CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 9 . . . . January 7, 2000
Eight hundred years ago, it was thought that bitumen, a black tarlike substance made from oil and minerals, could be used as medicine. The resins that were used to cover the mummies had made many of them turn black, as if they were covered with bitumen. It wasn't long before people decided that mummies themselves contained bitumen. Mummies were dug out of their tombs and ground into powder. The powder was used to try to cure everything from coughs and stomachaches to bruises and broken bones. Sometimes mummies were boiled to make ointments to put on cuts.Following the success of the immensely popular On Board the Titanic, Tanaka has another great hit on her hands with this offering. Part of her "I Was There" series, this book gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the world of mummies, primarily those from ancient Egypt. The book is divided into several chapters, interspersed with one-page biographies of a few well-known ancient Egyptians whose mummies have been examined. Topics include the preservation of the bodies, the mummification process, the discovery of tombs and the technological advances (CAT scans, computers, x-rays and DNA identification) which can help people not only to trace the family trees of a bygone civilization but also to understand better the way in which ancient peoples lived and died. A glossary, index and a brief recommended reading list are included.
Tanaka sets the tone of the book and entices readers with a mysterious prologue about a mummy unrolling. From there, her text reads like a conversation, absolutely full of well-researched facts and guaranteed to keep readers enthralled. The biographies of pharoahs (Ramses II and King Tut) and commoners (Nacht, a weaver, and Djed, a woman employed as a musician in the Great Temple of Amun-Re) are not told in a traditional biographical manner. Instead, Tanaka brings a human quality to each of their life stories by telling about their homes and families, their lifestyles and the maladies that plagued them during their lives. When their mummies were studied, each of them revealed to scientists something about the diet, diseases and other common medical conditions of the time by the condition of their mummified remains. The author treats her subject with the respect it is due, for, although she states that mummies are a precious source of information about ancient peoples, they were never meant to be unwrapped and viewed by the world. With modern technology, such as CAT scans, mummies no longer have to be destroyed in order for scientists to study them.
Ruhl's collection of illustrations is a feast for the eyes. There are abundant photographs (both black-and-white and colour) of Egyptian temples and pyramids and their valuable contents as well as photos, x-rays and scanned computer images of mummies. Ruhl's own illustrations are vibrant, realistic paintings depicting life in ancient Egypt. All of them have been rendered in the gold and ochre tones of the Egyptian desert with touches of green and brilliant sky blue. Chapter headings and sidebars giving additional information are bordered by traditional Egyptian designs, unifying the book's theme and giving it visual appeal.
An outstanding book on a fascinating subject.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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