February has been a great month for mummies — or at least for those of us interested in studying them!
A Feb. 17 study published in the academic journal “Frontiers in Medicine” revealed the truth behind the gruesome death of a mummified pharaoh from the 16th century BCE using computed tomography (CT) imaging and X-rays, and the connotations for academia are as exciting as the finds themselves.
Pharaoh Seqenenre Taa II’s mummy was X-rayed in the 1960s and shown to have severe wounds to the head, but it wasn’t until the more recent CT scans that researchers were able to identify the cause of death: a military execution.
Evidence of the pharaoh's hands being tied together as well as the rather untraditional mummification process, indicates that he was not killed by an assassination attempt or in battle but by an execution which took place far from where his remains were found.
The study goes on to talk about the specifics of the weapons used and the grave goods that were found (the Smithsonian Magazine does a great job of summarizing it), but it’s not the details of the study or even the findings that drew my attention when I first heard about it.
Even if you don’t keep up with recent archaeological finds or don’t have a particular interest in Egyptian history, the sheer passion and perseverance that pushed this project and facilitated this incredible collaboration between STEM and the humanities should be enough to excite all of us.
We all participate in an academic community here at the University, whether as students, faculty, staff or alumni, and we all have our own place in the University’s legacy.
That passion and drive is something a lot of us forget about or lose somewhere along the way in our four-year journey as undergraduates. We focus on “just getting through this week,” on cultivating the perfect resume or on when we’ll get to go back to bars. A lot of us, including myself, lose sight of what led us to and encouraged us to continue our studies in the first place.
These past few semesters, I got so caught up in making myself competitive for graduate school programs and potential employers that I forgot to take a step back and enjoy myself; to take time to read articles and books because I genuinely love the subjects and not just because they were assigned for class.
Writing about this new discovery and reflecting on the partnership between STEM and the humanities gave me back some of that academic joy and made me look at my current courses with a new appreciation.
Instead of stressing out about upcoming projects and reading just to find the bare minimum of details to get me through my next class, I’ve found myself enjoying my assignments again.
Rather than feeling resentment and frustration towards STEM fields for getting better funding and advising or more attention, I felt appreciation for advancements that have helped professionals in humanities make these groundbreaking discoveries that could potentially change the way we view human history.
I didn’t choose to study ancient history and dead languages because I thought I’d make a lot of money or because I thought it would be super easy; I chose this path because I genuinely fell in love with it and I want to be the next generation - what my professors, mentors and teachers have been for me.
Although it took an X-ray of a mummy to bring my passion back into focus today, my professors have been guiding me, teaching me and giving me a strong academic foundation for the past three and a half years.
All it takes is one spark to light your fire and remind you why you chose to dedicate your life to the things you did, so why not open yourself up to the joy of learning again? Being cynical might be “cool,” but loving what you do will bring you bliss.
Marie Plunkett is a 21-year-old classical studies senior from New Orleans.