CSUB Project on Discovery

January 9, 2008
CONTACT:
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, kmiller26@csub.edu or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720, mnewell1@csub.edu
 

How did Mummy No. 7 die? Was he murdered? Was he in some type of accident? It is his mysterious 1,500 year-old death along with the work of Robert Yohe and his team that intrigued television producers.

So much so the CSUB anthropology professor and his fellow explorers will be featured on Discovery Channel's "The Bone Detective" this spring. The 13-part series will devote an hourlong episode to the project scheduled to air Monday, March 3, at 10 p.m.

Yohe has spent each summer since 2003 studying the archaeological site Tell El-Hibeh, an ancient town and necropolis on the frontier of Upper and Lower Egypt. The town is in the middle of the country, 100 miles south of Cairo on the Nile River.

Yohe returned to Egypt for about two weeks last September to study Coptic, or Christian, mummies from a late Roman or Byzantine area of the site. The project started in 2000 through UC Berkeley.

The Copts, the original Egyptian Christians (Copt is from the Greek word meaning Egyptian), took to the teachings of the apostle St. Mark. Tradition states that St. Mark went to Egypt about A.D. 60, founding what became the Coptic Orthodox Church.

It wasn't until the seventh century when the Arabs invaded Egypt that Islam took root.

In fall 2006, the company producing the show for Discovery approached Yohe. The program travels the world investigating human remains and the mysteries behind them.

The team discovered Mummy No. 7 in 2004 in a pit uncovered by looters. In 2005, they opened his wrappings and determined he was a young male who lived between the fourth and sixth centuries. "We use this date based on the textiles that he was interred in," said Deanna Heikkinen, a CSUB graduate student and member of Yohe's dig team. Her specialty is textiles. She is able to determine the time period in which a mummy lived by analyzing cloth.

"The textiles are reminiscent of the Greco-Roman period because of the criss-cross patterning of the cordage, but also use course linens for the outer shroud, which is later in tie. His digits were not individually wrapped, indicating less care was given to the wrappings than in previous periods," she explained.

The male mummy, who was likely between the ages of 20 and 30, was not of wealth. Researchers knew the body was male because preservation was really good, Yohe laughed. The mummy was buried with 30 pounds of salt, which shows a transition in techniques. Yohe said, "While early mummification methods were slow, Christianized Romans wanted bodies buried quickly."

His death is still not quite as clear. The cause, Heikkinen said, was a blow to the back of the head, which is clearly marked by the oval-shaped hole on the back of his skull. "X-rays have shown this is a spiral fracture that you don't get from falling down," Yohe said.

Yohe added Dr. Keith Korver, a heart surgeon and the project physician, discovered large carbon deposits on the mummy's lungs, probably from smoke buildup from sitting near cooking fires.

In addition, the group is working to relate their findings to the number of other bodies that were buried around the same time in that area. "Was there a plague or a conflict?" Yohe speculates. Many remains discovered at the site have been adults in their 30s or 40s.

"In 2007 we worked on defining the area to better understand Byzantine burial practices at the site," Heikkinen said. "We defined a cemetery feature with distinct walls. We also were able to discern the burial techniques of these people. People were buried with their head to the west in an east-west pattern. A palm reed was placed by the head to mark the burial, sticking straight up. When we were excavating we discovered the ends of the reeds and initially were not sure what they meant. We also uncovered the burial fill, the mummies were first covered with fill dirt, then limestone blocks (some reused from other areas of the site), and then a mud brick cap."

In addition, researchers found ruins of a temple dedicated to a pharaoh or Egyptian god.

"This year we discovered a textile fragment that had two human figures, probably saints," Hekkinen said. "Although the piece was fragmented and out of context due to it being found in a looter area, it is important since it is the first piece from the site that has human figures on it."

Heikkinen graduated from CSUB in June 2007 with her master's degree in anthropology and is working to finish up her master's in history. She is currently teaching at Bakersfield College. In addition she also plans on getting a doctorate in history or religious studies, focusing on Coptic studies.

The Discovery Channel film shoot was an interesting experience for Heikkinen. "I was nervous at first and especially before," she said. "But once I began talking about my research, which I love, I forgot the cameras were there and was just talking to the host, Scotty, educating him about the textiles and what we can learn about themů.I love digging in Egypt, it is such an amazing experience. There is nothing like unraveling history in the dirt."

For additional information contact Yohe at (661) 654-3457 or log onto [ http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/bone-detectives/bone-detectives.html ]http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/bone-detectives/bone-detectives.html.