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1999. Review of Michael Rice's "Egypt’s Making: The Origins of Ancient Egypt 5000 - 2000 BC". World Archaeological Bulletin 10

The author states his motivation for writing in the first sentence of the preface: “I began writing this book as a sort of celebration of most ancient Egypt, of the origins of a culture which seems to me to be without precedent or equal.” It is a statement which can go one of two extreme ways: it can emphasise the greatness of the evolution of the Ancient Egyptian state in comparison with those of the neighbouring Near East, or it can seek the reasons for its rise in the inspiration of neighbouring city-states such as Ur, Ubaid and Enki. It is to the detriment of the book Rice opted for the latter instead of forging a middle path. Rice is not a professional Egyptologist nor a prehistoric archaeologist involved in studying Predynastic and early Dynastic Egypt. He is archaeologically concerned with the Arabian Peninsula and this influences many of his ideas throughout the book.

Egypt’s Making is divided into six chapters, an appendix and a bibliography of references. It should be noted, however, that these references are generally not cited within the text body and are what the author thinks are relevant.

The first chapter discusses the geography of Ancient Egypt and particularly the influence of the Nile on the developing civilisation. A brief outline is presented of the history of Egyptology, with the main emphasis on Sir Flinders Petrie.

The second chapter deals with the typological industries preceding the First Dynasty: the Badarian, Naqada I, Naqada II and Naqada III times. The discussion of the concentration of sites, as well as the artefacts excavated, from these periods is concise and informative. Problems creep in, though, in his analyses of these artefacts. While acknowledging that there is no archaeological evidence for a Lower Egyptian kingdom having existed in the Nile Delta, he does not discard this possibility because of its persistence in the written Ancient Egyptian record, contra Kemp (1989). Rice reiterates the influence on craftsmanship design on the Predynastic by the city-states of the Near East. There are two currently feasibly acknowledged routes through which Mesopotamian influence could have reached Ancient Egypt: the Levant and the Wadi Hammamat. Rice attributes greater significance and trade importance to the Wadi Hammamat, bucking current archaeological evidence favouring the Levant. Following this train of thought, Rice claims that Osiris originated in Western Asia and entered Egypt where he was a late arrival in the pantheon, only rising to significance in the late Old Kingdom. Although he claims that this has been proposed by “some authorities”, Rice gives neither the age of these sources nor does he cite them. The age of Osiris and his Egyptian origins are well attested through the Early Dynastic and the Old Kingdom, and the Pyramid Texts cite him in some vocations dating to the Predynastic. It is comforting that amidst the many inferences of Mesopotamian influence on Egypt that Rice does not ascribe to the theory of a “dynastic race” (Emery 1961).

The third chapter describes the development of hierarchy through the Predynastic and the way it manifested itself through societal expressions. Hierakonpolis is discussed in depth and the origins of the ideology of kingship. The development of maceheads and palettes are traced in parallel, as are the early tombs. A brief outline is given of the first pharaohs. All in all this is the most informative and factually accurate chapter of the book, although Rice makes the critical errors of firstly ascribing to the outdated theory that the origin of the Horus-Seth conflict is found in the political characters of the protagonists Peribsen (Seth) and Khasekhem-Khasekhemui (Horus), and secondly accepting without question or discussion that attribution of the mythological name of “Menes” to the historical personage of Narmer.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with the Third Dynasty until the end of the Old Kingdom. They plot the course of Egypt’s “Golden Age”: an age that possessed within itself the roots of the Old Kingdom’s ultimate collapse.

The final chapter deals with Rice’s psychological mentor - Jung. Jung himself expressed great interest in Ancient Egypt, a factor that heightens, in Rice’s view, the validity of using Jung’s philosophy in interpreting the development of the Ancient Egyptians through “analytical psychology”. Kemp suggests that “for those who regard the processes of state formation as a socio-economic phenomenon this approach may be anathema”. It is difficult to see how that can reasonably be so, for the socio-economic approach does not take into account the interactive cognitive abilities of the Ancient Egyptian to any great degree: this is a line of questioning which holds, in our opinion, promising research opportunities, although not necessarily following Jungian principles which we have difficulty with.

A lot careful and hard work has gone into producing this very lucid text. The pictures are numerous and informative. Rice brings to the fore again the seemingly dismissed possibility that the Arabian Peninsula islands played a big role in the development of Ancient Egypt by means of being a contact and trade route from Mesopotamia. However, this results in chronological problems, which Rice readily admits. This weakens his case. While there is much useful information for both academics and interested scholars of Ancient Egypt to take note, Rice’s text is littered with factual errors which makes the book problematic. The book should be read with a critical but open mind.

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