A mummy murder has been solved after 2,600 years

Researchers confirmed that the mummy known as Takabuti died from a stab wound to the back.

Takabuti mummy
Ulster Museum
  • The mummy Takabuti has inspired a great deal of speculation since it was first unwrapped in 1835.
  • Takabuti died when she was between 20 and 30, leading researchers to wonder about her cause of death.
  • New techniques have enabled researchers to determine that Takabuti died from a stab wound to the back, among other interesting findings.



2,600 years on and investigators have finally discovered the cause of death of a young elite woman from Thebes: a violent stab wound to her back.

Takabuti's mummy was first unwrapped in 1835 in Ireland, a period of time when mummies were being traded and trafficked across Europe. According to the hieroglyphics adorning Takabuti's mummy case, she had been between 20 and 30 years old, the mistress of a house in Thebes (modern-day Luxor), and her father, called Nespare, had been a priest of the god Amun.

Although Takabuti has been a subject of study since her mummy was first acquired, scanning techniques only recently became advanced enough to determine that the stab wound near her left shoulder was the cause of her death. Retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Loynes performed the CT analysis. "The CT scan reveals that Takabuti sustained a severe wound to the back of her upper left chest wall," Loynes said in a statement. "This almost certainly caused her rapid death. However, the CT scan also reveals unusual and rare features of her embalming process."

In addition to her murder, the researchers identified a variety of other unique features to this particular mummy.

For one, Takabuti possessed two rare mutations — an extra tooth, which appears in 0.02 percent of the population, and an extra vertebra, which occurs in 2 percent of the population. Importantly, she also still possessed her heart, which previous research had asserted was missing.

"The significance of confirming Takabuti's heart is present cannot be underestimated," said Dr. Greer Ramsey, the Curator of Archaeology at National Museums Northern Ireland. "In ancient Egypt this organ was removed in the afterlife and weighed to decide whether or not the person had led a good life. If it was too heavy it was eaten by the demon Ammit and your journey to the afterlife would fail."

Another recently shared discovery is that Takabuti may have been European. DNA tests confirmed that she bore greater similarities to Europeans than modern-day Egyptians. "This indicates European or Caucasian descent," said Egyptologist Rosalie David in an interview with Newsweek, "but it is not possible to confirm from these findings whether she was born in Egypt, or came there from another area."

Insight into a 2,600-year-old woman

Takabuti

Ulster Museum

The new findings have challenged the popular characterization of Takabuti as resting peacefully — now, it's clear that her last moments alive were anything but peaceful.

"Trawling the historical records about her early days in Belfast it is clear that she caused quite a media sensation in 1835," said bioarcheologist Eileen Murphy in a statement. "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."

Takabuti also appeared to be something of an independent spirit, at least when it came to following fashion trends contemporary to her life. "Research undertaken ten years ago gave us some fascinating insights," continued Murphy, "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." What remains beyond our understanding, however, is why somebody had been driven to murder the young Egyptian mistress.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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Credit: Helen_f via AdobeStock
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