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FOR a work of scholarship to publicise in its pre-publication press release five Strange but True facts contained within its pages is rather unusual and adds to the saleability of this single-volume study of 700,000 years of tumultuous life and gory death that was ancient Egypt. Take Queen Hatsheput’s monuments on page 248, for example. Why were they mutilated and obscured; why was she so dishonoured by her people? “King’s daughter, king’s sister, god’s wife, great royal wife Hatshepsut”, the queen saw herself as heir to her father, the 18th Dynasty King Thutmose I even before he died, and she ruled magisterially from c.1473-1458BC. When the ageing king Thutmose III took his son Amenhotep as co-regent, the so-called dishonouring of Hatshepsut may have paved the way for their joint rule, as Amenhotep II himself completed the desecration of the female king’s monuments in order to eliminate the claims of Hatshepshut and her family line.

The Why is not revealed but see page 225 for the picture of her cult temple at Deir el-Bahri, called the Holy of Holies, and page 242 for a note of the temple wall writings that indicate the unusual nature of the queen’s rule. Her high officials were twice warned: “He who shall do her homage shall live, he who shall speak evil in blasphemy of her Majesty shall die.”

Edited by Ian Shaw, Lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, this book is an exploration in essay form of Egypt from the early Stone Age to the conquest by the Romans, with each chapter describing and analysing a phase in ancient Egyptian history. Particularly readable are the chapters on the 18th Dynasty before the Amarna Period, the Amarna Period and the Later New Kingdom, and the Middle Kingdom Renaissance.

With black and white and colour photographs and drawings, this is a good £25-worth