Being a writer does have its perks.Â Â Sometimes it gives you access to places and events you’d never otherwise get to see.Â Â Thanks to my job as a novelist, I’ve gotten access to the inner workings of Johnson Space Center.Â I’veÂ visited the Boston Homicide unitÂ and the Maine state morgue.Â
(photo: Dr. Jonathan Elias, me, and Joann Potter from the Vassar College Museum, with the coffin containing Shep-en-Min)
Â If you know my background, then you know that I have a lifelong interest in archaeology.Â I was an Anthropology major at Stanford and I’ve traveled numerous times to Egypt and the Mediterranean.Â Last year, because I had questions about the technical aspects ofÂ mummy CT scans,Â I contacted Dr. Jonathan Elias,Â the Egyptologist who directs the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium.Â We’ve corresponded on and off over the months, and last week, he invited me to be a guest observerÂ at the CT scanning of a mummy who has resided at the Vassar College Museum for over 100 years.Â Based on writings on the coffin, Dr. Elias concluded that the coffin’s occupant was a male priest named Shep -en-Min who lived during the Ptolemaic period.Â Dr. Elias’s project involves scanning mummies across the U.S., but just getting the wheels in motion for such a scan requires organizational genius, plus the patience of a saint.Â At long last, after months of emails and paperwork,Â Dr. Elias was finally going to get a peek at Shep-en-Min.
AndÂ he invited me down to Fishkill, NY, to watch as the first images showed up on the screen.Â
The event was a big media event, with reporters and TV cameras crowding around as the coffin was unloaded from the museum van.Â They followed it up the hallway toward the diagnostic imaging department,Â flashbulbs going off the whole way.Â I felt like I was part of a rock star’s entourage.Â Â No other patient — even Brad Pitt himself — would have had such an eager press pack chasing so avidly after him down a hospital hall.Â After the mummy was gently placedÂ on the CT scan table,Â the reporters were shooed out of the room andÂ the scan was performed.Â Later, at the press conference, Dr. EliasÂ gave a brief summary of the findings, which you can read in the newsÂ articles linked aboveÂ — but much more will be revealed in time.
Dr. Elias will be publishing his findings once he’s analyzed the data, and I don’t want to give away any secrets.Â But suffice it to say there was a big surprise at the scan –Â one that startled us all.Â