She walks like an Egyptian
Photography by Reed Hutchinson
UCLA Photographic Services
Egyptian archaeologist Willeke Wendrich
BY WENDY SODERBURG
UCLA Today Staff
Willeke Wendrich, associate professor in the Department of
Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, wasn’t even living in
the United States during King Tut’s record-breaking stint
at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1978.
This time around, however, the Dutch-born archaeologist was
one of the first to experience Tut’s triumphant return to
LACMA as an invited guest to the opening of “Tutankhamun and
the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.” Wendrich, in fact, is one
of four Egyptology experts who will speak on July 9 at UCLA
Extension’s “Tutankhamun: In Death, Larger Than Life,” a one-day
program that will explore the life and times of the boy king.
“Tutankhamun is an icon for the mystery of ancient Egypt,
combining gold, precious stones, incredible craftsmanship,
mysterious gods, symbolism and a very touching humanity, all
wrapped in one,” she said.
One of only two Egyptologists on campus — philologist Jacco
Dieleman is the other — Wendrich has been in great demand
as an expert on Egyptian archaeology. Besides lecturing at
the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., which currently boasts
its own exhibition, “Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient
Egypt,” she is also on the academic editorial committee for
UCLA’s Encyclopedia of Egyptology, an online publication that
will be an English version of the Lexikon der Agyptologie,
the standard reference work in the field.
In her popular Fiat Lux classes, Wendrich’s freshman students
are immersed in Egyptian history and archaeology and are required
to speak in class on topics ranging from mummification to
the Book of the Dead, while her graduate students present
research as part of Wendrich’s annual public lecture series,
“Wep Wa-ut in Westwood.”
It sounds cool, but for Wendrich, it’s all in a day’s
work. Every Fall Quarter, she takes graduate students to Egypt
for a three-month fieldwork seminar. “If you work in this
area, you have to visit the region. We don’t want any ‘armchair’
Egyptologists,” she said, laughing.
Born in the Dutch town of Haarlem, Wendrich was raised on
an island in the northern Netherlands called Texel. At 17,
she attended the University of Amsterdam and chose history
of religion as a major because she feared that Egyptology,
her true love, would be too specialized for her to find work.
But the lure of the field proved too strong, and Wendrich
received a Ph.D. in Egyptian archaeology at Leiden University
in the Netherlands. While writing her thesis on ancient Egyptian
basketry, she organized an excavation in a remote desert site
near the Sudanese border. The site, called Berenike, was the
first dig Wendrich co-directed.
In 2000, she accepted an assistant professorship at UCLA and
brought her husband, Hans Barnard, with her. A medical doctor,
Barnard has become as enthusiastic about archaeology as his
wife and is working on a Ph.D. in ceramics from Leiden University.
Wendrich laughs at comparisons to Indiana Jones, but admits
there are similarities. “It has aspects of that, I must confess,”
she said. “Driving around the desert in a four-wheel-drive