CD-ROM Review: "Egyptian Treasures in Europe"

Submitted to the Egyptologists' Electronic Forum (EEF).

Egyptian Treasures in Europe, vol. 1: 1000 Highlights.
D. van der Plas (ed.)
CCER/U-CCER Production B. V., Utrecht University.
Price: 45 Euro + shipping contributions

Recently I received my copy of the CD-Rom produced by the team directed by Prof. Dirk van der Plas of CCER.
This is the first CD of a series dedicated to ten collections of Egyptian antiquities throughout Europe; the series is part of the s.c. Champollion Project.
What follows is a review of the CD itself; for all background information on the project and for system requirements, the reader is advised to visit the pages of CCER.

The CD comes inside an A5-format small book which provides very basic information about the content of the CD. It is very elegant and compact; a few pages written in all the languages supported by the CD (English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish), give an overview of the possibilities the CD can offer. An unpleasant thing is that detailed instructions on how to use the product are not provided in this book; one has to run the CD and browse the internal help menus. I ran the CD on a Windows 98 Pentium II-based 360 MHz PC with 64 Mb of RAM, however the necessary requirements are less strict. If You have Quick Time installed on your PC You can directly access the product since the autoplay function has been included; otherwise You have to install Quick Time from the CD directly before using the product.

When the CD starts You are required (it is left to your imagination, however) to choose a language from the above-mentioned ones; this will be the language in which all the texts will appear to You throughout the browsing of the CD. Obviously the language can be changed by going back to the first step. Then You're presented with a screen with options to help You with browsing the CD.

Since it contains 100 highlights from each museum, You can search by museum numbers or proceed with a multiple search. For example You can make complex searches by restricting the criteria on the museums, object types (its s.c. advanced mode, which I think is based on the Multilingual Egyptological Thesaurus, is wonderful), materials, periods (for example dynasties, kings etc.) and sites of provenance. After You've selected your criteria, You can get a browsable list of all the objects in the CD which match the selected criteria. Thumbnail pictures for the objects in the list are available. Then You can select a single object and access its data. Typically one colour picture in a suitable size is given; however for important objects several pictures are given; and for a few items virtual-reality models are included. Basic data about the item are given, however You can also access deeper databases: databases that deal with the eventual inscriptions on the object with its glyphs (not all inscribed objects have the glyphs, however), transliterations and translations; other databases that give You info about any kind of museographic data You need, from date, provenace, material, dimensions, state, relations to other objects, bibliography and much more. Seperately, the criteria, which have been used to date the objects, and a few remarks about them by the author of the data-sheets, are given. All infos are printable and can be copied/pasted.

A few negative features of all this are the following:
- no MdC codes for the glyphs are given (they would be very useful to generate other documents with the standard glyph processors)
- no possibility of copying directly the images is given (if one has to see, for his personal use, the image inside another software he has to save it from the directory of the CD directly)
- no links (not necessarily Internet links) to other databases by CCER (for example Prosopographia Aegyptii), or other databases in general are given - no possibility of having string searches throughout the entire corpus of the translated texts is given.
However I'm sure that the CCER staff have reasons for not including these features. Even if the s.c. documentation (i.e. instructions) is not the most complete one that one could expect, the CD can be used with great ease immediately.

There are also sections dedicated to various themes, from daily life to writing, amulets etc. which can be of interest to the more general public; virtual tours of the museums involved in the project are also available (a VR rendition of one room, plus spoken comments on certain objects).

The databases of this first CD are in any case impressive for the wealth and richness of useful info they provide. I think that they are a real must for everyone; not only they are updated and recently checked, but they are mostly complete. The photos are high-quality ones and provided in three different sizes (a small one, a medium one and a full screen one). Hyperlinks for terms are given leading to a glossary which however lacks references (maybe a line with references to the LdAe could have been useful). A very, very few typographical errors are seen here and there but nothing really important.

Taking into account that this is an introductory first CD for the whole series one can imagine that the following ones will be of primary importance for any kind of serious research. Not to mention the role that this series will play in the overall impact of Egyptology on people in the years to come. The CCER is to be praised and thanked for its efforts in this project, for it has a very high cultural value which goes beyond the CDs themselves; this project in my opinion can open a new era in cooperation between museums and Egyptologists all over the world that was not possible a few years ago. Taking into account what information science is doing in these years for Egyptology (glyph processors, WB and other databases online, mailing lists etc.) I think that the future will be full of successes for this discipline.

I for one am waiting for the next CDs of the series with eagerness. And let us hope that the project will soon be extended to other museums in Europe and outside Europe as well.

Federico Rocchi
November 20th 1999

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