A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
From the President: Eternal Egypt
Volume 62 Number 6, November/December 2009
Exploring the civilization on the Nile
The earliest surviving tourist's account of Egypt is by the Greek historian Herodotus, who traveled there 2,500 years ago, at a time when the pyramids and sphinx at Giza were already 2,000 years old. Herodotus was impressed: "Concerning Egypt, I am going to speak at length, because it has the most wonders, and everywhere presents works beyond description."
Herodotus wrote copiously about Egypt's customs and religion, outlined its geography, discussed the source and flooding of the Nile, and described exotic fauna, including crocodiles and hippos. He praised the Egyptians for their cultural achievements, such as a calendar based on the solar year, and noted their advanced medicine with doctors specializing in afflictions of the eyes, stomach, teeth, and so forth. The Egyptians, he wrote, "have made themselves much the most learned of any nation of which I have had experience."
Those who read Herodotus thousands of years ago undoubtedly marveled at his account. Today, archaeologists still look to certain passages in his work to understand aspects of Egyptian civilization. His descriptions of the construction of Khufu's pyramid at Giza and of the process of mummification are tantalizing windows on activities that we consider hallmarks of ancient Egyptian culture.
It is no wonder, then, that ARCHAEOLOGY's editors have selected ancient Egypt as the subject of their first-ever special issue, due out in November. ARCHAEOLOGY's Ancient Egypt is a compelling mix of great stories and great art, covering sites from the Valley of the Kings to Saqqara, the City of the Dead. There are pharaonic mysteries as well: Was the mummy, now called "Unknown Man E," a 19th Dynasty prince who tried to usurp the throne? You'll also find the latest ideas and discoveries, such as a radical theory about how the Great Pyramid was built, and a perplexing tomb filled with equipment used to mummify a noble or royal person at the time of Tutankhamun.
Modern fascination with the land of the pharaohs began with Napoleon's expedition to Egypt at the end of the 18th century. More than 200 years later we remain obsessed with the ancient Egyptians. Why? Consider their great architectural achievements from the pyramids to the vast temples of Luxor and Karnak. They created incomparable works of art, such as the royal treasures found at Tanis. And don't forget their mummies, strange deities, and preoccupation with the afterlife. There is also a sense that Egypt is eternal. As Herodotus said of the ancient Egyptians, "they have existed ever since men appeared upon the earth." ARCHAEOLOGY's Ancient Egypt captures the glory, mystery, and timelessness of this great civilization.
C. Brian Rose is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.