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Ramesses III was murdered

Scientific investigations shed light on the outcome of a Harem Conspiracy against the Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian Museum in Turin is guardian of a papyrus which reports one of the most horrific crimes to have happened in Ancient Egypt. In the middle of the 12th century BC and within the confines of the Women's Royal Palace, one of the wives of the Pharaoh, Tiy, is intent on murdering her husband, the god-like King Ramesses III. Her aim is to put her son Pentawere on the throne. But things do not work out for her: the conspiracy is discovered and all those involved are brought to trial and punished. What has not been known up until now is what happened to the King himself.

A team of scientists around the Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, Carsten Pusch, geneticist at the University of Tübingen and Albert Zink, palaeopathologist at the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC), have subjected the Pharaoh's mummy to computed tomography scans, molecular genetic analysis and radiological investigations. The analysis of the CT images, carried out in both Bolzano/Bozen and Cairo, indicate that the pharaoh's throat had been cut while he was still alive. "The neck wound only became visible through the use of computed tomography", reports Zahi Hawass who, as former General Secretary of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has had access to the mummy on numerous occasions. "It was clear that Ramesses had died in 1156 BC, roughly at the age of 65, but the cause of his death had not been known," he continues. The injury is hidden by neck bandages.

An amulet for the afterlife In the CT images, scientists could further make out in the wound an amulet representing a so-called Eye of Horus, in Egypt a common symbol for guarding against accidents and for the restoration of physical strength. "The slashed throat and the amulet prove clearly that the pharaoh had in fact been murdered," explains Albert Zink. "The amulet was placed in the wound after his death to enable him to recover fully for the afterlife." But was he murdered as a result of the harem conspiracy, as suggested by the Turin Judicial Papyrus?

Son of Ramesses III identified The team of researchers found evidence for this in another mummy. With the aid of DNA analyses, the scientists were able to prove that Ramesses III was directly related to a mummy so far known as "Unknown Man E". One had already assumed that this mummy of an 18-20 year-old man might be that of Ramesses III's son Pentawere, who allegedly instigated the harem conspiracy in league with his mother with the intention of stripping his father of power. The research team were now able to ascertain with the aid of genetic fingerprinting that there is a coincidence of 50% between Ramesses' genetic material and that of the unknown mummy. "The mummy is therefore, in all probability, a son of Ramesses III. To achieve a certainty of 100%, one would need to sequence the genome of the mother", explains Carsten Pusch, molecular geneticist at the University of Tübingen. Unfortunately, the mummy of Tiy, the wife of Ramesses III and mother of Pentawere, has not been found.

Did the son commit suicide? Albert Zink and his team carried out radiological tests on this mummy, too. "What caught our attention was the fact that the body was rather inflated. In addition, there was a strange skin fold on his neck. This could have been the result of committing suicide by hanging. Furthermore, his only cover was a goat's skin - which was considered impure - and he had also been mummified without having his organs and brain removed", said the scientist. The fact that the body of Ramesses' son was buried in a way not befitting a prince may be an indication for his having been one of the instigators of the harem conspiracy who had been offered the chance of suicide to escape worse punishment in the afterlife, as confirmed by the Turin Judicial Papyrus.

The renowned British Medical Journal is publishing the study in its online edition on Monday December 17th at 23:30h GMT (0.30h CET) and in their printed edition on December 22nd.

Photos: http://webfolder.eurac.edu/press/Ramses/immagini/ Scientific paper: http://press.psprings.co.uk/bmj/december/mummies.pdf Video Interview with Albert Zink: http://webfolder.eurac.edu/press/Ramses/

Please note that there is a press embargo until Monday, 17 December at 23:30 GMT!

idw :: 18.12.2012