Episodes of popular TV series like “CSI” and “NCIS” often show detectives and forensic scientists solving cases that have been cold for years. But how would they solve a crime committed more than 3,000 years ago?
That’s exactly what scientists aimed to do for King Ramses III, the second pharaoh of the 20th dynasty, who ruled Egypt from 1186 to 1155 B.C.
Ramses assumed the throne when the country was recovering from political turmoil and defended it against three foreign invasions by Libyan tribes and the Sea People.
He also is credited with encouraging industry with trading expeditions to the Somali coast of Africa, Sinai and Nubia.
But corruption and instability arose and undermined his reign. One of his secondary wives, Queen Tiye, plotted to overthrow Ramses and replace him with her son, Prince Pentawere.
The plot was documented in ancient papyri, the most important of which is the Judicial Papyrus of Turin. The ancient records make note of four separate trials and listed the punishments given to the harem conspirators.
One of the great mysteries of Egypt was whether this coup succeeded in killing Ramses. He died around the same time as this plot, but what caused his demise was not documented.
Now, a team of scientists have performed anthropological, forensic, radiological and genetic analyses of the mummies of Ramses III and a second man who was probably his son, Pentawere.
Both were found in the royal cache at Deir el Bahari. CT scans revealed that Ramses’ throat had been slit so deeply that he likely died from the injury, quickly.
Inside the wound was a supposedly magical Horus eye amulet, which symbolized royal power, protection and good health in ancient Egypt. The embalmers likely inserted it into the wound in an attempt to promote healing in the afterworld.
The second mummy was found to be an 18- to 20-year-old man whose neck showed signs like compressed skin folds and thoracic inflation consistent with strangulation, but that is still speculative.
His body was not embalmed in the usual manner for royals and he was covered in a ritually impure goatskin that the scientists interpreted as a means of posthumous punishment.
DNA analyses of the Y chromosomes of Ramses and the unknown mummy revealed that they were probably father and son, making him likely to be Pentawere. He was the only son implicated in the assassination plot.
In the movies, spells from the famed “Book of the Dead” are used to bring Egyptian mummies back to life.
While that would make it much easier to find out exactly how Ramses died and who killed him, modern technology is allowing scientists to open a door to the past and solve some of history’s greatest mysteries.