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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Fourteen Issue Six - June 2014

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Temple of the World: Sanctuaries, Cults and Mysteries of Ancient Egypt

by Miroslav Verner

Egypt’s major religious centres are the subjects of this accessible and indepth guide for the general reader by Miroslav Verner. Combining archaeological and epigraphic findings with the latest research on religious ideas and cults, Verner seeks to recreate the Egyptian temple not just as a collection of architectural structures, but as a living entity: a stage for great religious festivals, a centre for priestly ritual, an economic powerhouse and an integral part of the ancient Egyptian community.

From the sparse ruins of Heliopolis, the City of the Sun (where Atum created the world, Seth and Horus fought for rule of Egypt and where little more than a Senusret I obelisk now remains) to the great Karnak “Most Esteemed of Places”, domain of Amun (who by the New Kingdom owned in excess of 591,000 acres of land, more than 420,000 head of livestock, 83 boats, 433 gardens and more than 81,000 priests and employees), Verner explores the development of these temple complexes, the major architectural structures and the history of their archaeological exploration, set in the context of their spiritual and cultural significance.

The major centres of Memphis (the white walled fortress), Hermopolis (city of the eight creator gods), Amarna, Tanis, Abydos, Abu Simbel, Luxor Temple, Philae, Edfu, Dendera and Alexandria are all included, together with an introductory chapter discussing the concept of the Egyptian temple as the home of the gods, its structure and alignment and the activities carried out within. There are also five themed “excursi” to explore the festival calendar, the great festivals (such as the Opet), the myth of Osiris, Hathor Lady of Turquoise and a brief overall history of temple development.

With extensive bibliography and hundreds of diagrams and colour photographs, this is an indispensable guide to the great temples of Egypt.


The American University in Cairo Press, 2013

ISBN 978-977-416-563-4

Hardback, £39.95.



The Egyptian Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends

by Garry J. Shaw

There are many books about Egyptian myths and gods, but in this handbook-sized guide Garry Shaw asks you to “place yourself in the sandals” of the ancient Egyptians, to try to see and understand the world through their eyes, a world where gods were not just distant entities but an integral part of everyday life.

Focussing on the stories, personalities and “human” characteristics of the ancient gods, Shaw begins with creation myths: the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, the Triads of Thebes and Memphis, the Ennead of Heliopolis, and the reigns of the god kings Ra, Shu, Geb, Osiris, Seth and Horus, succeeded by the pharaohs, who were themselves the personification of Horus and the Son of Ra.

These stories developed as the Egyptians tried to make sense of their surroundings. Why is the land separated from the sky? Because Geb (earth) and his sister Nut (sky) embraced so closely she was unable to give birth until their father Shu (the air or atmosphere) forced them apart, separating sky from the earth.

Part Two concentrates on the manifestations of the gods in the living world. Major deities such as Amun were accessible only to the king and his priests, but ordinary people could communicate with the divine using magic spells, oracles and hearing chapels, and interact with household gods such as Bes and Taweret through small shrines in the home. Hathor and Min watched over the desert routes, the blood of the cat goddess Bastet fell to earth and became the much prized turquoise, mined by workers who invoked the protection of Hathor as the Lady of Turquoise. The supernatural was as much a part of daily life as the mundane.

The focus of Part Three is life hereafter; Shaw discusses the role of the gods in the afterlife, the journey taken by the deceased to become “true of voice” and a follower of Osiris. A short epilogue highlights the decline of the ancient gods with the advance of Christianity and Islam and how the ancient Egyptians became myths themselves, their lives distorted by fragmentary remains and the ever-changing understanding (scientific and fantastical) of the modern world.

Beautifully set out on high quality paper (although the turquoise tinge to the illustrations to match the front cover and text headings may not be to everybody’s taste), and featuring some lesser known stories (such as the search for the magical wig of Ra) alongside more familiar myths, this is a good introduction to the complex mythology of the ancient Egyptians and their unique way of understanding the world around them.


Thames & Hudson, 2014

ISBN 978-0-500-25198-0

Hardback, £12.95.




Desert Road Archaeology in Ancient Egypt and Beyond

edited by Frank Förster & Heiko Riemer

As far as I am aware, this weighty tome is the first to focus solely on the archaeology of desert travel and as such is extremely welcome. Although not looking exclusively at the deserts of Egypt, Egypt features very prominently: of the twenty-two papers featured (excluding the introduction) only two are unconnected with Egypt, but as these two address Libya and Northern Sudan, they are not far removed from Egypt and Egyptian influences.

Archaeology has tended to focus on ‘sites’ – the evidence from settlements – without paying attention to the movement of people between sites and the drivers behind that movement. This volume directly seeks to redress this imbalance.

Divided into four main sections, the first, “Methods, approaches and historical perspectives”, explores the techniques available to modern students of desert travel – techniques which range from good old-fashioned leg-work to studies of high-resolution satellite photography. Of great interest in terms of the logistical challenges facing ancient desert travellers is the work that has been undertaken to understand the practical constraints of using a range of draught animals (from donkeys to buffalo) in desert travel.

Section two focuses on the areas west of the Nile, inevitably featuring the interconnections between the oases, but also looking at the routes taken to more remote areas such as the Gilf Kebir and Gebel Uweinat in the extreme south western corner of Egypt as well as the Bayuda region of Sudan. Section three focuses on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, Sinai and Egyptian forays into the Arabian Peninsula and explores the important role of these roads in the international commerce of the time. The final section briefly looks at Egypt’s Eastern Deserts. As one of the most accessible desert regions in Egypt, it is surprising that only three papers have been included in this section of the publication.

Many of the papers that are included express concern for the damage happening to Egypt’s desert regions.

The authors do acknowledge the legitimate rights of the people who inhabit the desert areas and the oases, but other groups are not made to feel particularly welcome. This is a shame as many ‘unofficial’ expeditions to Egypt’s deserts (such as the ‘Eastern Desert Survey’ and the ‘Rock Art Topographical Survey’) have made extremely valuable contributions to our understanding of these regions.

Having travelled in Egypt’s deserts myself, I would argue that many of the people who travel there as ‘tourists’ share the same concerns and objectives as the authors of this work.

This volume is illustrated throughout with detailed maps, line drawings and photographs (black-and-white).

Usefully, detailed topographic maps of the areas are included inside the front and back covers – for ease of reference.

It represents the ‘state of the art’ in terms of our understanding of desert travel, particularly in Egypt, and as such, it will be an invaluable source of information for anyone with an interest (academic or otherwise) in desert archaeology and exploration.


Africa Praehistorica 27, Heinrich-Barth-Institut, 2013

ISBN 978-3-927688-41-4

Hardback, €78.


Colin Reader

The Nile: Downriver through Egypt’s Past and Present

by Toby Wilkinson

“Without the Nile, there would be no Egypt” according to Toby Wilkinson, paraphrasing the famous quote from Herodotus, as true today as in ancient times. In a country that is 95% desert, it is the great river that brings fertility and agricultural wealth, forming a “green thread” connecting isolated settlements in space and time.

Wilkinson sets out on a slow boat downriver, from the First Cataract to Cairo, on a journey through seven thousand years of history from the vantage of the Nile itself.

He begins his journey where the river enters Egypt, at Aswan, which the ancient Egyptian’s believed to be the source of the Nile. In spite of the current turmoil, he sees a timelessness to life on the banks of the river, watching people farming and fishing as they have done throughout history, although perhaps there are a few more satellite dishes now than in ancient times. Sailing northwards, he looks across to the banks of the Nile where “every age has left its trace” and deftly weaves in and out of different moments in history as he floats by.

Thus at Aswan he describes Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s amazement at witnessing the seemingly impossible task of dragging boats across the rapids (the Egyptians succeeding in spite of noise, chaos and confusion, which Wilkinson – wryly – describes as their modus operandi then and now). He describes the final stand of Ankhwennefer, last native pharaoh of Egypt, forced to submit to Ptolemaic rule in 186 BC and then comments on how a sudden spattering of rain in the modern town delights local drivers as a rare chance to use their windscreen wipers.

At El Kab, Wilkinson sees the scenes in the tombs there come to life in the modern village, with cattle grazing under a tree and children riding home by donkey, noting that as much time has elapsed between now and the building of the ancient wall of El Kab as separates that wall from the mudbrick construction of Khasekhemwy’s ‘fort’ on the opposite bank, which he believes is “one of the great unsung wonders of the ancient world”.

Reaching Luxor, he describes the scramble for obelisks by Nineteenth Century European powers, the “modern roadside excrescences” on the West Bank and he narrates the stories of the almost forgotten Intef II – the founder of Karnak Temple, the infamous Deir el-Medina foreman Paneb, and Montuemhat, the “architect of Thebes’ very survival, at its darkest hour”. Heading past Amarna, Tuna el-Gebel and Asyut, we meet Emperor Hadrian, Petosiris High Priest of Thoth and Nazeer Gayed Roufail, who in 1971 became Coptic Pope Shenouda III.

After a quick stop off in the Fayum, we finally reach Cairo, an “unbelievable press of humanity” and setting for the recent ‘Arab Spring’ uprising.

Just sit back, relax and explore some of the highlights of Egyptian history with your personal guide on a leisurely armchair cruise.


Bloomsbury, 2014

ISBN 978-1-4088-3009-3

Hardback, £20.



Ancient Lives New Discoveries: Eight Mummies, Eight Stories

by John H. Taylor and Daniel Antoine


Released to coincide with the latest British Museum exhibition, this book explores the stories of eight people from ancient Egypt and Sudan using the latest CT-scanning technology to analyse their mummified remains.

The eight were selected from the museum’s collections to represent the widest possible time-span, age range, geographical location and social group. They include two natural mummies: a young man from Predynastic Gebelein with well preserved internal organs, and the mummy of a Christian woman from the Sudan (with a rare tattoo on her inside thigh) who died c. AD 655-775.

The other six mummies were created by artificial techniques including Tamut the daughter of a high-ranking Twenty-second Dynasty priest (c. 900 BC) who suffered from cardiovascular disease, Padiamenet the ‘Doorkeeper of the Domain of Ra’ from c. 700 BC, whose mummification did not go quite to plan, and an unusual Roman period mummy whose limbs, fingers and toes were all wrapped individually.

Each mummy is shown in longitudinal and transverse section CT-cans and as 3-dimensional visualisations at different stages of ‘unwrapping’ (carried out ‘virtually’ with no disturbance to the wrappings), revealing a wealth of information about their age, appearance, state of health, cause of death, method of mummification and any anomalies in the process.

These findings are put into context with notes on the provenance of each mummy, their role or position in society, analysis of embalming substances, selected funerary objects and text inscriptions, with an introductory chapter covering early mummy research and the CT-scanning techniques used on the eight mummies.


British Museum Press, 2014

ISBN 978-0-7141-1912-0

Paperback, £19.99.



Birds of the Nile Valley: An AUC Press Nature Foldout

by John Wyatt and Dominique Navarro


Tourists are not the only ones to flock to the Land of the Pharaohs; Egypt is at the centre of one of the world’s most important bird migration routes, with over five million birds travelling along the Nile twice a year on their journeys between Europe and Asia, and central and southern Africa. The dense wetland habitats on the banks of the Nile (now under threat from habitat destruction, pollution and overhunting) provide rich refuelling stops for more than for hundred migrating species and over one hundred and seventy residents. Some of the major species are highlighted in this handy laminated fold-out card, written and illustrated by Dominique Navarro, with AE contributor John Wyatt as scientific consultant, one of a series showcasing the wide variety of animal species in ancient and modern Egypt.

The front side of the card when unfolded shows a Nile bank panorama featuring more than forty different bird species, together with a map of Egypt showing the key bird protection areas.

On the reverse is information about the bird life that can be seen at different times of the year, illustrated with drawings and photographs, including the White Stork, Barbary Falcon, Pharaoh Eagle Owl and the wonderfully named Clamorous Reed Warbler.

Other cards in the series include: Egypt’s Flora & Fauna (ISBN 978- 977-416-578-8), including the Slender-horned Gazelle, Egyptian Cobra and Desert Monitor, with information about animal life in the different environmental zones; Ancient Egypt’s Wildlife (ISBN 978- 977-416-595-5), featuring the Hippopotamus, Spotted Hyena and Nubian Ibex, with notes about ancient animal cults and species that appear as hieroglyphs; Egypt’s Prehistoric Fauna (ISBN 978- 977-416-594-8), going further back in time to the Cretaceous and Eocene epochs with a timeline of prehistory, notes on the scientifically important ‘Valley of the Whales’ and featuring such creatures as the Aegyptosaurus (!!), Spinosaurus, Ammonite and some species such as the Crocodile and Soft-shelled turtle that can still be seen today.


The American University in Cairo Press, 2013

ISBN 978-977-416-579-5

Laminated card, approx. £4.50.



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