Everyone loves a good mummy, but one of the most fascinating stories about these wrapped legends doesn't have anything to do with the likes of King Tutankhamun or Juanita. One of history's most famous mummies is "Unknown Man E," found at the ancient Egyptian site of Deir el-Bahri. But this, one of the most scary mummies ever found, is better known to the world as the "Screaming Mummy."
This bizarre mummy features a thrown-back head and an open jaw in what looks like a blood-curdling scream. But what happened to Egypt's Screaming Mummy, and why is he yelling? Archaeologists analyzed the mummy and his wrappings and have reasoned he might have been a disgraced prince named Pentawere. This ancient conspiracy involved a minor queen trying to put her son, Pentawere, on the throne, while overthrowing his dad, Ramesses III, in the process. The plot was eventually discovered and Pentawere forced to commit take his own life... but what happened to him? Perhaps archaeologists discovered his body when they uncovered the Screaming Mummy!
The Screaming Mummy was notably different from others mummies Egyptologists have found previously, which raised red flags for scientists. One notable difference was that rather than linen, he was wrapped in sheepskin, which the purity-obsessed Egyptians regarded as unclean. Only offenders or people damned for eternity would have been entombed in such a manner.
Also, his coffin was unmarked - no one could recite his name in the afterlife, which was a big deal - and his hands and feet were bound, as if he had perished a prisoner. He wasn't even truly mummified properly (it's a long, drawn-out process), just dried out in natron with resin placed in his mouth.
Scholars think they might have identified Unknown Man E. There was once a man named Prince Pentawere, a son of Pharaoh Ramesses III, who participated in a conspiracy to remove his father from the throne. One of Ramesses's minor wives, a member of his harem named Tiy, wanted her husband off the throne. She aimed to oust the king and put her son, Pentawere, in his place. The plan also involved removing Ramesses's chosen heir.
Pentawere's plan didn't make it and he was labeled a traitor, disgraced like Man E, who fit the physical profile of the prince. Interestingly, the Screaming Mummy has similar DNA markers and Y chromosomes to Ramesses III. It's likely that Man E and Ramesses III were father and son.
Along with Queen Tiy and Prince Pentawere, a group of important noblemen conspired to get rid of Ramesses III. A record of their trial, called the Turin Judicial Papyrus, still survives. As a result, we know the names of the chief conspirators. One was "Pebekkamen, formerly chief of the chamber" who stirred up resentment against the Pharaoh. Pebekkamen conspired with ex-butler Mesedsure, ex-overseer of the royal harem Peynok, and the scribe Pendua. The conspiracy went all the way to the top. Top-level conspirators included Peyes, the former commander of the army, Oneney, the chief of police, Hori, the head of the infantry bearers, and more.
As it turns out, the conspirators didn't entirely fail. Examination of the mummy of Ramesses III revealed a seven-centimeter-wide slash on his throat that went deep to the bone.
The Turin Judicial Papyrus also records the fate of Pentawere, the would-be pharaoh. Apprehended for colluding with his mother, he "was placed before the butlers, in order to examine him; they found him guilty; they left him in his place; he took his own life."
But by what means? How exactly did Unknown Man E expireire? Perhaps by poison.
In 1886, Gaston Maspero, the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, hypothesized:
All those who saw him first hand thought that [he] looked as though he had been poisoned. The contraction of the abdomen and stomach, the desperate movement with which the head is thrown back, the expression of excruciating pain spread over the face hardly allow for any other explanation.
A chemist who analyzed the body also suggested the man was perhaps entombed alive or hung, which would back out the suggestion that Pentawere took his own life.