The Mummy Hoax

Jan 14, 2019 | Diggings Online | 0 comments

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In the November 2000 issue of Diggings we reported on the discovery in Pakistan of a mummy. According to news reports of the time, the mummy was found in the home of a minor antiques smuggler and was taken to the nearest museum for safe-keeping and examination. The sarcophagus bore Persian motifs, which led to considerable speculation about the possibility of a rich Persian in Egypt being mummified and shipped back to Persia for burial. As for the place where the mummy was originally found, the smuggler couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give any information, but the turmoil in nearby Afghanistan seemed to provide a suitable place for illicit digging to be undertaken without fear of detection.

Once in the museum, the mummy aroused even more interest. The sarcophagus was, in fact, of wood and bore large bold rosettes which were definitely Persian in style, but of a size never seen before. The figure of Ahuramazda carved on one side was equally bold, though certain of the details were coarser than might have been expected. On the lid was an inscription in a particular style of cuneiform which identified the occupant as a royal princess.

In the presence of various invited officials, the lid was carefully removed to reveal the mummy itself, lying in an inner coffining of wickerwork, an unusual feature not found in Egyptian mummies. Also unusual was the way in which the mummy had been bandaged, for unlike the careful wrappings of the Egyptians, which gave to the mummy the familiar and distinctive shape with which we are all familiar, this mummy appeared to have been crudely wrapped and was almost shapeless. On the top of the mummy over the crossed arms was a thin sheet of gold on which were more of the same cuneiform signs, more or less repeating the information on the sarcophagus lid. In addition further shapes cut out of thin gold sheet formed a crown on the mummy’s head – something never found in Egyptian mummies.

In the good old days of Egyptian exploration, the mummy would have been unwrapped immediately and the resin-soaked bandages discarded as so much useless rubbish. Today we approach a mummy in a much more sophisticated way and, so far as possible, use non-invasive methods to find out as much as we can about it. Only where the body within is in danger owing to damp and mildew is the mummy unwrapped. The next step, therefore, was to take the mummy to a local hospital for x-rays and other scans.

The number of times when you need to give a living patient a full-body x-ray are very limited indeed, so the x-ray of the mummy was made up of a succession of images. The process was speeded up, however, by the fact that the technicians did not need to keep telling the patient to lie still and hold her breath, nor did they need to worry unduly about lead-lined protective aprons for the patient. The results, however, were startling, for they showed a distinct kink and dislocation in the lady’s spine, indicating that she had met her death through violence. (The possibility that the body might have been damaged post-mortem was considered, but unless someone had been exceedingly careless before it was wrapped up, rejected as unlikely. Once bandaged, the resin-soaked material provided a rigid casing that precluded any further damage.)

A full-body scan was the next step, for unlike an x-ray, the scan can reveal deails of the soft-tissues. Using a rotating head the machine builds up a picture of the interior of the body at that particular point. It is as if a giant knife was used to slice through the body, allowing the investigator to look at the end thus revealed. After many such “slices” have been scanned, clever computer software enables the investigator to skip from one end of the body to the other.

Once again the dislocation in the spine was obvious, but further unusual features also became clear. The internal organs of the mummy had been removed through a large cut in the front of the abdomen: the Egyptians did the same thing through a small slit in the side of the body. In addition, there was considerable remains of the brain to be seen, whereas the Egyptians were fairly careful in removing the whole brain by mashing it up with a tool inserted through the nose and then washing it out. There was clear evidence that the brain of this mummy had been removed through a hole punched in the roof of the mouth.

Meanwhile other tests were going on. The wickerwork was tested using carbon-14 dating and discovered to be modern. This was disappointing but not fatal, for it is not unknown for smugglers to attempt to “improve” their wares with modern materials. A careful examination of the sarcophagus showed traces of lead pencil used to draw the design which was later carved, which means that the sarcophagus was also modern! A cuneiform expert demonstrated that the two inscriptions contained spelling and grammatical mistakes which went beyond mere poor copying and indicated that they had been written by someone whose understanding of the language was very limited.

By now it was becoming obvious that whatever else the mummy might be, it most certainly was not Egyptian. Instead of being in pride of place in the museum, it was quietly moved into a storeroom while the authorities tried to decide what to do next. The obvious step was to unwrap the body, but of course once unwrapped, it could never be wrapped again. In the end, however, there appeared to be no alternative, and an expert from Britian was invited to come out and perform the operation.

The result was conclusive. The wrappings and the mummy itself were shown by carbon-14 dating to be modern and the desicating agent used to dry the body out was ordinary table salt. Dreams of a unique find lay shattered along with the hardened shell of bandages, and instead of archaeological investigations, the whole thing was handed over to the police, for the evidences of violent death were irrefutable.

The nature of the injury is consistent with a traffic accident – a pedestrian struck a violent blow in the back by a car or truck. What is not known is whether this unfortunate woman died in an accident and was then dug up by some unscrupulous person who wanted a subject for an attempt to make a mummy, or whether she was deliberately killed in order to be mummified. There is no lack of careless pedestrians in either Pakistan or Afghanistan, no lack of old female beggars whose absence would not be missed by anyone. The stakes were high, for the value of the mummy was conservatively put at as much as a million American dollars.

The horrifying thing is that two more Pakistani mummies have been offered for sale on the international market and police are doing their best to track down the callous perpetrators of this heartless fraud. The only advice we can offer our readers is that if offered a mummy of dubious provenance and doubtful form, have nothing to do with it. You may be purchasing a very expensive traffic accident – or even a murder victim.

December 2001

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