Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Miroslav Verner - The Pyramids - Their Archaeology and History

For thousands of years people have travelled to Egypt to see the pyramids. Even when first built they must have attracted visitors from far and wide. These gigantic monuments that were thousands of years old when the ancient Greeks and Romans went to Egypt still have an unbelievable power to impress.

It seems that there is no end to the interest that the Pyramids, and ancient Egyptian society can generate - is there ever a day when the History channel doesn't have a programme about their mysteries? How many DVDs, books and films have been made?

Miroslav Verner is at the cutting edge of archaeological research into the Pyramids. For many years he has headed up the Czech research team at Abu Sir, a pyramid site 30 or so kilometres south of Cairo. His book is an attempt to bring together everything that we know about these monuments and the society that built them.

This is a massive task and credit should be due to Verner for making it so readable. Given the limited knowledge we can have about a civilisation that existed 5000 years ago, Verner lets us know precisely what is known, and were there is doubt, he explains the theories and ideas that exist.

Khafre's pyramid at Giza


While nothing can prepare anyone for the first time they see the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, or the Great Pyramid rising above Cairo's outskirts, Verner certainly creates an exciting read though - even when describing an empty tomb, you can smell the musty air! If there is one criticism of this book, there is too much detail about the number of rooms and corridors in some of the monuments - but this isn't a book aimed at the amateur - this is a text book and that needs to be taken into account by the reader. Saying that, Verner isn't above the odd bit of humour - like when he points out that while previous arcaheologists used dynamite and slave labour to enter the tombs, this isn't standard practice these days.

The Pyramids - Miroslav VernerIt's perhaps unfortunate that Verner has to spend the last chapter of this work dismissing the lunatic ideas and theories that abound about the pyramids - but he does it with the same care and humour that he uses when telling us about burial procedures and discussing the methods that Egyptian builders may have used.

If you ever go to Egypt, take this book with you. There's nothing quite like seeing the Pyramids, except perhaps knowing exactly what you are looking at and there aren't many books that will make you feel as knowledgable about the pyramids as this one.

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