x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A mummy's murder

A 3,100-year-old mystery reminds us that while history does not repeat itself, human nature does not change.

News travels slowly from ancient Egypt, but finally the evidence is in: CSI Heliopolis reports that Ramses III, who reigned from 1186 to 1155BC, was probably murdered.

There has been speculation about this for a long time. Records speak of a "harem conspiracy" staged by a secondary queen and her son, to kill the ruler and usurp the throne. The plot failed and the conspirators were put on trial. But did Ramses survive the coup attempt, or not? The exact crime scene is not known, the documents are confusing and nobody has been able to be sure. It was, after all, a rather long time ago.

But like the detective in a good television crime show, an international team of investigators went back to the primary evidence, and found what seems to have eluded centuries of scholarship: a slash in the pharoah's throat, all the way to the spine and seven centimetres wide. Murder! Maybe.

Since Ramses died, 31 centuries have gone by. How many rulers have been slain by rivals since then? What's most striking now is not the conspiracy, but the persistence of human ambition, competition - and perfidy. History may not repeat itself, but human nature doesn't change.