Bizarre Mummies Still Startle in Remote Zone

Villagers in Papua New Guinea used unusual smoking process
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2015 6:59 AM CST

(Newser) – "Their facial expressions were cut straight out of a Hollywood scream-fest," writes Ian Lloyd Neubauer, describing 14 smoked corpses found in an indentation under a cliff above the village of Angapenga in Papua New Guinea. The remains, he writes for the BBC, were "arranged on bamboo scaffolding in life-like positions or curled up like fetuses inside large baskets." (The story has images.) These were some of the ancestors of the Anga people, who, in the past, preserved their dead with a highly unusual, and somewhat mysterious, smoking process. The ritual was first documented in 1907, though some locals say it had been done for centuries before that. In 2008, Live Science reports, researchers shed some more light on the process when they helped villagers in Koke, Papua New Guinea, restore the aging mummy of a warrior-shaman named Moimango.

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During the trip, the team mummified a pig in the same way Moimango and other smoked corpses had been preserved. The process included:

  • Scraping the body with a bristly plant
  • Draining the gut with a strategically placed bamboo pipe
  • Poking tiny holes in the hands and feet to drain bodily fluids, expedited by massaging
  • Leaving the body in a smoke-filled hut for a month
  • Covering the body in ocher, a form of iron oxide
Researcher Ronald Beckett says the Anga believe that if the bodies of great people are not handled properly, the dead will roam the jungle and may sabotage hunting excursions or crops. "The ghost world,” he tells Live Science, "that's a very, very real thing to them." Still, much remains a mystery about the origins of the practice, writes Neubauer. (The mummified remains of a boy sacrificed to the gods is shedding light on the Inca empire.)

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