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Alumna Publishes Children's Book through the National Geographic Society

Friday, May 08, 2015

Isabel Heblich Zermani ’12 has published The Story of Ancient Timai, an illustrated educational book about the archaeological excavations at Tell Timai, Egypt, thanks to a grant from the National Geographic Society.

In 2011, while studying art history and creative writing at UNCW, Zermani participated in summer archaeological excavations at Tell Timai in the Egyptian Delta led by faculty member Nicholas Hudson.

The excavation team operated under the auspices of the University of Hawaii, who invited the elders from the village of Timai el-Amdid to visit the excavations, hoping to bridge the gap between local villagers and foreign archaeologists.

After the village elders accepted the invitation, they were given a full tour of the archaeological site. They knew it as a place to graze sheep, dispose of trash and as a ready source of fertile soil for their fields, but weren’t familiar with it as an important place in history. After the tour the elders agreed that the location was of great interest and despite having grown up next to the site, never considered the history of the place. They were eager to learn more and reach out to the community, especially the children, to educate them about the history under their feet.

After some brainstorming, Zermani suggested an illustrated children’s book highlighting the history and daily lives of the people who had lived at Tell Timai from the 5th century BC to the 7th century AD.

“Because of my position as site artist, I drew constantly,” said Zermani. “I drew pen and ink illustrations of the best figurines found. It was an incredible pleasure to study the face of a goddess, unseen for two thousand years, and be the first to capture her portrait. But my main goal was the pottery. Dr. Hudson taught me to draw profiles of the essential ceramics. From tiny unguentaria used to hold perfume to large wine kraters and water jugs, I drew more than 100 profiles.”

After collaborating with the archaeological team, Zermani worked with Egyptian publisher Nahdet Misr, had the text translated into Arabic and secured the grant from the National Geographic Society for printing.

Copies of The Story of Ancient Timai are being made available to the schools and children of Timai el-Amdid. An original comic book done by Zermani is included within the illustrated history.

Zermani, a native of Charlottesville, VA, is traveling to Egypt later this month to present and distribute the books to the villages, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Egyptian Exploration Society.

“My education at UNCW in art history prepared me for this adventure, readying me with the knowledge necessary to understand and contribute,” she said. “My other major in creative writing (nonfiction) allowed me to share it. All it took was the faith to dream big ­-- pyramid big.”

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