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The Mystery of the Persian Mummy
First shown: BBC Two 9.00pm Thursday 20 September 2001

Dr Ibrahim conducts an autopsy on the mummy Click for programme summary
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Transcript

NARRATOR (BERNARD HILL): Last year in this wild border region of Pakistan police stumble across one of the most dramatic archaeological finds in recent memory - a magnificent mummy adorned in gold and believed to be 2,500 years old - but that was only the beginning of the story. In the months that followed the mummy began to reveal a terrible secret, a secret so horrific that it was to turn this archaeological triumph into a modern day murder hunt. This extraordinary story began with a tip-off to the Pakistan police. On October 19th last year officers raided a house in Karachi. They arrested an Iranian with a video showing an ancient mummy in a carved wooden box that he was trying to sell for a fortune on the black market. Under interrogation Ali Aqbar claimed that the mummy had been discovered when an earthquake disturbed an archaeological site in the desert.

DET. SUPT. FAROOQ AWAN (Karachi Police): Hadji Ali Aqbar have a story. They say that during the earthquake from a damaged house in the mountain this wooden box was recovered.

NARRATOR: Detective Superintendent Farooq followed the trail of the wooden box here to Quetta near the Afghani and Iranian borders. He was taken to a house in the back streets of town. This is where he found the mummy. The house belongs to a local chief, Sardar Wali Reki.

(ACTUALITY CHAT)

NARRATOR: Reki is a camel breeder and head of the 160,000-strong Reki tribe. He too was hoping to increase his fortune from the sale of the mummy on the international antiquities black market.

INTERVIEWER: What value have you placed on this mummy?

SARDAR WALI REKI (WITH ENGLISH TRANSLATION): There were many valuations on the open market. The highest was one billion dollars.

NARRATOR: But Reki never made his fortune. The mummy was seized by the police as a national treasure and taken to the Archaeology Museum in Karachi.

DR ASMA IBRAHIM (Curator, National Museum of Pakistan): It was October 19th. I remember the date exactly. I received a call from the police. They said that they want to show me something, so I went there, so there it was.

NARRATOR: Dr. Asma Ibrahim was curator of the National Museum when the mummy arrived. As events unfolded, they were recorded on her video camera.

ASMA IBRAHIM: The police thought that it's a very big discovery so they should tell everyone. They were really happy and like jumping up and down and they said, "Oh! we've got a mummy in Pakistan," and were really proud of it and this is the event of the century.

NARRATOR: The mummy was lying inside this ornately carved wooden box.

ASMA IBRAHIM: The box was open already and the mummy was covered with the help of this stone coffin. I thought in the beginning that this could be alabaster.

NARRATOR: Then they began lifting off the broken stone coffin one piece at a time.

ASMA IBRAHIM: They started picking up from the foot side, this piece, and then this one and then last from the head side.

NARRATOR: When the last piece of stone was lifted up she could hardly believe her eyes.

ASMA IBRAHIM: I was really happy and excited. Actually I was too excited. I mean I couldn't concentrate on one thing - the cyprus tree. The chest plate I liked the most. This was something very new which I never saw before because we have never come across such script in Pakistan. Of course the crown and the mask, the whole mummy impressed me a lot. It was a beautiful piece of art.

NARRATOR: The mummy was tiny. Only 4 feet, 7 inches long [1.4 metres] and covered in a resin impregnated cloth which had formed a hard protective shell. The same mysterious script from the wooden box and stone coffin was repeated on a gold chest plate laid on top of the mummy's crossed arms. For a young archaeologist like Asma Ibrahim the mummy represented the opportunity of a lifetime.

ASMA IBRAHIM: I always wanted to work on the mummies you know I was really fascinated to work on the mummy, so it was like a dream come true for me.

NARRATOR: No one knew who the body in the mummy could be or where it came from because no one had ever seen a mummy in Pakistan before. This astonishing discovery hit the world's headlines. Ahmed Hasan Dani, Pakistan's most eminent archaeologist, gave his opinion at a press conference.

PROF. AHMED HASAN DANI: Normally in Pakistan we do not have mummies at all. They must have come from outside. People say it probably may have come from Iran to Pakistan, but Iran also we do not have mummies at all. Mummies are known only from Egypt.

NARRATOR: Professor Dani believed that the mummy was, at some time, brought across the border into Pakistan from neighbouring Iran, but that it must have started its journey long ago in Egypt. In his view it couldn't have come from anywhere else because it had the telling signs of ritual mummification that were unique to the ancient Egyptians. For 3,000 years the Egyptians believed that the souls of the dead could be saved only if they were reunited with their bodies, but that meant that bodies must be preserved for eternity, so the Egyptians invented a unique way of doing this. Specially trained morticians carefully removed the internal organs - the lungs, kidneys, liver - everything except the heart which, as the receptacle for the soul, was left inside the body. Then they extracted all moisture from the body by stuffing and covering it with a natural drying agent called natron. It would take 40 days to dry the body out. Then it was meticulously wrapped in linen cloth and then cased in wood, with an effigy of the person carved on the outside. Then the coffin was placed in a sarcophagus. This is how the Egyptians ensured that the body was ready for the afterlife. It seemed that the Pakistan mummy had been made with the same purpose in mind. It was bound in cloth and there was a stone coffin enclosed in a wooden sarcophagus, but there were distinctive differences too. Adornments never seen on an Egyptian mummy. In particular the inscriptions and the cuneiform script of ancient Iran, the centre of the Persian empire. For Professor Dani this conflicting evidence was utterly mystifying.

AHMED HASAN DANI: Mummies were not used by the Iranians. Cuneiform writing was not used by the Egyptians. Mummy was used by Egyptians and so how could cuneiform writing be on this mummy is difficult to say.

NARRATOR: The obvious conclusion was that this must be a Persian, mummified in the Egyptian way. If that were true and the Persians had copied the mummification techniques of the Egyptians and applied them to their own nobility then this discovery was quite unique and the mummy almost priceless.

DR BOB BRIER (Egyptologist, Long Island University): It would be one of the most important in the world and there would be all kinds of scholarly papers written about it. For example, did the Egyptians send embalmers to Persia to mummify this thing? It would be a very important mummy.

DR OSCAR WHITE MUSCARELLA (Metropolitan Museum of Art): I've come across figures for this: $50m, $11m, £35m spread all over. Where those figures came from I don't know, but there's no doubt that this would have brought millions of dollars.

NARRATOR: In the midst of all the excitement Asma Ibrahim retained a professional scepticism. This rewriting of history would have to wait until she had investigated the mummy properly and established the identity of the person wrapped up in such a dignified and extravagant way. She believed the answer must lie in the cuneiform inscriptions, the simple written language of ancient Persia. She taught herself the cuneiform script from a grammar book. Then she translated the inscription that was copied on the stone coffin and the centre of the wooden box.

ASMA IBRAHIM: Slowly, slowly I could make out, I could, I mean like the words were making sense to me like adama - I am; ducta - daughter; sayarasa - Xerxes. I am daughter of Xerxes. The name of the king was there and as I was reading it I was getting more and more excited.

NARRATOR: The full inscription read: I am the daughter of the great King Xerxes. Mazereka protect me. I am Rhodugune, I am. So this wasn't an ordinary mummy. She appeared to be a royal Persian princess. Very little is known about Princess Rhodugune. No one even knows how old she was when she died, or what she died of. In fact no remains of any member of the Persian Royal Family had ever been found before. The discovery seemed incredible, yet in the weeks that followed more evidence was found to support the idea that this was Princess Rhodugune, evidence to link the mummy to the ancient Persian Royal Court. This is Persepolis where Princess Rhodugune lived 2,500 years ago. This extravagant city was built by her grandfather Darius and her father, the great Persian king Xerxes. Xerxes ruled over a huge empire that stretched from the Mediterranean in the west to Indian in the east and notably to Egypt in the south. In Persepolis hundreds of stonemasons, some of them Egyptian, were employed to carve out images on the royal palaces. Many of these images were familiar icons of Persian art.

DR ST JOHN SIMPSON (The British Museum): These are casts of sculptures from Persepolis in southern Iran, particularly from palaces of Xerxes and the later Persian kings. You can see examples of these rosette borders. Rosettes are used throughout the palace schemes at Persepolis. They frame all of the scenes on the staircases of the Apandana.

ASMA IBRAHIM: Of course this rosette which is very popular on Persian monuments though it was a big one but very familiar and then on the head side you can see this was very interesting for me. The head side of the coffin. It had seven cyprus trees. The same seven cyprus trees were showing on the crown of the mummy. This was the symbol of the city of Hamadan which was there at the time of the Xerxes and he used to celebrate all his functions in everything in Hamadan, so she must be very important because somebody's depicting the symbol of the city on her head and on the head side of the coffin.

NARRATOR: But the most significant icon in Persopolis and on the mummy's wooden box was the god Ahuramazda, chief deity of Rhodugune's Zoroasterian religion.

ST JOHN SIMPSON: These two sections of cast belong to a huge scene decorating one side of the south-east doorway into the so-called Hall of 100 Columns, built by Xerxes on the citadel at Persepolis. It's a scene that is repeated on many of the doorways of the palaces at Persepolis.

NARRATOR: The symbols on the mummy's body and coffin were the symbols of the Persian Royal Court. Even the gold mask matched this one in the Persian Gallery of the British Museum, but for Asma Ibrahim there was still one unresolved issue. As far as she knew, there was no proof that the Persians had mummified their dead. The evidence had disappeared. All the royal tombs in Persepolis were raided centuries ago and the bodies of the Persian Royal Family were never recovered. Then Asma Ibrahim made her next discovery. Among a collection of Persian history in Karachi's Zoroastrian community library she found a book by the Greek historian Herodotus. While travelling from Greece to Persepolis at the time of Xerxes, Herodotus had visited the royal tombs and described in detail how the Persians had preserved the bodies of their Royal Family.

ASMA IBRAHIM: The tomb itself had a doorway so narrow that even a man of moderate height would not enter without some difficulty. Within this stone edifice of the golden sarcophagus in which the body of Cyrus was deposited and near the sarcophagus was a couch resting on the body…

NARRATOR: Herodotus went on to describe how the ancient Persians had embalmed their royal dead with wax and resin and, like the Egyptians, placed them in sarcophagi. Perhaps Rhodugune had been embalmed and placed here, her tomb raided, like all the others. Then proof was found that at least one Persian had been mummified in the Egyptian way. During recent excavations in Egypt a tomb carving was found which showed a Persian in circumstances never seen before. His name spelled out in Egyptian hieroglyphs is Jedherbase. He is portrayed stretched out on an Egyptian mortuary slab and is being tended by Egyptian deities, Anubis and Isis. Sitting nearby is his father in distinctive Persian clothes. Jedherbase was a Persian administrator in Egypt at the time of Xerxes. It is clear that this Persian man living in ancient Egypt is being mummified and if a Persian civil servant was mummified, why not a Persian Princess? Back in Karachi, Asma Ibrahim had begun the task of verifying this remarkable mummy with experts around the world. Samples of the reed mat that the mummy lay on were sent off to Germany for carbon dating and because she'd noticed inconsistencies in the cuneiform script, she e-mailed photos to one of the world's leading experts in London.

PROF NICHOLAS SIMS-WILLIAMS (University of London): There are some mistakes which could easily have been made in the Achaemenian period when this script was in use because of course the stonemasons or the goldsmiths who carved the inscriptions themselves would have been illiterate, they would have been simply copying. If one looks at the middle sign on this second line here that's the letter gu in the name Rhodogune, but at the top it's got a single wedge where it should have had two wedges side by side. It's quite a possible mistake for a stonemason to make. The text is framed within a rectangle and there are ruled lines between the separate lines of writing. That's very authentic and also the actual shape of the individual wedges is very neatly done so that everything about that looks very good. If you compare it with well-established old Persian texts written on a stone tablet you can see that the actual shape of the wedges is exactly right and the way that the text is within a ruled border and with rules lines between is exactly correct.

NARRATOR: But it wasn't just the writings and adornments surrounding the mummy that were intriguing. Rhodugune as a person was a complete enigma. No one knew how, when and why she'd died. It became important to see what the body looked like inside the outer casing and there was only one way to do this without destroying the mummy. She had to be taken to hospital.

(ACTUALITY CHAT)

NARRATOR: For the first time they could see the body inside the mummy. So very little is written in the history books about Rhodugune and now finally they believed there was a chance to learn something about her. For them the X-rays would tell whether Rhodugune was a child or an adult when she died.

DR JEFFREY REES (Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi): This is the X-ray of a 16-year-old patient. At that time of age the pelvis is still growing and we can tell that because here we have an example of the growing end of the pelvic bone. You can see this white sliver of material which is sitting on top of this large bulk of bone here. This is referred to as an epiphysus. At the age of 21 that epiphysus reliably closes, therefore somebody who is younger than 21 will have an epiphysus. Here we have an X-ray of the mummy itself and we think that the epiphysus is closed and therefore this person at the time of death would be older than 21-25 years of age.

NARRATOR: Although only 4 feet 7inches, this was the body of a mature adult, but the X-rays couldn't penetrate cleanly through the gold mask and chest plates. To tell if she really had been mummified in the Egyptian way, with the internal organs removed, the mummy had to be put through a CT scan. The mummy was passed from head to toe through the scanner. For the first time they could see a clear cross-section of view through the inside of the body.

JEFFREY REES: Here we are in the thorax of the mummy and the first thing that you see is that there are no internal organs. Normally one would see the heart and the lungs on both sides. Where the lungs should be you can see this very high density material which we think is the mummification material which is lying on both sides of the vertebral body here.

NARRATOR: As he scrolled through images of the abdominal cavity, Rees discovered how the internal organs had been removed.

JEFFREY REES: They can see the skin of the front of the abdomen and similarly on this side here with a large aperture or hollow in between them. This is what we think is the incision in order to remove the internal organs, with a bandage falling down into it.

NARRATOR: The scan established that this was a ritual mummification. All the internal organs had been removed and the hands were crossed over the chest, in Egyptian mummies a distinguishing symbol of royalty.

ASMA IBRAHIM: When we saw no articles, nothing and she was, I mean perfectly mummified just like a mummy you know you could see she was stuffed with some sort of material in her stomach and she, there was no brain and the same gel-like material was stuffed in her brain as well, so we all knew that she is a mummy.

NARRATOR: If the mummified body of Princess Rhodugune really had been found then the history books would have to be rewritten. It meant that the Egyptians may not just have supplied stonemasons and goldsmiths to the Royal Court of Xerxes. Their mummifiers may have come here too. It meant that the Persian kings, queens and princesses may have been ritually mummified just like the Egyptians. This would have been a truly dramatic revelation. But instead of being a revelation, the whole story surrounding the mummy was about to unravel in a totally unexpected and horrifying way, for the mummy was eventually to reveal a terrible secret. Asma Ibrahim and her team had continued their investigation, but the more they looked the more they saw things that puzzled them about the way Rhodugune had been mummified. They wanted a second opinion, from a specialist in Egyptian mummification. Bob Brier has spent years researching how the ancient Egyptians mummified their dead by extracting the internal organs precisely and with the minimum amount of damage to the body.

BOB BRIER: The Egyptians were professionals in embalming so they had special tools and these were not guys who were just doing it. They had their own little tricks. The hardest part was undoubtedly removing the brain. It involved two separate tools. Now this is the first one. They would take this and put it through the nose into the cranium to get access to the brain. Then, once they've got the nasal passage opened up into the cranium, they take something like this and they put it inside the nose into the brain and they rotate it like a whisk and what they're doing is they're breaking down the brain so it liquefies and will run out through the nose.

NARRATOR: To get direct access to the brain through the nose the Egyptians mummifers had first to break carefully through solid bone.

BOB BRIER: I can show you an X-Ray, actually it's a CAT scan, that will illustrate how good the Egyptians were. They were very precise. This is the cranium here. The nose would be over here and the ethmoid bone, which is what they had to break through to get into the cranium, has been taken out. It's missing.

NARRATOR: This is the same perspective of the Pakistan mummy's head. The ethmoid bone remains unbroken. The brain must have been taken out another way.

BOB BRIER: You can see this is the area where they came in and broke through the palate coming under the chin all the way up breaking quite a few bones on the way through to get to the brain. It was a kind of non-surgical procedure, almost a brutalising of the mummy, so it's really quite different. Once the brain was removed, they would remove the internal organs. Now this was a crucial part because the internal organs are very moist and that's where bacteria act and that's where you'll get putrefaction where the body will start to decay, so you have to take out the internal organs quickly. Now to do that they made an incision in the abdomen. It's about three inches maybe right over here, real small incision. The Pakistan mummy looks quite different. What you've got here is your abdominal incision first of all, this is the abdominal incision here. It's larger, it's in a different place, it's running from the sternum about eight inches long which is quite different from the small Egyptian incision. In general the Pakistan mummy is less skilfully done.

NARRATOR: There was one other, and conclusive, difference. Something that is found in a mummified Egyptian was missing.

BOB BRIER: The only thing inside the body was the heart because they believed that you thought with your heart. They thought that the heart was the seat of intelligence. Now the heart had to stay in the body because when you got to the next world you'd have to be able to think and you'd have to be able to speak to say the magical spells that was going to reassemble your body.

NARRATOR: In the Pakistan mummy there was no heart. There was something not quite right about this mummy. Clearly it hadn't been made by ancient Egyptians and yet no other culture was known to preserve bodies in this way, so who had mummified this mysterious Princess? After weeks of detective work a disturbing truth began to emerge. The first shock came when Asma Ibrahim received Sims-Williams' final report on the cuneiform inscriptions. As well as the common errors expected of Ancient Persian artisans, there was another that he had never seen before. There was an error in the inscription 'I am the daughter of the great King'.

NICHOLAS SIMS-WILLIAMS: All Persian is an inflected language that has endings to show how the words relate to one another and the phrase 'of the great King Xerxes' all the words in that phrase ought to have had the so-called genitive ending to show the meaning of.

NARRATOR: This is how the Persian word for King Shiathiya is inscribed in cuneiform on the mummy's gold chest plate, but Sims-Williams saw that some symbols were missing.

NICHOLAS SIMS-WILLIAMS: The word for King, of the King, should have three extra letters at the end so it should have this, so that would be Shiathiyahya instead of Shiathiya. These three letters - h, y, a - they've just left out and so he just wrote 'I am daughter Xerxes great King' with none of the correct endings to show how those words fit together.

NARRATOR: But Sims-Williams had also discovered another error that not even the most ham-fisted of Xerxes stonemasons could ever have made. Rhodugune is a later Greek translation of the name Wardegauna, the original Persian name for Xerxes' daughter. By inscribing the cuneiform text for Rhodugune and not Wardegauna the carver had used the spelling from a later era.

NICHOLAS SIMS-WILLIAMS: That's really a fatal error because there's no way that an old Persian king would have had the name of his daughter inscribed in a Greek form.

NARRATOR: Sims-Williams was convinced that these inscriptions could not possibly be the work of the master stonemasons of the Persian Court. They must have been made later, after the Greeks had conquered Persia, and long after Rhodugune had died. These inscriptions were a fake. And there was more bad news. By now Asma Ibrahim had cleaned the wooden box and re-examined the carvings under a magnifying glass. Hidden away in the tiniest crevices tight up against the carved emblems of the rosette and the god Ahuramazda she made a startling discovery.

ASMA IBRAHIM: The most shocking thing which I came to see where the pencil marks which were so well marked on the coffin and they worked along the sides of the pencil marks. They were the chasings from somewhere. Most probably it was traced from a monument. That's why the rosette was in such a big size and the same thing for the Ahuramazda.

NARRATOR: Lead pencils were only invented 200 years ago, so this was clearly not the work of ancient artisans and then the carbon dating results confirmed that the mat the mummy lay on was made in the last 50 years. There was only one conclusion: everything surrounding the mummy was a fake. It had all been concocted in modern times to fool the art world and make money.

ASMA IBRAHIM: I thought that oh my God, what is this going on? I was disappointed. I didn't want to admit that she is a fake. Maybe I was emotionally attached to her.

NARRATOR: So the inscriptions and adornments on this magnificent mummy were modern forgeries. This was not Princess Rhodugune but there was a real body wrapped up inside. Asma Ibrahim thought that the forgers had found a genuine ancient mummy and dressed it up as a princess to increase its value, but the truly appalling nature of this fraud only began to emerge when the CT scans of the mummy were scrutinised in the minutest detail. The radiologists had spotted something curious about the tiniest bone in the body buried inside the inner ear.

JEFFREY REES: What we're looking at here is the bones of the ear. This is the external to the skull, so the sound enters the ear in this direction. In the middle ear which is this hourglass shape structure here, there are small bones called ossicles. Here we can see two of those ossicles held together by very delicate tendons and ligaments.

NARRATOR: In an ancient corpse it would be virtually impossible for these delicate tendons and ligaments to remain intact, even if it were mummified, and yet here they were perfectly intact. The disturbing conclusions was that this body could not be ancient. This woman must have died recently and then been mummified. It meant that someone with a knowledge of anatomy and an understanding of mummification techniques had taken a newly dead body and removed the internal organs and they had covered the body with chemicals and left it for a month to dry out. It seemed incredible, but someone had performed this gruesome ritual in the last few years and they had done it for profit, and that was just the beginning. This whole fraud was so complex and elaborate that it would have needed a whole team to carry it out. There would have been a goldsmith to beat out the mask and chest plate; a cabinet maker to create the carve the wooden box; and a stonemason to inscribe the stone coffin; and then there was the person who had learned the cuneiform text.

ASMA IBRAHIM: One person did the cuneiform. He was the expert of cuneiform writing, or maybe he knew it, maybe not an expert because there are mistakes there, so he knew cuneiform and one person who carved them because if I, even if I know cuneiform I'm not able to carve it somewhere you see, I'm not able to write it.

NICHOLAS SIMS-WILLIAMS: they could have used the standard edition of Old Persian Inscriptions by Roland Kent which contains a grammar, a word list, a table of all the signs. It contains everything in fact that you would need in order to create an inscription of this kind. It's a very standard work. This edition was published in 1953. There must be many copies in Iran.

NARRATOR: And behind the fraud there was the mastermind, an archaeologist perhaps, certainly a man with an expert knowledge of Persian and Egyptian history.

ASMA IBRAHIM: This person is a well read person, or must be a scholar.

NARRATOR: So who were these criminals and where did they come from? The first clue that would give a hint of the hoaxers' whereabouts was found in New Jersey. Last year, unknown to the Pakistan authorities, an Iranian called Amanollah Riggi, apparently an innocent middle man, sent off four Polaroid photos of the mummy. They arrived in New York at the Metropolitan Museum addressed to its expert on Near Eastern art. A few days later he got a phone call.

OSCAR WHITE MUSCARELLA: Said he had been recommended to me by a professor as an expert on Iranian and Achaemenian art and he said that he had access to an extraordinary discovery, a major mummy that had been found in Iran and he had a video of this and it was extraordinary, would I be interested?

NARRATOR: the Iranian middle man had approached one of the world's authorities in Persian art, but Muscarella was also the world's leading expert in spotting fake Persian art. He recognised in the mummy similar faults he'd seen in other forgeries from the same region. In this case they'd taken the real ancient figure of the God Ahuramazda carved out of rock and copied it onto the mummy's wooden box, but without some essential details.

OSCAR WHITE MUSCARELLA: He made two little open loops totally misunderstanding and therefore mis-representing exactly what was done. The hands are a lump, the beard is just jutting down. This could not have been by an ancient artist.

NARRATOR: Not only was it clear to Muscarella that this was a forgery, but he was sure that it had come from one of the major art faking centres in the world - Iran.

OSCAR WHITE MUSCARELLA: There's no doubt in my mind that there are more forgeries with the whole, in the course of Iranian art than from any other area of the ancient Near East and again these are people I think locally working and I have no doubt this was made in Iran.

NARRATOR: So the whole forgery was most likely to have been done in Iran, but the most disturbing question was: who was the woman inside the mummy, and where did she come from? For whoever masterminded this fake had first to find someone to mummify.

ASMA IBRAHIM: They must have brought the body from somewhere so I mean a body they can buy from anyone, I mean they are very, nowadays we find a lot of grave for looters, so they could buy a body. I mean they first plan everything, they collected all these people, or they hired them and then they went for a body and they quickly did the mummification.

NARRATOR: The timing was critical. In hot countries where a body can quickly decompose it would have to have been mummified within 24 hours, so with cold-blooded calculation the team of fakers had to prepare everything for the operation first: the lab, half a ton of drying chemicals, the resins, the bandages - these would all have to have been gathered and stored until they could take delivery of a body, but now new evidence began to emerge, evidence that showed that in their haste to secure a fresh body at exactly the right moment for mummification the forgers may have committed another, and more terrible, crime: they may have committed murder. Scanning through the body from head to toe, Jeffrey Rees had noticed that the spine was out of alignment.

JEFFREY REES: Here is a normal vertebrae. As we proceed towards the patient's feet you notice that these vertebrae are in a nice straight line and suddenly they're beginning to move forwards, abnormally forwards and there's significant disruption and then sometimes it looks like as if there's actually two vertebrae suggesting to us that there has been a significant distortion of the normal anatomy.

NARRATOR: The body in the mummy had received a violent blow to the lower spine. Her back was broken.

JEFFREY REES: it appears to be due to a blunt injury rather than a sharp injury. the vertebrae are also rotating. It suggests that the force would be from the patient's back and given that they're moving to the left then the force would be coming from the right.

NARRATOR: For the police the broken vertebrae had now raised the spectre of murder, but in order to prove it they had to look closely at the body itself. They needed an autopsy. the person they turned to was Professor Chris Milroy, one of the world's leading forensic pathologists. His job is to investigate the cause of death. He was invited to Karachi by the Pakistan authorities to do an autopsy on the body in the mummy.

PROF CHRIS MILROY (University of Sheffield): The evidence is very suspicious that this is a modern fraud and therefore the question is who is this person?

MAN: Was she murdered or something?

CHRIS MILROY: Well we have no proof at the moment of someone being killed. We don't know yet how this person came by their death.

NARRATOR: To find conclusive evidence for the police inquiry they would have to cut through the thick, hard surface layer of resin impregnated bandages, without contravening Muslim customs or damaging the fragile body inside. For Asma Ibrahim the destruction of the mummy's casing was immaterial. Her concern now lay only with pursuing justice for the victim. It took three hours to cut through the tough casing surrounding the body.

(ACTUALITY CHAT)

NARRATOR: When the back of the shell was removed the first thing they saw was a tuft of blond hair sticking through the bandages.

(ACTUALITY CHAT)

NARRATOR: Now they could see the body of the victim. The details of how this woman had been mummified became clear. Inside the mummy's shell where it could not possibly be seen, each of her limbs, each of her fingers had been bound again separately, as the Egyptians had done.

ASMA IBRAHIM: There is some chemical…

NARRATOR: When the bandages were removed they could see her hair was grey. Only the tips were blond.

ASMA IBRAHIM: Some chemical…

CHRIS MILROY: Well I suspect that that's what it is. She's got this blond hair which is (TALKING TOGETHER)

ASMA IBRAHIM: They are black here as well Chris.

CHRIS MILROY: Yes, with much darker hair and therefore that's why I think that the likelihood is that this hair has been modified by…

ASMA IBRAHIM: Some chemicals.

CHRIS MILROY: …some chemicals. It's essentially a bleaching process.

NARRATOR: With the outer casing removed they could see how the fakers had embalmed this woman. They had packed her body with drying chemicals - bicarbonate of soda and sodium chloride, common table salt and there was physical evidence of the terrible injuries that this woman had received - her broken spine.

CHRIS MILROY: There is a significant change in the orientation of the vertebrae so they're not going straight down as they should do. They become curved.

NARRATOR: then samples of bone and tissue were sent for carbon dating. The results show that this woman died in 1996. With the bandages and gold mask removed it was finally possible to get a clear scan of the victim's head and here suddenly there was a new revelation. These are the vertebrae of the neck rising from the body into the head. They should continue in a straight line, but they don't. At this point they veer off at a right angle. Her spinal column had been snapped in two. This was the cause of death. This broken neck could have been caused either deliberately or in a genuine accident after which this woman was buried and later dug up by the criminals. It was impossible to prove from the autopsy which of these had happened.

CHRIS MILROY: This could have been murder, but I think that the most likely explanation of how someone came by this body are that they dug up a recent, a freshly dead body. That is in my opinion the most likely. It is a crime, whether or not it was a murder, it's immoral, it's unethical and it is illegal.

NARRATOR: The evidence of a broken neck was enough to prompt the police to launch a murder enquiry. They have now decided to re-interrogate key witnesses in Quetta, the middle men who had tried to sell the mummy believing it to be genuine. The police hope this information will eventually lead them to the people responsible for this crime.

FAROOQ AWAN: It is confirmed that this is a murder case. We will register the case against Ali Aqbar, against Sardar Wali Reki. They will be arrested in this case, they will be re-interrogated, interrogated regarding the murder.

NARRATOR: But the police now have a double task. They have to find the murderer and they have to identify the victim. This is the face of the woman inside the mummy, the victim, the so-called Persian Princess. This image was generated by computer from her exact skull measurements and the known facial characteristics of women from the border region of Pakistan and Iran, her most likely home. It was from a place like this that she must have been taken and shockingly, since the autopsy, two more so-called Persian mummies have been offered for sale on the international art market for $6m. They too appear to have been ritually adorned and mummified in the same way. It is beginning to look like a production line and it raises the chilling possibility that hidden away in this wild border land is a mummy factory and the prospect of more victims.

ASMA IBRAHIM: Put the bandage over this. It's really shocking and is a cruel act of humanity to do this thing to some human being. I feel upset about it because they have damaged the sanctity of somebody in such a disrespectful way.

NARRATOR: Now all Asma Ibrahim can do is to give this woman the decent Muslim burial that she deserves, but she knows that this may not be the last victim in this extraordinary story.


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