Local Archeologist Digs Egypt


Payson resident Penny Dufoe Minturn spent the first few weeks of this century digging up ancient remains of the past centuries. The archeologist spent 12 weeks in the deserts of Egypt excavating ancient buildings that were the precursor to the world-renowned pyramids.

Working on her doctorate in physical anthropology at Arizona State University, Minturn was invited by her professor to join a team of 10 archeologists under Dr. Janet Richards from the University of Michigan. She recently shared the stories of her trip in the new community room at the Eastern Arizona College campus.

During the 45-minute slide show, Minturn took her guests on a personal tour of a distant land.

"It was an incredible feeling to fly over the pyramids and to see the Nile, one of the oldest civilization rivers," she said. She said 90-percent of Egypt's population lives on only six-percent of the land -- a narrow band on either side of the Nile. For about six miles on each side of its banks, people are thriving. Then, a very clear line in the sand marks where the desert begins.

Egypt has been in a police state since Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. What that meant for Minturn and her team was a police escort from town to town.

"Everywhere you go, you have to be escorted by police. It took 45 minutes to get 10 miles," she said.

There was humor on her trip as well.

"We didn't realize that they had a call to prayer at 4:30 a.m. and they broadcast it," she said. It was so loud that Minturn and her co-workers could hear the broadcast out at the field house they lived in near the dig site. "The first line is it is better to pray than to sleep," she said.

Then there were the camels.

"Believe every ugly thing you hear about camels," she told her audience. "They stink and they spit."

The dig site was a little more than two miles from Abvdos, Egypt. Her team worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, taking only Friday off. They worked on a well-known set of cemeteries and made some grand discoveries. They plan to go back.

The work they completed was supervised by the Egyptian Antiquities Council.

A typical day would begin with the call to prayer at 4:30 a.m. The team would rise at 5:00 a.m. and set out for the site. At about 9:30 a.m. breakfast would be delivered by donkey to the site.

At about 1:30 in the afternoon the team would knock off and head back to the field house -- a place with no running water -- for lunch and siesta. Considered the main meal of the day, lunch might include water buffalo, goat, camel or chicken. At about 4 p.m. they would be served tea and cookies, after which they set back to work until about 7 p.m., when they broke for dinner.

To assist in this historic endeavor, Minturn's team employed over 120 local men and boys. Boys as young as 5 years old carried buckets of sand for the archeologists. The $2.50 they earned each day would be collected on Thursdays and taken back to their families. The boys in a family would be rotated between work and school --they needed the money and they wanted the education, she said.

"Kids are just kids," she said. "Even though they had to work really, really hard, they were not resentful." She caught several shy smiles on camera to share with her audience

Connecting Egyptian children to American children, Minturn carried along "Flat Stanley." Flat Stanley is a six-inch tall cartoon character, wearing a laminated suit and smile, that was created by Minturn's sister and her fourth-grade class in Missouri especially for this trip.

Throughout the slide show, Flat Stanley would appear, digging, pointing even steering a boat. Three sets of letters were sent between Flat Stanley and the other archeologists and fourth-grade students in Missouri. Minturn and Flat Stanley will be journeying to Missouri to share the slide show with the students.

In the slides, Minturn showed a large pot she had unearthed. As they tried to move it, it opened to reveal the remains of a youngster, perhaps 12 at the time of death.

Minturn and the rest of the team are planning to go back and dig further into Egypt's colorful history.

"No offense to Payson, but when I left I cried," she said. "I had such a wonderful time, the people were so wonderful."

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