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Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist    by Donald P. Ryan order for
Beneath the Sands of Egypt
by Donald P. Ryan
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Donald P. Ryan unveils the realities of modern Egyptology - and explains other intriguing aspects of modern archeology - in Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist. He also tells the story of how he came to rediscover a lost tomb that contained the royal mummy of renowned female pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Ryan tells us, 'One doesn't just arrive in the Valley of the Kings and begin to unearth mysteries. My activities there are the result of a long journey.' He shares that journey with readers, from a childhood fascination with dinosaurs to a teen passion for mountain climbing, graduate studies in archaeology with fieldwork in Egypt, and finally the initiation of his own project, to explore undecorated tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Along the way, he applied epigraphy, 'the study of inscriptions and the art of recording them', to Hawaiian petroglyphs. He also studied ancient ropemaking, with applications 'in building pyramids, hobbling donkeys, rigging boats, and lowering huge stone sarcophagi down sloping corridors.'

Ryan shares his research into the colorful early pioneers of Egyptology, as well as the details of his (secondhand) exploration of specific tombs. He talks about working on a BBC program (which turned out to be more dangerous than anticipated), commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the discovery of King Tut's tomb. And he discusses his lifetime fascination with Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki, and the opportunity that came his way to work as the living legend's right-hand man for seven years. This involved excavations at the Pyramids of Guimar in Tenerife. After Thor Heyerdahl's death in 2002, came another opportunity to work in the Valley of the Kings, 'the wonderful and amazing archaeological gift that keeps on giving.'

Beneath the Sands of Egypt is a remarkable story, offering insights into archaeology as practiced by such figures as Howard Carter and in modern times. It's also a fascinating travelogue and call to adventure - after all, as Ryan points out, 'Whether it's in the realm of zoology, geography, oceanography, or any number of other fields, one can argue that only the obvious stuff has already been found.'

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