Ancient Egypt Book Summary - Ancient Egypt Book explained in key points
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Ancient Egypt summary

Ian Shaw

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4.2 (208 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw is a comprehensive study of the culture, history, and daily life of Egyptians over a period of 3,000 years. It explores the art, religion, politics, and social structure of one of the most mysterious and fascinating civilizations of the ancient world.

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    Ancient Egypt
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    Ancient Egypt was a civilization in Northeast Africa that lasted for thousands of years.

    In 1898, two British Egyptologists, James Quibell and Frederick Green, discovered something that would change our understanding of Ancient Egypt forever.

    In the ruins of a six-thousand-year-old temple, they unearthed an artifact that we now call the Narmer Palette, a two-sided slab of stone teeming with images. It’s notable for being one of the earliest examples of hieroglyphic writing that we have. 

    The front of the Palette depicts two lions with long, intertwined necks. This image is thought to represent the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt – a common theme in Egyptian art. Above the lions stands a king. He appears to be reviewing the decapitated and castrated bodies of his enemies. 

    On the flip side of the stone is a much larger image of the king, identified as Narmer. Here, he’s shown holding a captive by the hair. Narmer is about to strike the man with a pear-shaped mace.

    The Narmer palette is so rich in information that it’s treated by Egyptologists as a prism for Ancient Egyptian culture as a whole. It’s proof that key elements of this culture began to emerge as early as the fourth millennium BC.

    The key message here is: Ancient Egypt was a civilization in Northeast Africa that lasted for thousands of years. 

    We’ll focus on the so-called pharaonic period of Ancient Egypt. It spanned three millennia, from around 3100 BC all the way to the year 332 BC. This period was, perhaps, the zenith of that civilization. But the history of Egypt reaches much farther back. 

    Early hominids – our common ancestors – were already living in Northeast Africa 400,000 years ago. We know this from the discovery of stone tools in the eastern Sahara desert. But the earliest actual human remains we have are from 55,000 years ago. 

    Those humans led predominantly nomadic lifestyles. Permanent settlements did not appear until about 6000 BC, when Egypt’s climate began to get wetter. These settlements lined the Nile River, and, from around 4000 BC onward, a sophisticated culture began to emerge.

    Rain was – and still is – infrequent throughout Egypt. So, to grow crops, residents of those ancient villages depended on the annual flooding of the Nile. Floodwaters nourished the riverbanks by depositing layers of fertile silt. The Nile is undoubtedly the single most important geographical factor in the development of Egyptian society.

    The arid climate, combined with the Egyptians' penchant for elaborate funerary arrangements, has preserved a wealth of artifacts, such as tombs, temples, and inscriptions. 

    From them, we’ve been able to piece together the story of this fascinating nation.

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    What is Ancient Egypt about?

    Ancient Egypt (2021) is a succinct introduction to the history and culture of one of humanity’s oldest civilizations. It touches on different aspects of Ancient Egyptian society and covers topics such as religion and mythology, the hieroglyphic writing system, and Egyptian ideas about death and mummification.

    Who should read Ancient Egypt?

    • Students of archeology or Egyptology looking for a primer on Ancient Egypt
    • Museumgoers who want to learn more about the culture behind the exhibits
    • History buffs who just can't get enough of the Land of the Pharaohs

    About the Author

    Ian Shaw works as a research fellow in Egyptian archaeology at the University of Liverpool and is one of the foremost authorities on Ancient Egypt working today. He has excavated and surveyed numerous archeological sites in Egypt. He has worked at the ancient city of Amarna, in the Valley of the Kings, and at several ancient mining sites. He is the author of many other works, including The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, and The Oxford Handbook of Egyptology.

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