Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt, by Chris Naunton

I first met Egyptologist Chris Naunton around the time he was working on his BBC Four documentary, The Man Who Discovered Egypt, which included the Dr as a shrewd talking head. Chris then advised me on the Egypt bits in the first chapter of The Science of Doctor Who and a timeline in Whographica - he wrote his own account of working out when exactly the Daleks invaded Egypt.

When the esteemed published Thames & Hudson approached Chris about writing a book on Tutankhamun, he argued instead for a book answering the question he and fellow egyptologists get asked all the time - what is there still to find?

The result is a fascinating, comprehensive and carefully weighed assessment of the chances of tracking down some of the most coveted tombs in history, those of: the great architect Imhotep (the one whose name was co-opted by the horror movies); Amenhotep I; Nefertiti and the other Amarna royals related to Tutankhamun; Herihor whose tomb, it has been claimed, would make "Tutankhamun look like Woolworths"; the pharaohs of the much disputed Third Intermediate Period; Alexander the Great; and Cleopatra.

It's a little like Richard Molesworth's book, Wiped!, which details the loss and recovery of episodes of Doctor Who - at times tantalising, fascinating and utterly frustrating. Along the way, Chris supplies plenty of fascinating history - of ancient Egypt and of modern archaeologists, not all of whom come out of it very well. He is good at putting the claims of some enthusiasts and attempting to weight them against evidence fairly. 

There's plenty that I didn't know - Alexander the Great had a sister called Cleopatra - and I particularly like a quotation from Howard Carter's 1917 report, "A tomb prepared for Queen Hatshepsut and other recent discoveries in Thebes", in which he feels the need to accent and italicise the exotic, foreign word "d├ębris".

No comments: