Archaeology

Pharaoh Ramesses III Killed by Multiple Assailants

The pharaoh's toe was hacked off, likely with an ax, suggesting he was set upon by multiple assailants with different weapons, finds new analysis.

The New Kingdom Pharaoh Ramesses III was assassinated by multiple assailants - and given postmortem cosmetic surgery to improve his mummy's appearance.

Those are some of the new tidbits on ancient Egyptian royalty detailed in a new book by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass and Cairo University radiologist Sahar Saleem, "Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies" (American University in Cairo Press, 2016).

Hawass and Saleem studied royal mummies from the 18th to 20th dynasties of Egypt, spanning from about 1543 B.C. to 1064 B.C. Rulers during this period included famous names like Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Tutankhamun, Seti I and the murdered Ramesses III. Previously, Hawass and colleagues had reported that Ramesses III's throat was slit, likely killing him instantly. Now, Saleem, one of the authors of that study, has found that the pharaoh's toe was hacked off, likely with an ax, suggesting he was set upon by multiple assailants with different weapons. [In Photos: The Mummy of King Ramesses III]

Photos: Mummies' Faces, Hairdos, Revealed in 3D

"The site of foot injury is anatomically far from the neck-cut wound; also the shape of the fractured toe bones indicate that it was induced by a different weapon than that used to induce the neck cut," Saleem wrote in an email to Live Science. "So there must have been an assailant with an ax/sword attacking the king from the front, and another one with a knife or a dagger attacking the king from his back, both attacking at the same time."

A murderous plot Ancient papyrus documents refer to a plot to assassinate Ramesses III, who ruled Egypt from 1186 B.C. to 1155 B.C. But until researchers studied the pharaoh's mummy with computed tomography (CT) scanning, they didn't have any evidence that the plot had succeeded. Then, in 2012, researchers reported the discovery that Ramesses III's throat had been cut with a sharp knife, severing his trachea and esophagus. He would have died immediately, the team wrote in The BMJ.

Court documents outline the tale of a harem conspiracy to take Ramesses III's life, hatched by one of his wives, Tiye. Her son Pentawere was in line for the throne after his half-brother, Ramesses IV (who was named Amun-her-khepeshef before assuming the throne). Tiye and other members of the royal household, including servants and administrators, meant to kill Ramesses III and then oust Ramesses IV to install Pentawere as ruler. [Bones with Names: Long-Dead Bodies Archaeologists Have ID'ed]

Photos: Signs of Incest in Famous Mummies

They seem to have succeeded in killing Ramesses III, but were brought to trial for that murder under the rule of Ramesses IV. Tiye, Pentawere and their conspirators were convicted and executed. A mummy thought to be Pentawere's has been studied, and Egyptologists believe he died of suffocation or strangulation. Ancient documents show that Pentawere took his own life after his conviction.

The new book adds detail to this lurid tale, suggesting that Ramesses III's attackers outnumbered him. Part of his big toe had been hacked off and had not healed, meaning the injury happened around the time of death, Saleem said. Embalmers had fashioned a sort of postmortem prosthesis out of linen to replace it when they mummified him.

In fact, the embalmers may have gone the extra mile to try to hide the toe injury. In the late 1800s, an authority at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo tried to unwrap Ramesses III's mummy, but was unable to penetrate the thick layers of resin that covered the bandages around the feet.

Optical Illusion: Child Mummy Opens And Closes Her Eyes

"This hid the big secret beneath the wrappings," Saleem said. "It seems to me that this was the intention of the ancient Egyptian embalmers, to deliberately pour large amounts of resin to glue the layers of linen wrappings to the body and feet."

Plastic surgery for mummies Ramesses III's mummy also underwent the ancient Egyptian version of cosmetic surgery, Saleem and Hawass reported. Packing materials were placed under his skin to "plump out" the corpse and make him look more attractive for his journey to the afterlife. The boy-king Tutankhamun, famous for his lavish burial goods, also got this treatment. Both King Tut's face and limbs were beautified with subcutaneous fillers.

CT scanning has enabled researchers to look at mummies in more detail than ever before, without damaging the fragile wrappings. A 2014 CT study by Saleem and her colleagues found that three pharaohs thought to have a painful back disorder based on X-rays actually had a mild, age-related condition. CT scans have revealed mummy tooth cavities, mummy hairstyles and even errors by ancient embalmers.

Original article on Live Science.

In Photos: The Life and Death of King Tut In Images: The Mummy of A Murdered Incan Woman Image Gallery: Mummy Evisceration Techniques Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

A young, short man with a slight resemblance to Michael Jackson, a woman with an elaborate hairstyle and an older woman who could slip, unnoticed, into today's society -- all died some 2,000 years ago but now facial reconstructions of the ancient Egyptians have brought them back to life.

The reconstructions were unveiled today at McGill University's Redpath Museum.

"People are amazed by mummies, but never more so, I've found, when they can see the face," said anthropologist Andrew Wade of Western University.

The high tech process, involving CT scanning and multiple scientific disciplines, recreates what the three individuals looked like as they were laid to rest nearly 2,000 years ago.

Here, a mummy is set to go into a CT scanner.

Mummies of a young male, a young female and an older woman were virtually unwrapped using CT scanning. Models of their bone structure were then created.

Barbara Lawson, a curator at the Redpath Museum who also worked on the project, added that all three mummies were scanned at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital as part of Western University's IMPACT Radiological Mummy Database Project.

Forensic artist Victoria Lywood undertook the actual reconstruction work, which was based on the 3-D high-resolution images along with ultrasonic images and anthropological research.

A step in the process involved sketching what the individuals would have looked like.

Some have detected a facial resemblance, at least from the front profile, with the late pop star Michael Jackson. Jackson was, in fact, very interested in Egyptian history, which might have influenced some of his personal style.

The Theban male died between the ages of 20-30. His mummy was purchased in Thebes, his likely place of death.

The young man was "relatively short in stature," according to Wade.

Lywood is one of the world's leading experts on such recreations.

"I reconstruct modern-day skulls, archaeological remains and fragmentary skulls," she told Discovery News. "The oldest I have constructed was from 6,000 years ago found in Israel. While there were people of all sizes throughout the ages, my experience is that skull size was much smaller than modern populations."

This Ptolemaic female was a "late adolescent girl or young woman of average height and elite status," Wade said. "Her age at death is estimated at between 18 and 24 years."

Her mummy was found "in a tomb pit in the solid rock near Hawara el-Makta in Fayum (Lower Egypt) and acquired in Egypt towards the end of the 19th century and donated to the Redpath Museum in 1895," Lawson said.

Clearly ancient Egyptians prized fashionable coifs, given the complexity of the young woman's hairstyle.

Her hair must have been fixed before mummification, perhaps in hopes of sending her off to the next life looking her best.

The hairdo of a young ancient Egyptian female was reconstructed on a modern woman.

The reconstructed young woman is shown here without her wig. Clearly her hair was a big part of her look.

The oldest individual of the three was this woman -- likely a tall, upper middle-class adult between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.

If she were alive today, this woman (at least based on her physical appearance) would probably fit right in with modern society.

As Wade said, "Humans have been physically pretty much the same for the last 2,000 years...That's not to say that evolution has stopped working on us, but the time frame of 2,000 years is just a drop in the bucket for noticeable physical changes and we've reduced the need for physical changes by adapting culturally."

The three ancient Egyptian people died at somewhat different times and never knew each other. But, as reconstructions, the early Egyptians will spend even more time together, because they will star in a new display in the Redpath Museum's World Cultures gallery starting in February.