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Complete Pyramids

Most people know of the three pyramids at Giza (Cheops, Chephren, Menkaure), and usually they are familiar with the Bent and Red Pyramids in Dashur. Some people are familiar with Maidum, and the Step Pyramid. What most people don't know is that there are almost a hundred pyramids in Egypt beyond these well-known examples. Most are interesting only to real pyramid-philes, but it was fascinating to see the linear progression of pyramid building in early Egypt outlined in this book.

If something is known about any of the hundreds of pyramids that dot Egypt, it is in this book. This is a vast reference book with a detailed, well-illustrated gazetteer of pyramids in Egypt. It includes not just the major ones at Giza and Dashur, but lesser known pyramids that exist now as only piles of dirt or a few stones buried in the sand.

The Complete Pyramids of Ancient Egypt covers the basic history of pyramid building and clearly traces the evolution of the true pyramid shape (that we see at Giza) from earlier mastaba tombs and step pyramid shapes. If you're lucky, you'll have a chance to see the pyramid fields in order - from the earliest mastaba tombs of Abydos to the step pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, to the Bent and Red pyramids of Dashur, Maidum, and then the awesome spectacle of the Great Pyramid. In between, The Complete Pyramids describes the dozens of smaller pyramids that were build and provides clues to identifying the style and age of each one.

The photographs in the book are great, but the real treasure are the detailed isometric drawings of the sites and numerous line-drawings of the pyramids themselves which include the shafts and tunnels below each of them. I didn't pick this book up until after our trip, and I wish that I had thought to get it before we left and photocopy some of the site maps to use for reference, especially for Saqqara. Being able to see the "inside" of each pyramid (which is usually impossible in person) allowed me to see the evolution of the burials and burial chambers as we visited the different sites.

The gazetteer portion of the book is a site-by-site description of each pyramid, including exact location with maps, size, dates and attributions, and as much of the history of the pyramid as is known. Early attempts to describe and draw the pyramids are well documented, and the history of pyramid excavation (usually using dynamite!) are well done. If this book was available as a paperback, I would have had it stuffed in my backpack every day we went out, just for the reference value.

It's not perfect, of course. Like all egyptologists, Lehner and Wilkinson have a different theory as to how the pyramids were built and how many people it took to do it. While their theories disagree with many others, neither author necessarily states that his is only one current theory on pyramid building, and that it would be short-sighted to take his opinion as fact. I can only expect that when an author is writing about a field that is as nebulous as Egyptology is (about some things) that they would be as honest as possible about contradictory theories and evidence. If there are five Egyptologists in a room, you can be sure they have five different opinions about everything.

I recommend picking up this book and the companion volume, Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, by co-author Richard Wilkinson.

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