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Tracing the footsteps of Emory's own Indiana Jones

Andrew Hoover spent much of last summer with the journals of Emory professor and explorer William Shelton, who collected many of the treasures now housed at the Carlos museum — such as an Egyptian scarab from the Ptolemaic period. Emory Photo/Video


The Egyptian mummies, stone tablets, and ceramic vessels that first-year student Andrew Hoover 20C and his classmates were examining were millennia old and at least a century removed from the ancient tombs and sand pits in which they’d been found. Sitting in the gleaming cases and cool gray shelving of the Michael C. Carlos Museum, the objects were fascinating and exotic, mysterious save for the information typed onto their labels. What were the circumstances of their discovery? What efforts had gone into bringing them halfway around the world?

Providing that historical context was one of the goals of the fall 2016 course Hoover was taking. Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean through the Carlos Museum had been conceived by Professor Cynthia Patterson as a way to leverage the collection housed next door to show students how firsthand study of artifacts can deepen — or perhaps challenge — one’s interpretation of history gained through textbooks.

Many of the Carlos’s most significant pieces — including the oldest mummy in any American museum — had been brought from Egypt in 1920 by William Shelton, an Emory theology professor whose private journal and letters had been donated to the university in the 1980s. Almost as an aside, Patterson suggested to her class of undergraduates that Shelton’s papers could make for a worthwhile extracurricular research project.

“Sometimes in teaching, you just throw out hooks,” she now says.

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