A Stanford University student has discovered hidden writing on the case of an Egyptian mummy that was left shattered by the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.
A young student named Ariela Algaze has just made the discovery of a lifetime after taking a course on museums and then detecting ancient writing found on the case of an Egyptian mummy that was brought to Stanford over 100 years ago by the university’s co-founder, Jane Stanford.
As Phys.org has reported, Stanford sophomore Algaze took the course in part to learn more about the display of art in museum exhibitions, but once she began working on the mystery of the writing on the Egyptian mummy case, she was well and truly hooked.
“I was just excited to learn how to put an exhibit display together. But I became obsessed with finding out everything I could about this artifact.”
Because of this student’s tenacity, she was able to glean more information about this ancient mummy case than any other student or scholar before her, which includes discovering hidden inscriptions on the Egyptian tomb, as well as learning the name of the woman who was buried inside
“Being able to see and examine words written on a 2,000-year-old coffin was an exhilarating feeling. It’s like a voice calling out thousands of miles away,” Algaze explained.
The Egyptian mummy that Jane Stanford had bought in 1901 used to be housed at the Stanford Museum, yet just five years later, in 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake caused great damage to the case of the mummy, shattering the coffin’s cartonnage into many pieces that were distributed into multiple boxes and then left untouched for decades.
Algaze explained that she had a premonition that there was something of great worth hidden inside these boxes and trusted the feeling she had.
“I just had this gut feeling when I saw those three boxes. I knew there had to be something important in there.”
Upon examining the many fragments of the case of the Egyptian mummy, she chanced upon two that had been delicately inscribed. To help her translate these texts, the student invited Foy Scalf from the University of Chicago and Barbara Richter from the University of California, Berkeley to help her understand these ancient texts.
Excitingly, Algaze was then able to learn that the name of the mummified woman was Senchalanthos, and one of the inscriptions that was left behind in her name read, “May her name rejuvenate every day.”
The location where the mummy had originally been placed is in a city in Egypt that is now called Akhmim. The case itself was found to have been constructed during the Greco-Roman period with an approximate date that runs from 100 BCE to 100 CE. However, the inscription placed on the Egyptian tomb shows that it was written during the Roman era, in around 30 BCE.
“There are so few inscriptions from that era of Egypt that the experts I contacted were really excited and eager to take a look and help me out,” Algaze noted.
Christina Hodge, who is a curator at the Stanford University Archaeology Collections, was very enthusiastic about the new discovery and was surprised that no documentation existed for the writing on this Egyptian mummy case.
“It’s been one of the most surprising discoveries in the collection so far. Inscriptions are one of those things Egyptologists get especially excited about, so you would think that someone would have noted down that this cartonnage has writing on it. The fact that this wasn’t documented is very unusual.”
Hodge also noted that it was a very happy coincidence that the writing on the case managed to survive the 1906 earthquake, and that it was fortunately on one of the larger pieces of cartonnage.
“Considering how much damage the earthquake caused, pulverizing many of the objects, it’s also serendipitous that the writing survived on one of the bigger fragments of the cartonnage.”
Ariela Algaze is just happy that she has learned more about the woman who was mummified inside the coffin as this is a way of keeping her legacy alive.
“It’s all about restoring dignity to fragmented objects. To be able to say the name of a woman who was in a coffin that withstood two earthquakes and traveled all the way from Egypt here is incredible. That’s the most powerful thing to me.”
With the incredible discovery of writing on the case of this Egyptian mummy’s tomb, there is always the possibility that further inscriptions will be uncovered when all of the fragments of cartonnage in the boxes have been analyzed.
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