25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
I knew absolutely nothing about ancient Egypt and cared less. I was still fascinated by this book and inspired to follow it up.
It starts with the Narmer Palette, an artefact in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and uses the decoration on both sides, pictures and hieroglyphs, to explain some of the things we think we know about ancient Egypt and how we think we know them. It's thought the elegantly outlined depression between the serpopards was used for crushing pigment for eyeshadow....serpopards? Leopards with the heads and neck of snakes.
The book goes on to look specifically at how we establish the narrative history of ancient history (or rather, perhaps, speculate about it rather than establish it), the roles of kings, and the issues of identity (the significance of race and gender in particular) and of religion (mummification, the pyramids and so on). Ancient Egypt really was ancient - the Pharaonic period started 5000 years ago and the timeline in the book goes further back than that - and covered a very long period, lasting into the Roman era AD. It's not surprising perhaps that it's very hard to "know" much, and of course, things will have changed quite a lot in the thousands of years covered by the Egyptian era.
In particular the book exposes some of the conflicts between archeologists, who look at what's left of the buildings and artifacts, and those who read and interpret the writing and hieroglyphs found on them. It had never occurred to me that there might be a division like that.
There is an outline of the rise of Egyptology in the nineteenth century, the mistakes made by early investigators which may have destroyed important evidence (and why they made the mistakes), and, finally some discussion of the impact of ancient Egypt on the twentieth century. This short section gives equal space to the Anthony and Cleopatras of Burton and Taylor on the one hand and of Sid James and Amanda Barrie on the other - this book has its feet on the ground.
There are good illustrations to support the text (full-page photos of both sides of the Narmer Palette, for example, so you see exactly what the author is writing about), a glossary and several pages of further reading and useful websites.
I was really surprised at being drawn in so thoroughly. Fascinating introduction.