Are You My Mummy?

During a murder investigation in October 2000, police received a tip that someone was selling a mummy on the black market for $11 million. After interrogating him, the man, named Ali Akbar, led them to where the remains were being kept in the house of a tribal leader in Quetta. The mummy was passed to Akbar by a man who claimed to have found it after an earthquake. Akbar and the tribal leader were sentenced to a maximum of ten years in prison, charged with violating Pakistan’s Antiquity Act. Bakhi, the man who originally found the mummy, was never apprehended.

Archaeologists were very excited when they heard about the body, which they believed to be a mummified Persian princess dating to ca. 600 BCE. The 2,600-year-old body was adorned with a magnificent gold crown and a gold breastplate inscribed with the words “I am the daughter of the great King Xerxes,” written in cuneiform. It lay on a mat coated with a mixture of wax and honey in a wooden coffin also carved with cuneiform inscriptions and images of the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda.The coffin was covered with a stone slab marked with yet more cuneiform inscriptions. This discovery was especially exciting as mummification was previously thought to be an almost exclusively Egyptian practice.

Interest in the mummy spread around the world. Iran and Pakistan fell into conflict over which country would get to claim right of ownership of the princess. Even the Taliban hinted that it wanted to claim her. Debates also arose over who the mummy really was. Some argued that she was the daughter of Karoosh-ul-Kabir, the first ruler of Persia’s Khammam-ul-Nishiyan Dynasty, while others claimed she was an Egyptian princess that had been married to a Persian prince during the reign of Cyrus I. However, people soon began to realize that not everything was as it seemed.

Experts examine the coffin and mummified body (image copyright: sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2001/06/27-03.html)
Experts examine the coffin and mummified body (image copyright: sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2001/06/27-03.html)

Information got out that insurance companies were reluctant to provide any policies until the mummy’s legitimacy could be proved beyond doubt. Experts were questioning the technique used to mummify the body. A majority of one of the cuneiform inscriptions was found to be an exact copy of part of a famous inscription by King Darius (522-486 BCE) in western Iran dating to about 520 BCE—significantly later than the proposed 600 BCE dating of the mummy. Also, the manner in which the author of the inscriptions on the coffin and breastplate wrote was inconsistent with Old Persian, making Oscar Muscarella of the Metropolitan Museum of Art believe that it was a modernized falsification dating to no earlier than the 1930s. In reaction to this, a piece of the coffin was sent to a lab and carbon-14 analysis dated the wood to around 250 years old, contradicting Muscarella’s statement but further disproving the mummy’s legitimacy as the coffin was now evidenced to be a modern forgery.

The “Persian princess” was finally discredited when the mummified body was found to have only been dead for about two years. She had been murdered, possibly just for the sake of making the fraudulent princess to later sell on the black market for big money. The perpetrators of what might be one of the weirdest black market schemes have yet to be identified, and—more unfortunately—neither has the victim. For a plan that ended up taking almost almost two years to get to the point of actually putting the body on the black market, one would have thought that more dedication would have gone into studying the Old Persian language and the proper way to mummify people.

Moral of the story: when you kill someone to accomplish your master plan, never go halfway, and if you’re a nation wanting your body back, make sure it’s actually yours.

12 thoughts on “Are You My Mummy?”

  1. This is a really interesting and informative post! It’s so strange that someone would steal mummified human remains and be able to make a profit off of them. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. This story sounds like it is straight out of a murder mystery drama. I love how the intrigue of history (I have always loved this kind of stuff thanks to “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego”) coupled with intense archaeological insight didn’t just turn out to be a cheap knockoff, but just spiraled further and further into an even more twisted story. And though it feels weird saying it, but, the “moral of the story” part made me laugh too hard.

  3. That was quite unnerving. I would not have expected someone to go to such lengths to fake a mummy, only to do a half-assed job of it. Also that the person mummified could have been murdered only two years ago is even more startling.

  4. Wow! That’s insane, well people are just insane in general. I can’t believe that someone would actually try to pull that off! They must have been relatively intelligent to pull it off to that extent, but you’re right you would think they would have done it just a little better. Great post!

  5. Though death in general isn’t supposed to be entertaining, I couldn’t help but be amused at this story. All of that hard work put into a plot, and their downfall was in their grammar. This would be fun as a novel, with the person behind the mummy as the main character.

  6. Whoa. Awesome plot twist. I bet no one saw that coming when all of the hype was spreading around the world. I was surprised that the experts didn’t in fact begin their analysis by checking the mummification date. Anyways, to the men who thought of the scheme- it was pretty well devised but terribly executed. Very unfortunate that a poor soul was taken for this mischievous act.

  7. I think this is one of the biggest plot twists of all time. Right when you think your faith in humanity is restored, someone has to go and try to sell a fake mummy. I do have to get them credit for the creativity of trying to make a few bucks. I would have just thought of making a lemonade stand. Crime and Police TV shows are definitely missing out on an opportunity here.

  8. I never heard of this story before! This sounds like something you would see on a crazy movie, not in real life!! I never thought that anyone would try to fake a mummy…crazy!! You would think that maybe would try to find an easier way to get money rather than impersonating a mummy?

  9. Oh my word. I know almost everything gets a fake copy of itself, but I never thought mummies could be faked. Then again, the world is weird so what was I expecting. This is the first I have hear of something like this. I wonder how many more of these cases have happened and will happen in the future. Creepy.

  10. This is such a interesting and wild story. It kind of reminds me of the story of Anastasia the lost princess. I feel terrible that someone was murdered possibly for the sake of making a fraudulent princess to sell on the black market, but it is cool what science, research, and archaeology can do. I look forward to reading more of your posts about accidents in archaeology:)

  11. This is one of those truth is stranger than fiction situations, this sounds like some convoluted schemes from a bad TV drama. It’s so bizarre that it happened in real life.

Leave a Reply