Computed tomography images revealed deposits of fatty plaques in the woman’s arteries.
An Egyptian woman who was mummified with her mouth open about 3,000 years ago may have died of a heart attack, according to a new CT scan of her body.
The “screaming mummy” had previously caught the attention of researchers for her peculiar expression, but it was only now, thanks to the efforts of Egyptian historians, that the cause of her death was discovered.
The mummy was discovered more than a century ago, in 1881, in the ancient Deir el-Bahari tomb complex, which is close to the Nile, in the city of Luxor. Although the name “Meritamun” was inscribed on the mummy’s wrappings, Egyptologists are not sure who she was.
As they explain, several princesses in ancient Egypt were called Meritamun, including the daughter of the 17th Theban dynasty ruler, Seqenenre Tao II, who ruled around 1558 BC; and the daughter of the powerful Ramesses II, who became pharaoh in 1279 B.C.
Along with the mummy, the body of Prince Pentawere, son of King Ramesses III, was found, who was forced to commit suicide by hanging as punishment for his involvement in the murder of his father.
The new analysis was conducted by Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, and by Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at Cairo University and a specialist in mummies.
According to them, the remains show signs of atherosclerosis (stiffening of the arteries) and plaques of fat in the blood vessels.
Taking this into account, the researchers believe that she died alone, due to a heart attack and was probably only found several hours later, when her body was already stiff due to rigor mortis – her jaw must have opened after death and was “frozen” forever.
“The embalmers were thus unable to secure the mouth closed or put the contracted body in the state of lying down, as was usual with the other mummies, thus preserving her facial expression and posture at the time of death,” wrote the researchers on the Hawass website.
However, researchers who did not participate in the study doubt that this is the case. As they explain, rigor mortis lasts only a few days – and a mummification can take up to 70 days.
“It is far more likely that the wrappings around the jaw were simply not tight enough to hold the mouth closed,” said Andrew Wade, a mummy researcher at Western University in Canada. “It does tend to fall into an open position if left to its own devices.”