A force of nature

March 22, 2009

With her blond, surfer-girl looks and vernacular, it would be easy to mistake Jessica Kaiser for just another cute denizen of the California beach … until she starts talking osteo-archaeology.

Jessica directing field school students.

Jessica directing field school students.

Osteo-archaeology is the archaeology of human and animal remains, particularly skeletal remains. Jessica is completing her PhD based on her research of the Late Period (747-525 BC) burials that overlie the pyramid settlement at Giza. Born in Sweden, she lives in California and speaks flawless Californian, along with Swedish, Arabic, and other languages.

Jessica wants to examine the origins and diet of the people buried in the LP cemetery. Were they from the area or were they buried here because Giza was a pilgrimage site? She also has done a typology of Late Period coffins. 

Whether tossing about Latin names for skeletal pathologies, warmly discussing her students, or relating a visit to the Egyptian coast, Jessica is always very animated. But she seems most passionate about two things: old bones and the AERA/ARCE Field School.

Late Period canine burial at Giza.

Late Period canine burial at Giza.

Jessica has excavated with AERA since 2000 and her team has recovered nearly five hundred Late Period burials, 390 of them complete burials. They recently found one that shows clear evidence of Late Period mummification. Its abdomen was stuffed full of funerary material. The clavicles of the mummies usually show the bodies were tightly wrapped before burial. 

Egyptian Late Period coffins were made of mud. You may be surprised to know that the coffins were quite sturdy until time took its toll and the lids collapsed. Jessica can tell from the skeletons that the lids did not collapse onto the bodies until some time after burial. Fifty percent of the burials have coffins and the others were usually buried in linen wrappings.

LP mud coffin with surviving color of the face of the coffin.

LP mud coffin with surviving color of the face of the coffin.

Jessica spends a lot of time with her students, even buying gifts for their children and visiting them in their homes. She’s very proud of the graduates and recently described having been told by one of the grads that they’d directly applied a technique they learned at the AERA/ARCE school, called systematic random sampling, to their regular work as an antiquities inspector.

“I’ve dug enough burials [for study]. It’s the field school that keeps me coming back. I really think it will make a difference.”

Brian Hunt

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