An Egyptian woman who was mummified with her mouth wide open may have died of a heart attack.
The mummy was discovered in 1881 at Deir el-Bahari, a tomb complex near the city of Luxor.
The name “Meritamun” was written on her wrappings but archaeologists still aren’t sure who she was as there were several princesses with that name in Ancient Egypt.
Meritamun was short (just under 5 feet tall) and her teeth were full of cavities, with some molars having rotted down to stumps.
A recent CT scan of her corpse has found widespread atherosclerosis — deposits of fatty plaque in the blood vessels.
This new discovery has led Egyptologists to believe she may have died of a massive heart attack sometime in her 50s.
However atherosclerosis can also cause strokes or a fatal blockage of a brain blood vessel, so her cause of death isn’t certain.
Some experts believe the reason her mouth was left open is because she died alone and wasn’t found for several hours by which time rigor mortis had begun, setting her jaw open in a frozen scream.
However others are sceptical of the theory as mummification took up to 70 days and rigor mortis lasts just a few hours.
“It is far more likely that the wrappings around the jaw were simply not tight enough to hold the mouth closed, as it does tend to fall into an open position if left to its own devices,” Andrew Wade, a mummy researcher at Western University, told Gizmodo.
It’s not uncommon for Egyptians to have been mummified with their mouths open because the jaw ligaments relax after death. While wrappings would typically hold the mouth close, they often loosen over thousands of years.
Meritamun was found alongside another “screaming mummy” which has been identified as Pentawere, son of Ramesses III, who was forced to commit suicide after taking part in a plot to assassinate his own father, the pharaoh.
Pentawere, whose mouth was also left open, was shoddily mummified, wrapped in a sheepskin rather than linen and his organs were not removed.
In contrast, Meritamun was given a thorough mummification which leads experts to believe she did not die in disgrace like Pentawere.
However her body was preserved in an unusual position with her legs bent and crossed at the ankles, lending further evidence to the theory that she wasn’t found until hours after her death.
The researchers will publish their findings in a forthcoming issue of the Egyptian Journal of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine.