Graduate student, lecturer, professor spent a month at excavation site south of Cairo
By CHARLES ADAMSON, Californian staff writer
Eleven excavated Egyptian mummies isn't bad for a summer's research project.
In fact, in terms of research value, it's extraordinary.
Cal State Bakersfield graduate student Deanna Heikkinen, anthropology professor Robert Yohe, and lecturer Jill Gardner spent a month between July and August in Egypt with a UC Berkeley-led excavation team. They excavated 11 and located at least four more mummies dating from A.D. 300 to A.D. 500, Yohe said. They were found at El-Hibeh, a site about 100 miles south of Cairo.
This was Yohe's second summer with the Berkeley team.
"We knew the mummies were there but we weren't sure how many or what their condition would be," Yohe said.
As it turns out, some of the mummies were in excellent condition even though they were found in an area named the "looter's pit" and were originally from the poorer class. Ironically the mummies were better preserved than the middle-class mummies found in a crypt.
The rich and middle class had more sophisticated mummification techniques, said Yohe, but were also more likely to be stripped by looters. Many were missing hands, feet and in some cases heads. Yohe said they were likely the victims of tomb robbers searching for amulets and other jewelry.
Yohe said he believes the mummies were Coptic Christians. Coptic Christianity is an ancient form of Christianity based in Egypt and is still practiced today.
The professor is a human and animal remains expert and worked as an excavation leader. He is an expert in studying things like age, height, diet and cause of death of the mummies.
"We'll have to wait to do much of that research until next year, because the mummies are wrapped," Yohe said.
He said the team will use an X-ray machine next summer to see the mummies without unwrapping them.
Both Heikkinen and Gardner helped in the excavation work. Heikkinen is studying the textiles found with the mummies and plans to use the research to write her master's thesis.
"It's an opportunity of a lifetime," Heikkinen said. "Here you walk a long distance to find one artifact. There you can't walk anywhere without stepping on an artifact."
The three plan to rejoin the team next summer. The mummies remain in Egypt under guard. The project is expected to continue each summer for at least 20 years, Yohe said.
The three will be giving a free presentation to the public about the project from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29 at Cal State Bakersfield, in the Dorothy Donahoe Hall GJ-102.