21 May 2001
gold-masked mummy, whose sensational discovery
last year sparked an ownership row between
Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, has turned out not
only to be a modern fake but also the apparent
victim in a macabre murder mystery.
at the National Museum in Karachi who first
believed they were handling a remarkable ancient
relic have now turned sleuth in a 21st century
whodunnit of smuggling, fraud and possibly murder.
Asma Ibrahim, the museum's curator, said she and a
team of pathologists, which they hope will include
a British forensic scientist, would carry out an
autopsy later this month to try to establish just
what happened to the woman whose elaborately
mummified body was originally hailed as the
2,600-year-old remains of a Persian princess.
"In my opinion it was a murder," Dr
Ibrahim said. "But until we open her up for
the autopsy we will never be sure."
mummy adorned with a gold mask, crown and
breast-plate and laid out in an inscribed coffin
was seized by police last October from the home
of a powerful tribal family in Quetta,
south-western Pakistan. It was allegedly being
offered for sale to private collectors with a
multimillion pound price tag. It was taken to
Karachi and proudly displayed at the National
excitement at the find quickly turned into an
unseemly regional spat over ownership, with the
both Iran's Cultural Heritage Organisation and the
Taliban's Cultural Minister in Afghanistan each
claiming the mummy must have been stolen from them
and demanding its return.
after carbon-dating tests in Pakistan and Berlin,
experts concluded the "princess" was in
fact a modern corpse, only two or three years old,
of an adult woman who was possibly tortured before
Ibrahim said it was clear the woman's teeth had
been removed before her death and her hip joint,
pelvis and backbone had been badly damaged.
"I am upset really, as a human being, because
they clearly treated her very badly," she
said. "I suspect that they might have done
black market smuggling and sale of real and fake
antiquities is big business in Pakistan. The
destruction earlier this year by the Taliban of
ancient Buddhas increased the number of alleged
Afghan antiques being offered for sale illegally
on this side of the border.
what is particularly baffling to scientists
investigating the mummy case is the meticulous
effort that was made to preserve the body. The
painstaking attention to detail indicates that a
very experienced archaeologist or historian must
have been involved.
coffin, made from ground glass, is carved with a
large image of Fravahar, an icon of ancient
Iranian religion of Zoroastrian. Both the mummy's
crown and the breastplate were inscribed with
ancient cuneiform script. Although this later
turned out to contain grammatical mistakes, it had
archaeologists fooled for several months. "It
was amazing, so perfect, I had to work day and
night to figure it out," Dr Ibrahim said.
"Whoever did this must have a PhD".
if Pakistan's top archaeologists manage to unravel
the mystery of mummy, it looks unlikely that
anyone will be charged in connection with the
Dr Ibrahim says the police are investigating both
the fraud and alleged murder, the Karachi police,
notorious for their stultifying bureaucracy, say
they have not yet opened investigations because
they have yet to receive a correctly worded formal
submission from the museum.
mummy, meanwhile, remains in a sealed nitrogen
chamber, deep inside the National Museum, her
macabre secrets still intact.