Egyptian mummy cold case closed: 'Takabuti' was stabbed to death

The remains of Takabuti, a woman who was murdered 2,600 years ago in Egypt.
The remains of Takabuti, a woman who was murdered 2,600 years ago in Egypt. (Image credit: Ulster Museum)

It took 2,600 years to crack the case, but Egyptologists have finally determined how a curly haired, elite woman from ancient Thebes met her untimely end. 

The 20-something-year-old Takabuti was murdered in a violent knife attack, researchers announced today (Jan. 27), on the 185th anniversary of the mummy's original unwrapping, in 1835, according to a statement from The University of Manchester in England. 

An analysis of Takabuti's mummified remains revealed more of her secrets. She had two rare conditions; an extra tooth (33 instead of 32), and an extra vertebra, the researchers said. 

Related: Photos: Mummies and Figurines Discovered in Ancient Cemetery at Luxor 

Who was Takabuti?

Although Takabuti was from ancient Thebes (today's Luxor), her mummy got caught up in the intense Egyptian mummy trade that followed the Napoleonic Wars. When Thomas Greg, a wealthy Irish man, acquired her remains in 1834 and brought them from Egypt to Belfast, Takabuti was the first known Egyptian mummy to reach Ireland.

At the time, Egyptologist Edward Hincks deciphered the hieroglyphics on the mummy case, according to Stair na hÉireann, a site detailing Ireland's history. Hincks found that the woman had been named Takabuti and that at the time of her death she was married, in her 20s and had been the mistress of a great house in Thebes. Hincks' translations also revealed that the woman's father was a priest who served Amun, the sun god.

"There is a rich history of testing Takabuti since she was first unwrapped in Belfast in 1835," Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums Northern Ireland, said in a statement. In recent years, Takabuti has undergone scans with X-rays and CT (computed tomography), hair analysis, and radiocarbon dating, the latter of which showed that she lived around 660 B.C., at the end of the 25th dynasty.

The most recent tests included a DNA analysis and further CT scans. Both revealed unexpected results, the researchers said. 

What they found

The DNA analysis showed that Takabuti was more genetically similar to Europeans than to modern-day Egyptians, the researchers said. 

The CT scans revealed that her heart, which hadn't been located until now, was intact and perfectly preserved. These scans also disclosed her violent death: Wound marks showed that Takabuti had been stabbed in her upper back, near her left shoulder.

"It is frequently commented that she looks very peaceful lying within her coffin, but now we know that her final moments were anything but and that she died at the hand of another," Eileen Murphy, a bioarchaeologist at Queen's University Belfast's School of Natural and Built Environment, said in the statement. 

Related: Mummy Melodrama: Top 9 Secrets About Otzi the Iceman

In particular, the CT scans showed that "Takabuti sustained a severe wound to the back of her upper left chest wall," Dr. Robert Loynes, a retired orthopedic surgeon and honorary lecturer in The University of Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, said in the statement. "This almost certainly caused her rapid death."

The other findings are just as important, the researchers added.

"The significance of confirming [that] Takabuti's heart is present cannot be underestimated, as in ancient Egypt this organ was removed in the afterlife and weighed to decide whether or not the person had led a good life," Ramsey said. "If it was too heavy, it was eaten by the demon Ammit and your journey to the afterlife would fail."

The new analyses also shed light on life in Egypt during the 25th dynasty, said Rosalie David, an Egyptologist at The University of Manchester. "This study adds to our understanding of not only Takabuti, but also wider historical context of the times in which she lived: The surprising and important discovery of her European heritage throws some fascinating light on a significant turning point in Egypt's history," David said in the statement.

The research team — which includes scientists from National Museums Northern Ireland, The University of Manchester, Queen's University Belfast and Kingsbridge Private Hospital — is now writing a book about its findings. 

The public can see Takabuti's mummy for free in the ancient Egypt gallery in the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.

  • PHSmith
    First unwrapped (contaminated),1835. Considering 80+% dust is shed human skin cells. It's highly likely contaminated with almost two centuries of "euro-dust" contact.
  • Runesmith
    PHSmith said:
    First unwrapped (contaminated),1835. Considering 80+% dust is shed human skin cells. It's highly likely contaminated with almost two centuries of "euro-dust" contact.

    Researchers who analyze DNA samples presumably know what they do for a living, so let's give them the benefit of doubt before making snarky comments. Making sure that the sample site is uncontaminated is the first rule of DNA analysis in forensics, and I am sure the researchers applied it here as well. In a specimen as old as this, most of the DNA would already be broken down, and the only places where it could still be preserved would be hair follicles and bone tissue. Both these sample locations are extremely unlikely to be contaminated (unless by intention).
  • Inigo123
    The manner of her death fits in well with the history of the time. During the the 7th c BC Egypt was conquered by the Asssyrians who replaced the rule of the Kushite pharaohs with their own puppet. After the Nubian king Tantamani recaptured Egypt and killed him the Assyrians returned in force and defeated his army at the Delta. They then marched south and sacked Thebes no doubt slaughtering many civilians in the process. The stab wound looks very large so perhaps the 'murder weapon' was an Assyrian sword?
  • Dvrmte
    PHSmith said:
    First unwrapped (contaminated),1835. Considering 80+% dust is shed human skin cells. It's highly likely contaminated with almost two centuries of "euro-dust" contact.
    In the last several years new methods of extracting DNA, decontaminating, and interpreting ancient DNA. Max Planck Institute. the FBI, DHS, have DNA tested Egyptian mummies and they all conclude that they had Eurasian ancestry. That's hundreds of samples they've processed from several different areas and time periods in Egypt. The oldest mummy found in Egypt has red hair and is obviously Caucasian.
    Actually there have been recent DNA studies that show sub-Saharan Africans had no part in peopling North Africa, including Egypt and the Sahara Desert when it was green for the 40,000 years of its settlement. North Africa was peopled by Caucasians with Eurasian DNA."The interpolation analyses and complete sequencing of present mtDNA sub-Saharan lineages observed in North Africa support the genetic impact of recent trans-Saharan migrations, namely the slave trade initiated by the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century. Sub-Saharan people did not leave traces in the North African maternal gene pool for the time of its settlement, some 40,000 years ago."
  • Shaun3701
    PHSmith said:
    First unwrapped (contaminated),1835. Considering 80+% dust is shed human skin cells. It's highly likely contaminated with almost two centuries of "euro-dust" contact.
    Dust doesn't contain DNA lol