An ancient Egyptian statue has spooked museum bosses — after it mysteriously started to spin round in a display case. The 10-inch tall relic, which dates back to 1800 BC, was found in a mummy’s tomb and has been at the Manchester Museum for 80 years. But in recent weeks, curators have been left scratching their heads after they kept finding it facing the wrong way. Experts decided to monitor the room on time-lapse video and were astonished to see it clearly show the statuette spinning 180 degrees – with nobody going near it.
What’s going on? Because the piece is in a museum display about ancient Egypt, some have suggested a curse or ghost. It is certainly mysterious: If the video is to be believed — and there’s little reason to doubt it — then the statue is indeed moving independently inside a closed case, untouched by human hands.
A few clues about the nature of this mystery movement can be gleaned from the video and suggest another explanation. First, note that the video is a time-lapse covering about a week. Though at first glance it seems to turn both day and night, a closer look reveals that it almost always turns when people are present. Second, contrary to descriptions of the statue as “spinning,” it doesn’t actually spin at all but instead rotates once about 180 degrees, or a half-turn. This also means it’s turning very, very slowly.
A Scientific Explanation
The favored scientific explanation is simply that the statue is rotating in response to vibrations from museum visitors. Without closely examining the base of the statue it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on, but the most likely explanation is that the base bulges out very slightly, creating a convex surface. It doesn’t need to be obvious, or even noticeable — just a millimeter or two of a protruding bump somewhere near the middle of the piece is enough. This is common in hand-crafted items such as those made of wood, stone, plaster and other materials not cut to perfect right angles on modern machinery.
Usually this bump on the bottom remains unnoticed or is ignored. But in some rare cases, if the object is placed on a smooth surface (glass in this case) with very little friction to hold it in place — and unless the glass case, and the floor underneath it, is perfectly level — the statue will turn. As with the bump on the bottom of the statue, the tilt does not need to be noticeable to be effective. The statue is housed in an ordinary glass museum case, not a laboratory platform scientifically calibrated to maintain perfect level and resist vibrations. This would also explain why the statue rotates on its axis, turning more or less in one spot instead of wandering around the display case like a lost child looking for its mummy.
The fact that the statue merely rotates half a turn is important because it conforms exactly to what we’d expect if it’s simply shifting its weight in response to vibrations. If this is the correct explanation — and it certainly seems far more likely than a ghost, a curse, or even a cursed ghost — then the phenomena will stop because the statue has found its lowest center of gravity. If the security camera catches the statue completing its turn back to its original position, then this explanation can be ruled out.
Though museum visitors are the most obvious source of vibrations, there are others, including those that occur after hours and at night including closing doors, traffic from a nearby road, and possibly even micro tremors which happen routinely around the world but which are so slight that seismometers are needed to detect them.
Some have questioned the vibration explanation, asking why the other statues in the same display case don’t rotate the same way. Perhaps their bases are either flat or concave, preventing the figures from rotating. But there’s another clue: Close observers may notice something else different about the one moving statue as compared to its three stationary cousins: It is much taller. This means that the cursed statue has a high center of gravity and thus is less stable than the others, if only slightly.
Let’s be honest: If the mysterious action truly is caused by a supernatural phenomenon, it’s pretty lame. In centuries past ancient curses used to be serious business, allegedly causing serious illnesses, accidents and even the sort of violent deaths you might see in a “Saw” or “Final Destination” movie. These days they can’t do more than rotate a statue a few centimeters each day.
Radford, Benjamin. 2013. “Mysterious Mummy Statue Spins on Its Own”. Discovery News. Posted: June 24, 2013. Available online: http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/mysterious-cursed-museum-statue-puzzles-crowd-130624.htm