As a figure clad in a mummy costume meandered haphazardly through the aisles behind them, Quinnipiac University health science professors Jerry Conlogue and Ron Beckett beamed while signing copies of their recently published book “Mummy Dearest” in the campus bookstore on Oct. 5.
The book chronicles the experiences Conlogue and Beckett had while traveling in countries such as Chile, Turkey, Italy and Thailand to study mummies as hosts of the television show “The Mummy Roadshow” on the National Geographic network. One common misconception people have about mummies is that ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to honor the deceased through the preservation of their bodies, Beckett said.
It is “because of Hollywood” that this belief is so entrenched in the public consciousness, he said. Beckett added that in actuality, several civilizations that lived around the globe began simultaneously preserving the bodies of the deceased around the same time.
“There’s a group in Chile who started mummifying about 2,000 years before the Egyptians,” he said, citing humankind’s desire to honor their deceased ancestors as the impetus behind the phenomenon.
The idea to write a novel about their experience studying mummies came to Conlogue and Beckett from a desire to inform people of the obstacles they confronted while arriving to the site where they performed their work.
“There is so much more to tell than is allowed on a half-hour TV show: issues of travel, equipment breaking down” and the electricity staying on, said Beckett, of the dilemmas he and Conlogue encountered during their work in other countries.
The professors received access to study mummies through paleontologists and through producers of the National Geographic television network. On one study in Peru, they discovered evidence that showed indigenous people who lived about 1,200 years ago had contracted tuberculosis, Conlogue said. The scientific community had long believed that Spanish explorers carried the disease to the Americas when they arrived about 500 years ago, he said.
Additionally, the professors used a kind of X-ray machine that allowed them to study the mummies without performing an autopsy, which is the usual method.
“This is a way of looking at 250 mummies without opening them up. That’s pretty interesting,” said Conlogue, who teaches diagnostic imaging courses.
By definition, a mummy is the preserved body of a deceased organism, Beckett said. Most people who learn of the two professors’ work on mummies have been fascinated.
“We both come from a very strong clinical background, so we’ve dealt with people who’ve been injured,” said Beckett, professor of respiratory care and pathology. “There’s no curse surrounding the mummies.”
During their travels abroad, the professors adapted to the local customs in order to assimilate into the culture and build rapport with the people with whom they worked.
“Ron and I had the habit of eating whatever the people were eating,” Conlogue said. “We never refused anything.”
Additionally, it was not uncommon for the duo to attend ceremonies in which the local people sacrificed animals and consulted their ancestors’ spirits before they granted the professors permission to perform their scientific work on the mummies, Beckett said.
Julian Infantino, a sophomore majoring in diagnostic imaging, brought a copy of “Mummy Dearest” to the bookstore to be signed by the two professors. The Ridgewood, N.J., native said he came to the book-signing because Conlogue was his teacher. “I just wanted to see what this was all about. I want to read the book,” Infantino said.