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Field Notes
Ira Block
Photograph by Harikrishna Katragadda
Ira Block

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

I was getting ready to leave for the airport in Trujillo, Peru. All my stuff was packed, and I got a phone call. Archaeologist Régulo Franco said, "We're there! We're down to the body!" I rushed back to the field lab, and there she was, totally exposed so we could see the tattoos and the jewelry. The level of preservation was incredible.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

The mummy's funerary bundle had a lot more layers than the archaeologists anticipated. So whenever I went down to the site to photograph the body, they would say, "Hey, we're almost there. Come back in a little bit." But I'd go back a day or so later, and they'd find another layer they didn't realize existed. Taking off each layer is a delicate procedure because the layer itself is an artifact that has to be preserved. Each layer took a day or two to remove. With 27 layers and yards of material, it was a very long process.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

One day I was in the lab when I began to smell something. A few minutes later, smoke filled the room. There must have been a fire somewhere, so I started to think how we would save the mummy. As my excitement grew, I noticed none of the archaeologists seemed very concerned. When I mentioned the possibility of a fire, they began laughing. El Brujo, the archaeological site, is surrounded by sugarcane fields, and prior to cutting and harvesting the cane, workers burn the fields to make cutting easier and to help the plants produce more concentrated sugar. On this day, the wind was blowing in the lab's direction, and we got the smoke from a burn a few miles away.