Pharaohs and Pyramids: A Guide Through Old Kindom Egypt

"Pharaohs and Pyramids:
A Guide Through Old Kingdom Egypt"
George Hart, with foreword by Professor Barry Cunliffe
The Herbert Press, UK, 1991.
ISBN: 1-871569-36-2

"Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids," begins a modern Egyptian proverb. Even to the last millennia of the Kemetic culture, the stone "houses of eternity" left as legacies by ephemeral god-kings were a puzzlement, an exhibition of unexplained majesty. In all periods of later Kemetic history, it was high compliment and the ultimate reverence to be able to compare oneself to "the first time" when Kemet's splendor had yet been untouched by outside forces such as invasion and international diplomacy. The Old Kingdom's influence was felt through the entire Kemetic culture, and continues to the present day, as everyone from UFO fanatics to racial purists tries to stake a claim to the pyramids that were the splendor of the Two Lands in the time of kings known only to us by their monuments: Nar-mer, Djoser, Seneferu, Khufu, Khafra, Unas, Pepi.

George Hart, already known to the scholarly and popular Egyptophile community for a delightful quick reference to Netjer (The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt), has here compiled an illustrated history of the end of the Predynastic Period and the entire Old Kingdom of Kemet, as revealed through surviving monuments and the archaeological record. This book will have wide appeal to beginner and expert alike. It's also the first book on the subject I've seen that deals objectively with the process of pyramid building, showing once and for all that it can be proven that not only did pyramid buiding evolve over time to culminate in the glory of the Great Pyramid at modern-day Giza--but that the building of pyramids served a social welfare and religious function, firmly placing it into the realm of possibility for the very society whose culture seems synonymous with them. With the exception of a few unnecessary conjectures here and there, Hart takes on the question of who built the pyramids and why with facts, diagrams and photographs, taking the wind once and for all out of the sails of the currently re-emerging "pyramids as the product of alien technology" theories.

Hart then continues to describe the splendor of the rest of this ancient culture, as revealed through the murals and statuary of nobles' tombs. While he treats the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (popularly known as "The Tomb of the Two Brothers" even though it shows two men openly and without derision as lovers) with traditional British understatement, Hart's analysis of what is revealed on these walls and in the eyes of these statues is at once charming and reflected both in today's Egyptian culture and in the universal human landscape. The book is chronologically arranged, with plenty of geneaological tables, maps and photographs, most in color.

An additional, interesting feature of the book's layout is in its description of sites through the form of a walking tour; it would be possible to literally take the book with you to the site and let it lead you to the scenes or monuments described.

My only disappointment in this book is Hart's usage of early Egyptologists' (pre-20th Century) names for some rulers, which were discarded by mainstream Egyptology decades ago after a linguistic mistake was corrected. While scribes throughout Kemet's history wrote regnal names in a stilted order by putting divine elements first to honor the Netjer mentioned, the names were not _pronounced_ in the same order the symbols were read; hence, for example, a cartouche reading "Ra-kha-ef" would actually be pronounced "Kha-ef-ra," the "Chephren" of the Greeks, a Giza pyramid builder. Hart's usage of "backwardness" isn't consistent, either; while Hart writes "Radjedef" and "Rakhaef" for Djedefra and Khafra of the Fourth Dynasty, he calls the next ruler, correctly, "Menkaura," and all the rulers of Dynasty Five with "Ra" names are correctly referenced. This causes unnecessary complication and confusion for those seeking to crossreference this book with other sources.

If you're looking for a basic pre-Empire history of Kemet, this is a great one!

- Rev. Tamara L. Siuda