Screaming Man (1/8)

Beginning on Five this week is a new historical documentary series probing the secrets of Ancient Egypt. In the first episode, scientists attempt to unravel the mystery of a 3,000-yearold ‘screaming’ mummy. The man was recovered from a tomb devoid of the usual trappings of Egyptian burial, with his features locked in a screaming expression. Who was this man and what does his fate reveal about the ancient Egyptian attitude to the afterlife?

In the vaults of the Cairo Museum lies a coffin containing a most unusual mummy. Discovered in a burial chamber in 1881, ‘Unknown Man E’ has puzzled generations of Egyptologists. He is sometimes known as the ‘Screaming Man’ for the gruesome scream that appears to contort his mouth. The nature of the man’s burial also throws up numerous questions and contradictions. Now, for the first time since 1886, scientists take a closer look at the mysteries surrounding his identity and his death.

The Victorian Egyptologists who first examined Unknown Man E were struck by the way in which his burial defied ancient Egyptian tradition. The man’s hands and feet were tightly bound and, although he was found in the company of many famous pharaohs, his coffin was unmarked. In Egyptian lore, to be buried without one’s name was to be denied passage to the afterlife. The 19thcentury autopsy also indicated that, contrary to standard techniques, the mummy’s organs were not removed before embalming.

Even more unusual was the mixture used to preserve the man, which has not been found in any other mummy. “The plastering made of natron and quicklime is a very unusual technique and it was one of the things which so disturbed the observers when they first unwrapped him,” says author Dylan Bickerstaffe. Moreover, the Screaming Man was wrapped with ‘impure’ goatskin – another factor thought to prevent a man’s entry to paradise.

Based on the findings of the 1886 examination, Egyptologists have developed a number of theories regarding the man’s identity. Author Susan Redford, among others, suggests that he may be Pentewere, a son of Ramasses III, who was once part of a plot to seize the throne. The conspirators were caught and executed, and Pentewere was allowed to take his own life. If Unknown Man E is the disgraced prince, it suggests his unusual burial was the final punishment for his treason.

Another theory maintains that the man may have been an Egyptian official who died outside his country and was embalmed by foreigners who did not fully understand Egyptian methods. “This is somebody abroad trying to imitate Egyptian techniques and doing the best with what they had,” says Bickerstaffe. A third theory holds that Unknown Man E may be a foreigner – possibly a Hittite prince who died on his way to marry Tutankhamun’s widow.

This last theory appears to be ruled out when facial anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson scans the mummy’s head and uses a computer programme to reconstruct his face. “I don’t see anything in this particular skull that suggests he wasn’t ancient Egyptian,” she says.

Meanwhile, the mummy is removed from storage and taken for a CT scan. Radiologist Dr Ashraf Selim delivers his initial report, including the mummy’s age at death and the condition of his body. The original autopsy is found to be highly flawed when evidence emerges that the organs have indeed been removed. But further revelations throw fascinating new light on the identity of the Screaming Man, and raise yet more questions…

About the author

  • Greetings
    The man is indeed an Egyptian official having died outside his country, that is West Arabia, a region full of archeological proof of ancient Egyptian colonisation attempts there to control the India-Anatolia trade route. __________________________________________________________

    In particular he should have been the Pharaoh (a Canaanite name, not Egyptian, meaning ‘lord of running streams’, which quite contrary to popular assumption the Egyptian kings never used as a royal title for themselves – except hypothetically maybe the Semitic Hyksos dynasty) of Mizraim, modern-day Misramah of the Asir region of Saudi-Arabia, which in Canaanite means ‘Two Lands’, i.e. “Egypt”. ‘Egypt’ in Egyptian is of course ‘Tawi’, that is “Two lands” – Egypt Lower & Egypt Upper, “Misr wa Se’eed” in Modern-day Arabic. The name is equally well attested throughout West Arabia, along with numerous villages with names of Egyptian gods. __________________________________________________________

    This Mizraim is where the actual Exodus of the Hebrews took place from. Which makes this guy the “Pharaoh of Moses”, who died of drowning. In fact the body is a ‘natural’ mummy, a dried corpse, and not a balsamed one. The removal of the inner organs is done so after his transportation to Egypt for burial… __________________________________________________________

    The “Red Sea” (‘Yam-Suf’, “Sea of Ending”) is nothing but the Arabic Bahr-Suf, i.e. the Rub’-ul-Khali desert, the outskirt wadis of which get to be flooded by inexpected bodies of water from the Asir mountain
    ridges from time to time, such as the one between Abha and Yamamah in the 1920’s which swept away numerous villages along a valley pathway. __________________________________________________________

    God in the Koran promises his body would be preserved as a sign for succeeding generations (means towards our days).. __________________________________________________________

    (& Books by Prof. Kamal Salibi)

    Care, all the best

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