How to Make a Mummy

blog post photo

by John Rubin

In Papua New Guinea, my team hired a number of locals as guards, porters, road repair crews, cooks and drivers, and we paid them all at a significant premium above the prevailing wage. Still, we couldn’t hire all of the locals, and some pursued other methods to get a share of the crew’s wealth. It makes perfect sense. We have come into their country with a pile of technology of enormous value, while the locals have very little cash, typically living off sweet potatoes they grow in small gardens and pigs they raise (if they are well off).

So on a typical morning, we awoke to receive a number of handwritten complaints from locals.

– One letter requested a monetary sum to compensate for our film crew “firing arrows at Koke Mountain” from a helicopter during the filming of an aerial sequence. For the record, we did not fire arrows from the helicopter.

– Another letter requested recompense for urinating on plant life. A crew member responded: please build a toilet!

– One of our own guards complained, falsely, that we had trespassed on his land, and asked for a large cash payment. He was relieved of his duties.

Litigious letters were not the norm but the exception during our time in Papua New Guinea. Children followed our crew wherever they went, even going so far as to hang off of our vehicles’ rear-view mirrors. (We learned, at great expense, that these mirrors are not engineered to support a child.)

They enjoyed being filmed, and enjoyed even more the experience of watching themselves in playback. They were particularly delighted to hear their own voices played back through headphones by our sound recordist, Christopher Brown. Overall, their easy smiles and laughter cheered up the crew even when we were exhausted, drenched, and covered in mud.

National Geographic has provided to the children of Wingia, Koke, and Aseki a two-year subscription to National Geographic Magazine. Issues will be sent to the city of Lae and then driven almost two days to their small school. Most of these children have never traveled far from their villages, but now their minds will be able to wander the earth.

Video Blog: Shooting Lost Mummies of New Guinea was a lot harder than it looked — the crew explains why.

This is supposed to be the dry season in Papua New Guinea.

The rainy season extends from December through March. Taking this into account, the crew has chosen April for their trek in Papua New Guinea. It’s supposed to be drier now, or at least transitioning to dry.

But it is not dry. It is anything but.

On a typical day, the rains started around 3:00 P.M. and went through into the night. They are monsoon-like rains, dumping up to inches per hour, pounding and relentless. Lightning and thunder are commonplace. Unpaved roads turn into streams and pieces of it are washed away revealing chasms big enough to swallow a car.

On one especially stormy evening, the road between Koke and Aseki became impassable after a river rose a few feet.

Even on a clear day crossing this river required driving through water two or three feet deep. This evening there was no safe way to cross.

So our crew ditched their vehicles and walked back to camp on foot, crossing the river on a slippery log. We then had to walk the first part of our commute back to our abandoned vehicle. It took days to get the 4WD back to our camp.

This same storm had washed out the one road leading back to civilization (the city of Lae), so our crew had no way out. Even chartering a flight to collect the crew in Aseki (our base) was dubious because the airstrip was sodden and dangerous from weeks of rain. Fortunately, by the time filming had been completed, the road back to Lae had been repaired enough to get out with our vehicles.

Heavy rains means lots of moisture in the air. The humidity sits consistently at 90%—a bane to our filming gear. Our most precious tool in the camera kit was a hair dryer (and accompanying generator) for defogging lenses and filters.

Throughout all of this rainfall, the mummies in the gallery were sheltered by a cliff as they looked out over their relatives in Koke village. These smoked bodies may look ghoulish, but for the villagers they are a vital way to remember their loved ones.

Video Preview: “How to Make a Mummy” Visiting anthropologists are finally let in on the secrets of mummification in a New Guinea village.

“Lost Mummies of New Guinea” premieres November 16th at 10P et/pt.


  1. raman123
    December 1, 2010, 9:18 am

    Hi. I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask but, whre can I watch the full episode of this show?

  2. JensKnoop
    December 16, 2010, 7:16 pm

    This is absolutly amazing and fazinating, wakes interest for watching more videos

    watch also this:

  3. Alex Sanxhes
    January 22, 2011, 12:32 pm

    Hi. I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask but, whre can I watch the full episode of this show?
    Best regards, Alex, CEO of youtube downloader

  4. alltekbee
    February 3, 2011, 7:19 pm

    It sounds like it was an unforgettable but amazing experience. I look forward to watching the show.

  5. jondarocks
    February 7, 2011, 7:27 pm

    man, this looks amazing .. i mean stuff people tigara electronica

  6. denysaputra
    April 30, 2011, 6:53 pm

    wow, i almost not believe it. that’s amazing! free forum

  7. RobertoSoto
    June 22, 2011, 1:25 am

    Maybe one day people will make mummies looks like ourselves, it can be cool! Just like the wax statues!