The Department of Anthropology Colloquium Series Presents

People from the Pyramids: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Ancient Human Remains from Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Excavations at Giza, Egypt

Emily Marlow, PhD
SNA International, supporting the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (In association with Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

Thursday, September 5th, 3:00 pm, George Hall 227

In 1905, the American archaeologist George A. Reisner (HU­­–MFA) embarked on an extraordinary project:  the excavation of a collection of so-called “nucleus” cemeteries located west of Pharaoh Khufu’s pyramid in the great Western Cemetery at Giza, Egypt. This cemetery was constructed during the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2160 BC) to hold the tombs of important members of society (the governing classes and high officials).

Of the three nucleus cemeteries unearthed by Reisner, one in particular (known as ‘G2100’) holds great appeal for scientific study. Within the G2100 cemetery, the Egyptians laid out twelve major tombs (‘mastabas’) of similar proportions and construction, arranged in a well-ordered and preconceived grid pattern of streets. However, these neatly laid-out streets were later choked by the addition of minor tombs, which were often built into the side of the existing major tombs, sometimes blocking their entrances. While the owners of the major mastabas are typically known from inscriptions and other decorations, their skeletal remains did not survive the plundering of the tombs. By contrast, the skeletal remains of the minor tomb owners are available for study, but the burials were modest and were accompanied by limited archaeological evidence.

Supported by a grant from Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, this project seeks to address a number of questions about the organization and owners of the Cemetery G2100 tombs, using a combination of anthropological, molecular, and Egyptological information. Who were the owners of the minor tombs, and why did they build their tombs in such a disorganized and haphazard manner? Were the minor tomb owners related to the owners of the major tombs? What can the construction of Cemetery G2100 tell us about the funerary cults that were in operation during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu? This presentation will provide an overview of the project and our key findings to date, emphasizing what we can learn from the study of the human remains from the minor tombs.


Dr. Emily Marlow is a forensic anthropologist for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and an amateur ancient Egypt enthusiast. She has travelled extensively around Egypt, spoken at a conference in Cairo, and participates in an annual archaeological excavation project at Saqqara. The ‘People from the Pyramids’ project, of which Emily is a team member, is based at and funded by Harvard University where Emily conducted a considerable portion of her PhD research.

Emily holds a BSc in Medical Science, an MSc in Forensic Anthropology, and a PhD in Bioarchaeology/Egyptology. She additionally has 10 years of professional experience working in the medical communications/pharmaceutical industry. Emily is from England, and has lived in Hawaii for almost three years.