I love a mystery. But even more than a mystery, I love the solving of a mystery—especially an ancient mystery.
As a child, my imagination was fired by the tales of Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and the three nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) undertaking expeditions to find fabled lost civilizations and treasures. My favorite story was the discovery of the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Years later the comic adventure would inspire the blockbuster movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Unlike the gold-hungry Scrooge McDuck, however, it wasn’t the finding of treasure that fueled my imagination but rather the discovery of places and people lost to history. I longed one day to know the fate of the crew of the ghost ship Mary Celeste, the spot where Captain Kidd buried his fabled treasure chest, the location of the lost continent of Atlantis, and the identify of Jack the Ripper. I still do!
Recently two of my favorite historical mysteries may have been solved.
First is the possible identification of a previously unidentified mummy in KV55 (a burial cave in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings) as the so-called “Heretic King,” the Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV). Akhenaten’s brief experiment in monotheism so enraged the powerful priestly class that, after his death, evidence of his life and reign was thoroughly expunged. Many archaeologists feared that his mummy had been destroyed, an almost unthinkable desecration among the ancient Egyptians, taking with it possible physical evidence of the pharaoh’s rather unusual androgynous appearance. But recent tests on the unidentified mummy, including a CAT scan and blood typing, have revealed close familial ties with the mummy of Tutahkamen, Akhenaten’s son and successor. “The jury is still out,” says Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s ebullient Minister of Antiquities, “but it is certainly tempting to think that Akhenaten has finally been found (http://tinyurl.com/aovwved).” DNA tests, scheduled for this year, may finally put this mystery to rest. And solve the mystery of his odd appearance.
Then, just last week, the world received news that the skeletal remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, were found buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England. History tells us that Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, making Henry VII the first of the Tudor kings to rule England. Shakespeare, in his play Richard III, portrayed the king as a Machiavellian figure—a hunchback, “rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d”—who rose to power over the bodies of his rivals, including his young nephews, Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York (“the little princes”). Interestingly, the king’s skeleton showed severe trauma to the head, consistent with his reported war wounds, and a pronounced curvature of the spine (http://tinyurl.com/b6bfgpn). Whether Richard’s character was as bad as the Tudors claimed may never be known.
Some mysteries will remain forever hidden. At least until the day when all secrets are revealed and the contents of men’s hearts are made plain. Until then I say let’s keep digging ’em up. Let’s put the newest technology to use. And let’s keep writing about mysteries that will fire the imaginations of the next generation.