Abydos, By David O'Connor


This exploration of Abydos, the sprawling site in Upper Egypt that was a centre for the cult of Osiris, is enlivened with fascinating detail about pharaohs and archaeologists alike.

We learn that the ruler of the underworld was offered "vigorous support" in the form of "30 pints of wine daily" while deceased pharaohs were equipped with "surprising and unexpected" transportation in the form of 14 wooden boats averaging 93ft long.

The extravagance of ancient times was balanced in 1900 by the "notorious austerity" of archaeologist Flinders Petrie. At the end of each digging season, he buried any unused cans of food, which he would dig up the following year. Any that did not explode when thrown against a wall were "considered good enough to eat".