The following is an article written about my daughter Aubrey in an on-line publication called "Under the Microscope"
by Sam Lemonick
Thursday, 12 November 2009
In the 1920s archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley began a dig that captured the world's attention like the discovery of King Tut's tomb had five years before. Digging at the site of the Mesopotamian city of Ur, thought to be the home of the Bible's Abraham, he had uncovered 4,000-year-old tombs which held royalty, untold wealth in jewelry and ornaments, and soldiers and servants who had died with their masters.
Many of the attendants’ bodies were buried with ceremonial goblets nearby, and Woolley reported that these men and women had drunk poison so they could follow their masters into the afterlife. The artifacts and some of the bodies were sent back to the museums which sponsored the expedition, among them the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. Now, some 80 years later, a new exhibit at the Penn Museum features recent research that suggests the royal attendants met a much more gruesome end than Woolley thought.
The exhibit and the discoveries behind it are the product of four women's work over the last several years. Archaeologist Aubrey Baadsgard was the first to start looking at the Ur artifacts again. For help determining how the attendants died, she turned to physical anthropologist Janet Monge and her undergraduate researcher Samantha Cox. Now their work is available to the public thanks to Kate Quinn, the lead exhibition designer at the Penn Museum.
This all started as Baadsgard's dissertation on the jewelry found on the bodies of the royalty and their attendants, many pieces of which are in the collection at the Penn Museum. Also at Penn are two attendants' skulls, which were found flattened by the weight of centuries of accumulated dirt. Baadsgard was interested in making digital models of these skulls that could show how jewelry might have been worn. She approached Monge, who was already working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to build a database of models of the museum's skulls that could be used by researchers worldwide.
Although Baadsgard was looking at jewelry, she also hoped that the CT scans and other modern investigative techniques might point to the truth about the attendents' deaths. For years Woolley's conclusion that the servants had drunk poison went unchallenged, but there was reason to be suspicious. Goblets had been found at many other excavations of Mesopotamian graves, both group and individual, and seemed to be associated with funerary feasts rather than poisoning.
For Baadsgard, working on the Ur skulls was the culmination of a dream. "I remember telling someone when I was twelve that I was going to get a Ph.D. in archaeology," she says. "I had it as my goal and it was goal ever since. I never really looked back, I just did what it took." Archaeology was a much broader horizon than anything else she knew in the small town in Utah where she grew up. Field research as a Brigham Young University undergraduate in Petra, Jordan (site of the temple in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), solidified her interest in archaeology. She went to Penn for her doctorate because she would have access to the collections at the Penn Museum, which are some of the largest in the country. Now she sees herself following in the footsteps of Gertrude Bell, who in the 1920s was the first director of antiquities in Iraq.