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 murdered 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 his body and what he was wrapped in and have reasoned he might have been a disgraced prince named Pentawere. This mummy murder conspiracy involved a minor queen trying to put her son, Pentawere, on the throne, overthrowing his dad, Ramesses III, in the process. The plot was eventually discovered and Pentawere forced to commit suicide... but what happened to him? Perhaps archaeologists discovered his body when they uncovered the Screaming Mummy!
This mummy was notably different from others Egyptologists have found previously, and that raised red flags for scientists. For one, rather than linen, he was wrapped in sheepskin, which the purity-obsessed Egyptians regarded as unclean. Only criminals or people damned for eternity would have been buried thus.
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 died a prisoner. He wasn't even truly mummified properly (it's a long, drawn-out process), just dried out in natron, and then resin was put in his mouth.
Scholars think they know who Unknown Man E might have been. Once upon a time, there was a guy named Prince Pentawere, a son of Pharaoh Ramesses III, who participated in a conspiracy to kill his dad. 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, also taking out Ramesses's chosen heir at the same time.
Pentawere's plan didn't make it and he died a traitor's death, 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 the Man E and Ramesses III were father and son, as it turns out. So perhaps E is indeed the body of the dead prince.
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, Peynok, ex-overseer of the royal harem, and the scribe Pendua. The conspiracy went all the way to the top. Top-level conspirators included Peyes, former commander of the army, Oneney, chief of police, Hori, head of the infantry bearers, and more.
The Turin Judicial Papyrus also records the fate of Pentawere, would-be pharaoh. Arrested 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." So we know that he committed suicide, but by what means (hanging? poison?) is unsure.
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. That's definitely what killed him, and that isn't a natural death; it was probably a conspirator who gave it to him.