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4.8 out of 5 stars
ANCIENT LIVES
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon September 20, 2009
Format: DVD
ANCIENT LIVES is a DVD set that is not only educational, but it makes learning about the artists of Ancient Egyptian kings fun and inviting. By the time archaeologist John Romer completes his filming and explanations of the Egyptian artists and their life-style, you want to grab a pick and shovel and hop on the next plane to Thebes and the Nile River.

This 4 episode DVD set (205 minutes plus more on Bonus) is not about the Kings and their lives; but rather, this detailed documentary is about the people who lived generations, lifetimes, in the Workers' Village. These were the scribes, the artists, the carvers, and the craftsmen and their families that decorated the royal tombs and created the antiquities that get all the attention in other Egyptian stories. These were the laborers, the common folk, like you and me.

They not only left written documentation about the rulers, the these scribes also carefully carved their own stories and way of life into the rock walls and pieces of stone around Deir el Medina, the tomb-makers' village. They left their own mark and story among the hills around the valley of the kings, and the scribe's family history is as interesting, or in some ways with more relatedness, than that of Pharaohs, Queens, and their gold plated mummies.

Several royal tomb scribes, beginning with Ramose (1275 to 1241 BCE)provide enough data to follow them through their lives and discover how they lived, how they felt, what they admired, what they dreamed and who they loved. They left behind personal family correspondence, with historic footnotes. It's a textbook via DVD on the ANCIENT LIVES of these common workers, but extraordinary artists.

The "people of the village" faced hardship, hard work, and little reward except the pride of their work. Eventually things like famine, grave plundering, and changes in the pharaohs wishes, brought about major changes in the village, even it's eventual doom.

You'll get some looks inside magnificent tombs; see valuable aesthetic pieces, and hillside scratches; visit museum housed artifacts; and all along this trip, get thoroughly enlightened as to what you are experiencing from John Romer, a famous archaeologist that looks and acts the part of one of the commoner people of the village.

This set includes subtitles, a Bonus featurette called "Pharaohs' Liquid Gold" (about the ancient Egyptian beer that was a staple along with bread), & a booklet to follow during each episode which includes highlights as well as added information of important people met in the episode. This booklet also poses questions usable for educational classrooms, or with your viewing friends. It has a bibliography, a bit on a scribe's education, a bit on hieroglyphics and hieratic writing, and a 2009 piece "The Making of Ancient Lives" by John Romer. More DVD bonus features include Who's Who among Egyptian Deities, and Real-life Indiana Joneses, an archeologist segment.

You'll see a small bit of King Tut and Queen Nefertiti, but you'll enjoy more the story of scribe Harshire (and others), and actually are shown a location Romer thinks will be the next great golden Egyptian dig archaeological windfall. Just ten feet down from where he is standing? Grab your pick and study your Egyptian symbols.
OR, buy this DVD set and enjoy a personally guided ride through rocky tomb-filled Egypt's Nile valley, near Thebes.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I'll make this short and sweet ... this is the best DVD on ancient Egypt you will ever watch, let alone, own. No one can make the past come alive the way that John Romer is able to. He makes you feel as though you're being transported back in time ... walking among the ancients ... and it's pure magic. I watched the original series in the early 80s, owned it on VHS ... watching it over and over again until the tape would no longer play, and have been hoping that it would come out some day on DVD. I'm thrilled that my wait is finally over. Purchasing this is an early Christmas gift to myself and suggest you do the same. You won't regret it.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2009
Format: DVD
I had originally viewed this series when it was on A&E over 25 years ago!

John Romer is an excellent guide, as he takes you into the Cairo Museum to view the artifacts there. Food, utensils and tools that they used to garden and eat with.

This used to be available only on VHS tape. The cost was $250.00

I happened upon a copy at my local library and transferred it.

My VHS copy is quite worn as I have viewed these tapes many, many times.

I highly recommend this DVD. I like it so much that I'll probably buy it for myself!

Alain...San Diego
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I saw this documentary years ago on PBS and had one episode on my vcr and lost the others.I like other people have yearned for this to be released and it finally is.John Romer is a very excellent author and truly exciting person to listen to.He brings this series alive the whole way through.He goes into the everyday lives and people of the village.Everthing from fights to drunken villagers out of control.He takes you on the everyday path the tomb builders went to work as well as explaining their lives and families.He wrote the book Ancient Lives which is also an excellent companion to this series.I never saw a documentary as great as this one on Ancient Egypt.If you think Zahi Hawass is good,this guy is even better.He takes you through the 4 part series from the great period of Ramesses II through the slow decline of the Egyptian Empire.It is a show I shall never forget.I own several of his books and I highly recommend them along with this DVD series.I only hope they put out the other Dvd series he did on Egypt.10 *******************************************
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Ancient Lives is a documentary unlike any other I've watched. Viewing this passionately presented 200 plus minute voyage through the lives of a village of Egyptian tomb-makers living in the small village of Deir al Medina from approximately 1275 - 1080 B.C. is comparable to indulging in a vibrantly written biography as opposed to a committee-compiled, dry textbook.

John Romer is the driving force behind the series, his desire to conserve the great archeological sites in the Valley of the Kings leading him to present these Egyptians as people with rich thriving lives. Their love lives, family dramas, occupations, and so much more are explored with Romer as an expert guide. Watching Ancient Lives is like having a legitimate Egyptologist guiding you through museum exhibits, on-site hieroglyphics and tomb art, ruins, tombs, and so much more.

Part of the great charm of the series is seeing a man deeply immersed in his element and sharing his deep love for the subject matter with us as he moves through on-site explorations. We get to see Romer crawling up toppled statuary and searching through the Valley of the Kings for burial chambers that have yet to be discovered for example. Where else can you watch an Egyptologist finding himself stuck in possible tomb openings? (There are some occasional mild epithets in the series.)

Ancient Lives is generally acceptable viewing for all ages. Our children have watched the series with us and our oldest (six) finds it quite fascinating. It was much to our surprise when a scene entitled "Erotic Papyrus" in the scene index came on-screen. The graphic nature of what amounts to Egyptian pornography in the second episode is definitely outside the limits of general family viewing. Parents and educators, consider yourself forewarned -have your remote handy to skip this brief scene.

Perhaps as fascinating as the documentary itself is the success the series enjoyed. It both drew attention to the Valley of the Kings and Deir al Medina, spurring an upswelling of further scholarly research, but the inclusion of film snippets from an Egyptian film in episode four represent perhaps the earliest use of reenactments in documentaries - a highly effective technique that modern documentary viewers now take for granted.

Originally filmed for British television in the `80s, the series has been resurrected on DVD under the Athena Learning division of Acorn Media. I'm incredibly thankful. The need for entry-level documentaries is well filled with introductions to the pyramids, to mummies, and so on - but Romer's vision of the everyday life of the Egyptian tomb builders is incredibly valuable for those seeking to go deeper in their understanding of the history of this mysterious country.

As a result of age, there are some minor flaws in the film's appearance that couldn't be repaired in its translation to DVD (a disclaimer is included). The color and film quality is also par for the course for the early `80s. Volume 1 includes the first two episodes and includes on-screen text descriptions of major Egyptian deities, biographical sketches of notable archeologists of ancient Egypt, and show host John Romer as additional special features. Volume 2 includes episodes three and four along with a bonus 23-minute documentary that chronicles a quest to recreate Egyptian beer from archeological findings.

Navigation through the two-disc set is easy and efficient - viewers can select which of the two episodes they'd like to view on the disc, or use standard scene selection menus. Subtitles are also included. A 16-page viewer's guide includes a map of the region, summaries of the episode, questions for further reflection, additional insights on life as a scribe and Egyptian hieroglyphics, and entries from John Romer on his recommended resources for further learning and how the series was made.

Romer is always completely at ease, warm, and enthusiastic as he moves through the Egyptian landscape. Older students ready for a deeper exploration of Egyptian life, filled with rich detail will gobble up the wealth of knowledge that's found in Ancient Lives. The opportunity to sit at the feet of a renowned Egyptologist as he shares his knowledge on film is simply too good to pass up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I first saw this series on PBS many years ago, and recorded it in Beta format. Before I got rid of my Beta player, I copied it to VHS. You can imagine the low quality of the resulting VHS tape! But I still found it to be irrestible to watch again and again.

When we think of Ancient Egypt, what comes to mind for most of us is the massive monuments, stautes, temples, tombs, and the rest of "official" Egypt. The humanity of the ancient Egyptians is not seen in these creations. What Romer does is use the writings (found on vast numbers of stone chips) and history of the tomb craftsmen to describe their life over a 500 year period when they were working in the Valley of the Kings. The result is, IMHO, by far the best video presentation on ancient Egypt ever produced. The story of the village of the craftsmen illuminates and brings to life these ancient Egyptians.

Romer has also done a marvelous series, available on DVD, on Byzantium. If you have seen it, you know how skilled he is at presenting historical subjects. "Ancient Lives" is even better than his "Byzantium", so don't miss it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
If you are going to own just one documentary on Ancient Egypt, this is it. John Romer brings the emotions and passions of these ancient people to life.
I have enjoyed this series all these years, since it first aired on PBS. Now having these DVDs is just great.
If you've ever had any interest in the great civilization of Egypt, get this series before it disappears. Thank you John Romer.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The Athena Co. has produced a great conversion of "Ancient Lives" onto DVD. The image quality is quite good and, while there is some small hiss in the audio, the narration and music sound good. I have owned the old VHS tapes of the show (bought from a library when it folded) and I have seen the exorbitantly expensive DVDs of the show sold by Films for the Humanities. This latter DVD effort wasn't very good as it looks like they simply converted their VHS copies over to DVD. By contrast, the Athena edition sold here appears to have gone back to more original source material; the resulting DVD is significantly better. Thank you Athena Co.!

Given the quality of this edition, I hope that the Athena Co. gets around to doing some of Romer's other 1980's era documentaries: Romer's Egypt (3 episodes) and Testament (7 episodes).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is one of John Romers 1st films and its about his love of Ancient Egypt. Using the unusual idea of following the ancient writings of a group of ancient Egyptians. Mr. Romer explains the various aspects of those long ago lives and brings them back to life with his usual vim and vigour. I just can not express my admiration properly for his work and only hope that his film Testament comes out soon in DVD. Well done Sir!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The subject matter really comes to life. I voraciously read ancient Egyptian history when I was a kid. If I had had this level of material available at the time, I may have become an archaeologist. John Romer again proves that his documentaries set the standard in the area. Any possibility of Romer's Egypt becoming available? I have bought everything else he has made.
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