Spending an entire field season roaming a cemetery and looking at bones may seem morbid to many, but to me it was a dream. Over the past several years, Willeke Wendrich, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, has lead an international team of archaeologists in excavations at the ancient city of Karanis. The project seeks to explore and understand the ways Karanis used the rich and lively landscape of the Fayum, a region known even in present day for its agricultural fertility. Specialists analyze the botanical remains to see what was living and growing over a thousand years ago, and excavations of an ancient granary this season help us understand life and prosperity in the past. So why am I sitting across the street immersed in the skeletal remains of the people of Karanis? How does studying the dead shed any new light on the project’s goal of understanding the living and growing landscape?
Contrary to popular opinion, the dead are actually quite talkative. Through analysis of their bones, they tell us the kinds of diseases people had to face, the daily work they had to undergo, their toothaches in old age and broken legs from their youth. While excavations can bring back into our public knowledge the growth of the city and activities of Karanis, skeletal analysis can populate Karanis with the real lives and struggles of its people.
See the above page for the full story.