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Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist Paperback – July 12, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For prominent American archeologist Ryan, EgyptÖs famed Valley of the Kings, a royal cemetery from 1500 to 1000 B.C.E., was a gift that kept on giving. Ryan rediscovered a small, undecorated tomb in 1989 that had been found and dismissed in 1903 by Howard Carter (later celebrated for discovering King TutÖs tomb). In this simple tomb, Ryan found a mummy lying on the floor whose bent left arm and clenched left fist suggested an Eighteenth Dynasty royal female grasping a scepter or other ceremonial object. Her identity became a media sensation in 2007 when EgyptÖs most prominent archeologist, Zahi Hawass, provided compelling evidence that she was the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, whose father, Thutmose I, was the first pharaoh buried in the Valley of the Kings 3,400 years ago. Ryan also recounts his collaboration with the controversial and celebrated Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his long journey to becoming an archeologist, including graduate school fieldwork mapping petroglyphs in Hawaiian lava fields and studying ancient Egyptian cordage in the British Museum. RyanÖs observations are intimate, frank, and perceptive, and his spirited adventures in underappreciated avenues of exploration are a boon for armchair and budding archeologists. 32 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This book should do for Egyptology what Donald Johanson and Maitland Eddy's Lucy (1981) did for paleontology. Ryan, the archaeologist who rediscovered tomb KV 60 in the Valley of the Kings (later identified as the final resting place of the pharoah Hatshepsut), takes us through his life, career, and numerous expeditions. It's a thrilling book, not because it's full of Indiana Jones heroics but because Ryan's enthusiasm for what he does (more dirt-sifting than bullwhip-wielding) is manifested on every page; and—again like Johanson and Eddy—he catches us up in his excitement, makes us wish we weren't just reading about this stuff but were actually doing it. Ryan also dispels or challenges some long-held pieces of so-called common knowledge, such as the belief that slaves built the pyramids (there's no evidence to support that) and the much-ballyhooed but sadly nonexistent curse of the mummy's tomb. This wonderful adventure story should be must reading for anyone aspiring to become an archaeologist, but even those of us who harbor no such dreams will be aching to get a little dirt under our fingernails. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061732834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061732836
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,303,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Beneath the Sands of Egypt is one of the most entertaining books that I've read in a long time (including one Elizabeth Peters and two Clive Cusslers), a truly delightful read and also extremely informative on a number of subjects in addition to the life and professional narrative of the author. Even a fellow Egyptologist (such as myself) will come away knowing more about sundry subjects, for instance climbing, ancient Egyptian cordage, the history of the Valley of the Kings, Thor Heyerdahl and the significance of his work, and some major players and developments in both earlier and recent archaeology, as well as Dr. Ryan's personal work and articulate and engaging perspectives. At least as importantly, the reader of whatever background will come away energized by the author's enthusiasm. The descriptions of filming TV documentaries, yodeling in the hills of Western Thebes, the anatomy of scholarly meetings such as the American Research Center in Egypt (at which I always try to attend his papers), some intriguing archaeological enigmas, and a young boy playing Kon-Tiki until his mother's dinner summons penetrates the thousands of miles of trackless ocean, are all recounted with immediacy and relish. This book is truly hard to put down; I tried when it was very very late but I still failed. As the ancient Egyptians said, Live Prosper and Be Healthy! And write a sequel 50 or 60 years from now! May we all be here to read it!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don Ryan's career as an archaeologist has covered not only the traditional bases - excavating tombs in the Valley of the Kings and exploring Easter Island, for example - but also the more modern aspects of his trade, such as participating in television documentaries. This memoir describes, in vivid terms, some of his most significant undertakings. The history and archaeology will be of great interest to any reader and provide fascinating insights into his specific discoveries, but the book is considerably more than that: Ryan provides a case study in the life of an individual who, despite the many factors that work against him, succeeds in leading a life and career which fulfills what for many of us are merely dreams. Ryan's narrative is eminently readable, consistently enjoyable, and ultimately inspiring. Whether discussing his time as a mountain climber, a scholar, an archaeologist or an administrator, Ryan's story illustrates the truth that if you try hard enough, almost anything is achievable. This is a truly entertaining, enlightening tale that is suitable for adults but exciting and appropriate for young people as well. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
Donald Ryan's Beneath the Sands of Egypt is a mixed bag. For those interested in the status of Valley of the Kings archeology, he does a nice job of illustrating the practicalities of a dig, and brings the long story of the disposition of the Hatshepsut mummy up to date. Also enjoyable are his discussions of living situations in and around the major dig sites. He has a tendency, however, to occasionally drift into a breezy style and an informal chattiness that I found distracting (e.g., his discussions of co-worker's personalities).

His section on Thor Heyerdahl, with whom he apparently worked for several years, was somewhat disappointing. He goes overboard in proclaiming his hero worship of Heyerdahl (which immediately casts a doubt on his objectivity) and then proceeds only to say that Heyerdahl's distracters either aren't familiar with his work or are jealous of his celebrity. It was especially peculiar that he suggested that the credibility of the 'Kon-Tiki' author was supported by the fact that another Heyerdahl book had "...over eight hundred pages of closely spaced print and hundreds of bibliographical references..." - certainly a dubious attribute in a critical assessment of any work. I don't have an opinion on Heyerdahl, but many others think he was a researcher of questionable talents. Ryan missed a good opportunity here to put forward an effective defense of him. He should have spent a page or two commenting on the points of controversy, and why he felt Heyerdahl's methods were sound.

Less distracting, but still odd, was Ryan's identification of himself on the cover as "Ph.D" (about every current writer on the same topic is a Ph.D), and even more so by his bizarre and deliberate obfuscation of the identity of his graduate schools. Why did he do this?
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Format: Hardcover
For many, archaeology can be a tremendously intriguing discipline. Just the thought of unearthing some ancient treasure or uncovering some evidence that could push back the frontiers of historical knowledge can be most compelling. In this book, written as a memoir, the author recounts various incidents in his life - mainly in archaeology (not only in Egypt) but his earlier years and his activities as a rock climber are also touched upon. Also taking center stage in various parts of the book are archaeologists of the past: Giovanni Belzoni, Howard Carter, Thor Heyerdahl and a few others. The author writes very well and in a friendly and often captivating style. Any terms that are used that may be obscure to a general reader are clearly explained as they occur. On the down side, the book's temporal progression is not as smooth as one might hope, but a bit sporadic. Also, devoting a significant amount of space to some of the activities of a few archaeologists of the past in different parts of the world, although interesting, tends to make the book a bit less focussed that it could be. Incidentally, the reason for the term "unconventional archaeologist" in the book's subtitle is not really clear to me. But overall, the book is a very easy and enjoyable read full of adventure and discovery. It should appeal to a very broad readership.
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