You know you’re onto a winner when you’ve given a preserved Egyptian corpse the moniker “Screaming Mummy.” Also known less excitingly as Unknown Man E, the slack-jawed, terrified-looking mummy – hence the name – was originally discovered in 1886, and theories have abounded as to who he might have been.
The mystery man is currently part of a special display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where it’s been held for some time. It’s a beautiful museum with a storied history, spanning nearly two centuries. Containing the world’s largest collection of pharaonic artifacts, it was under threat during the 2011 uprising; rioters broke in and, apart from ancillary damage, two Egyptian mummies were destroyed.
The Screaming Mummy survived the revolution, but by the looks of his burial, his own life didn’t end well. Unlike most well-to-do members of pharaonic Egypt, he wasn’t wrapped in fine linen bandages, but sheepskin, something considered to be unclean and impure by society at the time.
His hands and feet were bound, and as it turns out, he wasn’t even properly mummified. Instead, he was left to dry out in a mixture of sodium compounds, before having resin poured into his mouth – not carefully into his brain, as usually happens during mummification.
The undignified state of his burial – one without a grave marking, which means his access to the afterlife was restricted – suggests he wasn’t well respected. In fact, he probably didn’t die with much dignity either.
This 18-20-year-old unknown man was likely to be have been murdered or, potentially, executed. As a paper from 2012 notes, examination of his lungs revealed that they were of an unusual size. “In modern cases, diseases such as emphysema or death by suffocation can lead to overinflation of the lungs,” the authors noted at the time.