Artifacts from Ancient Egypt. By Barbara Mendoza. Daily Life through Artifacts. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2017. 339 p. Acid free $100 (ISBN 978-1-4408-4400-3). E-book available (978-1-4408-4401-0), call for pricing.

Artifacts from Ancient Egypt, a new title in the Greenwood Daily Life through Artifacts series, utilizes objects of daily life from ancient Egypt to illuminate the ways in which material culture reflects the lifeways of the people who produce it. In keeping with the general outline of the series, author Barbara Mendoza, a Berkeley-trained specialist in ancient Egyptian and eastern Mediterranean art and archaeology, has selected 45 pieces that reflect the customs, beliefs, and practices of ancient Egyptians from the earliest Predynastic era (ca. 5000 BCE) through the late Graeco-Roman period (ca. 300 CE). The material culture of ancient Egypt is particularly adapted to this kind of treatment, given its deeply ornamented and symbolic nature, and is an excellent beginner’s guide to understanding and interpreting how material culture reflects the society that created it.

In the introduction, Mendoza gives a brief overview of Egyptian historical periods and discusses the limitations and problems of Egyptian historiographic evidence. She then has a section on evaluating artifacts, not just the who, what, where, when, and how of interpretation but also the why: why artifacts are vital to understanding the culture and lives of ancient societies and why their interpretation is so important. Included is a section on Egyptian chronology which is within the standard range of a reasonable low Egyptian chronology.

The artifacts themselves are arranged topically, covering areas such as beauty and clothing; household items and games; literacy and writing; and death and funerary equipment. There is a large black and white photograph of each object being discussed, and each article has an introduction, description, and significance section, as well as a list of further reading. In the “Death and Funerary Equipment” section, for example, a lovely set of alabaster canopic jars from the Twenty-First Dynasty are featured. The introductory section explains the purpose and history of canopic jars. The description section describes the jars, their lids fashioned in the form of gods, and their composition. The significance section explains why canopic jars were important in Egyptian funerary practice and the symbolic meaning of the gods that traditionally decorated them. Additionally, a breakout section gives an excerpt from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which describes the heart weighing ceremony by the god Thoth, and explains the importance of the heart in Egyptian religious belief. The volume ends with a more extensive bibliography and an index.

This series, and this volume in particular, is a wonderful tool for exposing younger students to primary source materials and guiding them in their interpretation. As with the other titles in this series, color pictures would have been useful but the photographs of the artifacts are adequate. The choice of some of the translations of ancient texts is a bit puzzling, as there are better and more modern translations available for Egyptian literature. However, while there are thousands of books and articles written about Egyptian material culture, for younger students learning to work with primary materials for the first time this is a very accessible and student-friendly teaching tool. While not sufficient for scholarly research, this is a great resource for secondary and college students, and a good choice for undergraduate archaeology or art history departments.—Amanda K. Sprochi, Health Sciences Cataloger, The University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri


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