October 1, 2002

Mummy Road Show Arrives at C.U.

Print More

The production crew of National Geographic’s “The Mummy Roadshow” did not have to traverse the terrain of Peru to investigate a mummy — they only had to go as far as the Arts Quad. An episode entitled “Mummy in a Closet” will feature a Peruvian mummy housed in the University’s Anthropology Collections in McGraw Hall on Oct. 7 on the National Geographic Channel.

The mummy was not extensively researched until Brian Finucane ’03, an anthropology and archaeology major, decided to investigate the mummy as part of an Independent Research project.

“The mummy was truly an enigma,” Finucane said.

Cornell’s first Peruvian alumnus, whose family founded the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum in Lima, Peru, donated the mummy in1899, according to Laura Johnson-Kelly ’85, curator of the Cornell Anthropological Collections.

Before Finucane decided to investigate the mummy, “we didn’t know anything about the health or age of the mummy,” Johnson-Kelly said.

Finucane attended an Archaeology conference where he spoke with a radiologist from “The Mummy Roadshow” and brought up the topic of his research of the Peruvian mummy. The goals of the project were “to learn about the techniques for researching mummified remains and to learn about [the mummy’s] story,” said Finucane. The radiologist brought the project to the National Geographic channel’s program.

“The Mummy Roadshow”, is hosted by Prof. Ron Beckett, cardiopulmonary science and Prof. Jerry Conlogue, cardiopulmonary and diagnostic imaging, both from Quinnipiac University.

The show is “an odyssey around the world using advanced imaging techniques and old-fashioned detective work to open rare windows to the past and unlock the secrets and stories of mummies found in places you might not expect,” stated Licet Ariza, a publicist for the National Geographic Channel, in an e-mail.

Dr. Marc Joundet, a neuroradiologist, and Michael Fell, a radiology technologist, at Cayuga Medical Center assisted the program with its investigation, according to the Lisa Nappi, Community Relations and Development at Cayuga Medical Center.

With the Medical Center’s new reconstruction software and monitors, “the images acquired through the CT scan could be manipulated, which allowed the user to view internal structures from any direction,” Nappi said.

In addition to the scan, an “endoscopy using a long thin flexible tube with a tiny camera attached to the end to explore the inside of the mummy’s body” was also performed, according to a news release provided by Ariza.

Although major conclusions about the mummy will be revealed when the episode airs, “basic biological facts were learned, such as that the mummy was a female about the age of 30 and had severe arthritis in the lower back,” said Johnson-Kelly. Finucane was present during the examinations of the mummy and developed a written research report on it.

The artifacts that accompanied the mummy lend some clue as to the cause of her arthritis, as she was donated to Cornell with balls of thread and a breach cloth.

These artifacts imply that she was a weaver, a highly skilled and prestigious position in Incan society, according to Johnson-Kelly.

Moreover, after a radio-carbon dating, the mummy was discovered to be approximately 490 years old, according to Finucane.

As Finucane looked to the future, he hoped to “pursue the study of human remains in a human and archaeological context.”

Finucane cited the positive impact of National Geographic’s participation in the project.

“When the media became involved, there was a different dynamic … I’m grateful for that,” Finucane said.

Archived article by Shelia Raju