museum visitors and within academic circles, particularly relating to their possible likeness to the deceased.
The panels suggest identity like almost no other image from Egypt and it is regrettable that many of the panels were removed from the mummies to which they were once attached. The now decontextualised paintings have in the past been interpreted as fine art rather than burial goods.
This attractive volume, with its many thought-provoking areas is a useful addition to any Egyptological bookshelf.
The Life and Times of Takabuti in Ancient Egypt: Investigating the Belfast Mummy
edited by Rosalie David and Eileen Murphy.
Liverpool University Press, 2021
These days, it has become common practice to investigate mummies in museum collections using non-invasive scientific techniques, but it was Emerita Professor Rosalie David who developed this methodology, firstly in her role as Keeper of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum and then as Director of the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester. In this reasonably- priced work, Professor David, her co-editor Professor Eileen Murphy (a bioarchaeologist based at Queens University Belfast) and no fewer than twenty other expert contributors, explain how the investigation of the ‘Belfast Mummy’ was carried out and how it is possible to obtain vast amounts of information about the “life and times” of Takabuti from it.
As well as containing articles explaining how each of the tests on the mummy were carried out in Ireland and Manchester during the two phases of the Takabuti Project (2007-09 and 2018-20) and what they revealed, the book recounts the background to Takabuti’s story: what her short life in Egypt might have been like, how her mummy came to Ireland, was unwrapped and named by a panel of experts in 1835, and how in 2006 it became the subject of study leading to a TV documentary. It is pointed out that the conclusions of the project were not always clear-cut: the radiocarbon dating of samples led to some contradictory findings, a common problem associated with contamination over the decades that Takabuti has been on display. Konstantina Drosou’s article about the mitochondrial DNA of Takabuti concludes that she belonged to a rare mitochondrial haplogroup – H4a1 – not previously found in any modern or ancient samples from Egypt (these terms are explained in the text, thankfully!) And Roger Forshaw tells how his examination of the mummy’s teeth showed surprisingly few problems, but a relatively rare anomaly – an extra tooth.
An article by Professor Anthony Freemont (co-Director of the KNH Centre) and Davide Chasserini discusses the application of ‘discovery’ proteomics to a sample of skeletal muscle in 2018. This is a groundbreaking area of research not previously applied to ancient material, and is still in its infancy. but is likely to become, like DNA studies, a fundamental part of scientific research in the future.
Robert Loynes’ article recounts what is probably the most dramatic discovery made by the recent study: clear evidence that Takabuti was murdered by a blow from behind from a weapon – probably an axe.
As a source of information regarding the various scientific methods of investigating ancient mummies, explained in language accessible to a lay audience, this book will prove invaluable. It is lavishly illustrated throughout – including two images of the face of Takabuti as reconstructed by Caroline Wilkinson and Sarah Shrimpton from Liverpool John Moores University.
Ethnic Identities in the Land of the Pharaohs
by Uroš Matić.
Cambridge Elements: Ancient Egypt in Context
Cambridge University Press, 2020
This slender volume, (79 pages), is the second in the Cambridge Elements series, which offers overviews of Egyptological topics, both ‘foundational and emerging’. Though the professed intent is to present these topics in language accessible to nonspecialists, the author does utilise some unfamiliar sociological and anthropological terminology in the earlier sections. However, in addressing the central questions of what it meant to be Egyptian, and how ‘Egyptianness’ has been defined by the ancient Egyptians themselves as well as by those with whom they came into contact and by modern Egyptologists, this study provides a timely contribution to discussions of racial identity, ethnicity and colonialism.
Matić shows how Egyptologists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries identified the ‘races’ commonly represented in Egyptian art, such as images of the Nine Bows, with ethnic labels which are difficult to shed but even more difficult to justify in modern terms. A frank discussion of early misguided efforts at racial stereo-typing, such as Petrie’s dabbling with eugenics, compared with recent developments in scientific techniques including DNA and isotopic analyses, shows how science has been manipulated to both support and debunk preconceived theories of ethnic origins and racial mixing. In case studies of Nubians (particularly the Medjay), Libyans and Hyksos he shows that such labels reflect imperialist, Eurocentric views, with little reference to the ancient Egyptian sources which reveal a much more liberal and inclusive attitude towards foreigners.
Modern discussions of difference based on the superficialities of appearance, such as costume, skin colour and hairstyle, do not represent the ancient Egyptians’ views on ‘otherness’. Matić cites the ethnicity of Maiherperi, a royal fan-bearer buried in the Valley of the Kings, who by virtue of his features has been labelled an ‘assimilated Nubian’, whereas his titles and his high-status burial mark him as wholly Egyptian.
Foreign origin was no obstacle to a successful career within the Egyptian elite. Sharing a common language, loyalty to the Egyptian state and its gods, and residence in the main Nile Valley were the basic requirements for those who called themselves Egyptians. Local variations in material culture, such as pottery and burial practices, and the use of foreign names, may mark the presence of incomers but cannot differentiate between the descendants of immigrants, recent arrivals or native Egyptians who have adopted some foreign customs. Matić’s conclusion is that, while Egyptianness was “not something written in bone, blood or DNA”, Egyptologists should look to broader discussions of ethnicity, to “avoid applying inappropriate modern distinctions to the ancient situation” – valuable advice in most areas of Egyptology.
Jerusalem’s Survival, Sennacharib’s Departure and the Kushite Role in 701 BCE: An Examination of Henry Aubin’s Rescue of Jerusalem
edited by Alice Ogden Bellis.
Gorgias Press, 2020
In 2002 Canadian journalist Henry Aubin published The Rescue of Jerusalem in which he investigated the events of 701BCE. In that year the Assyrian king Sennacharib attacked the Philistine cities and the Kingdom of Judah before withdrawing back to Mesopotamia. The incident is told in the Bible and in the cuneiform annals of Sennacharib himself. There appears to be a late reference in Herodotus which is picked up by the Jewish historian Josephus but there are no contemporary Egyptian accounts.
Sennacharib says he won the conflict; the Bible says “the angel of death” passed through the enemy camp forcing him to withdraw. The Assyrians mention a battle at Eltekeh and the Bible mentions in passing the approach of a Kushite army but does not credit it with any impact on the outcome. It was Aubin’s thesis that in fact the intervention by this army, under the prince and future Pharaoh Taharqo, was actually decisive and was important in the preservation of Judaism and hence the subsequent rise of Christianity and Islam. The ancient sources play down this role and nineteenth century racial stereotyping reinforced a negative attitude to the Twenty-fifth Dynasty.
Aubin was not part of the regular academic elite and so his work made little impact. The current volume seeks to investigate the thesis from a variety of angles. Eight scholars representing experts in Biblical literature and history, as well as historians of ancient Nubia, Egypt and Assyria, each discuss and critique the thesis.
Then Aubin responds to each of them in turn. Among the scholars, AE readers will recognise the names of Aidan Dodson and Alan Lloyd.
Dodson (like most of the contributors) is broadly supportive of these new proposals and argues that the recent suggestion that the reigns of Shabako and Shabatako be reversed would actually enhance the argument. Lloyd is the one contributor who is not at all persuaded and accepts the “surrender” option and possible epidemic theory (based on a combination of Herodotus and Josephus) and internal troubles back home.
Given the price of the volume, the black-and-white figures are sometimes disappointingly small and blurred.
That said this is an excellent example of multi-disciplinary scholarship and careful scholarly investigation.
Hopefully it will give Aubin’s theory the wider publicity it always deserved and raise the profile of the rulers of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty.
Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World
by Philip Matyszak.
Thames & Hudson, 2020
This beautifully presented book is dedicated to the once great peoples of the ancient Middle East, Mediterranean and Europe – the forgotten peoples who “rocked civilisations” but have now faded from memory, and yet whose influence is still felt today. Great civilisations such as Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome may dominate our view of the ancient world, but as the author emphasises, each was shaped by their contact with the peoples who lived on their peripheries.
Many of these cultures left little behind to mark their achievements so we can only see them through the eyes of the peoples that met them; the waves of invading Sea Peoples who plagued Ramesside Egypt are a particular example. Matyszak introduces us to more than forty of these fascinating cultures, presented chronologically within four colour-coded sections, each well illustrated with maps and colour photographs.
The first half of the book will be of most interest to Egyptophiles. Part one begins with the Akkadians (c. 2334- 2190 BC), contemporary with Egypt’s Sixth Dynasty, who produced the world’s the first god king, first empire (stretching from the Mediterranean coast to the Persian Gulf), and first professional army. Sargon the Great takes much of the credit, but his successes were only possible because of the political achievements of his predecessor, the little known Lugalzagesi.
As Egypt entered the Middle Kingdom period, the nomadic Amorites invaded Mesopotamia, transforming Babylon into the largest and most populous city in the world, while King Hammurabi was the first to ‘publish’ a law code, carved in stone for everyone to see (and still on public display on a Louvre Museum stela). The Canaanite peoples expanded into Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom, ruling over parts of the Delta until displaced by the Hyksos. In the New Kingdom period, Canaan became a battle ground fought over by the warring empires of Egypt, Hatti and Assyria, while the ethnically diverse Canaanites tore each other apart in a series of “vicious wars”, including the violent conquests of one particular group, the Hebrews.
Part two takes us from the Assyrian empire through to the time of Alexander the Great, including introductions to the Philistines, Phyrigians, Medes and Kushite rulers of Egypt (whose pyramids feature on the cover).
Part three spans the period leading to the rise of the Roman Empire (Thracians, Samaritans, and British tribes such as the Iceni, and the Nabataeans who brushed up against the Ptolemies on occasion), while part four focusses on the tribes who brought down the Western Roman Empire (including Alans, Vandals and Ostragoths).
Each chapter ends with a “future echoes” box highlighting influences that are still felt today. Where else could you discover the links between the Akkadian king Naram-Sin and Elgar and Bugs Bunny! A brief epilogue reminds us of the fleeting nature of civilisations, and how we too will one day be just “footnotes in obscure texts.” Great bedtime reading!
The Sultan’s Feast: A Fifteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook
by Ibn Mubārak Shāh, edited and translated by Daniel L. Newman.
Saqi Books, 2020
Daniel Newman has produced a critical study and bilingual edition of The Book of Flowers in the Garden of Elegant Foods, available in English for the first time. Written by the Egyptian scholar and poet Ibn Mubārak Shāh (1403- 1458), it is the last known medieval Arabic culinary text and was intended to instruct servants with cooking experience in how to recreate the recipes.
Newman’s objective is to let the recipes evoke the “smells and flavours” of the international cuisine of Mamluk Cairo. He starts with a general introduction to the medieval Arabic culinary tradition, followed by information about the manuscript, sources and a translation of the Egyptian cookbook.
The first of ten surviving Arabic cookbooks was compiled in the tenth century, predating European recipe collections by several centuries. The manuscripts were produced in centres of power and culture in the medieval Arab world, including Andalusia, and consequently reflected regional preferences and tastes. The texts reveal that the cuisine of the nobility overwhelmingly favoured meat dishes and sweets.
Newman argues that the cookbooks represented the food of the elite, citing as evidence “the technical complexity of the dishes, the equipment needed and certain rare and precious ingredients”. The recipes are mostly organised in chapters according to cooking methods and/or main ingredient, flavours or the type of dish.
Newman’s research reveals that to some extent Ibn Mubārak Shāh’s cookbook is an abridgement of an Egyptian work from the thirteenth century, with links to a thirteenth century best seller from Aleppo. Like other Arabic cookbooks, nearly half of the 315 recipes feature meat or chicken with sweet and/or sour flavours. A remedy for nausea was included, possibly for a good reason! Apart from a few dishes that might be familiar to modern Arabs, medieval classics in the cookbook are unknown and forgotten, particularly the stews. Newman did manage to recreate the dishes with the help of a culinary expert, but he cautions that the recipes were meant for experienced medieval cooks who “could be trusted to rely on their professional expertise and do not require everything to be quantified” or specified.
The Sultan’s Feast is academic, but it could appeal to a broader audience beyond specialists in Arabic studies.
Newman’s writing is clear and jargonfree, meticulously footnoted, and he offers valuable insight into medieval Arabic culinary writings and cuisine.
An image of the manuscript Newman translated is provided.
by Bill Petty, illustrated by Floyd Chapman.
Museum Tours Press, Littleton CO, 2020
Readers of AE will be familiar with the series of Per Mesut articles written by Hilary Wilson. Although these purport to be written for children, they are a popular source of information for all age groups as they explore different aspects of ancient Egyptian culture.
This short work by Bill Petty is similarly presented as a graphic work aimed at a young audience, but in fact is very much more than that.
Although it can be read from cover to cover in not much more than an hour, it is full of useful and, more importantly, accurate information and could be used as a long-term reference work.
The ‘soldier’ of the title is depicted as an old man telling his life story to his grandchildren. In fact his account is closely based upon the autobiography of the real Ahmose, as inscribed upon the walls of his tomb at El-Kab.
Ahmose lived during the turbulent period when the Theban rulers of Upper Egypt rebelled and eventually overthrew the Hyksos who had invaded and seized power in the north.
Ahmose describes his life as a soldier and the way in which he rose through the ranks, winning seven gold ‘flies of valour’ in the service of three pharaohs – Ahmose, Amenhotep I and Thutmose I. The harsh training of a soldier and the organisation of the army are detailed, and Ahmose recounts the military campaigns in which he took part – north through the Sinai and south through Nubia – victories that culminated in the establishment of the New Kingdom under Thutmose I. The text is enormously enhanced by the beautiful illustrations created by cultural anthropologist Floyd Chapman. These are drawn in the ancient Egyptian style and many of the scenes are recognisable copies of actual originals. They are packed with supplementary detail, from the style and shape of the clothing worn by both the Egyptians and their enemies, their weapons, boats, furniture and much else. It may be a children's book, but this is a volume that would be of lasting value to any student of the ancient civilisation.
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