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Access Recorded Lecture

What Egyptian Mummies tell us about the History of the Nile

A public lecture by Professor Christophe Lécuyer, Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon - Terre Planètes, Environnement Université Claude Bernard Lyon, France and 2016 UWA Gledden Visiting Fellow.

Egyptian Mummies (Musée des Confluences, Lyon) Samples of tooth enamel and bone have been obtained from Egyptian human and animal mummies that cover the Predynastic (5,500 years BP) to Byzantine periods (1,500 years BP). Mummy teeth and bones record the ratio of stable oxygen isotopes (18O and 16O) of their drinking water, which was ultimately the Nile River water.

Variations in this stable isotope ratio reflect changes in precipitation patterns over the source regions of the Blue (Lake Tana, Ethiopia) and White Nile (Lake Victoria, Tanzania and Uganda). A progressive increase of the 18O/16O ratios of mummy skeletal remains indicates a precipitation decrease of about 140 mm per year while mean air temperatures remained rather constant.

Oxygen isotope variations between bones, tooth enamel and dentine belonging to the same individuals also raise questions about specific dietary changes that may have taken place from the childhood to adulthood transition, or that could be related to movements along the Nile Valley.

Professor Christophe Lécuyer received his PhD in petrology and geochemistry in 1989 from the University of Rennes, France, and obtained the same year a position at French CNRS. He worked as a Research Associate at the University of Michigan from 1990 to 1991 where he started to develop a research mainly devoted to past global climatic changes. In 1996 he obtained his ‘Habilitation’ at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon and became Professor at the University of Lyon in 1999 where he managed until 2010 the Department of Earth Sciences. Christophe Lécuyer is now member of the Institut Universitaire de France and leads the team of stable isotope geochemistry at the University of Lyon. His current research interests include stable isotope studies of fossil meteoric or marine waters to reconstruct past water cycles and climates.

Professor Lécuyer is a 2016 Gledden Visiting Fellow at The University of Western Australia.