Sydney Schumacher and Jordan Pugh, juniors at Indiana University East and friends since high school, took the trip of a lifetime over the 2015-2016 winter break. The two accompanied Egyptologist and IU East Professor of History Eugene Cruz-Uribe to Egypt to study ancient Egyptian burial practices first-hand. The trip was a requirement for their Undergraduate Readings in History Independent Studies class.
“Having the opportunity to go to Egypt was huge,” said Schumacher. “I’m a history buff, so being able to step back in time and see everything was so cool.”
Pugh was equally enthusiastic about the trip.
“I loved the trip. It was an amazing opportunity to study history and a culture that is so different from our own. There was so much to learn and observe. It was pretty amazing,” Pugh said.
Schumacher is a history major who hopes to work in a museum one day, and Pugh is a secondary education major with a focus in social students and economy, and plans to teach. Their trip to Egypt included the opportunity to see things that most tourists never experience. “Thanks to Professor Cruz-Uribe’s Egyptology connections, we were able to get off the beaten tourist track for a behind-the-scenes look at what an Egyptologist does,” Schumacher said.
“Both Sydney and Jordan have taken several of my classes and I knew of their interest in ancient history,” Cruz-Uribe said. “I asked if they would like to go to Egypt to see the sites as well as help me out at Philae temple. They got to see and do what I as a professional scholar do in the field. They then had to come back and do a research project, which they presented at the 2016 Student Research Day.”
Schumacher also presented on the trip for Indiana University President Michael McRobbie during his visit to campus in January.
While most people are familiar with the hieroglyphics inscribed by priests and scholars, which are the official record of ancient Egypt, Cruz-Uribe specializes in ancient Egyptian graffiti written in Demotic, a late period script used in ancient Egypt, to record of daily life left on the walls of rock quarries, buildings, and the like by everyday, ordinary people.
“It’s so important to look at the small history, rather than just at the big, glamorous history. In order to really understand the big picture, you have to understand the mundane, everyday details of life,” Schumacher said.
During their two weeks in Egypt, Pugh and Schumacher accompanied Cruz-Uribe to Cairo, Aswan, and Luxor.They visited the Great Pyramids of Egypt; the Sphinx; Saqqara, Edfu, Hatshepsut, and Philae Temples; the Valley of the Kings; the Valley of the Queens, where they visited tombs and temples, as well as the quarries where the rocks for construction were obtained; and the Nile River. They also visited some mosques and markets for a taste of current Egyptian culture.
Schumacher and Pugh were able to see many architectural innovations developed by the Egyptians, including the first curved wall ever built, and in Saqqara, the first pyramid. “It set up a blueprint for architectural design that lasted thousands of years,” said Schumacher.
They experienced first-hand many of the twisting, maze-like passages and traps designed to foil tomb robbers.
“All of the artifacts and sites are amazing to see and really puts into perspective how grand their history is,” Pugh said.
All of the ancient tombs, temples, pyramids, and other sites they visited were empty; the artifacts either stolen by thieves, or removed for safe-keeping and study in places like the Cairo Museum. “Visiting the Cairo Museum was like walking through time,” Schumacher said.
“I’ve wanted to go to the Cairo Museum ever since my high school World History class,” Pugh said. “It was great to cross something off my bucket list I didn’t think was a possibility.”
The trip coincided with a brief lifting of the ban on photography at the Cairo Museum. Ordinarily, photography is forbidden by the museum.
The two spent most of their time comparing and contrasting burial practices, rituals, and beliefs between Egypt’s Old (2700 B.C. – 2200B.C.), Middle (2050 B.C. – 1650 B.C.), and New (1550 B.C. – 1100 B.C.) Kingdoms. They saw differences between not only the kingdoms, but between the various dynasties that ruled the country, as well as the various periods following the New Kingdom to the present day. They also saw the effects of the Greek, Roman, and Christian influences that have occurred in Egypt over the centuries.
“The New Kingdom had to be much more adaptable in order to survive, due to the influx of those other cultures,” Schumacher said.
Both hope to go back someday. “I would definitely want to go back when I’ve had more time to study,” said Schumacher. “It would be really cool to actually be doing the work, getting my hands dirty, rather than just watching.”
Both also plan to pursue post-graduate degrees after completing their undergraduate degrees.
The trip was funded through scholarships for overseas travel, and funds were provided by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.