Mummies and bones: a love story


- Suzanne Ahearne


It was the perfect hands-on research project for someone with small hands. Renée Adams’ project required extensive preliminary research into archaic death rituals and Egyptian mummification practices, as well as meticulous attention to detail... and a lot of tiny tools.

It took weeks to complete. Adams got an A, received accolades from her peers and through the process, she identified a new passion: biology.

She also discovered her project had a pretty short shelf life; within a few weeks it started to stink and her parents threw out the five-inch-long rat—gutted, stuffed and stitched back up with little gauze bags of cinnamon, myrrh and salt inside, his bottom half wrapped in strips of cloth so it looked like the tiny mummy was wearing white linen pants. Adams was nine years old.

UVic reorganized my understanding about what had been at the core of my interests for my entire life.

The feeder rat, bred at a pet store to be a snake’s breakfast, provided the young Adams with a lesson that she didn’t fully understand until she came to the University of Victoria.

She applied to social sciences intending to transfer to science, but she never made it that far. She took courses in science, history, anthropology and the archeology of death, and hung out in the bone lab. And she realized something— it wasn’t the biology she’d loved so much; it was the study of human societies and cultures that was the real root of her long obsession with ancient Egypt.

Graduating this month with a double major in anthropology and history, Adams says: “UVic reorganized my understanding about what had been at the core of my interests for my entire life.”

In 2015, after many months of undiagnosed pain—for which she took narcotics so strong she had to drop two classes because she just couldn’t think straight—she was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She began months of chemotherapy and radiation.

Committed to finishing her degree, she picked up an online course while going through treatment. She finished her last class on campus this spring. From Japan where she was traveling in May, she explained via Skype: “I wanted to get my degree done ASAP. That was a priority.”

With her cancer officially in remission since January of this year, she pulled out all the stops to avoid having to go back to school after beating cancer.

She’s considering doing a diploma in teaching English as a second language because for now, archeology work is out because of the hard labour involved. Until she’s declared cancer-free at the five-year mark, she’ll stay closer to home in Victoria and she wants to work as an editor.

“Appreciating life is something I’ve learned to do through everything,” Adams said. “I don’t take days for granted. I’m expressing to people in my life that I love them. I want them to know how much I care.”


In this story

Keywords: convocation, graduation, anthropology, history, student life

People: Renee Adams

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