"Screaming Mummy" Is Murderous Son of Ramses III?

Andrew Bossone in Cairo
for National Geographic News
November 21, 2008
ON TV Egypt Unwrapped: Mystery of the Screaming Man airs Friday, November 21, at 9 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel. Details >>

An Egyptian mummy who died wearing a pained facial expression could be Prince Pentewere, suspected of plotting the murder of his father, Pharaoh Ramses III, according to a new analysis.

Recent examinations of the mummy, found in 1886 and now located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, have helped archaeologists piece together a story of attempted murder, suicide, and conspiracy.

"Two forces were acting upon this mummy: one to get rid of him and the other to try to preserve him," said Bob Brier, an archaeologist at the University of Long Island in New York who examined the body this year.

Silent Scream

Called both "Unknown Man E" and the "Screaming Mummy" because of his open jaw and agonized expression, the mummy has baffled researchers since it was first uncovered.

Several archaeologists have proposed theories about the mummy's cause of death, saying he might have been buried alive or poisoned, or that he was a murdered Hittite prince during the reign of Tutankhamen.

Archaeologists now agree, however, that mummies are commonly found with their jaws open as a result of their heads falling back after death.

The Screaming Mummy was unlikely to have been a Hittite prince because that man probably would not have been mummified, according to those examining the corpse.

"They're not going to mummify this guy if they murdered him," Brier said. "They're going to get rid of the body."

The theory about poison, on the other hand, has not been totally ruled out.

Ignoble Death

Papyrus documents indicate a trial that took place in the 12th century B.C. for a wife of Pharaoh Ramses III. She was charged with conspiracy to murder the pharoah and put her son Pentewere in his place.

The mummy of Unknown Man E suggests an ignoble death, much like Pentewere would have received if this story were true, according to the archaeological team.

"We found this mummy is covered in sheepskin," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

"In the mind of the ancient Egyptian. … To cover with sheepskin means he was not clean, he did something [bad] in his life," Hawass added.

Pentewere could have been sentenced to death by poison, after the murderous plans were revealed, according to Hawass and Brier.

The Unknown Man E was found without a grave marking, which would have prevented him from reaching the afterlife—a possible additional punishment for being part of a murder plot.

However, the denial of an afterlife contradicts careful mummification—something usually reserved for celebrated members of society, said Brier.

Desperate Attempt

Brier, a mummification expert, believes the Unknown Man E was mummified quickly because he did not have his brain or internal organs removed, nor was he completely dehydrated. Additionally, crude methods were used for his mummification.

"[Resin] is normally introduced into the cranium after removing the brain," he explained. But in the case of the Screaming Mummy, new research has shown that resin was poured down the corpse's throat.

"That's kind of a half-hearted or desperate attempt," Brier said.

So why wasn't the body simply disposed of without mummification? An influential person could have cared about the body and made sure it was at least hastily mummified, rather than thrown away.

"For some reason there was an attempt to make sure that he doesn't have an afterlife, and in another attempt somebody cares about him and tried to override that," Brier said.

Archaeologists insist the theory that the Screaming Mummy is Prince Pentewere is still only speculation, and so far have only conducted a CT scan of the mummy.

Hawass said he plans to conduct DNA testing to confirm the connection to Ramses III.

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