Diggin' Her Coursework: Anthropolgy student studies skeletons in Egypt

by CELIA SHORTT

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Kelly Blevins with the skeleton of an infant whose remains were unearthed at the archaeological site of Amarna in Egypt.

Editor’s note: Egypt’s political unrest has been much in the news in recent days. Just before those events took place, a college student from Newnan was in Egypt doing archaeological studies — in an ancient Egyptian city 200 miles south of Cairo.

Most college students are eager to use the skills they learned at school in a professional setting, and Kelly Blevins, a Newnan native, was able to do that and more recently at an archeological site in Egypt.

Blevins, a senior at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, achieved one of 10 spots to work on the Amarna Project in Egypt. Amarna is located 200 miles south of Cairo and is an ancient Egyptian city and the short-lived capital built by Pharaoh Arkhenaten. It was abandoned shortly after his death in 1332 BCE. 

This city is important because it is where the Pharaoh attempted to bring to life his vision of a society that was dedicated to the cult of one god, the Aten. Today, Amarna is the largest readily accessible living-site from ancient Egypt and brings with it keys in understanding the life of ancient Egyptians and the religious experience of the time.

”No one occupied Amarna before or after Arkhenaten, which makes it excellent for archeological analysis,” said Blevins.

Blevins, along with the nine other students from all over the world, was able to work on this site as part of a project through the University of Arkansas. She found out about the project and applied after her advisor and a professor posted a link about it on Facebook. The University of Arkansas has been working with the Amarna project since 2005.

”I was interested in it because it was not just an archeological dig,” she said. “It also had skeletal remains.”

Blevins’ major is Biological Anthropology with a concentration in Bio-Archeology. Her major trains her to study skeletal remains.

Throughout the project, she would be assigned a skeleton and would have to do a complete workup on the remains, including, dental information, medical information, measurements, age and sex.

”The overall goal is to analyze all these individuals and recreate the life of the city,” said Blevins. “So far, skeletal analysis shows heavy work loads, poor nutrition, and a juvenile mortality rate. Researchers are asking questions and trying to figure out what social, biological, and cultural forces were at work during the tumultuous Amarna period.”

Throughout her month working on the project, she completed analysis of 15 complete individuals and 10 fragmentary skeletons.

In total, the whole group completed 70 sets of skeletal remains. Blevins thoroughly enjoyed her time on the Amarna project and knows that it affected her on a personal level.

”Just being in Egypt, seeing the poverty and the struggles was very humbling and made me feel lucky,” she said. “It’s inspiring because even with the hardships, people were happy.”

She was also affected on a professional level.

”It was great to actually be doing the work,” she said. “I’ve been studying it for so long, and I finally got to do it. I got to apply what I’d been learning. It was great to be around peers who were excited about the project, too. There was a strong feeling of camaraderie.”




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