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xiv                             Introduction
the sterilizing sand of Egypt's desert fringe has conserved, for
our admiration and interpretation, the perfect specimens and
scattered fragments of all those material possessions which are
the tangible witness of some thousands of years of human history.
True the sand was handicapped in its race with time: it had
to contend with deliberate demolition, casual vandalism, rob-
bery, and the melting pot. Much thus escaped it; much it
sealed successfully once but had to cover up a second time after
thieves had broken in; and borne on the wind the sand itself
frequently wore away the surfaces of monuments it could not
wholly protect. But in spite of all these setbacks such a work of
conservation was done here that objects which are immediately
affected by an indoor atmosphere of normal humidity in our
climate have retained their original forms for centuries. In this
way not only massive temples and colossal stone statues, extrava-
gant funerary furniture in rock-hewn chambers, and its humbler
counterpart at the bottom of deep shafts, have been recovered
in our time; but also the sun-dried mud-brick walls of houses,
and within them household trinkets, where they were dropped,
and charcoal still on the hearth; as well as papyri in the pots
where they were stored for safety, and middens rich with
the contents of dust-bin and waste-paper basket.
Another aspect of Egypt's capacity for conservation was the
ease and consistency with which she maintained her traditional
frontiers, except for rare intervals, from the time a united
kingdom first was formed. During the three thousand years of
her independent history before the Christian Era, the contem-
porary civilized world lay to the north, east, and south, and on
these three sides she was protected by the sea, the desert, and
the narrow gorge of the Nile respectively. Thus, except from
the direction of the Libyan desert, whence came continuous
infiltration and sporadic attacks, which, however, only rarely
constituted a serious challenge and were never supported by a
powerful state in the hinterland, Egypt proper was a compara-