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.
Reading the book, we see his life in this realm unfolding, almost reluctantly, like an old road map. We learn that his normal life, his job,
constrained his options to travel (only so many vacation days in a straight job), but his employer came to recognize the value of what he was
doing in his avocation, and made it possible for him to travel back to Egypt many times, as he discovered more clues and found he needed better pictures and measurements. What a joy it is to learn that.
Another thing we see is how the greats of the new egyptology (as I think of it) befriended Chris Dunn, which is incredibly heartening, considering that his work draws elements of their theories into question. I love that, even though only those who've read Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, John Anthony West, et al, would notice it--all Dunn does is mention their kindnesses to him. I detect a collegiality going on there. Dunn comes across as a cheerful amateur with no agenda, who delights to finds himself amongst the stars, but never becomes star struck. Just pursuing the questions, and happy to be doing it.
And everything he was doing through those years was as consequential as any of the greats who befriended him. It's a very good life we get a glimpse into.
Dunn's two books are essential to our understanding of the ancient world. I'd say they are the launching pad for a whole new realm of research, and can't wait to read all the books that come out of the researchers who pick up the glove he's thrown down.
Ever since I stumbled upon Tompkins, 25 or so years ago, I've described the Great Pyramid as a glove the ancients have thrown down, a challenge
for all of us to pick up. I've read Hancock and the rest, with great delight, but it was The Giza Power Plant that caused me to regale
friends--and in doing so I always say that Chris Dunn is simply a materials engineer who picked up the glove the ancients threw down, and went
to the trouble of describing that challenge in a way that challenges us all to do the same. The rest of the great writers in this category (the independent analysts not connected to academic egyptology) tend to
include a metaphysical theory to explain what we find in Egypt, but Dunn is a pure scientist. A pure scientist, moreover, who writes to
to the rest of us. He carefully measures the artifacts, and presents the physical requirements involved in making that happen. He doesn't ask WHY they made these things, he asks HOW they did it. And he asks how WE would go about it if called upon to duplicate those achievements.
The new book throws down that familiar old glove with new alacrity. It is delightful.