The Mystery of the ancient Egypt Screaming Mummy

May 5, 2011

The Mystery of the ancient Egypt Screaming Mummy

Over 100 years ago an unidentified mummy was found lying alongside some of the most famous pharaohs in Egyptian history but his face is locked in an eternal scream.
This mummy died with a pained facial expression. Could he be Prince Pentewere who was suspected of plotting the murder of his father, Pharaoh Ramses III?
Some academics believe that Man E, as the screaming mummy is named, is the body of an Hittite prince summoned to Egypt by Tutankhamen’s widow Ankhesenamen, who did not bear heirs to the throne of Egypt. Others that he was an Egyptian governor who had died abroad and been returned to his homeland for burial. According to this report, the mummy belongs to Prince Pentewere, elder son of Ramses III, who, with his mother, Tiy, had evolved a plan to assassinate the pharaoh and ascend to the throne.

Mummies with their mouths agape or lips pulled back as if they are screaming or writhing in pain are truly startling. Two of the most famous–designated Unknown Woman A and Unknown Man E–are from a cache of royal mummies found in 1881 at Deir el-Bahri in Egypt. When first unwrapped in the late nineteenth century, they provoked the shocked reactions quoted above.

Are screaming mummies really testaments to horrific deaths? Or are they the result of natural processes, botched or ad hoc mummification jobs, or the depredations of tomb robbers?

In his book The Scientific Study of Mummified Human Remains (2003), paleopathologist Arthur Aufderheide of University of Minnesota at Duluth writes that “During infancy we have learned to ‘read’ expressions on others’ faces and translate the messages that such expressions transmit. Essentially we’re programmed to look at a face and decode the person’s emotions. But the expressions of mummies cannot be used to predict their emotional state at the moment of death, says Aufderheide. “Advanced decay of the face’s masseter (chewing) muscle results in a sagging mandible associated with a gaping mouth. Rapid desiccation, on the other hand, can fix facial muscles into their tensed state, generated a strained expression. Varying combinations of these effects in different muscles shaped further by wrappings are capable of creating a range of apparent expressions wide enough to include almost all those seen in living persons.”

“In brief,” Auferderheide concludes, “expressions on mummies represent post-mortem artifacts. Much nonsense has been written in efforts to relate a mummy’s expression to the emotions experienced by that individual at the moment of death. …Yet all are artifacts of decay processes and are useless as guides to the mummies’ agonal emotions.”


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