Murder Monday: The Persian Princess

Every Monday, Weird Shit Blog features an unsolved or bizarre murder, death, disappearance, or crime. I call it Murder Monday.

Have you ever been looking for something and ended up finding something else you weren’t even looking for? You know, you’re digging around in the couch for a remote and you find a $5 bill. Awesome, right? In a way, that’s kind of how archaeology works. A lot of major discoveries have been complete and total accidents. It’s like a bunch of archaeologists were looking for evidence of some random city in southern Italy, and boom, they find an ancient text or something that changes how we look at history. It happens all the time. So that’s why the Persian Princess caught so much international attention when she was found, and not even by archaeologists, but by some lucky amateurs. It seemed like the find of the century, but when the scientific world got a closer look at it, things began to unravel. (DOHOHO!)

“Aw hell, is he gonna make an ‘I want my mummy’ joke, too?”

In 2000, Pakistani officials received a bizarre tip. It seemed that a videotape had been circulating around in the black market that purportedly featured a man showing off, of all things, a mummy, sarcophagus and all, for sale. The asking price? $11 million. Since this was not only fucked up, but actually illegal under Pakistani antiquity laws, the authorities became very interested. Police finally tracked down the creator of the tape, a man named Ali Aqbar, who lead them to a tribal leader, Wali Mohammed Reeki, who was the actual seller. Reeki said that he had received the mummy from an Iranian man named Sharif Shah Bakhi, who claimed to have discovered the sarcophagus sticking out of the ground after an earthquake.

Unfortunately, it was not this Oprah-phagus. (Someone actually made this. I am serious.)

Police claimed the mummy and sent it to the National Museum in Karachi, Pakistan. After a preliminary investigation, the museum announced that the mummy appeared to be a princess, and, according to the inscription on the breastplate of the sarcophagus, she wasn’t even Egyptian. Apparently, she was a Persian named Rhodugune, she had possibly married an Egyptian prince (and later requested an Egyptian burial, hence the mummification), and was a previously unknown daughter of Xerxes I.

You know, the androgynous dude from 300.

Immediately after hearing this announcement, Iran got pissed. You see, Iran is the modern-day name for Persia. Since this mummy was apparently Persian royalty, she, by all rights, belonged to Iran. Pakistan disagreed, seeing as it had been found inside their borders. The Taliban, who were still in power in Afghanistan at this time, came forward with claims that the mummy had actually been smuggled out of their country. (Later, though, this turned out to be nothing more than a cash grab.) Pakistan quickly changed their story and now claimed that the mummy had been Egyptian all along. Iran returned fire by claiming that an Italian archaeologist had translated the breastplate from photographs and confirmed the Persian ancestry of the mummy. (The Italian archaeologist, Lorenzo Constantini, later said he had only said that the inscription had the word “Xerxes” in it, and that the Iranian historian he’d spoken to didn’t even know who that was.)  UNESCO, a branch of the UN concerned with education, science, and culture, was attempting to work out an agreement between the three countries, but Pakistan went ahead and put the mummy up for display anyway.

“Can we put a sign up that says ‘Fuck Iran’ too?”

The exhibit caught the attention of an American archaeologist named Oscar White Muscarella. When he heard about it, he thought something sounded awful familiar about this mummy. It seems that, a few months previous to Pakistani police finding out about the mummy, another of Reeki’s representatives had contacted Muscarella and asked if he’d like to take a look at the mummy. Muscarella agreed.

Remember that $5 bill that you found in your couch? No, not a real one, the one we talked about earlier. Yeah, now imagine a dude comes up and tells you it’s fake.

“Man, I was gonna use that to buy hookers.”

The representative sent Muscarella detailed photos of the breastplate from the sarcophagus, something the sellers hadn’t done for anyone else. That’s probably because the breastplate made no goddamned sense. Muscarella quickly noticed that the inscriptions contained two massive errors- The style of inscription wouldn’t be used for a few hundred years after Xerxes I, and the entire second part of it seemed to consist of text plagiarized from other material. When the representative sent a piece of the sarcophagus to be carbon-dated, Muscarella found it to be only 250 years old, at most. This apparently didn’t deter the representative, who still insisted that Muscarella buy it, since 250 years “could not be called modern.”

After Muscarella made his story public, Pakistan and Iran continued to bicker briefly, but Iranian scientists who had been invited to Karachi to examine the mummy also declared it a fake. Soon after, Pakistan, too admitted that they had been fooled, and, unsurprisingly, no one seemed to give a fuck about the mummy anymore.

Not unlike this Mummy.

But, hold on, because that’s not all. Did you forget what this blog is called? What’s weird about a hoax mummy? Well, that body had to come from somewhere, right? The Iranian scientists determined her age to be about 20-25 years old. Her organs had been removed (except for the brain, another clue that this mummy was not truly Egyptian), replaced with powder and, for all other intents and purposes, mummified in the traditional way. But, here’s the kicker:

She had only been mummified for two to five years. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, which had damaged her skull and broken her spine, and was most likely caused by a hammer or similar object. She wasn’t royalty or even some lady that died of natural causes and just wanted to be mummified.

She was a murder victim.