Photograph by Piers Leigh, National Geographic
Photograph by Piers Leigh, National Geographic

A new mummy discovery

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

Move over, Brendan Fraser. We’ve got a new chapter of The Mummy for you.

Along the banks of the Nile, in the necropolis of Saqqara, archaeologists have discovered ancient Egypt’s first completely intact funeral home.

The find by Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities and Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen reveals the first evidence that mummification occurred underground. After removing 42 tons of fill, archaeologists arrived at the bottom of a 40-foot shaft to discover a roomy, vaulted chamber. The discovery offers a unique look at “the sacred rites—and gritty realities—of mummification,” Andrew Curry writes for Nat Geo. The facility had dedicated areas for organ removal, embalming, and burial.

Ancient Egyptians believed the body had to remain intact to house the soul during the afterlife, and embalming was a mixture of holy rite and medical procedure. The process was a carefully orchestrated ritual performed on each of the 70 days it took to turn a dead person into a mummy. (Above, a peek into the coffin of a royal family member).

Few workshops dedicated to mummification have been discovered. Egyptologist Ramadan Hussein says the discovery of the burial complex, which dates back to 600 B.C., offers new clues about the death rituals and business practices of the ancient Egyptians.

The team exploring the subterranean chambers (below) opened four sealed, 2,600-year-old sarcophagi to unlock secrets forgotten since the age of the Pharaohs. The exploration and discovery will be broadcast in a four-part documentary series, Kingdom of the Mummies, premiering Tuesday, May 12, on the National Geographic Channel.

Oh, and Hollywood, if you’re listening: Brendan Fraser is up for a movie reboot.

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Instagram photo of the day

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Eating to live: Before a celebration last year in Arzana, Sardinia, Franca Piras’ family prepares “culurgiones,” a traditional pasta from the region. The mountainous area is famous for being a Blue Zone, one of the six areas in the world with the highest percentage of centenarians in good health. “I’ve learned,” says photographer Andrea Frazzetta, “that longevity is not only linked to our genetic heritage but also to the quality of the environment in which we live, the food we eat, and, not least, to the social well-being that derives from being connected with our own community.”

Related: These traditional diets can lead to long lives

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Today in a minute

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It was 50 years ago today: Members of the Ohio National Guard killed four antiwar demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970 (above). Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch argues that the killings, which galvanized further antiwar protests, reverberate to this day. Historian Jill Lepore, writing for the New Yorker, says the nation still needs a political settlement to heal divisions. She noted Martin Luther King, Jr.'s prediction, three years earlier, that unless America united, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” Lepore concludes: “It turns out that the corridor of time is longer than he could have known.”

Almost another statistic: Baseball fans know that slugger Babe Ruth hit 714 homers, but in 1918 he was saved from death in an early wave of the influenza that ended up killing 675,000 Americans. He caught the flu that spring, likely from fraternizing with soldiers from an early hot spot, Camp Devens, west of Boston. Recovering only after intensive hospitalization, Ruth led the Boston Red Sox to their last championship for 86 years. By that autumn, a more virulent form of the flu had taken hold in Boston, and there were no parades marking the World Series victory, Smithsonian reports.

On the rise: Stay-at-home America has found itself baking bread, raising demand for yeast. So many supermarkets were out of the microbial staple that when scientist Sudeep Agarwala made a yeast-harvesting video on a whim, it went viral. Cynthia Gorney reports on the do’s—and one important don’t—for making your own yeast. A footnote: Agarwala has received photos from grateful makers who have followed his recipe. “In a terrible, scary time,” Gorney writes, “these photos, portraits of food that strangers made using Agarwala’s yeast-harvesting advice, are a thing to behold.”

The biggest chariot battle: Were Romans involved? Nope. Luis Alberto Ruiz writes that Egypt and the Hittites clashed in 1275 B.C. in modern-day Turkey in what Egypt celebrated as a victory but modern historians now considered a draw. Who were the Hittites? They ruled over Turkey and northern Syria—and were known as masters of the chariot, Ruiz writes for History magazine.

The big takeaway

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Getting home the long way: Legendary sportswriter and historian William C. Rhoden was stuck in Arizona as the pandemic took hold in March. Preferring not to fly for his own safety, he ended up driving back to the East Coast, talking to folks along the way by phone and by Zoom. "The road has always been my easy chair," Rhoden writes for ESPN’s The Undefeated and Nat Geo. "For seven days, my car became a movable quarantine on a trip that stretched over 2,300 miles and through nine states. As games were canceled and the nation was held hostage, the highways became an ally."

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The last glimpse

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Advice from Rosie the Riveter: These elders worked in World War II in factories (above in Tennessee in 1943) while the men were shipped off to fight. Lionized in American history for their resilience, they also proved how limited the idea of “women’s work” was. We asked several surviving WWII “Rosies” what they would counsel Americans living through tough times today. Here are three things they said: 1) Use you own brain; 2) Check on your neighbors; 3) Know you have something to offer. Readers, as the 75th anniversary of V-E day approaches, do you have stories of resilience you could share, family tales of gumption and adaptability during wartime or from more contemporary challenges? Email us or share you words or images on social media with the hashtag #StoriesofResilience.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with Jen Tse and Eslah Attar selecting the photos. Thanks for reading, and happy trails.