Mummy Class Has Student Body All Wrapped Up

Photo illustration by Laura Luengas
Photo illustration by Laura Luengas

Dead Heads of a different caliber can now rejoice at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz with this semester’s offering of a Mummy Studies course. It’s more than skeletal subject matter that spans across the globe, aiming to enlighten students on both the physical and spiritual aspects of this ancient practice.

According to the course syllabus it “begins with an introduction to the theoretical foundations of Mummy Studies, to the study of death and the mortuary context…[ranging] all over the continents, examining where and when mummies are found.”

Areas covered include anatomy and decomposition, natural and artificial mummification methods and DNA analysis, along with methods and meaning.

“My research deals with mummified remains in an attempt to reconstruct behavior through bones,” said course instructor Dr. Kenneth Nystrom.

Engaging topics aside, the course’s instructor has a wealth of personal experience to contribute as well. Since Dr. Kenneth Nystrom received his PhD from the University of New Mexico in 2005, he has trekked to tombs around the world, in countries ranging from Chile and Bolivia to Italy and Greece.

“I use specific tools from natural sciences molded with the more humanistic side,” Nystrom said of incorporating experience into the information he teaches and using the bodies as “an avenue regarding the afterlife.”

The biological archaeologist was actually selected by Discovery Channel to contribute as a reporter/investigator for both its “Mummy Autopsy” special, where he travelled to the Valley of Tombs to flesh out new findings, and “Egypt Uncovered,” where he investigated the tomb of King Tut.

Currently listed as ANT393, the course is only one of the selected anthropology topics, but it may not be so in the near future. This is the second time Mummy Studies is running; a course must run three times for it to be made official.

Nystrom, however, is glad to have this experimental period.

“It gives me time to work out any kinks,” he said.

Nystrom said he has been receiving an overall positive reception from students. Every seat has been filled each time, and it’s not meant to interest anthropology majors exclusively. The roster currently includes a number of history majors and undeclared students as well.

“I like [the course] a lot. Where else can you learn about mummies around the world,” said second-year history major Isaac Getlan. “It’s only the fourth week in, but I’d definitely recommend the class.”

Recommendations don’t even seem necessary to spark interest in the afterlife amongst the student body.

“I wish I knew about it sooner,” said third-year organizational communication major Claire Kinnell. “I’ve always found mummification to be interesting, and it’d be great to see how it varies around the world, so I’d definitely be interested in a class like that.”

If all goes well and it goes for one more semester, kids like Kinnell may not have to worry about catching Mummy Studies at the right time, since it could be instated as an official course at SUNY New Paltz.