New Series Brings Ancient Mummies to Life

Sunday night on the Smithsonian Channel, the new series Mummies Alive premieres, which takes a deeper look at some of the most enigmatic mummies across four continents!  The series is narrated by Golden Globe nominee Jason Priestley and spans 5,000 years of history to take a look at six different mummies and their stories.  With cutting edge CGI, Mummies Alive brings the mummies back to life, as well as stories of the civilizations they lived in.  The first episode focuses on a mummy from the Old West on display in Seattle, known as Sylvester, the gunslinger mummy.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 9.30.21 AMAfter watching the first episode of Mummies Alive, it seems like the show will be similar to a murder-mystery show, except the murders took place hundreds of years ago!  This show will appeal to anyone who likes learning about mummies, enjoys a good mystery, or just likes listening to Jason Priestley talk for an hour (haha).  If you can’t wait until tomorrow night to watch the show (Smithsonian Channel 9pm ET/PT), read below for spoilers on the first episode!

***** SPOILERS BELOW *****

The episode begins with Professors Jerry Conlogue and Ron Beckett from Quinnipiac University admiring how well preserved Sylvester is.  Jerry even remarks that Sylvester looks almost like a wood carving!  Apparently, an autopsy would damage the remains of the mummy, but there is new, advanced technology that allows scientists to see inside.

Sylvester obviously isn’t the mummy’s real name, but there’s no way of knowing who he really was.  However, being somewhat of a Seattle legend, there’s a story that’s been passed along for years about what Sylvester’s story might be.  Historian Marshall Trimble tells a tale of a saloon gunfight over possible cheating at a card game that lead to Sylvester being shot. Fortunately for Sylvester, he managed to escape the saloon and didn’t immediately die from the gunshot wound.  Unfortunately, he stumbled out of the saloon and into the desert where he did eventually died.

The goal of the scientists and historians involved with examining Sylvester’s mummified remains is to see whether the scientific facts upon examination can possibly match up with the legend behind the mummy.  Did Sylvester really die in an Old West shoot out?  The scientists take a close look at Sylvester’s “bullet wound,” where they find it peculiar that it is so cylindrical in nature and there’s not much bleeding around the wound.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 9.48.07 AMThe scientists working on Sylvester’s mystery gather it might not have been a gun that caused his death; but what could it be?  The next clue the scientists use are round nodules on Sylvester’s face that seem to be concentrated in one area on his face.  It looks like they may be shotgun pellets, that didn’t kill him, but contribute to the notion that Sylvester led a violent life.  However, it doesn’t appear the shotgun wounds were done with murderous intention.  Two gun experts determine the shot probably came from 20 feet or so, and it may have even happened by accident.  The strangest part about Sylvester’s shotgun wound is the pellets were left in, resting under the skin.  Why wouldn’t he have gotten them removed?  Maybe he was a wanted man and couldn’t go into town to get it looked at.

Sylvester’s legend also says that Sylvester walked into the desert, where he died and was mummified by the desert sun.  The issue with this is, in comparison to a confirmed desert-mummified mummy, Sylvester’s appearance is shinier and doesn’t have some of the same attributes as the desert mummy.  The desert-mummification theory seems to be completely debunked as the scientists take a deeper look.  Problems include: the shiny, mahogany-like skin, and the preservation of his internal organs (which doesn’t happen with a typical mummification).  The mystery of his preservation is solved when an embalming expert confirms that Sylvester shows evidence of being embalmed (by arsenic at that, how crazy!).

About halfway through the episode, we know that the tall tale told about Sylvester is not true.  He did not die from a gunshot wound, and he did not mummify in the desert.  Sylvester’s death date is traced to sometime between 1880-1900.  But the big question now, is who embalmed him and why?  The scientists seem to think an embalmer may have used Sylvester as a display piece for advertising to potential clients!

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 9.47.44 AMThe mystery of the cylindrical hole in Sylvester is determined to be from a drill!  Author Jeff Smith has historical photos passed down through his family, where a mummy appearing very similar to Sylvester appears!  The investigative crew believes that Sylvester was brought into a traveling side-show; “pay 25 cents to see the gunslinger mummy!”

The last mystery to solve is how Sylvester actually died, since the gun fight legend has been debunked.  Pathologist Richard Sheperd takes a deeper look at the internal organs, and it appears Sylvester died from tuberculosis; a terrible and painful disease that caused many deaths in the Old West – including the death of renowned gunslinger Doc Holliday!

What did you think of the episode?  Comment below!

New episodes of Mummies Alive air Sunday at 9/8c on the Smithsonian Channel.

Post Author: Alice Balagia

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