Blogger Template by Blogcrowds.

Five thousand years ago the chain of independent city-states lining the River Nile united to form one long, thin country ruled by one king, or pharaoh. Almost instantly a highly distinctive culture developed. For almost 30 centuries Egypt remained the foremost nation in the Mediterranean world. Then, in 332 BC, the arrival of Alexander the Great heralded the end of the Egyptian way of life.

The unique culture was quickly buried beneath successive layers of Greek, Roman and Arabic tradition, and all knowledge of Egypt's glorious past was lost. Only the decaying stone monuments, their hieroglyphic texts now unreadable, survived as silent witnesses to a long lost civilisation.

Some 2,000 years on, however, the ancient hieroglyphs have been decoded and Egyptology - the study of ancient Egypt - is booming. At a time when Latin and ancient Greek are rapidly vanishing from the school curriculum, more and more people are choosing to read hieroglyphs in their spare time. And the Egyptian galleries of our museums are packed with visitors, while the galleries dedicated to other ancient cultures remain empty.

To emphasise the point, University Egyptology courses are full to bursting, and night school classes are attracting increasing numbers of people happy to spend their leisure hours studying the far distant past. This obvious interest has become self-fulfilling. Publishers and television producers are happy to invest in ancient Egypt because they know that there will be an appreciative audience for their work, and every new book, each new programme, attracts more devotees to the subject.

All ancient civilisations have contributed in some way to the development of modern society. All therefore are equally deserving of study. Why then do so many people choose to concentrate on Egypt? What does the culture of ancient Egypt offer the modern world that other cultures - those of Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, or China - do not?

Those who have been bitten by the Egyptology bug cite a variety of reasons for their addiction - the beauty of the art, the skill of the craftsmen, the intricacies of the language, the certainties of the priests - or even a vague, indefinable feeling that the Egyptians came as close as is humanly possible to living a near-perfect life. Individually these would all be good reasons to study any ancient civilisation. Combined, and tinged with the glamour bestowed by some of the world's most flamboyant archaeologists, they make an irresistible package.

Egypt's rich material legacy is the result of her unique funerary beliefs, which, combined with her distinctive geography, encouraged the preservation of archaeological material. The River Nile flows northwards through the centre of Egypt, bringing much needed water to an otherwise arid part of north-east Africa.

Their total dependence on the River Nile as a source of water and a means of transport had a deep impact on the way that the Egyptians saw the world. Their sun god, the falcon-headed Re, did not cross the heavens in a flaming chariot, he sailed sedately in a solar boat.

Parallel to the Nile on both banks of the river runs the Black Land - the narrow strip of fertile soil that allowed the Egyptians to practice the most efficient agriculture in the ancient world. Beyond the Black Land lies the inhospitable Red Land, the desert that once served as a vast cemetery, and beyond the Red Land are the cliffs that protected Egypt from unwelcome visitors.

Believing that the soul could live beyond death, the Egyptians buried their dead in the Red Land, with all the goods they considered they would need in what they thought of as the 'afterlife'. While their mud-brick houses have dissolved and their stone temples have decayed, their desert tombs have survived relatively intact, the dry conditions encouraging the preservation of such delicate materials as plaster, wood, papyrus, cloth, leather and skin.

This wealth of objects, of course, creates a highly biased collection of artefacts. The lives and possessions of the poor are under-represented, and we can never be certain that the goods so carefully provided for the dead were representative of the goods used in daily life. Nevertheless, the contents of Egypt's tombs, supplemented by the illustrations on the tomb walls, have allowed specialists to develop a greater understanding of Egyptian material technology than of any other ancient civilisation.

Read more at bbc.co.uk

0 Comments:

Post a Comment



Newer Post Older Post Home