The History, People and Culture of the Nile Valley



About Us

Contact Us


Order Back Numbers

Articles from Previous Issues

Society Contacts

Events Diary

Links to other Egypt sites

Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Four  Issue Five -- April/May 2004

Review Panel  


Atlas Archéologique de L’Egypte

There is a sort of person for whom a map of Egypt - a detailed map full of the tantalising topographical promise of littleknown ancient sites - is guaranteed to make the heart beat faster. For this person such a map, when annotated by the personal observations of an informed visitor to those sites in the late 19th or early 20th century, is excitement indeed. If you, like me, are one of these individuals then the work under review is adrenaline in the form of an A3-sized book in landscape format with a CD-ROM nestling behind its front cover.

The Atlas Archéologique is a summation of a major aspect of the work of one man, Georges Daressy, whose contribution to the historical geography of ancient Egypt, in particular the mapping and commentary on existing sites in the landscape, has as the Introduction suggests, been often overlooked.

However the introductory notes by Nicolas Grimal regarding Daressy’s achievement seem overly defensive - his comment that the Daressy approach to the documentation of archaeological sites in their physical context was largely ignored due to scholars being ‘more interested in the philological and religious approach to ancient geography’ and that ‘Egyptologists have always chosen to delineate Egyptian geography on the basis of the rites represented by the different temples rather than along administrative or economic lines’ is only partly true.

Certainly the cohort of young British Egyptologists who have undertaken fieldwork in the Nile Delta in the past decade or so have had cause to thank Daressy for his pertinent observations on the sites that they came to work at so many years later.

Nevertheless Grimal must be thanked, and congratulated, on his initiative in bringing Daressy’s original Atlas, his hand-written water-coloured memories of time spent visiting the sites now marked on the 52 sumptuously reproduced plates of the published volume, out from the reading room of the Collège de France to a wider readership.

But this titanic volume is, somewhat paradoxically, only the tip of an iceberg whose principal informational bulk is represented by the slim CD-ROM within, a disk which effectively contains an integrated collection of Daressy’s works, including a digitised version of the Atlas, relative to the physical archaeology of Egypt. The windows presented by the installed program offer a main panel which, through an easily used series of side-panels, can be filled with whole or portions of the maps, or copies of Daressy’s articles and unpublished works relating to the sites marked on those maps. A sidebar allows the user to type in the name of a site, or to select from an alphabetic slidebar of site names, each of which will take you to the appropriate map and textual information. This brief description does scant justice to the interconnectivity between the digitised maps and additional material about the sites plotted on those maps.

As a record of the existence of archaeological sites at a particular period it is an invaluable resource. The CD provides the possibility of task-specific interrogation by virtue of its role as a relational dataset.

The book (and, to a large extent, the CD) can be also pleasurably dipped into at random, a sort of coffee table book for the serious Egyptologist. But exactly where one keeps such a large and oddly-shaped book (on top of, rather than within, a bookcase?) is a problem this reviewer still has to solve.


Title : Atlas Archéologique de L’Egypte (Book and CD-ROM)

Author : Georges Daressy

Publisher: Editions Garnier for the Collège de France

ISBN is 2-84431-125-3.

Price : 294 Euros

Music in the Age of the Pyramids

‘A reasoned transcription of metre is a creation of the human spirit, while rhythm is a natural dynamic phenomenon. When we immerse ourselves in it we see the whole rhythmic form as one single indivisible movement and we begin to understand why some rhythms are uniform while others increase in tempo.’ – Rafael Pérez Arroyo, Music in the Age of the Pyramids.

‘Magisterial’ is not a word to be used lightly. It can justifiably be applied in its most complimentary sense, without any irony whatsoever, to the volume Music in the Age of the Pyramids. Rafael Pérez Arroyo, the author, is described on the dust cover of this mighty publication as ‘a dedicated scholar of the culture and music of antiquity.’ Music in the Age of the Pyramids reveals the depth of this polymath’s devotion as he moves fluidly from his principal role as ethnomusicologist to fine photographer, talented illustrator and confident creator of virtual imagery. Ethnomusicology and academic Egyptology are as demanding a pair of muses as it is possible to imagine but Dr Pérez Arroyo has harmonised the two to create, symbiotically, ‘pharaonic musicology’.

Serious students of the subject will quickly grasp that the fundamental themes of pharaonic music and those of ancient Egypt (time, rhythm and harmony) are more than compatible: they are one and the same. Attempting to understand pharaonic music is necessary to understand the nature of the people of ancient times. Archaeology, even when augmented by texts, is literally silent. That is why the notes of trumpets several thousand years old, even should a conservation disaster occur as a result, can still catch the breath and chill the spine of the listener.

Familiar themes appear in this text relating to the function of pharaonic music and the form of ancient instruments. Natural imagery provides both the material and inspiration for the musical instruments themselves. In the sistrum, as Dr Perez Arroyo shows, can be found both natural shapes associated with Hathor and the rustling sound inspired by the sound of the reeds where the goddess might be found.

Flutes and other wind instruments were held in particular regard because they are ‘breathing’ instruments, produced by the life-breath of the musician. The harp was played by both men and women of high status, but perhaps the most prestigious and beautiful are the ‘Memphite’ harps, based, as the author shows, on papyrus forms. This linking of familiar Egyptological themes with musical ones in the book is harmonious and successful.

Although those who will enjoy the publication most will probably have some understanding of modern musical ‘practices’, or be willing to acquire them, a lack of knowledge does not detract from the ideas explored by the author.

Amongst much that is new can be included Dr Pérez Arroyo’s valuable comments on tuning pegs in harps. It has been written in various places that the pegs on these instruments were fixed and therefore the tuning was not variable. The author makes the extremely sound suggestion that this was not in fact the case; in life, the strings would be tuned as appropriate, but in death, when the instruments accompanied their owners in the afterlife, the pegs were fixed - perhaps into the most sublime tuning? - for eternity.

Human sound in the ancient landscape is now an archaeological topic in its own right, and so this work is timely and necessary.

The volume provides all the information that a concise topic volume should provide: a catalogue of instruments, musicians and images exists within a chronological framework that includes changes in instruments over time. The bibliography is extensive and will introduce many new readers to an earlier key scholar of this topic area, Hans Hickmann. Also extensively investigated is the curious and mysterious world of the chironomist, the proto-conductor of music; these men were usually allocated to individual musicians.

Further, there is an appendix of translated and transliterated Pyramid Texts. Its price will put it out of the range of the average purchaser, but every major music academy in the world should have a copy.

A couple of points needed clarification, such as that relating to dancers on page 112, in which the terms ‘followed’ and ‘last woman’ seemed to indicate dancers following one another in a line. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case of course; the forms of Egyptian art might suggest this whilst the dancers could equally have been in a ring or a row in front of the observers (what would a square dance look like?). This point was cleared up later in the book with reference to musicians who might have been sitting in a half circle, although this would not be clear from Old Kingdom imagery which might show them sitting behind one another.

Also, a comment relating to numbers of strings on harps and the hand and head position of the harper, which would have benefited from a line drawing or drawings at that point, was only clarified later in the book.

One aspect which will cause discussion is the linking of Egyptian with other ancient musical traditions. This approach, always contentious, is I would argue not proven – could not pentatonic tuning, possibly based on the human hand, be an expected development in many musical traditions? Further, musicians can generously share ideas, inspiration and technology across national or ethnic boundaries. However, the author’s intuition here is so evidently based on his absolute dedication to his subject, great depth of knowledge and massive scholarship that it would not be surprising if further proof came to light; and is certainly a current ‘hot topic’ with regard to the general debt of the Greeks to the Egyptians. The relationship to Coptic liturgy leading to a possible debt of Latin liturgy is suggested.

However, trying to discover what might have existed before Roman empire ‘branding’ throughout Europe and what that legacy might have also contributed to western musical traditions is dependent on a few tantalising aural traditions from extremely remote places.

This mighty publication (511 pages) has already rightly won one major prize – the First Prize 2002, awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport for the best scientific book in Spain. That would be a lifetime’s achievement to content many scholars – but this is only the first in a series of four major volumes taking the reader through the entire pharaonic period. Congratulations, Dr Rafael Pérez Arroyo and major collaborators on this volume, Dr Syra Bonet and Professor José María de Diego Muñiz. Bravissimi! Encore! MAB

Title: Music in the Age of the Pyramids (English edition)

Author: Rafael Pérez Arroyo

Publisher: Editorial Centro de Estudios Egipcios, Madrid, 2003

ISBN: 84-932796-1-7


Back to Ancient Egypt Magazine - Volume 4 Issue 5 contents

Return to Home 


e- mail to:

with questions or comments about Ancient Egypt Magazine.

e-mail to:

for sales, subscriptions, back numbers and advertising
Copyright © 2003 Empire Publications. Last modified: August 07, 2003

Designed by Fish Net Design