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Feature Christmas 2012: Yesterday’s World

Revisiting the harem conspiracy and death of Ramesses III: anthropological, forensic, radiological, and genetic study

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 17 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8268
  1. Zahi Hawass, egyptologist1,
  2. Somaia Ismail, professor of molecular biology23,
  3. Ashraf Selim, professor of radiology4,
  4. Sahar N Saleem, professor of radiology4,
  5. Dina Fathalla, molecular biologist3,
  6. Sally Wasef, molecular biologist5,
  7. Ahmed Z Gad, molecular biologist3,
  8. Rama Saad, molecular biologist3,
  9. Suzan Fares, molecular biologist3,
  10. Hany Amer, assistant professor of pharmacology6,
  11. Paul Gostner, radiologist7,
  12. Yehia Z Gad, professor of molecular genetics2,
  13. Carsten M Pusch, molecular biologist8,
  14. Albert R Zink, paleopathologist9
  1. 1Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt
  2. 2Department of Medical Molecular Genetics, National Research Center, Cairo, Egypt
  3. 3Ancient DNA Laboratory, Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt
  4. 4Department of Radiology, Kasr Al Ainy Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt
  5. 5Learning Resource Center, Kasr Al Ainy Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, Egypt
  6. 6Department of Animal Reproduction, National Research Center, Egypt
  7. 7Department of Radiodiagnostics, Central Hospital Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy
  8. 8Institute of Human Genetics, Division of Molecular Genetics, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  9. 9Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, European Academy, 39100 Bolzano, Italy
  1. Correspondence to: A R Zink albert.zink{at}
  • Accepted 12 November 2012


Objective To investigate the true character of the harem conspiracy described in the Judicial Papyrus of Turin and determine whether Ramesses III was indeed killed.

Design Anthropological, forensic, radiological, and genetic study of the mummies of Ramesses III and unknown man E, found together and taken from the 20th dynasty of ancient Egypt (circa 1190-1070 BC).

Results Computed tomography scans revealed a deep cut in Ramesses III’s throat, probably made by a sharp knife. During the mummification process, a Horus eye amulet was inserted in the wound for healing purposes, and the neck was covered by a collar of thick linen layers. Forensic examination of unknown man E showed compressed skin folds around his neck and a thoracic inflation. Unknown man E also had an unusual mummification procedure. According to genetic analyses, both mummies had identical haplotypes of the Y chromosome and a common male lineage.

Conclusions This study suggests that Ramesses III was murdered during the harem conspiracy by the cutting of his throat. Unknown man E is a possible candidate as Ramesses III’s son Pentawere.


  • We thank the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt for their generous support of this study.

  • Contributors: ZH, SI, YZG, CPM, and ARZ designed the study, analysed the data, and drafted the manuscript. AS, HA, SNS, and PG did the radiological and forensic data analysis. DF, SW, AZG, SF, and RS provided and analysed the molecular data. All the authors reviewed the final version of the manuscript. ZH, AZG, CPM, and ARZ had full access to all of the data in the study, and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. ARZ is the study guarantor.

  • Funding: This study was supported by Discovery Channel and Brando Quilici productions and the Landesgraduierten-Förderung Tübingen. The writing of the article and the decision to submit the article for publication was entirely independent of the funder. The funder had no input into the study design or analysis, nor the interpretation of data.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: support from Discovery Channel and Brando Quilici productions and the Landesgraduierten-Förderung Tübingen for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any companies that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Data sharing: No additional data available.

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