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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 128 (Vol 22.2) November/December 2021

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

 

Jewels of the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Treasures from the Worcester Art Museum

by Peter Lacovara and Yvonne J. Markowitz.

 

Worcester Art Museum/D. Giles, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-911282-79-2

Hardback, £39.95.

The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) in Massachusetts, USA, holds an internationally important collection of ancient Egyptian jewellery amassed by private collectors Laura and Kingsmill Marrs in the 1920s with the guidance of Howard Carter (pre Tutankhamun fame). A new exhibition opening in June 2022 will highlight some of these masterpieces of craftsmanship, and this beautifully illustrated volume is the official catalogue released ahead of the exhibition’s launch.

The volume begins with the requisite brief history of ancient Egypt – illustrated by some of the museum’s iconic pieces – and a short biography of Laura (including a humorous photograph of the faces of Laura and Kingsmill peering out from a replica sphinx and coffin, and some of Carter’s beautiful watercolour paintings bought by the couple). Markowitz then presents an in-depth essay on ancient Egyptian jewellery, featuring colour photographs of some of the best known pieces from collections around the world (including Tutankhamun’s corselet and the pectoral of Sithathoryunet) and some Egyptianising pieces made by Tiffany & Co. Paula Artal-Isbrand also gives an illustrated guide to “conservation, technique and research”.

The catalogue itself features beautifully photographed full page images of amulets (including sacred animals, Bes heads, hearts and wadjet eyes); scarabs in a variety of materials – many mounted as modern rings or tie pins; necklaces made from beads of garnet, faience, carnelian, colourful Roman glass and gold; pendants, bracelets and anklets; faience and carnelian finger- rings; cosmetic vessels made from anhydrite, Egyptian alabaster and glass; and a number of funerary pieces including a bronze Late Period cat and a Roman mummy portrait mask. The volume ends with a short study carried out on an ancient Egyptian inscribed stone mounted in a modern metallic brooch surround, a bibliography and a list of additional information for each item.

SG

 

The Middle Kingdom Ramesseum Papyri Tomb and its Archaeological Context

by Gianluca Miniaci.

 

Kitab – Egyptology in Focus – Material Culture of Ancient Egypt and Nubia 1 Nicanor Books, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-8381180-0-6

Hardback, £45.

Free pdf download: www.nicanorbooks.co.uk

This is the first volume in a new series – Egyptology in Focus – with the aim of presenting single stand-alone volumes for “very focused long articles or short books”. The topic of this first book will be well known to AE readers and visitors to the Manchester Museum: the object group discovered in the socalled ‘Magician’s Tomb’ at the Ramesseum (see AE99). Gianluca Miniaci presents a thorough investigation of these objects as a complete assemblage, together with the large number of Middle Kingdom papyri found with them. He describes the original discovery of the tomb by Petrie and his student Quibell (including Quibell’s original report presented verbatim), the confusion over the exact location of the tomb in different publications (not helped by Quibell misunderstanding his own excavation notes!), the dispersal of the various objects to museums in Europe and the USA, and the problem of determining the actual number of objects found (the early reports tended to highlight the more remarkable items rather than listing every object).

The author then provides a list of all the known items (including fragments of over twenty papyri, reed pens, ivory clappers, wood and faience amulets, truncated female figurines, a paddle doll and the well-known wooden lion-faced figurine), followed by indepth descriptions of each illustrated with colour photographs and line drawings. He then contextualises the assemblage, highlighting how the group includes a combination of objects common in Middle Kingdom burials, but is at the same time unique because of the large number of papyri, and the presence of two objects (the wooden female figurine and an ivory djed pillar amulet) that have no parallel in other contemporary burials. Miniaci then discusses whether or not these objects represent a single individual assemblage (as opposed to a number of pieces from different burials that happened to be found together) and the likely owner(s). While not presenting any firm conclusions (the author’s aim is to provide an overview to stimulate further discussion), he highlights that, while a number of the papyri contain health and incantation formulae, there are also other administrative texts (including a grain account and Nubian fortress dispatches), making suggestions that the owner was some sort of medical ‘magician’ difficult to prove definitely.

This volume represents a fascinating and readable analysis of an important group of objects and is a fitting inaugural volume to the new series. You can download a free pdf copy of the book from the publisher’s website. A second volume by Anna K.

Hodgkinson has also been published, offering a reinterpretation of the British Museum’s collection of New Kingdom glass ‘ear studs’. These beautifully coloured stripey objects have a flat front with a cylindrical stem with a hole pierced in the middles so (spoiler alert!) are more likely to be glass papyrus column-shaped beads or amulets.

SG

Markets and Exchanges in Pre-Modern and Traditional Societies

edited by Juan Carlos Moreno García.

 

Multidisciplinary Approaches to Ancient Societies (MAtAS): Interpreting Ancient Egypt Vol 1.

Oxbow Books, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78925-611-6

Hardback, £45.

The stated aim of MAtAS is to use data from historical and archaeological research, presented here in a series of ancient culture case studies, to broaden the outlook of what the editor calls “mainstream Egyptology”.

Moreno Garcia maintains that engaging in dialogue with other disciplines (notably the social sciences), and analysing their methods and approaches, would make ancient Egypt more widely accessible by reducing Egyptology’s “disciplinary isolation and anachronistic views”.

Whether or not you agree with this perception of Egyptology as having only marginal interest in the comparative study of ancient cultures, the identification of social structures and practices in ancient Egypt has been somewhat neglected, overwhelmed by the weight of data from linguistic and monumental sources.

The aspects of social interaction chosen for discussion in this volume are trade and economics, with particular reference to markets and the role of merchants. However, I have to question some of the subject choices in terms of ‘Interpreting Ancient Egypt’, since only three of the ten chapters have obvious relevance, and it is not clear what lessons might be learned from the rest of the work, apart from the dangers of imposing a modern, Western model on disparate ancient societies.

Chapter 1 covers urbanism and the emergence of marketplaces leading to extensive communications and trade networks and the exchange and barter of both staples and luxury goods.

Proof of the widespread circulation of commodities by land, sea and river, and the use of silver as an international exchange medium (with price equivalence recognised across vast areas) are challenging the view of Egypt as an institutional, centralised, redistributive economy. It is now seen that independent traders existed and even flourished when the central power collapsed during the Intermediate Periods. Chris Monroe’s chapter is a discussion of weights, measures and economic balance. He stresses the interconnected nature of Late Bronze Age society, held together by commercial links and economic interdependency, where trading partnerships were almost more important than military alliances.

By far the most interesting chapter is the last, in which Moreno Garcia describes a vibrant Egyptian economy based on markets, commercial production and entrepreneurship, where merchants were nonetheless reluctant to admit to being ‘in trade’. Foreign entrepôts, like Ugarit, temple-towns, like Mirgissa, and trading outposts, like Zawiyyet Umm el-Rakham, illustrate the significance – social and economic – of markets in all periods.

The multiple repetitions of certain quotations, and some awkward phraseology detract less from the value of this work than the absence of an index. Otherwise, this book is a useful contribution to the area of comparative studies.

Hilary Wilson

The Tombs of Ptahemwia and Sethnakht at Saqqara

by Maarten J. Raven, et al.

Sidestone Press, 2020

ISBN 978-90-8890-809-5

Paperback, €90; e-book €9.95.

Read online (free): www.sidestone.com

This publication is an in-depth excavation report on two New Kingdom tombs at Saqqara by the Dutch-Italian team from the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Leiden), University of Leiden and the Museo Egizio of Turin. These two tombs – discovered in 2003 and 2010 – are of particular interest in that they date to the transition period between the reign of ‘heretic’ Akhenaten and the return to orthodoxy under Tutankhamun, shedding light on the influence of the Amarna revolution in the Memphis area and the lives of two officials caught up in the political complications of the time.

The first of the two tombs to be discovered belonged to Ptahemwia, a ‘royal butler, clean of hands’ who most likely served at the royal palace at Memphis during the reigns of both kings. For some reason he was unable to complete his funerary monument.

Intriguingly, Ptahemwia appears to have had another name – Amunemwia. Both names appear in the tomb and it is likely that the butler changed his name to Ptahemwia following Akhenaten’s proscription of Amun (Ptah appears to have been unaffected), although this cannot be confirmed with any certainty. Tomb decoration includes depictions of his wife Mia, two young sons and an older lady, possibly his sister.

During the clearance and restoration of Ptahemwia’s tomb, the team discovered another structure dating to around the same period. While the original tomb owner is not known, the team discovered some shabti fragments bearing the name of a scribe of the temple – Sethnakht – who ended up interred here, possibly as a secondary burial to a close relative. Both tombs were continually reused from the Late New Kingdom through to the Coptic Period and the remains of over a hundred individuals were found, although sadly most only as skeletal fragments.

As expected, this volume covers the excavations and architectural structures of these two tombs, with a full catalogue and detailed analysis of the reliefs, inscriptions and graffiti, funerary objects and human remains – all illustrated with colour photographs, line drawings and diagrams. While aimed at Egyptology professionals, there is plenty here to interest anyone wishing to study funerary architecture and the work can be accessed online for free on the publisher’s website.

SG

The Afterlives of Egyptian History: Reuse and Reformulation of Objects, Places, and Texts

edited by Yekaterina Barbash and Kathlyn M. Cooney.

 

AUC Press, 2021

ISBN: 978-16179799-2-7

Hardback, £49.95.

This volume is one of the more useful Festschriften (‘celebration books’) in honour of distinguished colleagues (of which we are in the midst of something of a boom) because it has a distinct theme, relevant to the interests of the honouree – Ed Bleiberg, Senior Curator of Egyptian, Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Reflecting Bleiberg’s important recent work on damage to Egyptian monuments, the theme of the ‘afterlife’ of objects, places and texts is a good, all-encompassing one and in general these papers hang together in a way not always common for such a volume.

The volume opens with some considerations of the reuse of ancient Egyptian elements in modern Western culture, and the tendency for Egyptologists to focus on the time an object or monument was created, rather than the continuity of use and reuse. There is an interesting consideration of the display of mummies by a conservator, Lisa Bruno, at the Brooklyn Museum – where Bleiberg has worked for many years; a most surprising discussion of the use of ancient Egyptian language in Frank Herbert’s Dune series by Joachim Quack; and a reinvestigation of the important ‘Montuemhat crypt’ at the temple of Mut at Karnak, an area closely associated with Brooklyn fieldwork for many years. The next section deals with reinterpretations of pharaonic material in antiquity, with a particularly useful overview of sculptural finds from Heliopolis by Simon Connor. Finally, there is a consideration of the volume’s themes in pharaonic times themselves. Here, the editors and others present aspects of their own fascinating research on inscribed objects.

Within the confines of a black-andwhite/ greyscale set of illustrations, good use is made of images (particularly by Connor). These papers often present new field- or museum-work that has not appeared in print before.

Altogether, this makes sense as a meaningful tribute to an esteemed scholar, and stands on its own as a relevant themed presentation of current and recent research – and at a semireasonable price – from the American University in Cairo. More volumes like this, please!

Campbell Price

 

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