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Tomb Explorer: Year 7 History-style

On Monday, Wenona went all Indiana Jones with a visit from the History and Archaeology Department at Macquarie University, teaching Year 7 History students all about the fascinating civilisation that was ancient Egypt.

Who knew that the modern-day archaeologist doesn’t wield a whip like Indiana Jones, but instead comes armed with a trusty vacuum cleaner! Apparently, it’s much more useful when cleaning off sand and debris when unearthing ancient artefacts.

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And who knew that rather than using a machete to ward off deadly snakes, the modern-day archaeologist comes armed with a tooth pick to gently prise away centuries of dirt from cracks and crevices.

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It might have been slightly less swashbuckling that the Indiana Jones’ brand of archaeology (but let’s face it – he had to eat chilled monkey brains and escape from pits of hissing cobras), but the Year 7 History incursion was a fascinating journey of archaeological discovery, complete with mummification workshops and archaeological digs to uncover ancient artefacts.

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The mummification workshop was a big hit. Year 7 learnt all about the methods that the ancient Egyptians used to embalm or treat a dead body. Apparently, it was important in their religion to preserve the dead body in as life-like a manner as possible, so they removed all moisture from the body, leaving only a dried form that would not easily decay. They were so successful at this that today we can view the mummified body of an Egyptian and have a good idea of what he or she looked like in life, 3000 years ago!

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While it was mainly the pharaohs of Egypt who were mummified and buried in elaborate tombs, members of the nobility and officials also often received the same treatment. Year 7 were fascinated to learn that for religious reasons, some animals were also mummified.

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The students enjoyed the hands-on nature of the incursion, which swept them away to ancient Egypt, stirring their historical imagination and making them realise that these ancient people were once very much alive!

Sylvia in Year 7 said, "At the beginning of the day, we had a lecture from a French archaeologist about a site in Egypt that he's been excavating for several years. Then we rotated between three different workshops, each pointing to a different aspect of life as an ancient Egyptian. One of them focused on the social structure of ancient Egypt. We were given different artefacts and had to work out who they would have belonged to according to social hierarchy. Another focused on mummification. We used a doll to replicate each part of the process. In the last rotation, we became archaeologists and had to investigate artefacts and possessions from a specific tomb and work out the gender of the person buried there. To finish the day, we had another lecture about ancient Egyptian temples and learnt how they were built. I really enjoyed looking at the artefacts, some of which were authentic and came from actual Egyptian tombs. While we heard all about the different things put in tombs, it was interesting to see them in real life. I also enjoyed learning about the excavation work that is going on in Egypt today. The lecture about temples was really informative. I hadn't realised how difficult it is to build a temple, and how sacred they were. Overall, the History incursion was fun, informative and taught us so much specific information about life in ancient Egypt."

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History Teacher Mr Hollis said, “We were extremely lucky to host a team from the Macquarie University Department of History and Archaeology, who guided our students through a study of the ancient Egyptian world. Students experienced several activities, including a lecture from world-renowned archaeologist, Dr Yann Tristant on Old Kingdom Egyptian burials. Students were then involved in workshops to explore archaeology, mummification, temples and ancient Egyptian social classes. Students benefited from this hands-on experience guided by extremely knowledgeable guides from the university.”

While the incursion was slightly less action-packed than Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was a fun way to teach Year 7 that every place has a past, and every past is important.

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