Ever since Herodotus wrote that "Egypt is the gift of the Nile," people have focused on the river as the locus of Egyptian civilization. Lately that's changed, with amazing discoveries in the Western and Eastern deserts (which were actually grassy plains 6,000 years ago, when Egypt got started.)
Wilkinson's book directs our attention to the former Eastern savannah, now a desert, between the Nile and the Red Sea. In pre-historic times there was enough rainfall to support grasses and game; the region was populated by semi-nomadic people who made a living from cattle herding and hunting. The early pastoralists migrated here annually from temporary settlements on the east bank of the Nile, taking advantage of unique resources available at different times of the year: fishing, farming, and clay (for making pottery) near the river, and minerals, game, and pasture for their flocks on the savannah.
It is here, Wilkinson asserts, that we can find some of the earliest evidence for Pre-Dynastic Egyptian lifestyles, beliefs, imagery, political organization, and religion. Much of it comes from rock art, which was incised on the walls of rock shelters above the ancient stream beds. Petroglyphs show the wild and domesticated animals upon which the people's livelihood depended; scenes of the hunt; of herding; afterlife beliefs, most notably the funeral boat on which the deceased symbolically rode to the heavens; and gods with their distinctive feathered plumes.
For those who love art history, it's especially gratifying to note the large part that iconographic analysis has played in establishing the probable origins of Egyptian civilization, and the lifestyle and beliefs of the earliest Egyptians.
A fascinating and easy-to-read book, this will be enjoyed by just about everyone, from general reader to specialist, who is interested in prehistory, rock art and the origins of ancient Egypt.