Conversation With Mummies: New Light On The Lives Of Ancient Egyptians. – Review

Conversation With Mummies: New Light On The Lives Of Ancient Egyptians. – Review – book review

Rabiya S. Tuma


Rosalie David and Rick Archbold William Morrow, $40.

EVERY MONTH BRINGS BEAUTIFUL NEW books on ancient Egypt, but these two are exceptional finds. Particularly welcome is Zahi Hawass’s lyrical account of excavations in the Valley of the Golden Mummies. So much of what we know about the lives of early Egyptians has been filtered through Western scientists. Hawass provides not only the perspective of an archaeologist–he is director general of the Giza Pyramids and field director of the Bahariya Oasis excavation–but also that of a native steeped in the land and the culture. His evocative narrative weaves together stories of the upper-middle-class families buried in the Valley with tales of modern Egyptians who dwell in the villages nearby.

Equally compelling is Hawass’s recall of everyday life at a dig, its sights, sounds, and smells (a newly unearthed mummy gives off an overwhelming stench). In a story worthy of a late-night movie, Hawass tells of being woken from sleep by images of two children. He recognized the faces as belonging to the boy and girl mummies that had been removed to a nearby museum. After weeks of sweat-drenched awakenings, he concluded that the children could not rest because they had been separated from their father. As soon as Hawass placed the father’s mummy beside the children’s, the hauntings ceased.

Less mystical but just as absorbing is Rosalie David’s book. The director of the Egyptian Mummy Research Project at England’s Manchester Museum offers fascinating history (mummy unwrappings were a frequent highlight of country weekends among the Victorians) and observations (every mummy has a unique scent) that museum visitors are not likely to come across on their own. But she is most interested in what can be learned about ancient Egyptians’ health, habits, and living conditions from their physical remains. With science writer Rick Archbold, she details how researchers use the tools of modern science, from CAT scans to DNA analysis, to extract answers from their silent subjects. The process is so intimate, says David, that “after a while one begins to feel as though one knows each of them personally.”

COPYRIGHT 2000 Discover

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group