Online Review: Book

Old Kingdom, New Perspectives: Egyptian Art and Archaeology 2750–2150 BC

Nigel Strudwick and Helen Strudwick, eds.

117.2

Reviewed by Felix Höflmayer

Pp. vii + 320, figs. 224, color pls. 14, tables 12. Oxbow Books, Oxford 2011. $120. ISBN 978-1-84217-430-2 (cloth).


The book under review assembles 26 papers from a conference on Old Kingdom art and archaeology held at the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge in May 2009. The organizers of the conference were able to attract a wide variety of specialists with different approaches to the Egyptian Old Kingdom material remains and ranging from scholars well established in the field to others who are still in the early stages of their careers.

Most papers deal with the funerary archaeology of the Memphite region, while papers on settlement archaeology not connected with the Giza plateau are almost absent from the book. This shows very clearly that Old Kingdom Egyptian archaeology is still mainly regarded as a matter of recording and interpreting evidence from tombs and cemeteries (or settlements that are closely dependent on them), whereas the somewhat humbler remains of everyday life from other parts of the Nile Valley are sometimes disregarded and do not receive the same attention in public and academic discourse. The contributions are organized by the names of the authors, although it also might have been useful to arrange them by general topic or site/region.

While the contributions of el-Kerety, Bárta, and Krejčí focus on recent and ongoing work on tombs from Saqqara and Abusir, concentrating on the architecture in general, Baud and Guerrier discuss different building techniques of mastabas in a more comparative way. Certain parts of the tomb are also discussed, such as the so-called canopic recesses and pits, for which Rzeuska shows in a very clear and transparent way that there is no evidence whatsoever that these architectonic features served as repositories for the viscera removed from the bodies. The development of a whole cemetery site is considered by Farouk for the secondary cemeteries at Giza, and the question of why cemeteries were founded on certain sites in the first place is addressed by Verner and Brůna for the Fifth-Dynasty cemetery at Abusir.

Other contributions focus more on the scenes depicted in funerary structures. Flentye discusses scenes on the fragmentary blocks of causeway, pyramid, and valley temples of Khufu and Khafre, while Pieke concentrates on the general layout and working procedures of the tomb decoration in the mastaba of Mereruka in the Teti cemetery at Saqqara, considering also the use of color and the grouping of figures. Roth looks at variations in the depiction of kilts, and Staring asks to what extent the tomb owner might have influenced the choice of scenes in his tomb. That archives and old notebooks are still valuable but not always fully appreciated resources that still add new information to our knowledge is shown by Espinel, who checked Černý's notebooks archived at the Griffith Institute, Oxford, on some blocks of the Unas causeway, where, among other things, a new fragment of a possible siege scene is attested, which is of great historical interest for Egyptian-Levantine interactions.

Contributions dealing with sculpture are presented by Friedman and Nuzzolo. While Nuzzolo discusses the so-called Reserve Heads and different theories that have been put forward to explain this still enigmatic type of sculpture, Friedman concentrates on the Menkaure Triads found by George Reisner and reconstructs the possible statuary program of Menkaure's valley temple, her contribution being the second part of three papers dealing with these statues (for the first part, see F. Friedman, "Reading the Menkaure Triads: Part I," in R. Gundlach and K. Spence, eds., Palace and Temple: Architecture, Decoration, Ritual [Wiesbaden 2011]; the third part has not yet appeared).

Topics related to textual studies are addressed as well. Callender presents part of the French Palaeography Project, which records all variants of hieroglyphs from the Dynastic period and shows the impressive variety of signs for the Achmim region. De Meyer compares titles of tomb owners of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties at the Deir el-Bersha cemeteries, and Hays reviews the development of the theory of democratization of the afterlife from the Old to the Middle Kingdom.

Papers on settlement archaeology focus on the Giza Plateau. Lehner and collaborators present an extensive and detailed preliminary report on their recent work in Khentkaues town, and Tavaras discusses the nearby Fourth-Dynasty settlement of Heit el-Ghurab, while Wodzińska presents the pottery distribution.

The present volume gives a good picture of current Old Kingdom archaeology in the Memphite region, and, together with the recently published proceedings of a similar conference on Old Kingdom art and archaeology (M. Bárta, ed., The Old Kingdom Art and Archaeology: Proceedings of the Conference Held in Prague, May 31–June 4, 2004 [Prague 2006]), it should not be missed in Egyptological and archaeological libraries.

Felix Höflmayer
German Archaeological Institute
Orient-Department
Podbielskiallee 69–71
14195 Berlin
Germany

DOI: 
10.3764/ajaonline1172.Hoflmayer

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