CSI: Ancient Egypt
"We're all going to be amateur biological anthropologists when we leave here today," Dr. Stephen Phillips, curatorial research coordinator of the Egyptian Section of the Penn Museum, said on October 2. His visit to Northampton Community College (NCC) marked the first National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) event of the year at the college. This year's NCC humanities theme is "Exploring Identity through the Humanities."
In the talk "CSI Egypt" students, faculty and staff were transported to ancient Egypt by Phillips, who painted a vivid picture of his excavations in Egypt through slides and engaging anecdotes. CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation, and Phillips framed his work in the vein of the many television shows that depict forensic analysis techniques.
He shared with the audience tips on how to identify human remains, using slides of Egyptian mummies as examples. "If you discover a skeleton, ask yourself these questions: Is it human? Male or female? What was the age of death? What can the bones tell us?"
Identification of gender and age can be made if only a skull is found. Phillips explained the skull shape, ear bone, the size and shape of the lower jaw, along with the shape of the forehead, brow ridge and eye socket can all help determine gender. The dental eruption pattern and dental wear pattern are useful tools in suggesting an age range.
In the 1990s, a theory that Tutankhamun, an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, had been murdered gained traction. There was much speculation that the young king, estimated at the age of 19 when he died, had been hit with a mortal blow to the back of the head. But modern scans, Phillips said, revealed other issues that most likely contributed to his death. "He had a broken leg that was probably septic, a bad foot and malaria. You're not going to last long in those days with those ailments."
Phillips passion for his work shone through every moment of his talk. "To have someone tell us their story, through time and across continents, it's simply amazing."