The world’s weirdest mummy mysteries from ‘curse’ and amputated toes to ‘Adidas’ shoes

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
June 30, 2023

Mummies from across the globe date back as far as 7,000 years ago. But while some mysteries have been solved, others remain objects of curiosity and wonder. Here we look at six of the strangest

Ancient mummies have been fascinating people for centuries and inspired many tales and movies – but they don’t just come from ancient Egypt.

There are examples all over the world and the oldest, the Chinchorro mummies from Chile, date back 7,000 years.

But now archaeologists say the bodies buried in the Atacama Desert are being exposed by increased wind and rain from climate change.

Meanwhile, there remain plenty of other mummy mysteries to be uncovered. Here we lift the lid on some of them.

The Mummy of Ramses II (Image: De Agostini via Getty Images)

The Pharaoh’s curse

It is nearly 100 years since British archaeologist Howard Carter found the long-lost tomb of Ancient Egyptian “Boy King” Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

But, soon after his astonishing find in 1922, stories arose the Brit and his team had unleashed the fabled Curse Of The Pharaohs, as many of those ᴀssociated with the dig ­appeared to die.

His financial backer, Lord Carnarvon, pᴀssed away from an ­infected mosquito bite weeks after entering the tomb and his dog dropped ᴅᴇᴀᴅ too.

By 1929 some 22 people involved had died, including the man who X-rayed King Tut’s mummy, from a mysterious illness, plus an American millionaire shortly after a visit to the site.

The tomb of Tutankhamon was found in 1922 (Image: Getty Images)

Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was convinced that the supernatural was at work.

Some scientists suggested bacteria from the tomb was responsible, but sceptics said the deaths were simply­ ­coincidence. Carter, who died aged 64 in 1939, called talk of a curse “tommyrot”.

But in 2021 the blocking of the Suez Canal by the cargo ship Ever Given, a fatal train accident and fires across the country were blamed on the curse as they coincided with a procession of 22 mummies from one museum to another.

The missing mummies

King Tut, who ruled Egypt between 1332 and 1323 BC, died aged 20 but just how has puzzled historians.

A lost piece of skull suggests he may have been ­murdered, while other theories include everything from malaria to a chariot accident.

Where his own actual mummy lies also remains a mystery. Queen Neferтιтi (possibly his step mum) was the beautiful wife of and co-ruler with his father Akhenaten.

But while many mummies of Tut’s relatives have been found, the tomb of Neferтιтi, who mysteriously disappeared from the records before her death in around 1340, remains elusive.

Adding to the puzzle is that when ­archaeologists found Akhenaten’s tomb his mummified body was missing. One bizarre theory was that he was moved in a cover-up over his alien origins.

A portrait of an Egyptian Queen, thought to be Neferтιтi (Image: Alamy Stock PH๏τo)

The screaming mummy

In 1886, archaeologists made a chilling discovery while working at the Deir el-Bahari mortuary temples in Egypt – a mummy with a fixed scream, as if they had died in agony.

It was buried near other ancient royals, but while they were found in white linen this body was bound in leather and sheepskin and left with its internal organs – a sign they had been considered “unclean”. For years experts were baffled as to how “Unknown Man E” had perished, speculating he had been poisoned.

But recent analysis of marks on the mummy’s neck suggests hanging. Adding to the intrigue is that DNA taken from its tooth revealed that the mummy may have been Pentawere, the son of the pharaoh Ramesses III.

Pentawere is believed to have been ­involved in a plot to murder his father in 1155BC. Weirdly, Ramesses’ own body did not apparently show any wounds until a CT scan of his mummy in 2012 revealed a slit to his throat and that a big toe had been cut off.

But many questions about just how the pair died and how the “scream” came about remain unanswered.

The ‘Screaming Mummy’ otherwise known as ‘Unknown Man E’ (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

‘Adidas’ trainers

A weird mummy was found some 10,000 feet up in Mongolia’s remote Altai ­mountains back in 2016.

Archaeologists identified it as a woman who had died more than 1,000 years ago and the body had been well ­preserved thanks to the low temperatures.

What made the discovery so strange was she appeared to be wearing a pair of shoes very similar to red Adidas trainers with the brand’s distinctive three white stripes.

Experts say she died, aged between 30 and 40, from a mystery head wound.

Her shoes are similar to Adidas trainers (Image: The Mongolian Observer/The Cente)

The cocaine mummies

When the remains of Pharaoh Ramesses II, who ruled Egypt between 1279 and 1213 BC, were analysed in the 1970s ­scientists made startling findings in the mummy’s fabric.

They showed evidence of cannabis, cocoa and tobacco. Analysis of other mummies from the era even turned up ­cocaine inside their bodies.

These substances were all from plants in the Americas not discovered by Europeans until Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. Cross-contamination was ruled out, leaving the bizarre possibility that somehow there had been trade ­between the continents 3,000 years earlier.

‘Alien’ mummies

Six unusual mummified bodies from the 5th century were found in 2017 inside a tomb in Nazca, Peru.

They had three fingers and elongated heads, leading some to say they were proof of aliens. Dr Konstantin Korotkov from Saint Petersburg University, claimed the features might well be of “another creature, another humanoid”.