Sunday, January 6, 2008

Blast From the Past: The Saga of the Persian Princess

UPDATES The plot thickens. Since our January/February issue went to press, there have been additional developments in the case of the princess mummy. Kristin Romey follows the trail. November 26, 2000: Taliban's Information and Culture minister Qudratullah Jamal announces that smugglers have confessed to finding the mummy in the southwestern Afghan province of Nimroz, on the Iranian border, before taking it to Pakistan. Citing the "good evidence" provided by the unidentified smugglers, Jamal insists at a press conference that "this property of Afghanistan should be returned to its people." Italian archaeobotanist Lorenzo Costantini angrily denies telling Iran's official news agency IRNA that he believed the mummy belonged to an ancient Persian royal family. "I never gave an interview to any Iranian journalist...I shortly talked on the telephone with an Iranian woman of the IRNA office at Rome," Costantini told Internews. "During the talk, I told her that the name of Xerxes was mentioned in the [coffins'] inscriptions...she asked, 'Who's he?' This small comment reveals the degree of knowledge of the person I was speaking to," he said. Preliminary results from a CT scan performed on the mummy at Karachi's Aga Khan Hospital indicate that the mummy is of a 20- to 21-year-old woman. Her death may have resulted from a broken spine. Radiocarbon dating of the mummy and her coffin is expected to be complete by the third week in December. November 28, 2000: Pakistani customs officials seized a cache of 12th- through 16th-century Balochi jewelry, valued at over $10 million, on a bus outside of Quetta. Smugglers were allegedly bringing the jewelry, from Quetta to Karachi for shipment abroad. November 30, 2000: Advocate Khalid Ahmed of the Balochistan High Court slams Karachi police for removing the mummy from the Baloch capital of Quetta, and blames the National Museum and an "Islamabad-based archaeologist" for their "thoughtless statements" that the mummy did not originate from within Pakistan's borders. Ahmed, a local social worker, insists that "any professional archaeologist" could prove that the mummy was excavated from the remains of an ancient settlement called Galuga in the Kharan district, approximately 400 miles southwest from Quetta. December 14, 2000: Pakistani English-language newspaper The Dawn features a small article titled "Museum keeps mum on mummy's fate": "After so many statements issued about the mummy...there is now a lull. Aga Khan Hospital sources confirmed that museum authorities have been given the CT scan report but the same has not been made public by the museum officials. This has created many doubts about the status and authenticity of the mummy." January 4, 2001: IRNA reports that an Iranian "expert delegation" has been dispatched to Pakistan to determine the origin of the mummy and states that if the delegation proves it is of "Iranian origin," its restitution will be negotiated via diplomatic channels. The report adds that "the mummy was already pronounced by a majority of archaeological experts as being of Iranian origin," quoting the nonexistent "interview" with hapless Italian paleobotanist Constantini once more. January 14, 2001: Citing the presence of of petrochemicals and detergents on the body, as well as pencil marks on the wooden coffin, a delegation from Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization (CHO) visiting Karachi declares the mummy a fake, according to IRNA. The delegation also notes that the inscription on the mummy's breastplate was authored by a person "not well familiar with ancient Iranian script and languages." A CHO analysis of the mummy's CT scan leads them to determine that the body belonged to a 21-year-old woman who was mummified no more than two years ago. Her organs were apparently removed and the cavities filled with powder. The report observes that "Despite efforts by Pakistani authorities to keep the room temperature constant to prevent the corpse from decomposing, it is nevertheless decaying fast." "Certainly, the finding is not a mummy," says Iranian archaeologist Mirabedin Kaboli, although he declared the corpse to be of "Iranian origin."And the Iranian government wants it back. "Since the beginning, Iran reserved the legal right to own the 'fake' or 'genuine' mummy and take it back through legal means in case sufficient evidence were obtained," says CHO legal expert Younes Samadi. IRNA claims that Pakistani archaeologist Ahmad Hasan Dani confirms the CHO's position. "I am satisfied with the findings of the Iranian team and support its views about the originality of the mummy," he allegedly states. The news agency also took the time to berate the hapless Constantini for his false conclusions. A Times of India article, however, reports that Pakistani authorities will wait for the results of unspecified tests being performed by German experts before they accept the CHO's conclusion, according to Saleem-ul-Haq, director of Pakistan's archaeology department. "I have also read in the newspapers that the mummy is a fake, but we have our own methods and we have to be sure about it," he said. Results were expected by the end of January, according to the article. April 17, 2001: Pakistan's National Museum curator Asma Ibrahim has issued an 11-page report declaring the mummy a fraud, and possibly a murder victim. Stay tuned for an update in the pages of ARCHAEOLOGY Magazine which will coincide with the premiere of a BBC documentary on this fantastic story. © 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America

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