Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Scientists solve 3,000-year-old pharaonic whodunit

Photo: The Mummified upper body of Ramses III, a pharaoh believed to have reigned from 1186 to 1155 BC. (wikipedia.org/ G Elliot Smith)

Forensic scientists believe they have solved a 3,000-year-old royal murder mystery and uncovered the secret of how and why Egypt's last great pharaoh was killed.
The first scans of the mummified remains of Ramses III reveal a seven-centimetre-wide gash in his neck, suggesting his throat was slit.

Ramses, a king revered as a god, met his death at the hand of a killer, or killers, sent by his conniving wife and ambitious son, scientists said.

And a cadaver known as the "Screaming Mummy" could be that of the son himself, possibly forced to commit suicide after the plot, they added.

Computed tomography (CT) imaging of the mummy of Ramses III showed the pharaoh's windpipe and major arteries were slashed and reaching almost to the spine.
The cut severed all the soft tissue on the front of the neck.

"I have almost no doubt about the fact that Ramses III was killed by this cut in his throat," palaeopathologist Albert Zink of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy said.
"The cut is so very deep and quite large, it really goes down almost down to the bone - it must have been a lethal injury."

Ramses III, who ruled from about 1188 BC to 1155 BC, is described in ancient documents as the "Great God" and a military leader who defended Egypt, then the richest prize in the Mediterranean, from repeated invasion.

He was about 65 when he died, but the cause of his death has never been clear.
Sketchy evidence lies in the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, which recorded four trials held for alleged conspirators in the king's death, among them one of his junior wives, Tiy, and her son Prince Pentawere.
Photo: A papyrus showing the reign of Ramses III, believed to have ruled as pharaoh over Egypt from 1184 to 1153 BC. (AFP)

In a year-long appraisal of the mummy, Professor Zink and experts from Egypt, Italy and Germany found the wound on Ramses III's neck had been hidden by mummified bandages.
"This was a big mystery that remained, what really happened to the king," Professor Zink said of the study, published by the British Medical Journal.

"We were very surprised and happy because we did not really expect to find something.
"Other people had inspected the mummy, at least from outside, and it was always described (as) 'there are no signs of any trauma or any injuries'."

It is possible that Ramses' throat was cut after death, but this is highly unlikely as such a practice was never recorded as an ancient Egyptian embalming technique, the researchers said.
In addition, an amulet believed to contain magical healing powers was found in the cut.
"For me it is quite obvious that they inserted the amulet to let him heal for the after-life," Professor Zink said.

"For the ancient Egyptians it was very important to have an almost complete body for the after-life" and embalmers often replaced body parts with sticks and other materials, he said.

'Screaming mummy'

Photo: The Screaming Mummy may have been forced to kill himself over the assassination plot against Ramses III.

The authors of the study also examined the mummy of an unknown man between the ages of 18 and 20 found with Ramses III in the royal burial chamber.

They found genetic evidence that the corpse, known as the Screaming Mummy for its open mouth and contorted face, was related to Ramses and may have been Prince Pentawere.
"What was special with him, he was embalmed in a very strange way.... They did not remove the organs, did not remove the brain," Professor Zink said.

"He had a very strange, reddish colour and a very strange smell. And he was also covered with a goat skin and this is something that was considered as impure in ancient Egyptian times.".

If it was Pentawere, it appears he may have been forced to hang himself, a punishment deemed at the time as sufficient to purge one's sins for the after-life, the researchers said.

History shows, though, that the plotters failed to derail the line of succession. Ramses was succeeded by his chosen heir, his son Amonhirkhopshef.


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