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Genesis of the Pharaohs: Dramatic New Discoveries Rewrite the Origins of Ancient Egypt Hardcover – June, 2003
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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.
Well-researched and logical. -- Library Journal, Edward K. Werner, 1 June 2003
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Wilkinson's book directs our attention to the former Eastern savannah, now a desert, between the Nile and the Red Sea. In pre-historic times there was enough rainfall to support grasses and game; the region was populated by semi-nomadic people who made a living from cattle herding and hunting. The early pastoralists migrated here annually from temporary settlements on the east bank of the Nile, taking advantage of unique resources available at different times of the year: fishing, farming, and clay (for making pottery) near the river, and minerals, game, and pasture for their flocks on the savannah.
It is here, Wilkinson asserts, that we can find some of the earliest evidence for Pre-Dynastic Egyptian lifestyles, beliefs, imagery, political organization, and religion. Much of it comes from rock art, which was incised on the walls of rock shelters above the ancient stream beds. Petroglyphs show the wild and domesticated animals upon which the people's livelihood depended; scenes of the hunt; of herding; afterlife beliefs, most notably the funeral boat on which the deceased symbolically rode to the heavens; and gods with their distinctive feathered plumes.
For those who love art history, it's especially gratifying to note the large part that iconographic analysis has played in establishing the probable origins of Egyptian civilization, and the lifestyle and beliefs of the earliest Egyptians.
A fascinating and easy-to-read book, this will be enjoyed by just about everyone, from general reader to specialist, who is interested in prehistory, rock art and the origins of ancient Egypt.