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May 29, 2002 1 min read
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Mummy in the Closet

When students at Naperville Central High School want a glimpse of a real Egyptian mummy, they don’t need to visit a museum. All they have to do is visit the school’s social studies department, where a delicately wrapped mummy of a little girl has been on display for more than a decade.

The 2,700-student school, an hour southwest of Chicago, is believed to be the only high school in the United States to own an authentic mummy.

Dr. Winifred Martin, a physician who purchased the mummy on a trip to Egypt, donated it to the school in the early 1940s.

“Back then, it wasn’t illegal to buy such things,” said James Galanis, who teaches ancient medieval history at the school and helps care for the mummy.

According to Mr. Galanis, the mummy was displayed for many years in the school’s library before being tucked away in storage. When a social studies teacher rediscovered it in the late 1970s, the mummy was in very bad shape. And it stayed that way until 1992 when the school asked experts at the University of Chicago to restore it.

“She was deteriorating pretty badly,” said Mr. Galanis, who noted that the mummy’s bandages were extremely loose, leaving parts of the skull exposed, and that much of the paper wrapped around her was literally falling apart.

The university has been periodically checking the condition of the mummy and has helped the school set up a humidity-controlled case to preserve her.

Experts from the National Geographic Society recently helped school officials unravel the mystery of the mummy’s age and gender. “The most recent tests on [the mummy] indicate that it’s a child between the ages of 7 and 9,” Mr. Galanis said.

Using radiocarbon dating—which analyzes the decay of carbon in an object—experts determined that the child lived sometime between 55 B.C. and 30 B.C., when a Greek dynasty, around the time of Cleopatra, ruled Egypt.

DNA tests also revealed that the mummy was a girl.

—Marianne D. Hurst

A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week


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