Why did the “Mummy of the Screaming Woman” die with such a pained expression on her face 3,000 years ago? After some speculation, new research by radiologists and archaeologists at Cairo University in Egypt shows that the most likely culprit was an agonizing heart attack.
Recent CT scans have revealed that the woman was suffering from severe atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries, a disease in which the blood vessels of the heart become clogged with plaque and increase the risk of a blockage. There was also notable atherosclerosis in the neck arteries, abdominal aorta, and iliac arteries, as well as the arteries of the lower limbs.
While it isn’t possible to definitely say the mummy died of a cardiac arrest, it certainly looks like they had a very troubled heart. In light of their findings, Dr Zahi Hawass, a renowned Egyptologist who worked on the project, explained that the woman likely died of a panicked heart attack and became stuck in an open-mouthed pose due to rigor mortis.
“We assume that the dead body of ‘the screaming woman’ might not have been discovered until hours later, enough to develop rigor mortis,” Dr Hawass, who was also former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt, said in a statement.
“We assume that the embalmers likely mummified the contracted body of the ‘screaming woman’ before it decomposed or relaxed. 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,” he said.
Nowadays, atherosclerosis is typically linked with an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise, and smoking. However, things were a bit different in ancient Egyptian. A 2014 study argued that ancient mummies might show signs of atherosclerosis due to inflammation from microbes and parasites, along with smoke inhalation from open fires.
The 3,100-year-old female mummy was first discovered near the southern Egyptian city of Luxor back in 1881. Along with the remains, archaeologists discovered another (perhaps more famous) mummy that came to be known as the "Mummy of the Screaming Man.” A study in 2012 found that the young male body once belonged to a person named Pentawere, the son of Pharaoh Ramses III who died from a slash to the throat after being found guilty of killing his father in a bid to grab the throne.
The identity of the "screaming women," however, is a little less clear. Egyptian script on the mummy’s linen describes the body as “The royal daughter, the royal sister of Meret Amon.” However, there were many princesses with this name and there’s little else in the way of evidence to decipher the identity. The team is looking to follow up on this study by carrying out DNA analysis of the screaming women in the hopes of confirming who she was.