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This is a fine book that should appeal to both layman and scholar alike. Written in a chatty style, the book divides into two basic parts. The first is an overview of the beginnings of Egyptology and the rediscovery of the ancient Egyptian mummies, especially pharaonic, that have enthralled societies around the world for generations. The specific primary focus is the discovery by Howard Carter of the tomb of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamen (amun) early in the 20th century and what happened in its aftermath. In addition to an abundance of relevant and up to date end notes, there are also many special footnotes at the bottom of various pages that should help the general reader.
It is the second half of the book that will appeal most to scholars who might wish to skip directly to that part of the volume. There, one will find a detailed discussion of DNA results, CT scans, blood types, X-rays, and other forensic information employed by various scientists and Egyptologists in order to unravel particular mummy mysteries. Familial relations, basic identifications, what really killed certain individuals (Tut is a key focus), conflicting conclusions, contradictory evidence, and other interesting facts are all presented in a thorough, objective, and clear style.
At times, this page turner reads like a murder mystery. Speaking of which, Marchant rightly takes Bob Brier to task for his hyperbolic and incorrect presentation of Tut's death in his popular but misleading book THE MURDER OF TUTANKHAMEN. James Patterson's book THE MURDER OF KING TUT which he calls "A Nonfiction Thriller", in fact, reads more like fiction with his own inserted "dialogue". The book WHO KILLED KING TUT? by King, Cooper, and DeNevi appears to be more "scientific" but comes to the same (now known) erroneous conclusion as the other two. Marchant's detailed presentation as to how Tut expired, based upon the most current evidence, appears to be the most correct one.
Other interesting tid bits put forward by Marchant are the following: The mummy identified as Thutmose I may not be Thutmose I. Yet, in spite of serious doubts, it continues to be blindly accepted as such. Even the mummy identified as Amenhotep III (the grandfather of Tut) may not be Amenhotep III. The identity of the female mummies in KV35 is still problematic as is the male mummy found in KV55. The latter is especially controversial. Were it not for the contradictory and changing position of Ashraf Selim regarding the age of the mummy, its long time identification as Smenkhkare, the brother of Tutankhamen, would stand unchallenged. However, now there are those - particularly in the British Egyptological community - such as Rohl, Wilkinson, and Reeves who embrace the new identification as being Akhnaten. But Selim's conclusion is a very weak reed to lean on as Marchant indicates. R,W,&R want it to be Akhnaten for what I believe are their own particular reasons. First: the discovery of Akhnaten's mummy is far more significant than that of finding Smenkhkare's; Second: by identifying the mummy in KV55 as Akhnaten, the British contingent can repudiate the main thesis of the late Immanuel Velikovsky's book OEDIPUS & AKHNATON and continue to ignore it. (More said now on this point would go too far beyond the current review.)
Marchant devotes a great deal of attention to the career of Zawi Hawass, former head of Egyptian antiquities, who did more than anyone else to bring Tut and the artifacts of Ancient Egypt before the eyes of the world. He may yet return.
A final note has to do with a letter supposedly written by Ankhesenamun, the widow and sister of Tut, to a Hittite king asking for a Hittite prince in marriage. This "correspondence" has been highlighted as though it were the centerpiece of a soap opera and has been uncritically overblown in all too many publications. Known as Letter 41 of the el-Amarna Collection, it was actually found in the Hittite archives and not in Egypt. According to the "letter", an Egyptian queen named Dakhamun, widowed and having no male heir, sent this letter to the Hittite king Suppiluliumas requesting that he send one of his sons for her to marry and to occupy the throne of Egypt. She did not wish to marry any of her subjects. Here is where several problems appear. 1)How was the Egyptian queen, if it was Ankhesenamun, able to get past the extremely watchful eye of her uncle Ay and able to send this letter to the Hittite court? 2)According to an ancient document, the grandfather of Ankhesenamun - Amenhotep III - prohibited any Egyptian princess from marrying a foreigner. This would have precluded Ankhesenamun from sending any letter to the Hittites. (Since King Solomon was married to a "daughter of Pharaoh", this prohibition either ended by his time or came after his reign according to several revised chronologies.) What is of particular interest here is the fact that the name of the widow's husband is given as Bib-khururia or Nib-khururia; and, as it happens, one of the names of an ETHIOPIAN Pharaoh called Tirhaka ends with "khu-ra". The name of his queen was Duk-hat-amun, a unique name among Egyptian queens. A rationalization was offered, owing to the chronogical difficulties, that what we have is not a name but a status. Yet, a widowed Ethiopian queen would have been able to write the letter since Amenhotep's marriage dictum would not apply to
her as she was also a foreigner. (See I. Velikovsky, RAMSES II AND HIS TIME, pp. 217-221.) In the end, a Hittite prince was sent but was murdered before he could reach Egypt.
One last caveat should be mentioned. This book may not be for the squeamish since it contains mummification details and what happens to the dead when conditions do not hold back decay. Furthermore, the Chronology at the back of the book was provided by UK Egyptologist Aidan Dodson and is decades lower in some cases compared to many chronologies presented elsewhere and not universally accepted. Other than that, the book is a mine of information and a moving read. Marchant loves her subject and presents it very well!