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James Rollins's Excavation
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James Rollins's Excavation cover Monday, August 20, 11:52 A.M.
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland
 
Professor Henry Conklin's fingers trembled slightly as he unwrapped the final layer of blankets from around his frozen treasure. He held his breath. How had the mummy fared after the three-thousand-mile trip from the Andes? Back in Peru, he had been so careful to pack and crate the frozen remains in dry ice for the trip to Baltimore, but during such a long journey anything could have gone wrong.
Henry ran a hand through his dark hair, now dusted with a generous amount of grey since passing his sixtieth birthday last year. He prayed his past three decades of research and fieldwork would pay off. He would not have a second chance. Transporting the mummy from South America had almost drained the last of his grant money. And nowadays any new fellowships or grants were awarded to researchers younger than he. He was becoming a dinosaur at Texas A&M. Though still revered, he was now more coddled than taken seriously.
Still, his most recent discovery of the ruins of a small Incan village high in the Andes could change all that--especially if it proved his own controversial theory.
He cautiously tugged free the final linen wrap. Fog from the thawing dry ice momentarily obscured his sight. He waved the mist away as the contorted figure appeared, knees bent to chest, arms wrapped around legs, almost in a fetal position, just as he had discovered the mummy in a small cave near the frozen summit of Mount Arapa.
Henry stared at his discovery. Ancient eye sockets, open and hollow, gazed back at him from under strands of lanky black hair still on its skull. Its lips, dried and shrunken back, revealed yellowed teeth. Frayed remnants of a burial shawl still clung to its leathered skin. It was so well preserved that even the black dyes of the tattered robe shone brightly under the surgical lights of the research lab.
"Oh God!" a voice exclaimed at his shoulder. "This is perfect!"
Henry jumped slightly, so engrossed in his own thoughts he had momentarily forgotten the others in the room. He turned and was blinded by the flash of a camera's strobe. The reporter from the Baltimore Herald moved from behind his shoulder to reposition for another shot, never moving the Nikon from her face. Her blond hair was pulled over her ears in a severe and efficient ponytail. She snapped additional photos as she spoke. "What would you estimate its age to be, Professor?"
Blinking away the glare, Henry backed a step away so the others could view the remains. A pair of scientists moved closer, instruments in hand.
"I...I'd estimate the mummification dates back to the sixteenth century--some four to five hundred years ago."
The reporter lowered her camera but did not move her eyes from the figure cradled on the CT scanning table. A small trace of disgust pleated her upper lip. "No, I meant how old do you think the mummy was when he died?"
"Oh..." He pushed his wire-rimmed glasses higher on his nose. "Around twenty...It's hard to be accurate on just gross examination."
One of the two doctors, a petite woman in her late fifties with dark hair that fell in silky strands to the small of her back, glanced back at them. She had been examining the mummy's head, a tongue depressor in hand. "He was thirty-two when he died," she stated matter-of-factly. The speaker, Dr. Joan Engel, was head of forensic pathology at Johns Hopkins University and an old friend of Henry's. Her position there was one of the reasons he had hauled his mummyto Johns Hopkins. She elaborated on her statement, "His third molars are partially impacted, but from the degree of wear on the second molars and the lack of wear on the third, my estimation should be precise to within three years, plus or minus. But the CT scan results should pinpoint the age even more accurately."
Belying her calm demeanor, the doctor's jade eyes shone brightly as she spoke, crinkling slightly at the corners. There was no disgust on her face when she viewed the mummy, even when she handled the desiccated remains with her gloved fingers. Henry sensed her excitement, mirroring his own. It was good to know Joan's enthusiasm for scientific mysteries had not waned from the time he had known her back in her undergraduate years. She returned to the study of the mummy, but not before giving Henry a look of apology for contradicting his previous statement and estimation of age.
Henry's cheeks grew heated, more from embarrassment than irritation. She was as keen and sharp as ever.
Swallowing hard, he tried to redeem himself. He turned to the reporter. "I hope to prove these remains found at this Incan site are not actually Incan, but another tribe of Peruvian Indians. "
"What do you mean?"
"It has been long known that the Incas were a warrior tribe that often took over neighboring tribes and literally consumed them. They built their own cities atop these others, swallowing them up. From my study of Machu Picchu and other ruins in the remote highlands of the Andes, I've theorized that the lowland tribes of the Incas did not build these cloud cities but took them over from a tribe that already existed before them, robbing these ancestors of their rightful place in history as the skilled architects of the mountaintop cities." Henry nodded toward the mummy. "I hope this fellow will be able to correct this error in history."
The reporter took another picture, but was then forced back by the pair of doctors who were moving their examination farther down the mummy. "Why do you think this mummy can prove this theory?" she asked.
"The tomb where we discovered it predates the Incan
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ruins by at least a century, suggesting that here might be one of the true builders of these mountain citadels. Also this mummy stands a good head taller than the average Inca of the region...even its facial features are different. I brought the mummy here to prove this is not an Incan tribesman but one of the true architects of these exceptional cities. With genetic mapping available here, I can substantiate any--"

 
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