Egyptians reincarnated

17th February 1995 at 00:00
EUREKA!: ANCIENT EGYPT Channel 4 Tuesdays 9.30-9.45am, repeated Fridays 9.30- 9.45am. Block transmission February 17, 4.00-5.15am. Teachers' notes Pounds 3.95 from Educational Television Company, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ

Ask any child about ancient Egypt, and the chances are that Indiana Jones and the pyramids are likely to feature in the reply. After Channel 4's Eureka! series this will be further embellished by stories of Osiris and Queen Hatshepsut, and the importance of the Nile to ancient farming methods.

With a 3,000-year-old mummified cat as guide, Eureka! goes on a cross-curricular journey back in time to exotic ancient Egypt.

The emphasis of the series is on history, with forays into geography, agriculture, gender roles, art and comparative religion. This is done through an imaginative interplay of wall paintings, hieroglyphs and documentary sequences which all combine to bring this spectacular civilization to life.

The series starts with two children and a box of sawdust bought at a car boot sale. On closer examination they find it contains the statue of a cat which comes to life, introduces itself as Mew and starts to talk about her home.

This cat takes us to the River Nile and acquaints us with the local geography and agriculture. Wall paintings of farmers ploughing and winnowing are intercut with modern re-enactments.

Mew, an entertaining and spirited feline escort, then proceeds to tell the legend of Osiris, lord of the underworld. The accompanying teacher's guide has a range of useful exercises to consolidate each programme and through these children can relate the era to their own.

The importance of literacy is emphasised as Mew describes the role of scribes and their place in the "pyramid of power". Hieroglyphs and papyrus abound and the class is asked to explore the principles of language, its function and construction.

No visit to Egypt would be complete without some mention of mummification, funeral rites and archaeology. So we are duly taken to the Valley of the Kings and Tutankhamun's tomb and the excitement of Howard Carter's 1901 excavation.

We learn about the role of women in society, and the respect accorded to them in ancient Egypt, through the life of Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty, whose eventful reign and suspicious death provides a focal point for the series.

The series also follows two primary schools visiting the Egyptian collection at the British Museum, in order to research a project with the Royal Opera House.

This is an inventive approach to a remote and potentially dusty subject, and it could be used as a springboard for children to devise their own arts projects. The lively and stimulating treatment of the subject is enough to recommend it in itself.

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