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This 2,600-Year-Old Mummy Died in a Violent Backstabbing

Researchers concluded she was murdered by someone who forced a blade into her chest from behind

The remains of Takabuti, a young woman who was murdered in the 7th century B.C. in Egypt (© Ulster Museum)
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Poor Takabuti really had it rough. A young Egyptian elite mummified some 2,600 years ago, she died in a serious bout of backstabbing—literally. This week, after months of analysis, a team of Egyptologists has concluded the ill-fated woman was murdered in a violent attack that culminated in a blade puncturing her chest from behind, near her left shoulder.

As Laura Geggel reports for Live Science, the morbid findings represent one of the final nails in Takabuti’s metaphorical coffin. Likely a married, high-status woman from the city of Thebes, she met her untimely end sometime around 660 B.C., or roughly the denouement of Egypt’s Twenty-Fifth Dynasty. After spending the next several millennia in relative anonymity, her coffin was swept up in the surge of Egyptian mummy trade that followed the Napoleonic Wars. A wealthy Irish man named Thomas Greg brought Takabuti’s remains to Belfast in 1834, making her the first Egyptian mummy to make landfall in Ireland, according to the BBC.

The following year, analysts unwrapped the remains in order to inspect the body and decipher the hieroglyphics that adorned the coffin. Based on this information, they were able to gauge Takabuti’s status and age: She was likely the mistress of a wealthy home and had died in her 20s or 30s.

Eventually, Takabuti made her way to Ireland’s Ulster Museum, where she features today in an especially popular exhibit, per BBC News’ Catherine Morrison. But her cause of death has long remained mysterious.

The most recent round of analysis, announced on the 185th anniversary of Takabuti’s original unwrapping, appears to reveal the grisly truth: A series of CT scans pinpointed a pattern of wound marks on her upper back, where a knife was forced deep into her flesh. Standing at a mere five feet tall, Takabuti probably died quickly, says University of Manchester orthopedic surgeon Robert Loynes in a statement.

Takabuti
Takabuti remains a popular attraction at Ireland's Ulster Museum. (© Ulster Museum)

“It is frequently commented that she looks very peaceful lying within her coffin,” explains Eileen Murphy, a bioarchaeologist from Queen’s University Belfast, in the statement, “but now we know that her final moments were anything but, and that she died at the hand of another.”

Further snooping unveiled several more surprises. Research conducted several years ago found Takabuti deliberately styled and curled her auburn hair—a departure from the shaved-head style of her peers. In death, too, she was an anomaly: While most Egyptian corpses were stripped of their hearts, which were weighed to assess their owners’ virtue, Takabuti’s was still in her body.

Even the contents of her genome caught the researchers off guard. Her DNA bore more of a resemblance to European populations than to modern Egyptians, and seemed to be part of a lineage that’s extraordinarily rare in Egypt, according to the statement. Takabuti also sported an extra tooth and an extra vertebra, traits that occur in just 0.02 and 2 percent, respectively, of humans.

“Trawling the historical records about her early days in Belfast it is clear that she caused quite a media sensation in 1835—she had a poem written about her, a painting was made of her prior to her ‘unrolling’ and accounts of her unwrapping were carried in newspapers across Ireland,” says Murphy. “Research undertaken ten years ago gave us some fascinating insights, such as how her auburn hair was deliberately curled and styled. This must have been a very important part of her identity as she spurned the typical shaven-headed style. Looking at all of these facts, we start to get a sense of the petite young woman and not just the mummy.”

About Katherine J. Wu
Katherine J. Wu

Katherine J. Wu is a Boston-based science journalist and Story Collider senior producer. She holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunobiology from Harvard University. Previously, she served as a Digital Editor at NOVA Next and was Smithsonian magazine's 2018 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

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