Mummy sequels

The Royal Mummies - The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen - Conversations with Mummies - Tutankhamun - The Tomb of Iouiya and Touiyou with The Funeral Papyrus of Iouiya
August 3, 2001

"The funerary equipment of an Ancient Egyptian tomb is a fertile subject for study. It abounds with material of former times, and of the tastes, the manners and customs of former generations. By their study we are able to picture in our minds the habits and character of a people to whom they belonged," wrote Howard Carter in 1933. These five volumes, two of them new, three of them reprints, testify to the continued interest in Egyptian funerary archaeology. They range from the re-publication of three primary sources that will be welcomed by students and the most interested of the general public, to a popular summary of recent research, and finally a coffee-table volume.

Although Egyptian archaeology is increasingly concerned with the examination of settlements and the answering of important questions regarding the ancient economy, foreign relations and the earliest origins of the civilisation, it is tomb archaeology that captures the popular imagination. As Nicholas Reeves says in his foreword to the reprint of Carter's volume: "Without the excitement engendered by Tutankhamun it is doubtful that Indiana Jones would ever have been born."

Conversations with Mummies is the most recent of Rosalie David's (here with Rick Archbold) many publications on the palaeo-pathology of mummies. It represents a popular synthesis of much of the recent research carried out by David and her team at the Manchester Museum, but here interwoven with some of the background to the study of ancient Egypt and of the examination of mummies in particular. The book is written in a personal and journalistic style that will make it popular with general readers. It is also lavishly illustrated with a mixture of archive and recent photographs. More importantly, the coverage of the volume has been well thought out: not only are we introduced to the history of the study of mummies but also to more recent areas of research, such as DNA and the discoveries at the Baharia Oasis and the tomb of the sons of Ramesses II (KV5) in the Valley of the Kings, all of which areas have enjoyed extensive media coverage and will be expected from the book by its intended readership. I can imagine students turning to this book for a brief introduction to certain topics before going on to deeper research. With that in mind it is unfortunate that the select bibliography is not fuller and has been confined only to books. I suspect that publishers too readily assume that the interest and involvement of a general readership is more superficial than it actually is.

The mummification theme continues with G. Elliot Smith's classic work The Royal Mummies , first published in 1912 by one of the leading palaeo-pathologists of the day. Scholars of European archaeology know Smith as a hyper-diffusionist, but his anatomical work was, in its day, very highly regarded. His publication of the mummies from the famous cache at Deir el-Bahri, first examined by scholars in 1881, and from the Amenhotep II cache found in 1898, remains an important book and a primary source of reference.

The volume is illustrated with 103 black-and-white plates that have been reproduced to a high standard, and although there are more recent works on the mummies, mentioned by Reeves in his foreword, this volume remains the standard work of reference on the bodies from these two remarkable caches. Smith describes each mummy in turn, giving the evidence for embalming technique and palaeo-pathology. As well as the bodies from these caches, he discusses the remains from the controversial tomb KV55, which he believed to be the body of the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV).

The publication of this and other reprints by Duckworth is to be welcomed as providing primary reference material to a wide audience. But though the forewords by Reeves are welcome, they should perhaps have been longer and in the case of The Royal Mummies , students and public might have been helped by a modern transliteration of the 1912 names. An index might also have been useful as a reference tool, although the layout of the book makes most of the information easy to access.

The Deir el-Bahri cache was cleared all too quickly, and lacks the detailed records that we could have expected, even at the time of its clearance. Many excuses have been made for this, but there is no excuse for the appalling haste with which Theodore Davis had the tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu (Iouiya and Touiyou) cleared in 1905. Before the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Carter (with the earl of Carnarvon) in 1922, this was the most intact tomb to be found in the Valley of the Kings, and although not actually a royal tomb (Yuya and Tjuyu were the in-laws of Amenhotep III), its excellent state of preservation gave an indication of the extravagance of a royal burial; with detailed recording it might have yielded much information about the positioning of the contents and about the funeral itself.

This is clear from the second of the Duckworth reprints, which covers two of Davis's publications, The Tomb of Iouiya and Touiyou (1907) and The Funeral Papyrus of Iouiya (1908). That only six pages of text are dedicated to the discovery, before going on to describe the objects, speaks volumes about the hasty clearance. The, for the most part brief, descriptions of the objects are accompanied by photographs and by some fine watercolours by Carter. Although the illustrations have been reproduced well, it is unfortunate that the original watercolours have been reproduced here in black and white, with a consequent loss of information. The papyrus is also described and notes to each of its chapters given. It is also illustrated by a series of excellent black-and-white photographs. The publication of the papyrus takes up about two-thirds as much space as that devoted to the publication of the rest of the tomb and its contents, a regrettable reminder of the undue prominence given to textual over archaeological information by some scholars.

Carter's talent for illustration was not, of course, confined to his work for Davis. He applied his careful recording to the tomb of Tutankhamun, as is clear from the reprint of The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen: The Annexe and Treasury , first published in 1933. The contrast between his own work and the rapid clearance of the Deir el-Bahri cache and the tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu could scarcely be greater. First Carter sets out the background to the "Aten heresy" before going on to detail the clearance of the annexe and treasury and to describe their contents. The text is supported by numerous black-and-white photographs by Harry Burton (who was seconded to Carter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art), which have been adequately reproduced in the reprint, and by an appendix by Alfred Lucas dealing with what he describes as "The chemistry of the tomb". There is also a much shorter appendix by Douglas Derry on the two human foetuses found there, which have been a source of recent interest.

Lastly, there is Tutankhamun: The Eternal Splendour of the Boy Pharaoh by T. G. H. James and accompanied by the stunning photographs of A. de Luca. This is a lavish volume, beautifully illustrated, and with a text - largely in the form of expanded captions - by an authority. However, there are already many books on Tutankhamun and on the "Amarna age", and although the photography puts this one into the "connoisseur" category of coffee-table books, it seems to me that it remains for the coffee table. True, it has short historical essays introducing Tutankhamun and his times and dealing with the discovery, but both of these topics have been more fully treated elsewhere and these essays offer nothing new. I am sure this volume will satisfy its intended market well, and that scholars will find some of the detailed photographs of value, but it cannot be regarded as a work fundamental to an Egyptologist's library.

In summary, all five of these volumes will be welcomed by their respective markets. Duckworth's reprintings of some long out-of-print primary works are to be particularly commended for making accessible to students and the general public works otherwise available only in libraries. I hope that the Duckworth series is continued.

Paul T. Nicholson is head of archaeology, Cardiff University.

The Royal Mummies

Author - G. Elliot Smith
ISBN - 0 7156 2959 X
Publisher - Duckworth
Price - £19.99
Pages - 118

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