I'm in Dorset, seeking a little bit of Egypt in the English countryside.
It seems unlikely,
but this is where I had my first taste of the magical and exotic world of ancient Egypt.
I remember first coming here to Kingston Lacy with my family when I was a child,
and I was fascinated like millions of others by what I found.
This pink granite obelisk is well over 2,000 years old,
and today it's spotted with lichen and moss as a result of the damp English climate,
but it once stood in front of the sunbaked temple of Isis on the island of Philae in southern Egypt,
where in 1815
it caught the eye of the owner of Kingston Lacy William Banks.
He was a traveler,
he was an amateur archaeologist, an aesthete, and a connoisseur,
and he spent years
endeavoring to bring this obelisk from Egypt to his Dorset lawn.
As well as the obelisk,
Banks amassed the largest private collection of Egyptian art in Britain.
Most of the Egyptian antiquities that Banks collected are on display here in the billiards room,
but I suspect that most people would consider these objects more as curious artifacts than works of art,
and it's true that the ancient Egyptians didn't have a word for art,
but they didn't have a word for religion either,
and they are among the most religious peoples in history.
This enormous tome is the first volume of "The Description of Egypt,"
which began to appear in 1809,
and it is beautiful.
It's filled with hand-colored illustrations and maps,
and these crisp, really immaculate engravings
that record the monuments of ancient Egypt.
You can readily understand why William Banks became so besotted
as he sat in this very library and leafed through these pages.
I want to follow in the footsteps of Banks and his contemporaries
and explore ancient Egypt for myself.
In this series, over 3 programs,
I'll travel the length of the country
in search of 30 treasures
that tell the bewitching story of Egyptian art...
but above all,
I want to look at the treasures of Egypt not through the eyes of an archaeologist
but through the eyes of an art lover.
My adventure begins deep in the Sahara,
where I'm searching for the very earliest Egyptian art,
the origins of the indomitable style
that would define this greatest of ancient civilizations.
So I've driven right out into the Western Desert,
which is this exhilarating landscape,
and it's part of the Sahara, which basically stretches on
unbroken to the Atlantic thousands of miles away,
and this must be easily the most remote place that I've ever come to see a work of art.
In fact, right here, we've made it.
My guide is artist and archaeologist John O'Carroll.
Well, this is our first site, John,
and you were saying in the car that this is known as The Gallery.
O'Carroll: The Gallery. It's a superb piece of Neolithic rock art.
It's a procession of 4 women,
3 of them pregnant,
leading about 6 giraffe.
A wonderful piece of art.
- 它什麼時候開始的？ - 它的歷史…
- Sooke: And when does it date from? - It dates from,
I would say, 6000 to 7000 B.C..
It was a culture called the Bashendi culture.
So what can this tell us about the society that produced it?
It's their stamp, and we're looking at a window to the mind of these Bashendi people,
which is quite marvelous,
and in this piece, you get a wonderful sense of movement,
a processional way
with the women, with the giraffe.
The giraffe was a highly effective totem as a rain god.
It was tall, it was touching the sky,
and so to harness that type of animal
was to harness nature in a sense.
Sooke: I might try and scramble up to have a look at this giraffe
if you think I'm not going to kill myself.
I guess the first thing that strikes me coming up here
is the simplicity but effectiveness
of just using incision in the rock to catch the sunlight.
That creates the outline.
The way it's been conveyed is in quite
almost geometric, abstract, rectilinear fashion.
These are straight lines, right angles.
O'Carroll: This is a quite a Mondrian--
a Mondrian prehistoric piece.
Sooke: And then elsewhere, this sort of dotted skittled effect
as though trying to imitate the skin or the hide of the giraffe.
It's a very good device for that.
- 這是個好設計 - 非常有效，簡單但有效
- It's a good device. - It's very effective, simple but effective.
What's revealing is how the art and beliefs of the early Egyptians
were so entwined with animals in the natural world.
Round about 6000 B.C., back in the Neolithic period,
the Western Desert was a completely different place.
It was much more lush and verdant.
It was more like a sort of African savannah,
sprinkled with a few donkeys, lots of rhinoceroses,
buffalos, gazelles, giraffes,
and there were reliable summer rains
that fed lakes that were more than 7 meters deep.
Over time, though, all of the rains disappeared,
and the climate changed catastrophically.
The wet grasslands dried up.
Eventually, the people who lived here, who were seminomadic cattle herders,
were forced by these tough and arid conditions to leave altogether
and head off in search of much more fertile plains
and a sustainable source of water.
They found it hundreds of miles to the east.
The River Nile.
"Egypt is the gift of the Nile."
That's what the Greek writer Herodotus said,
and it was a really elegant way of expressing a simple but essential truth,
which is that the civilization of ancient Egypt
simply would never have flourished or even existed
if it wasn't for this vast, broad body of water,
which the Egyptians called Iteru, or the River,
but the Nile also had a special, quite magical, almost miraculous quality.
Every year in late summer,
flood waters roared down from the First Cataract here
and inundated the valley on either side,
covering the land with this thick, black silt, very fertile,
which aided agriculture.
So for the ancient Egyptians, the Nile meant fertility,
it meant prosperity, but also symbolically
it meant rebirth, and it meant life,
and the Nile came to dominate and...
really shape the way that they thought about and also saw the world around them.
So fittingly my second treasure is a celebration of the Nile.
The Naqada pots were discovered in graves near the riverbank,
filled with food and drink to sustain the dead in the afterlife.
They were decorated with images that would come to dominate Egyptian art.
I've come to see a collection excavated by the father of pots
Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie.
It's quite startling to think that these pots,