Archaeology: Working Stiffs

Mummies from a rural oasis provide a rare window onto the brief, backbreaking lives of ordinary Egyptians 2,000 years ago

The Kharga Oasis, some 125 miles southwest of Luxor, Egypt, is hardly the first place you'd think to look for mummies. No pyramids loom there; no mausoleums mark it as a portal through which Egyptian nobles entered the afterlife. Think of it as the Peoria of Pharaonic times, a backwater where ordinary peasants and farmers lived and died--and left pretty ordinary remains.

Yet the ordinary can sometimes prove remarkable. That's what French researchers discovered when they were called in to examine a stash of mummies unearthed by the Egyptians in a necropolis at Ain Labakha, a village within the oasis inhabited...

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