Lindsay Stafford Mader 2014-12-23 02:26:52
To the End of the Earth An Austin attorney studies the world. After crawling on her hands and knees through a narrow stone passageway the length of a football field, Jerikay Gayle found herself alone inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid. Not many tourists venture within this laststanding wonder of the world, opting to behold the structure from outside on the Giza Plateau, and even fewer make the arduous trek to the burial vault built in approximately 2550 B.C. for an ancient pharaoh. Gayle spotted the red granite sarcophagus, its top removed and contents emptied long ago, and lifted herself up and over its sides to lie down inside. When someone on the surface turned off the lights, she stared into the impenetrable darkness and let the silence and stillness wash over her. “Of all the thoughts I could have been having, like wondering who didn’t pay their electric bill, I just luxuriated there and thought, how lucky am I?” This moment during Gayle’s first trip to Egypt piqued her interest in the region and its ancient history, which led her to study for three years to obtain a certificate in Egyptology from England’s University of Manchester in July 2014. “After that, I just couldn’t seem to stop,” said Gayle, senior assistant attorney and elections lead for the city of Austin, who is undertaking additional coursework to earn a postgraduate diploma in Egyptology. Gayle estimates that she studies about 30 hours a week, watching video lectures by professors and other experts, Skyping in for classes, interacting with students online, and writing research papers. She has even put forth new theories, such as her recent dissertation suggesting that Egyptians intentionally constructed the inlaid eyes of statues to follow onlookers (similar to the “Mona Lisa” effect). Gayle based this on the ancient Egyptian belief that the eye emanated an invisible ray that fell on objects—and this allowed the objects to be seen. “I posited that, because the statues were in a rigid frontal pose, the artists made the eyes follow so that no matter where the offerings were being laid out, they would be seen and received.” Her theory garnered an award from the university, and an Egyptology magazine has invited her to submit an article detailing the concept. A curious kid who was raised in a small Texas town, where she read voraciously and dug up her backyard searching for nonexistent fossils, Gayle could never escape the feeling that life could be much bigger. “I graduated high school early and left on a bus at 4 a.m. the next morning,” she said. “I had a fabulous childhood, don’t get me wrong, but I just always wanted to see the world.” With bachelor’s degrees in both English literature and history by the time she was 19, Gayle then got her master’s degree in anthropology and worked as a field archaeologist in the Yucat‡n in Mexico, as well as in Belize and Guatemala. Since becoming an attorney more than 30 years ago, she has maintained a specialty municipal practice while continuing to volunteer on archaeological digs around the world, including the excavation of La Salle’s flagship La Belle from Matagorda Bay—now on permanent exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Gayle travels widely, sometimes spending one to two months visiting ancient painted caves in France and Spain, whale watching in Alaska, or observing macaws in the jungles of Peru. She estimates that she has visited “dozens and dozens of countries.” Egypt hooked Gayle when she realized, after studying ancient Rome and ancient Greece, that many foundations of modern Western society originated with the Egyptians. “I had found the source, so I didn’t need to go back beyond that. I really don’t feel I have a grasp on the subject until I can see what part it serves in the larger weave. It’s the difference between looking at the back of a rug, where everything is just a mass of undifferentiated knots, and turning it over to see the stunning pattern.” One of the most important lessons she’s learned about ancient Egypt, Gayle said, has been dispelling some of the pop-culture mysteries. “They imbue it with this mystical quality,” she said. “But really, when you study it, there is a logical progressive explanation for everything.” She was also surprised, and delighted, to realize that the Egyptians weren’t obsessed with death. “They were absolutely joyful about life—so much so that they wanted to continue their good life into the afterlife. They really thought that they were the luckiest people on the face of the earth.” Gayle has been to Egypt twice since her initial visit, scouting out various archaeological excavations, picking the brains of numerous onsite experts, and even riding camels through Middle Egypt, led by guards carrying AK-47s, to visit temples near the Sudanese border. “I am not afraid when I’m there,” she said, “but I’m cautious and very cognizant of whatever the political and military situation is. I realize unfortunate things could happen to me over there, but they can—and have—here at home, too.” Gayle expects to visit Egypt again soon. In the meantime, she will be camping and glacier hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains this summer and is starting to read up for trips to the Far East and Australia and New Zealand. “I work hard and am focused and really put in the hours at the office—but when I go on vacation, I’m totally gone,” she said. “I can be on ‘island time’ whether I’m actually on an island or inside a pyramid.” To see more photos from Jerikay Gayle’s world travels, go to texasbar.com/jerikaygayle.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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