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In Search of the Immortals: Mummies Death and the Afterlife [Hardcover]

Howard Reid
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book by Reid, Howard

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In March 1989 archaeologist He Dexiu was surveying a remote corner of the Taklamakan desert (the so-called 'desert of no return') in China's westernmost province, Xinjiang. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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4.0 out of 5 stars This book fills a gap but opens another. March 20 2002
Reid's work is precious because deals with mummification subject transversal approach. It doesn't focus on a particular civilization burial custom, but analyzes mummification methods and rituals of several ethnic groups around the world. From this point of view the Author filled a gap (at least in mass market books).
On the other hand I must point out that I expected (melius, hoped for) something more technical. Reid travelled a lot and saw mummies, things and places as well as read about them so, in his writing spent (in my opinion) too much time describing his journey experiences for a book of this kind: as pages increase, this book looks more and more a diary (even though a pleasant diary). Moreover, too many conjectures steal pages that could be used for physical descriptions of mummies instead only mentioned.
In the end I can say that was a pleasure reading this book, so interesting and well written. A MUST that leaves you with more lust for knowledge (good thing) and the hope that someone, likely Reid himself, will write on this subject with more data beside personal thought. Soon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating tour of mummy cultures Oct. 28 2001
British anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Howard Reid leads a fascinating voyage of discovery through the mummy-making cultures of the world in "In Search of the Immortals." Calling on his own observations, visits with descendant cultures and the scholarship of numerous experts, Reid speculates on the "worlds [the mummies] once inhabited; into their lives, deaths and destinations beyond death." Beyond this, he hopes "to broaden our own perspective on mortality."
Reid begins with the amazingly lifelike Caucasoid mummies of the Taklamakan desert in Western China, especially known for their exquisite textiles. He describes the opening of a 3,500-year-old grave and the variety of professional, decorative and personal items buried with the mummies, including Cowrie shells 2,000 miles from the sea, a thousand years before the Silk Road.
Journeying to various desert sites he observes the habits of the present day Mongol nomads, noting that the woolen ropes which bind their yurts together are identical to those found in the ancient tombs. In Kazakhstan, his visits with nomads whose ways have persisted for 3,000 years, throws light on the lives of 2,000-year-old "ice mummies," buried in log houses adorned with felt wall hangings and illustrated woolen carpets, many of the bodies tattooed with mythical animals.
But the "Bog People," of Northwestern Europe "share one stark common characteristic: they all seem to have been deliberately put to death." Criminals? Sacrifices? Reid explores the possibilities, going back to the writings of Tacitus and the archaeological record, noting physical characteristics of the bodies which may indicate their status in life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book fills a gap but opens another. March 20 2002
By Alessandro Panzera - Published on Amazon.com
Reid's work is precious because deals with mummification subject transversal approach. It doesn't focus on a particular civilization burial custom, but analyzes mummification methods and rituals of several ethnic groups around the world. From this point of view the Author filled a gap (at least in mass market books).
On the other hand I must point out that I expected (melius, hoped for) something more technical. Reid travelled a lot and saw mummies, things and places as well as read about them so, in his writing spent (in my opinion) too much time describing his journey experiences for a book of this kind: as pages increase, this book looks more and more a diary (even though a pleasant diary). Moreover, too many conjectures steal pages that could be used for physical descriptions of mummies instead only mentioned.
In the end I can say that was a pleasure reading this book, so interesting and well written. A MUST that leaves you with more lust for knowledge (good thing) and the hope that someone, likely Reid himself, will write on this subject with more data beside personal thought. Soon.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating tour of mummy cultures Oct. 28 2001
By Lynn Harnett - Published on Amazon.com
British anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Howard Reid leads a fascinating voyage of discovery through the mummy-making cultures of the world in "In Search of the Immortals." Calling on his own observations, visits with descendant cultures and the scholarship of numerous experts, Reid speculates on the "worlds [the mummies] once inhabited; into their lives, deaths and destinations beyond death." Beyond this, he hopes "to broaden our own perspective on mortality."
Reid begins with the amazingly lifelike Caucasoid mummies of the Taklamakan desert in Western China, especially known for their exquisite textiles. He describes the opening of a 3,500-year-old grave and the variety of professional, decorative and personal items buried with the mummies, including Cowrie shells 2,000 miles from the sea, a thousand years before the Silk Road.
Journeying to various desert sites he observes the habits of the present day Mongol nomads, noting that the woolen ropes which bind their yurts together are identical to those found in the ancient tombs. In Kazakhstan, his visits with nomads whose ways have persisted for 3,000 years, throws light on the lives of 2,000-year-old "ice mummies," buried in log houses adorned with felt wall hangings and illustrated woolen carpets, many of the bodies tattooed with mythical animals.
But the "Bog People," of Northwestern Europe "share one stark common characteristic: they all seem to have been deliberately put to death." Criminals? Sacrifices? Reid explores the possibilities, going back to the writings of Tacitus and the archaeological record, noting physical characteristics of the bodies which may indicate their status in life.
In Egypt - the only mummy-making culture with a written language - Reid concentrates on the religious beliefs and links with other cultures and from Egypt he moves on to the pyramids of the Canary Islands, where despite 1,000 years and the geographical distance, embalming techniques were amazingly similar to Egypt's, even to hairstyles and toenail bindings.
Exploring the possibility of trade links and echoes of commonality between these various cultures, Reid takes us to the New World where South Americans were preserving their dead 4,000 years before the Egyptians. Though many mummies were deliberately destroyed by the conquering Spanish, new discoveries have been made just in the last few years.
In Paracas, Peru, bodies were placed squatting upright ("in the way most contemporary native South Americans sit to relax, chat, and eat or chew coca") and were wrapped in layer after layer of specially made clothing, "some of the finest textiles ever found anywhere." One mummy bundle weighed 150 kilos. Further down the coast, the Chinchorro deconstructed and reconstructed their dead, making elaborate mummies, many of which show signs of repair, as if they were visited regularly. Mummy techniques in other areas include freeze drying and smoking. In some parts of Peru mummies were kept by their families (as recorded by shocked conquistadors), venerated, spoken to, even washed and changed frequently.
Reid's blend of personal and scholarly observation is highly readable and absorbing. His descriptions of mummies, tombs and artifacts is enthusiastic and visual, bringing these vanished cultures to life in all of their mystery. Sixteen pages of color photographs are a valuable supplement.
His anthropologist's view - Reid spent two years with the Maku, hunter gatherers of the Amazon rainforest, and visited other peoples whose cultures predate the Judeo-Christian tradition - informs his thinking, allowing him to fit clues from the archaeological record into a larger picture. His book is an excellent introduction to the world of mummies and, for those whose interest is piqued, Reid offers an extensive bibliography.
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