TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: January 3, 2006
The Mummy Who Would Be King homepage
It is a tantalizing idea and an outrageous long-shot: a shriveled mummy with crossed arms that has lain neglected on a dusty museum shelf at Niagara Falls could be the remains of a long-lost Egyptian king. While a trail of clues hints at how the looted mummy made its way to North America, archeologists, scientists, and even an orthodontist look to the latest genetic testing and imaging techniques in hopes of ascertaining the body’s hidden identity. “The Mummy Who Would Be King” reveals an astounding story filled with historical intrigue and the wonders of forensic science.
Suspicions about the mummy’s noble past first arose decades ago. Speaking with avid collectors and top scholars involved in the investigation, NOVA discovers just how complicated it can be to unravel ancient truths. By the late 20th century, the Niagara Falls mummy had journeyed across an ocean. It had been stolen, sold, bought, and neglected. It had languished in obscurity and had been “discovered” in the 1960s only to be declared a fraud. Yet Egyptologist Gayle Gibson tells NOVA that as soon as she laid eyes on the body, she was convinced it was someone special. This documentary is about how one mummy finally convinced the world.
“The Mummy Who Would Be King” examines Westerners’ long-standing fascination with all things Egyptian, an attraction that brought the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and P.T. Barnum to see the mummies displayed at Niagara Falls. And like any good story, this one is rich with colorful characters, such as Dr. James Douglas, the man who originally acquired the mummies for the Niagara Falls Museum and himself displayed collected mummies on his own front porch. NOVA also interviews Meinhard Hoffman, the man who first suspected royal connections and even had his attorney draw up an affidavit regarding his prescient hunch 20 years before it would be proven.
In 1998, when the Niagara Falls Museum closed down and its mummies were sold to the Carlos Museum at Emory University, the mysterious cross-armed body finally received the attention and resources needed for a thorough background check. NOVA is there as esteemed Egyptologist Salima Ikram, an expert with intimate knowledge of the era and its rituals, examines the mummy. She looks for onions placed in the eyes and resin used to seal the body. Three-dimensional CT scans provide a truly “inside” look as to how the organs were removed and what fills the chest cavity. X-ray images allow for familial skull comparison with royal mummies from the Cairo Museum. Ultimately, one candidate stands out: Rameses I.
Making the case for a 3,000-year-old monarch is a task set as much in the past as the present. NOVA takes viewers on a fascinating visual journey through modern laboratories at Emory, and back in time into ancient tombs dotting the Nile River Valley. Reenactments bring to life the mummification rites that marked the heyday of ancient Egypt’s illustrious New Kingdom, when Rameses I ruled as founder of the 19th dynasty (see Who Was Rameses I?).
“The Mummy Who Would Be King” captures an in-depth and truly international investigation that requires the best of modern science and old-fashioned archeological analysis. After exhausting the evidence, there is one last crucial test: the opinion of the man who speaks for Egypt, Director of Antiquities Zahi Hawass. Declaring the body to be that of an ancient pharaoh, Hawass brings Rameses I home to rest alongside his family in the Cairo Museum, a fitting solution to a 3,000-year-old puzzle.