From Slave to Pharaoh: The Black Experience of Ancient Egypt

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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.


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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.

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The pyramid form, in particular, still pays an important role in modern architecture, and can be seen rising above cemeteries and innumerable shopping centres, and at the new entrance to the Louvre Museum, Paris. The original pyramids serve as a testament to the mathematical skill of the Egyptians, a skill that stimulated Greek mathematicians, including Pythagoras, to perfect their work.

The Great Pyramid, built by Khufu Cheops in BC, for example, stands an impressive 46m ft high, with a slope of 51degrees. Its sides, with an average length of m ft , vary by less than 5cm 2in. Higher than St Paul's Cathedral, the pyramid was aligned with amazing accuracy almost exactly to true north. But the pyramids are more than mathematical puzzles. They hold the key to understanding the structure of Egyptian society.

The pyramids were built, not by the gangs of slaves often portrayed by Hollywood film moguls, but by a workforce of up to 5, permanent employees, supplemented by as many as 20, temporary workers, who would work for three or four months on the pyramid site, before returning home. The bureaucracy that we know lay behind this operation is staggering. Not only did the workforce have to be summoned, housed and fed, but administrators also had to coordinate the supplies of stone, rope, fuel and wood that were needed to support the building work.

Pyramid studies confirm that a pre-mechanical society can, given adequate resources and the will to succeed, achieve great things. Pyramid building would have been impossible without strong government backed up by an efficient civil service. No wonder many archaeologists believe that, while the Egyptians undeniably built the pyramids, the pyramids also built Egypt. Relief showing a woman of ancient Egypt, giving birth. The goddess Hathor, protector of women during childbirth, assists on either side. Unlike those of other ancient societies, the Egyptians were experienced in dissecting corpses because, believing that their souls needed an earthly body, they preserved their dead as mummies.

Their eviscerated, dried and bandaged bodies were once regarded as useless curiosities to be unwrapped, stripped of their jewellery, then discarded, and the archaeological literature is full of horrific stories of unwanted mummies being burned as torches, ground into pigment, processed into brown paper and even dispensed as stomach medicine for the rich and gullible. Today attitudes to the long-deceased have changed and it is no longer considered appropriate to destroy a mummy out of mere curiosity.

However, the countless mummies, already unwrapped, stored in the world's museums and universities offer an incomparable source of ancient human tissue. The Manchester Mummy Project, led by Professor Rosalie David, has worked in close conjunction with Manchester University's medical faculties to develop a multi-disciplinary methodology for the examination of ancient human remains. Their work has not only provided a wealth of information about the health of the ancient Egyptians, it has provided useful information to scientists engaged in the struggle to eliminate the parasitical infestation bilharzia schistosomiasis which still plagues the Nile Valley.

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From Slave To Pharaoh The Black Experience Of Ancient Egypt

In its worst, untreated form, bilharzia can lead to the development of cancer. The study of Egyptian art, of genealogy or hieroglyphs, is above all, however, the greatest of fun. The Egyptologists have noted that both ancient and modern bilharzia infection can be identified by testing for the presence of antibodies.


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This suggests that the parasite has remained fundamentally unchanged since ancient Egyptian times. Redford examines over two millennia of complex social and cultural interactions between Egypt and the Nubian and Sudanese civilizations that lay to the south of Egypt.

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These interactions resulted in the expulsion of the black Kushite pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in B. Redford traces the development of Egyptian perceptions of race as their dominance over the darker-skinned peoples of Nubia and the Sudan grew, exploring the cultural construction of spatial and spiritual boundaries between Egypt and other African peoples.

Redford focuses on the role of racial identity in the formulation of imperial power in Egypt and the legitimization of its sphere of influence, and he highlights the dichotomy between the Egyptians' treatment of the black Africans it deemed enemies and of those living within Egyptian society.

He also describes the range of responses-from resistance to assimilation-of subjugated Nubians and Sudanese to their loss of self-determination. Indeed, by the time of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, the culture of the Kushite kings who conquered Egypt in the late eighth century B.

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Moving beyond recent debates between Afrocentrists and their critics over the racial characteristics of Egyptian civilization, From Slave to Pharaoh reveals the true complexity of race, identity, and power in Egypt as documented through surviving texts and artifacts, while at the same time providing a compelling account of war, conquest, and culture in the ancient world.

These interactions resulted in the expulsion of the black Kushite pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in B. Redford traces the development of Egyptian perceptions of race as their dominance over the darker-skinned peoples of Nubia and the Sudan grew, exploring the cultural construction of spatial and spiritual boundaries between Egypt and other African peoples.

Redford focuses on the role of racial identity in the formulation of imperial power in Egypt and the legitimization of its sphere of influence, and he highlights the dichotomy between the Egyptians' treatment of the black Africans it deemed enemies and of those living within Egyptian society. He also describes the range of responses--from resistance to assimilation--of subjugated Nubians and Sudanese to their loss of self-determination.

Indeed, by the time of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, the culture of the Kushite kings who conquered Egypt in the late eighth century B. Moving beyond recent debates between Afrocentrists and their critics over the racial characteristics of Egyptian civilization, From Slave to Pharaoh reveals the true complexity of race, identity, and power in Egypt as documented through surviving texts and artifacts, while at the same time providing a compelling account of war, conquest, and culture in the ancient world. Donald Redford shows us why historical writing, if it is to be truly informative, must always be based directly on ancient documents and accurate understanding of the archaeological evidence.

At the same time, his historical insights and depth of knowledge are widely respected in the field, and in his new work, he shows why. He also describes the range of responses-from resistance to assimilation-of subjugated Nubians and Sudanese to their loss of self-determination. Bibliographic information. Publication date Note Includes bibliographical references p.

ISBN hardcover : alk.