ExplorersBio

Salima Ikram

Archaeologist

Committee for Research and Exploration Grantee

Mummy picture: Archaeologist Salima Ikram examines a dog mummy in Egypt's Dog Catacombs.

Photograph courtesy P.T. Nicholson

Birthplace: Lahore, Pakistan

Current City: Cairo, Egypt

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be an archaeologist or a historian and a writer.

How did you get started in your field of work?

I was interested in the Egyptians and the Minoans, and I visited Cairo when I was 9.5 years old, went into the Great Pyramid and saw the statues of Rahotep and Nofret and decided that I wanted to be an Egyptologist.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to ancient Egyptians?

The ancient Egyptians are the most interesting people (to me) in the ancient world—their worldview and aesthetic sense resonates strongly with me, and it is never dull trying to find out how they lived, what they believed, and the technologies that they invented or adapted.

What's a normal day like for you?

Teaching days I teach and interact with students and do some research or work with students on projects. Research days are in the library, and whenever possible I am in the field or in the museum. Of course, some years are more administrative than others, so a lot of time is spent in meetings.

Do you have a hero?

I have several heroes, I guess, perhaps because the field is filled with extraordinary people. Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, who was interested in the daily life of the ancient Egyptians; Alfred Lucas, the chemist, who worked on understanding ancient Egyptian technology; Ludwig Keimer and his inspirational work on the natural world and the ancient Egyptians; and of course, Flinders Petrie and his prolific excavations and publications. Winnifred Blackman's ethnographic work is inspirational, and the spirit of exploration and inquiry of Gertrude Caton-Thompson, who worked on the prehistory of Egypt, is also remarkable.

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

Hard to say. I am really lucky to have had so many marvelous experiences. Finding new rock inscriptions, being the first to enter a tomb that has been sealed for over 2,000 years, trying to piece together the precise process of mummification—all of those are challenging and wonderful.

What are your other passions?

Reading fiction and exploring cuisines of different sorts.

What do you do in your free time?

Read.

If you could have people do one thing to help preserve archaeological sites what would it be?

If I could get people to be responsible tourists, whether in the desert or at constructed archaeological sites, it would help antiquities all over the world.

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In Their Words

The ancient Egyptians are the most interesting people (to me) in the ancient world—their worldview and aesthetic sense resonates strongly with me, and it is never dull trying to find out how they lived, what they believed, and the technologies that they invented or adapted.

—Salima Ikram

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