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High Culture and Experience in Ancient Egypt

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This novel work uses case studies of both familiar and unfamiliar materials, expanding consideration of ancient Egyptian elite culture to encompass lived experience and exploitation of the natural environment.

The opening chapter sets out the conceptual ground for the analyses that follow, arguing that the relatively ephemeral activities under investigation were centrally important to the actors. The first and largest study treats human organization of the landscape and its use to create and transmit elite meanings, especially through pictorial and encyclopaedic forms, and to mobilize emotional values. Next, a treatment of the planning of primarily third millennium settlements on the floodplain argues that Egypt offers a partly rural perspective that provides an alternative to the urban focus of many early civilizations but has parallels in elite culture in much of the world. The third study discusses how a single year’s events were orchestrated to culminate in a celebratory hunt in which the king, his court, and high officials participated. The concluding chapter presents an initial synthesis of Egyptian treatments of elite experience, drawing in particular upon additional evidence from literary texts and attitudes to travel. Throughout the book, aesthetics and the cultivation of pleasure and delight are emphasized as essential to ancient elite life.

Published: Nov 1, 2013


Section Chapter Authors
Preface John Baines
List of figures John Baines
Conventions John Baines
Chronological table John Baines
Map John Baines
Contexts and representations of high culture John Baines
Egypt as physical, social, and represented landscape John Baines
A planned world? The early city, patterns and meanings of settlement John Baines
Celebration in the landscape: a hunting party under Amenemhat II John Baines
Elite experience John Baines
End Matter
References John Baines
Index John Baines

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One of the best aspects of this book [is] a stubborn focus not just on the evidence for elite experience in ancient Egypt, but on the human beings who lived this experience. If the point of archaeology is to move beyond the archaeological evidence toward an understanding of the people who produced this evidence, then this book is an admirable success.
Ancient Near Eastern Studies

In the Introduction this carefully produced book sets out the methodological approach and the obvious challenges in a context where those expressing experience were limited by rules set up to define what was appropriate for being displayed (decorum). But as this book deals with sociology rather than the consumption of aesthetics, its author also convincingly shows that the leisured classes were striving for enjoyment, celebration and appreciation of the finer things of life.
Egyptian Archaeology

Provides a gold mine of information of elite culture, that will in parts appeal to both the interested non-specialist and the scholar. It emphasizes once again how elite self-representation and location of the tomb owner with respect to other decorative elements underlined his (occasionally her) status. In a pleasantly illustrative way the book shows how, in spite of the formalized decorum, evidence for individual experience can be derived from the emphasis of certain themes or key events in both pictorial and written decoration; and opens many options for further discussion and research.
Bibliotheca Orientalis