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Genesis of the Pharaohs: Dramatic New Discoveries Rewrite the Origins of Ancient Egypt Hardcover – June 1, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Modern scholars have tended to accept that the brilliant civilization of the pharaohs is the product of the rich agricultural surpluses of the Nile floodplain. But ancient rock carvings tell a different story, according to this illustrated treatise on ancient Egypt. Archaeologist Wilkinson specializes in rock art in the region between the Nile and the Red Sea dating from the 5th millennium B. C., when this now-desert area was verdant grassland. These pre-Pharaonic carvings, he argues, are a complex mixture of motifs, depicting crocodiles, hippos and boats from the Nile alongside ostriches and giraffes from the savannah, and suffused with cattle imagery and the religious symbolism that would characterize classical Egyptian art. This evidence, he asserts, shows that pre-Pharaonic Egyptians were not settled flood-plain farmers, but semi-nomadic herders who drove their cattle in between the lush riverbanks and the drier grasslands-a legacy evident, for example, in the Egyptian royal sceptre, which looks like a shepherd's crook. Wilkinson argues for Egyptian civilization's deep roots in a distinctive African landscape. His theory tacitly challenges an orthodoxy that holds that civilization sprang from efforts to irrigate land around the great rivers of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China; "cultural complexity," he writes, "was not borne of an easy agricultural lifestyle by the banks of the river, but of the fight for survival in more difficult terrain." Wilkinson wears his erudition lightly and provides an engaging and clearly written guide to the arcana of pre-historic Egyptology. His book is an invigorating contribution to a vital historiographical debate. 87 illustrations, 25 in color.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Well-researched and logical. -- Library Journal, Edward K. Werner, 1 June 2003
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1st edition (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500051224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051221
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,069,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ray Farmer on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Genesis of the Pharaohs" ponders the question of the origin of the direct ancestors of Pre-Dynastic Egypt. Wilkinson attempts to refute theories that these ancestors came from outside the area either forceably or peacefully, and brought their complex culture with them, which formed the basis of the Old Kingdom. Rather, through a comparative analysis of the rock art of the eastern savanna (located between the Nile and the Red Sea) with the art of the Naqada and Pre-Dynastic periods, the author proposes that the ancestors of Ancient Egyptian civilization were locals who lived in and around the eastern savanna.

Wilkinson's enthusiasm for his subject is very apparent, and he creates an enjoyable experience for the most part for readers of this book. However, I thought that the evidence he used to support his story was speculative and subjective, and this is inevitable when Wilkinson's argument is based primarily on art comparison. In certain parts of the book, I felt that the author was taking on the role of a salesman who was trying to sell us his story, and using his personality rather than the evidence to win us over.

At times, I also thought Wilkinson's enthusiasm was excessive to the point that he became too familiar with his subject. For example, in one of the chapters, he concocts a hypothetical story of a boy named Seth who lived in the eastern savanna region during the time that the rock art was created. Wilkinson goes through the trouble of constructing a hypothetical scenario involving the boy's interaction with his parents and his environment, all against the backdrop of the rock art. Apparently, this fictional account was meant to reinforce what Wilkinson thought was the social function of the rock art paintings to these early people.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in the origins of ancient Egyptian civilization, this is a superb book. The author does not succumb to sensationalism, but offers this latest theory based on dateable artifacts studied with standard and most recent scientifically-based archeological methods.
This very readable book examines the predynastic evidence to support the theory that ancient Egypt's pharaonic civilization derived from indigenous semi-nomadic cultures about 7000-5000 years ago. Beginning with a survey of various archeological expeditions to Egypt's Eastern and Western deserts in search of prehistoric rock art, the book continues with a disussion of how rock art is dated, then sketches the cultures that produced the rock art and other predynastic artifacts. Finally, the possible meanings of the main motifs (animals forms, human forms, and boats) of the predynastic cultures are examined in light of how this symbology may be the origins of the ancient Egyptian royal and religious iconography of dynastic times.
The author's style is not dry but rather unfolds as a story that draws in the reader. No knowledge of archeology or of ancient Egypt, either dynastic or predynastic, is assumed. The maps, chart, figures, and numerous high-quality full-color plates assist learning and make the book delightfully self-contained.
The author makes it clear that this field is in its infancy and with the questions posed and the included bibliography invites the serious student and the scholar/researcher to further investigation, whether in the literature or in the field.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Larry N. Stout on November 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wilkinson and his collaborators made major rock-art discoveries in Egypt's Eastern Desert. However, this book overreaches the import and merits of these discoveries. No doubt it was very exciting indeed to find these images pecked in stone in prehistoric times, but Wilkinson's attempt to dramatize his account of the discoveries is a literary bust. And a late chapter of only a few pages purporting to place us in the sandals (or bare feet?) of a prehistoric Egyptian boy is embarrassingly lackluster and vapid. Notwithstanding that Wilkinson's interpretations of the rock art are interesting (if at times forced) and stimulating, far too much of the text is needlessly repetitive -- in an apparent effort to stetch to book length material that simply does not suffice for such ambition, at least in the form of a semi-popular book. The rock art is fascinating, but this book, whatever Wilkinson's personal bona fides, falls in the category of overdone ephemera. Nits, both small and large: Cairo and Maadi (at Wadi Digla) are mislocated on the map. "Slate" is dismissed as an alternate term for what is identified in the first instance as fine-grained siltstone (from which "cosmetic palettes" were made by the ancients), but the term "schist" strangely is not dismissed: is it a metamorphic rock, or not? Siltstone is not a metamorphic rock, and schist is not fine-grained. Figure 20 draws a parallel between a petroglyph showing seven women side by side and a grave-goods bowl with seven modeled women around the rim, yet the text tells us that there are eight women. On p.Read more ›
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