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Sorcery in the soil: Archaeology lecture uncovers magic rituals in ancient Egypt

February 28, 2014

Do you believe in magic, ancient magic that is? While thoughts of ancient villages might conjure up images of old women who curl fingers around thumbs to avoid the evil eye or ill townspeople seeking out spells and cures from the local wise woman, today's archaeologists are using Graeco-Roman artifacts from ancient Egypt to reconstruct and understand magic rituals. A free, public lecture Monday, March 10 at Loyola University New Orleans will explore these magical objects.

Set for 8 p.m. in the Whitney Bank Presentation Room in Thomas Hall on Loyola’s main campus, the “Sorcery in the Soil: Finding Magic at Graeco-Roman Karanis in Egypt” lecture features a lively presentation from Andrew T. Wilburn, Ph.D., of Oberlin College. Co-sponsored by the Loyola Office of the Provost, the Classical Studies Program and the New Orleans Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, the event aims to bring the secrets of the ancient world to life. Free parking is available on campus.

People of the ancient world frequently employed magic to achieve solutions to everyday problems as well as unusual crises, according to Wilburn. By integrating the study of archaeological objects, their contexts and documentary sources, experts have come to identify and interpret two groups of magical objects found in the ancient agricultural town of Karanis in Egypt: a burned figurine intended to compel the love of a victim and a cache of painted bones deposited for mysterious reasons.

The free lecture is the latest in a series of archaeology-based talks hosted by Loyola’s Classical Studies Program. Connie Rodriguez, Ph.D, who has spearheaded the lectures, recently won the 2014 Foot Soldier Award from the national organization, the Archaeological Institute of America, for her outstanding work with its New Orleans society.

"To suggest that the New Orleans Society of the Archaeological Institute of America would not exist were it not for Connie's continued leadership and effort is not a stretch. Through nearly 25 years of service to the New Orleans Society, Connie has served the organization in ways large and small ... to educate people of all ages about the importance of archaeology in understanding our shared human past," Loyola professor Karen Rosenbecker said in nominating her for the award.

The award was presented to Rodriguez at the 115th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 2-5.

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