The Experience of Ancient Egypt

The Experience of Ancient Egypt

The Experience of Ancient Egypt

The Experience of Ancient Egypt

Synopsis

The Experience of Ancient Egypt provides a comprehensive portrait of what we know about ancient Egypt today, examining in detail issues of religion, of beliefs and practices surrounding death, of everyday life and of literature.In an engaging style, the author traces Egyptology from its classical roots, through the painstaking process of deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the most up-to-date bio-medical and archaeological techniques, never forgetting how time has proved that it is impossible to deliver the absolute truth about ancient Egypt.

Excerpt

Archaeology is sometimes presented as a discipline that is capable of discovering and revealing the past in terms of clear and well-defined facts. However, there is a great variation in the quality and quantity of the evidence that different cultures have bequeathed to modern scholarship. Some, such as Egypt, have left great monuments, a wealth of artifacts, and a rich literary legacy, while other cultures have often only provided fragmentary evidence. Nevertheless, it is a widely held view that the archaeologist can deliver the absolute truth about the past, based on clear-cut evidence and indisputable facts. There is a demand for definitive statements from archaeologists who set out to provide a current description or explanation of an ancient civilisation or culture.

However, the reality is very different. Evidence always requires interpretation, but since it is often partial or contradictory, the experts can often only draw imprecise conclusions. This book sets out to consider the ways in which the interpretation of the evidence can alter over a period of time. In some cases, this change in focus comes about because new facts are discovered, but it can also result from the different and sometimes controversial ideas and attitudes that, over the years, have been presented by archaeologists and scholars. It is a fact that evidence can be interpreted in a variety of ways and that these different opinions can often be equally convincing; also, the various explanations often reflect the current beliefs and attitudes of the society in which the archaeologist or historian lives and works. Thus, nineteenth-century Egyptologists, or early Christian travellers who visited Egypt, often viewed the monuments and customs of the ancient Egyptians in biblical terms, whereas more recent interpretations have generally attempted to consider and judge the Egyptians within the context of the beliefs and customs of their own civilisation.

This book will attempt to assess how and why our views of ancient Egypt have changed over the centuries, and to show that archaeology, and the interpretation of the evidence it produces, are dynamic and ongoing processes. The study of ancient Egypt provides an excellent example for this approach, since it has both a long history as an academic discipline and a current, active archaeological profile. It is a discipline that has gradually moved from ‘treasure hunting’, biblical associations, and a Classical interpretation of the civilisation to a more science-based approach in terms of both excavation and post-excavation studies. The first objective of early

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