Thursday, January 28, 2010

Macabre Mummy Mystery

While looking for YouTube videos to post for my students, I came across this enduring mystery of Egyptology around a wicked boss cool scary looking mummy, the so called "Screaming Mummy" of Unknown Man E discovered in 1881.

Here he is as he looked shortly after he was unwrapped, photographed in 1881:

Here is a National Geographic Channel snippet on the mummy featuring (as always) Dr. Zahi Hawass:

The "Screaming Mummy" was found in 1881 among a cache of royal mummies discovered by a notorious tomb robber Abdul Rasul. Rasul confessed the location under torture, and officials from the Egyptian Museum investigated and removed the mummies. Among them were some of the greats of Imperial New Kingdom Egyptian history; Seti I, Ramses II, Amenhotep III, Thutmose III, and Ramses III. Unknown Man E's silent scream, and the circumstances of his burial led some in the 19th century to conclude that he had been buried alive. Some forensic experts say that the "scream" was probably a result of decay and dessication. Death relaxes jaw muscles causing mouths to fall open. Embalmers to this day still wire jaws shut.

He probably was someone royal to be buried with all that royalty. Priests in the 20th Dynasty gathered most of the royal mummies out of their tombs to protect them from robbers, and from mobs of looters who broke in and sacked tombs in broad daylight. The stone sarcophagus of Ramses VI was shattered to bits and his mummy torn to pieces, apparently by a mob (the video gives us a glimpse of his tomb and his shattered sarcophagus). There was some kind of breakdown in law and society that caused crowds of people to descend on the royal cemetery in the Valley of the Kings. The priests restored and re-wrapped many of the mummies and gave some of them very cheap replacement coffins. Others were placed back into their original coffins, but only after all the gold and precious ornament had been removed, probably by the priests themselves. Then they were all buried together in a tomb made for a princely family high on a cliff near the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri.

I thought this might be a nice break from cranky politics.

Do you think my students might enjoy the video? It's fun, but it's everything I complain about cable TV history docs. Zahi Hawass has evolved into such a media whore. He used to be a great archaeologist. He did all the pioneering work on the labor conditions of the builders of the Great Pyramid of Giza, excavating and investigating the workers' quarters.


it's margaret said...

Yah --they'll enjoy it.... but you are right --fun without substance.

Unknown said...

Loved the video, but I think you're right that Zahi Hawass has sadly lost much of his importance as an archeologist because he seems to be in almost everything about ancient Egypt even before any definitive proof is found on many of the discoveries.

He's become the draw, not the discoveries.

Counterlight said...

Hawass is now the Egyptian antiquities minister, and I suppose it's part of his job to keep the Western money flowing in to maintain all those ancient monuments. Still, seeing him at every dig playing Howard Carter and Indiana Jones gets to be a bit much.

JCF said...

I don't get the ZH bashing (and not just because I think he's adorable! He reminds me of my childhood nextdoor neighbor: Jewish, who escaped Europe one step ahead of the Holocaust). Is it just a success-envy thing? He helps keep people interested in Egyptology in particular, and archaeology in general. What's not to love?