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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introdcution, 25 April 2009
A. Byrnes "Andie" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Egyptian Pyramids and Mastaba Tombs (Shire Egyptology) (Paperback)
The author is Head of Collections Management at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, having graduated from Liverpool University's School of Oriental Studies in 1975.

The book opens with a Table of Contents and a chronology of Egypt from the Predynastic through to the Graeco-Roman periods, showing the date ranges and the names of the pharaohs, where known.

Chapter 1 introduces the topic. The focus of the book is on the earliest established forms of burial structures - mastabas and pyramids.

Chapter 2 looks at First and Second Dynasty mastaba tombs. Two cemeteries are discussed - Saqqara and Abydos. The main components of the mastaba tombs, including the architecture, decoration, furnishings and grave goods are described. Early mastaba tombs are probably the burial structures that are least well known by the general public so it is good to see a discussion of them which gives a good insight into how elaborate they were.

Chapter 3 looks at the Third Dynasty, a new era of Egyptian funerary tradition established with the multi phased step pyramid of Djoser and his architect Imhotep. This is not only the first known pyramid but also the first to be built in stone. The chapter looks at how the step pyramid was developed from a mastaba tomb in several phases until the final form was achieved. Watson touches on other Third Dynasty royal tombs which he compares to the complex of Djoser.

The longest chapter, Chapter 4, is devoted to the great era of pyramid construction, the highlight of which was the construction. The development process that leads to the Great Pyramid begins with Snefru the first king of the Fourth Dynasty. Watson highlights the main points of interest in the Bent Pyramid, named for the change in incline, for which many reasons have been suggested and are discussed here. The Great Pyramid, is described in depth together with all its internal and ancillary structures. The other Fourth Dynasty pyramids are also discussed.

Chapter 5 looks at the pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties. These pyramids were much less ambitious. Watson describes some of the reasons that have been given for why this change occurred. He emphasises that even though pyramids may have become less monumental, the reverse is true of mortuary temples which appear to have become more important than in the Fourth Dynasty. The pyramid of the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty, Unas, is notable mainly for the earliest known pyramid texts which were inscribed in the burial chamber and these are described.

In Chapter 6 Watson leaves the royal tombs and looks instead at the mastaba tombs of the nobles and officials. The concept of the offering chapel evolved in the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties with an increasing number of subsidiary rooms being added so that mastaba structures became mortuary chapels. Watson draws parallels between the development of private and royal tombs. Decoration also evolved from the Fourth Dynasty onwards.

Chapter 7 introduces the Middle Kingdom tombs of the earliest kings of the Eleventh Dynasty.. These were rock cut tombs with very small pyramids on top as a nod to the past. Larger pyramids were built by later kings of the Middle, all of whom introduced new innovations in pyramid building.

Chapter 8 looks at the materials and methods of tomb construction.

The book ends with a list of museums to visit, a short list of further reading and a map of the main locations mentioned in the text and the index. The text is accompanied by photographs, diagrams and site plans..

I enjoyed this book very much. I have only a few comments which I think might be useful to people wanting to know whether this is the book for them.

For a start at 64 pages this is a short book. The topic, covers over a 1000 years of development not just in architecture, grave goods and decoration but in politics and religious ideas. The scope includes both royal and private tombs. My few frustrations begin and end with the fact that the topic seems to be too big for the book. For example one of the interesting developments is the relationship between burial site, mortuary temple and valley temple in royal tombs - but although the change in the relationship is mentioned no real explanation is given for why this happened. The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty tombs are described only briefly which is a shame because this is a particularly fascinating period of Old Kingdom development. Another topic that I would have liked to see expanded, mentioned only briefly in the introduction, is how these vast complexes were administered and maintained by the living.

Covering both royal and private tombs in a book of this size was probably a bit of a stretch and it might have been better to have divided the two topics into two separate books. This would have allowed for more information about some of the lesser known royal sites to be explored, and for non-royal sites like Helwan to be described.

Finally I think that readers who are new to the subject, who can be reasonably assumed to be amongst the potential purchasers of this book, would have appreciated a short description of terms like valley temple, mortuary temple and mastaba field in the introduction.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and was very impressed at the amount of information that the author managed to pack into 64 pages. It is an excellent overview of pyramid and mastaba building and development and includes many facts and figures that may not be common knowledge. This is a great introductory text with good photographs and illustrations.
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Egyptian Pyramids and Mastaba Tombs (Shire Egyptology)
Egyptian Pyramids and Mastaba Tombs (Shire Egyptology) by Philip J. Watson (Paperback - 10 Aug 2008)
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