Thursday, February 27, 2014

Archaic Egypt.

Walter B. Emery
A Pelican Book
Penguin Books Ltd
Great Britain
ISBN-10:  0140204628

This 1961 book is written by famous Archaeologist Walter B. Emery and a treasure for anyone wishing to learn about ancient Egypt's Predynastic period into the earliest dynasties of the Pharaonic age. From the beginning of the book, it is obvious the importance of what Professor Emery writes about and the depth of the authors knowledge.

Professor Emery lays down the known facts that existed before the end of the nineteenth century and what has been discovered since by usually more educated excavators than their predecessors. Men like Sir Flinders Petrie managed to rescue the archaic royal burials though not before a treasure hunter had devastated them.

The book is well written and easy to understand especially impressive because of the remoteness of the age the author writes about. The book gives a good run down of the period of the earliest dynasties on issues of the arts, the ancient gods and goddess', the written script and its development. Part of what makes this book an easy read are the numerous diagrams and photographs that accompany the authors words.

Professor Emery's knowledge is well put out and his writing ability is excellent and easy to enjoy. It is amazing how almost fully formed the arts of the archaic period were, with the exception of writing and the continuity continued for thousands of years after, through all of Pharaonic history.

The author tells about the known kings of the Ist Dynasty and which order they should be in, including their tombs and the tombs of a couple of queens and aristocrats of the period, one of who's tomb yielded chambers full of equipment intact as laid out 5000 years before. The subsidiary burials which surround the royal burials of this dynasty are what appear to be sacrificial burials, a practice which was disposed of by the end of the dynasty.

Professor Emery continues on with a similar rundown of the shadowy kings of Dynasty II except the burial places of many of these kings remain unknown. The definition of what separates the two dynasties is unknown as both monarchies were of Thinis origin, though there appears to have been a religious dispute in Dynasty II.

We are next on to the military organization of the archaic period, a military armed with bows and arrows, maces, daggers and axes, guarding fortress'. The carved palettes and mace heads of the era tell the story of conquering tribes and assimilation of the defeated tribes gods into the victorious gods attributes.

The author tells us of the gods which there is proof that was present even at this remote time and already had cults with strange anthropomorphized deities, of which some still remain enigmatic today. An overview is given of burial custom of the classes of the Archaic age from the king and noble with boat burials to the humblest laborers pit in the desert.

The book's middle section contains a large arrangement of excavation photos of the material of the period, and is pure heaven if that type of thing turns you on as it does myself, particularly of interest is an amazing photo of a mummy of the IInd Dynasty in-situ in its coffin.We continue the exploration of burial customs in Dynasty II.

Professor Emery next is on to the art of the period beginning with reliefs that contain elements common with Mesopotamian art. Sculpture in the round is represented by only a few surviving examples including a kneeling official in Cairo with the names of three consecutive kings of the age.

Painting of the era is concerned with mural decorations in the patterns of mats used in the period as wall hangings, a theme that would be repeated throughout Pharaonic history. Professor Emery relates various building techniques found in the archaeological record for the Archaic period, included the use of mud bricks of various sizes, wood, and even stone.

Of language very little can be discerned from the limited evidence of labels, jar sealings and inscriptions on pots and stelae, except that the development of language and writing was probably fairly advanced by the First Dynasty though much of this material is still indecipherable. The author shows a number of examples of these types of the script on the following pages.

The signs of trade for this period is known from examples of foreign goods in Egypt as well as discoveries of Egyptian materials of the period in settlements around the Mediterranean. We next explore the various industry practiced by the archaic artisan including of course pottery, stone vessel making, as well as furnishings while using only the most rudimentary tools.

Professor Emery now deals with the agricultural product of the people which would have included cereals like emmer, barley, and millet. These cereals were accompanied by fruits, vegetables and meat depending on class and occasion.

In this last chapter, we deal with domestic life on low to the floor chairs, tables, and beds on mats which also would have hung on the walls. In the appendix, Professor Emery gives us Manetho's remarks on the Archaic kings told to us by Africanus.

As much as I like this read it is not probably of interest to a child seeing the book as more of a college student level and up. No doubt I will read it many more times as this book is a treasure on a little known period from the dawn of recorded history. Professor Emery has left to us a rare document of the first rate in this landscape of Archaic Egypt.

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