As the world-weary preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us, “Of making many books there is no end”, and there are times when this rings true. Books on ancient Egypt are no exception to this rule, and a new title seems to appear every month. But there are some titles that give the lie to the old cynic of the Bible. In each of these three new books Egyptology is in good hands, and so is the reader. The subject has great popular appeal, and because of this professionals in other branches of archaeology sometimes distrust it. Here are three reasons for them to feel that this is something worth studying.
The reviewer is a prof of Egyptology so well worth reading. They all seem like worthwhile books to me, although I probably won’t read any of them, although I’d like to take a look at the Romer one. Actually, of the three I’d probably recommend the Champollion one because I don’t think many people are really all that aware of either the person or the real sequence of events that led to the decipherment; it’s very complicated and Champollion is an interesting character.
Forgotten by the general public anyway: From Illinois To Mesopotamia
In 1922, the University of Oxford conferred an honorary degree on James Henry Breasted, who was at the height of his fame as an Egyptologist and historian of the ancient world. As he listened to the Latin oration, the great scholar’s mind went back to his days as a boy in Rockford, Ill., barefoot and dusty, watching the local blacksmith shoe his father’s only horse. Sooner or later, he felt, somebody would be bound to find him out as an impostor—someone who had risen beyond his merits. We know this because he was not ashamed to record these thoughts in his diary.
The origins of James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) were certainly humble. His small-town background was staunchly Congregationalist, and his family encouraged him toward the ministry. His early training was in pharmacy, but an increasing awareness of apparent contradictions in the biblical narrative began to trouble his faith. It also impelled him to turn to Egypt and Mesopotamia, the civilizations that lay behind much of the world of the Old Testament.
Review of a book mostly. Apart from Howard Carter and Petrie, I don’t think most people outside of the Egyptological community have ever heard of Breasted, or Reisner for that matter.
Egyptology as Originally Practiced
For me, the only name I could think of was Howard Carter, who made the sensational King Tutankhamen finds. Because of a witty and instructive current biography, though, there’s now another whose name I am glad to know. Belzoni: The Giant Archeologists Love to Hate (University of Virginia Press) is by Ivor Noël Hume, who is himself an archeologist. Hume has books about his own work in more recent archeology, and was the director of Colonial Williamsburg’s research program, but he has valuable insider’s insights on the work of the almost-forgotten Giovanni Belzoni, who was among the first to bring back treasures from Egypt in the wild days when museums and collectors were glad to get statues and mummy cases and didn’t mind that their acquisition came from some sort of smash-and-grab operation.
I think I linked to something like this a while ago as well.
I thought “Petrie”.
Review: ‘House at Sea’s End’ presents a bony mystery to forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway
In Elly Griffiths’ page-turning mystery, “The House at Sea’s End,” erosion is at the heart of more than one problem. The sea uncovers the remains and, at the same time, threatens a historic home. Mourning a deep personal loss and facing an uncertain future with Nelson threaten to wear down Galloway. Meanwhile, an unexpected visit from an old friend with ties to Galloway’s past and possibly her future may not be a blessing.
I read and reviewed her first novel here, but wasn’t moved to read any others.
Kris has a review up of a new book on the ideologies in archaeological explanation. Definitely worth a read, although I probably won’t. (the book, I mean)
For a change: New Fiction Novel Mixes Archaeology, Adventure, and the Mayan Civilization
uthor, Marjorie Bicknell Johnson is pleased to announce the release of her new book, Jaguar Princess. Johnson intertwines her love of the Mayan civilization and archaeology in this new historical fiction tale.
In Jaguar Princess, Chanla “Pesh” Pex, descendant of a Maya king, is destined to be a shaman. She learns to read the glyphs carved into the “stone trees” at a ruin in rural Yucatán and wins a scholarship to study archaeology. She wants to join the modern world, but the gods will punish her if she refuses their call to be a shaman; she hopes to fool them by never spending the night in a sacred cave.
Bit more at the link but not a whole lot.
‘An Archaeology of Desperation’ details the Donner tragedy
Bit more than the original post. Interestingly, of the identifiable faunal remains, none were identified as human. The survivors admitted to eating their companions, but off the top of my head I don’t recall if anyone has actually found evidence of that. I don’t know why they would lie about something like that, so this is unlikely to question that angle, but I like the fact that they’re coming at it from both an archaeological and anthropological perspective.
Big comparative study, that is: Archaeologist produces comparative analyses of ancient societies
Arizona State University archaeologist Michael E. Smith has built a reputation as a leading name in Mesoamerican archaeology over the years. He has directed numerous field projects focused on Aztec society and extensively published his findings. His most recent publication, The Comparative Archaeology of Complex Societies, assists readers of all backgrounds in perceiving connections between different ancient societies.
. . .
It is the first collection of rigorous comparative analyses by archaeologists based on reanalysis of primary fieldwork data, instead of simply comparing the various interpretations that archaeologists have made of their own data.
Seems interesting, but I wonder how useful it will be if it’s as far ranging as the review here makes it out to be. I like the fact that it’s using primary data though.
This time in fictional form at least: Bones of idea are out of this world
The springboard for the narrative is the discovery by American archaeologist Lucy Morgan, while excavating in Israel’s Negev Desert, of a fossilised skeleton. She and her associates reckon it to be thousands of years old and are convinced it is not of this earth but the remains of an extraterrestrial being.
For them, its real historical significance rests on their theory the great flowering of thought and development that emerged in places such as Egypt and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions was no accident. These peoples were given help by extraterrestrials to rapidly propel themselves forward.
Seems like a mess of a book.
Described here though slightly; can’t really tell if they’re saying anything terribly new and exciting from the description.