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Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt: Advanced Engineering in the Temples of the Pharaohs

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    Don't Let the Title Fool You

    Here is a book the world has been waiting for. Do not let the clinical sounding title fool you, either. If they had asked me, I'd have called it The Joy of Discovery: A Humble Materials Engineer's Adventures In Ancient Egypt. It's a great ride, not a text book. It is a truly rigorous analysis of the artifacts the ancient Egyptians left behind, but it's also the story that surrounds Chris Dunn's exploration of this astonishing world. It makes you feel like you were along on an amazing adventure.

    Dunn wrote the indispensable The Giza Power Plant, an astonishing analysis of the Great Pyramid, and his fans have been eagerly awaiting this new effort. None will be disappointed. This time, he's writing about the places in Egypt many of us have overlooked. Trust me, the Ramses statues at Luxor are every bit as astounding an accomplishment as the Great Pyramid, although I had no idea 'til I read this book.

    Dunn has been a materials engineer for decades. He works for a company that you might hire if you have an idea on paper, a drawing, for instance, and want someone to make a physical object out of it in stone or steel. When he looks at a cell phone, his mind sees the tools that were required to make the curved plastic shell the guts of the phone are packaged in. It's how his mind works. So where most of us glance at nice statues and columns, and walk on to the next nice thing to glance at, Chris Dunn stops in his tracks. How did they DO that?, he asks. He photographs them, and subjects the photos to cutting edge Computer Aided Design analysis. He measures them carefully. He zooms in, and notices almost invisible flaws that are evidence of the manufacturing processes that human beings used to craft these objects.

    He's cheerful amateur. The world of academic egyptology is as stodgy and calcified as any stuffy field. Dunn has no credentials there. But he has a fresh set of eyes, and a mind not preprogrammed to interpret what he sees when he looks at these artifacts. Egyptologists have no doubt that these masterfully crafted objects were created using stone and soft copper tools, even though the objects are made of the hardest stone, granite, which even we in our advanced stage of technology find quite difficult to work. Dunn sees the extreme depth of very narrow, very sharp-edged engraving in a granite obelisk, and knows better. It's impossible.

    But he has no agenda. You never sense he has an ax to grind. He's unfailingly kind and respectful of all he encounters, even when the reader (me) would have reacted with scathing sarcasm when presented with preposterous propositions (like the idea that deep, sharp, curved, writing can be cut into granite with copper chisels).

    He never hypes the possible implications of his findings, but presents them with the hope that others will replicate them, and carry on the work. In fact, he often takes the opportunity to revisit his prior speculations, from The Giza Power Plant, and corrects them when he finds out he was wrong.  Science at its best.

    In short, Dunn takes up the challenge the ancients left us, and we are delighted.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 26, 2013

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    Posted August 18, 2010

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