Beckett Shares “Mummy” Know-how

Michael Coulombe

Ron Beckett may not be Indiana Jones, but he certainly has his own adventures. After making an appearance on “Into the Unknown,” a Discovery Channel program, the Quinnipiac professor claims that knowledge is his “Holy Grail.”
Highly popular among Quinnipiac students for his “Mummy Science” class, the Health Sciences professor took his knowledge to Papua New Guinea with “Into the Unknown” host Josh Bernstein.
“The project began in 2004 without any connection to the Discovery Channel or to Josh Bernstein,” Beckett said. “Then, earlier this year I was contacted by a production company working for the Discovery Channel on the new series.”
The adventure-themed show explores all sorts of oddities in the universe–from elephant aggression to life on Mars–and the episode featuring Beckett was all about mummies.
Beckett was the guest scientist on the show, officially titled “Mummy Expert,” and was part of a team who traveled to Papua New Guinea, a country located just north off the coast of Australia.
The team’s goal was to help restore the mummies of an ancient tribe. The mummies, which are very important aspects of the village’s culture, had begun to fall apart over time and were in dire need of some touch-up work.
“My task was to determine if and how to restore Moimango, the mummified father of the current village chief Gemtasu,” Beckett said.
Once contacted by the major television network, he began his trip across the world.
“I met and worked with a wonderful crew and an excellent host of the show, Josh Bernstein, and of course, my friend Ulla Lohmann,” he said.
Lohmann, a long-time friend, was the one who first introduced the project to Beckett.
“She asked if I would be willing to help restore these mummies,” Beckett said. “I said, ‘Hell yes.'”
It was not all fun and games, though. Beckett faced a real challenge in restoring the remains of long-deceased tribe members.
“The fact that it was going to be a documentary was secondary to the work I was going to be challenged to do,” he said.
Upon assessing Moimango the mummy, Beckett observed a multitude of problems. It had patches of lichen on its extremities, erosions on its body, holes in its torso, and an extreme instability around its head. Beckett had to find the most practical ways to fix the mummy up.
“I wanted to use only native materials so that once I was gone any future efforts to maintain the mummies could be carried out by the villagers,” Beckett said. “With the help of the villagers and their knowledge of their native jungle, I was successful in finding the materials that I needed to accomplish my goals.”
Using local materials, Beckett and the team was able to successfully restore the village elder and other mummified members of the tribe. After a lot of hard work, the mummies were looking good as new–well, as good as newly dead.
“Upon seeing his father restored, the chief, Gemtasu, broke into song, dance and tears,” Beckett said. “I became close to the people of the village as they tried to preserve their cultural traditions of mummifying their dead.”
In the end, the tribe members, the Discovery Channel crew, the viewers at home, and Beckett were all able to partake in quite the adventure. The episode, named “Living with Mummies,” aired September 8, and Beckett was thoroughly pleased with the adventure.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” he said.