Anne Millard, Richard Rockwood. The New Book of Pharaohs. Brookfield, Conn.: Copper Beech Books, 1998. 32 pp. $9.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7613-0778-5; $25.90 (library), ISBN 978-0-7613-0859-1.
Reviewed by Alexandra O'Brien (University of Chicago)
Published on H-AfrTeach (March, 1999)
In recent years the field of Egyptology, and indeed archaeology in general, has begun to make use of technological innovations in studying ancient artifacts and sites. Archaeology is essentially a destructive process as it dismantles the very sites it seeks to reconstruct, however new techniques such as aerial photography, surface surveys and magnetometry mean we can now learn almost as much about a site by looking at it as we can by excavation. Similar non-destructive techniques are now available for use with artifacts and human remains; x-rays were already used earlier in the century to study mummies without unwrapping them, now far more information can be gained using MRIs and CAT scans which provide enough data to reconstruct not only the entirety of an unwrapped mummy but also the appearance in life of the individual concerned. Dr. Millard's colorful book aims to introduce examples of both new techniques used in Egyptian archaeology as well as the latest discoveries in the field. Dr. Millard is an Egyptologist and certainly knows the material and one cannot find fault in the accuracy of the content (as has sadly been the case with a few other of the books I've reviewed for H-Net) though I'm not entirely happy with the design of the book.
After an introduction of two pages, the book is divided into three unnamed chapters which further divide into sections in the following manner: Chapter one: The Lost Tomb (Kings' Valley Tomb 5 excavated by Kent Weeks), Avaris, Capital of the Hyksos (Tell ed-Dab'a excavated by Manfred Bietak), Feuding Families (on Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III), Abydos, the Royal Cemetery, The Tombs of Saqqara (the tombs of Horemheb and Maya ); Chapter two: Finding Pharaohs (Hieroglyphs, Modern Excavations and Tutankhamun), Underwater Treasures (Alexandria and the Ptolemies, underwater archaeology), Saving History (moving Philae and Abu Simbel, restoring the Sphinx, Nefertari, tourism), Rebuilding the Past (CAT scans/x-rays of mummies, aerial photography, CAD reconstructions); Chapter three: The Lost Wife (Akhenaten, Kings' Valley Tomb 55, Kiya and Tutankhamun), The Female King (Nefertiti and Smenkhare, reconstructing Akhenaten and Nefertiti's temples at Karnak), Living in the City (Amarna, reconstruction of life at Akhetaten and other settlements, beer production), Building the Pyramids (reconstructions of pyramids and building them). These are followed by a Glossary and Timeline. The glossary explains twenty-one words and concepts used in the text, and the timeline highlights five events relating to the modern rediscovery of ancient Egypt. The Index is more detailed and lists all major individuals, concepts and places discussed in the book.
The introduction includes a brief history of Egypt, setting out the historical periods into which modern scholars divide the history. Here these divisions are represented as if they were made by the Egyptians themselves which is not the case; the divisions into Archaic Period, Old, Middle and New Kingdoms and the Intermediate Periods are entirely modern and it's surprising that Dr. Millard would have let such a thing slip. The chapters are without headings and are not clearly defined in the book, however on reading the work the author's intention becomes apparent. Chapter one deals with recent discoveries in Egyptian archaeology, best known of which will be Kent Weeks' excavation of KV5, the tomb of the sons of Ramesses II. Chapter two highlights modern means of rediscovering ancient Egyptian culture and history, primarily the decipherment of the languages involved, underwater archaeology and restoration of the surviving remains (especially the tomb of Nefertari and the Sphinx). Finally, Chapter three looks at new techniques for studying the past (CAT scans, aerial photography and computer-assisted drawing). Each topic is briefly discussed in one or two paragraphs accompanied generously by illustrations, thus the author manages to cram in a great deal of concepts and techniques into these thirty-two pages although at the cost (I feel) of satisfactorily explaining much of the material introduced. The inclusion of a glossary and timeline gave the potential for redressing this imbalance, they should have served as the place to gather together concepts discussed in the book and provide a handy reference for the school-age children at whom the book is aimed, but this has not happened here. The timeline is certainly woefully lacking, why pick only five events and place them seemingly randomly on a pyramid graphic? A more straightforward timeline laying out a larger number (perhaps a dozen) significant events in Egyptology in a coherent chronological order would have been more helpful to the readers. The index is on the other hand much more useful and greatly enhances the book. However, there is no list of further reading, a most surprising and sad omission: having introduced the reader to many interesting facts and techniques in very brief fashion no suggestions are made as to where the reader might go to find more information on a topic.
The book succeeds in introducing many exciting new discoveries and techniques to the reader but each of these are treated in one or two paragraphs, almost like "sound bites" from a kids' TV show and one couldn't help wanting more information than was provided. The illustrations are good, especially the computer-assisted reconstructions of some of the more damaged or destroyed sites, such as Nefertiti's temple in Karnak (pp. 24-25), Tuthmosis III's temple at Deir el Bahari and tombs at Saqqara (pp. 10-13). However the crowded nature of the book at times obscures useful graphics (e.g. the Pharos, pp. 16-17). According to Amazon this book is aimed at 9-12 year-olds but is more appropriate for 8-10 years as the book is a little too superficial for older children (a reading list is also necessary for 11 and 12 year-olds).
$24.90 seems expensive for this book, though at $9.95 for the less durable version it is reasonable value. I recommend the book as its generous illustrations are eye-catching and will inspire the child-reader's imagination, although when they read this book they'll need additional resources on ancient Egypt .
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Alexandra O'Brien. Review of Millard, Anne; Rockwood, Richard, The New Book of Pharaohs.
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