Cursed? Museum's Egyptian Artifact Spinning On Its Own

Jun 27, 2013
Originally published on June 27, 2013 4:44 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We end this hour on a mystery.

At the Manchester Museum in England, behind a locked glass cabinet, there's a row of small ancient Egyptian statues. And one statue in particular - it's about 10 inches tall - is doing something unexpected and mysterious. It has been spinning in place, very slowly, turning so slowly that it took time-lapse photography over a week in April to show it making about a three-quarter rotation. It's made full rotations, though.

What's going on? Is it strange vibrations or something less mundane, perhaps a pharaoh's curse on grave robbers or someone pulling a fantastic stunt at the museum? Well, joining us to talk about it is Dr. Campbell Price who is the Egyptology curator at the museum, joins us now. Welcome.

DR. CAMPBELL PRICE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: I've seen the video. The statue is in a glass case with other statues. It's a figure of a standing man, three seated figures next to it. Only the standing figure has been turning?

PRICE: It has. It is a true mystery. It's in a sealed case. I have the only key, and it's got an alarm on it. So my colleagues are not playing a practical joke, I assure you.

SIEGEL: Didn't you blog earlier, though, I lied. Others do have a key to the case and...

PRICE: That's true.

SIEGEL: ...it's possible that someone is playing a trick?

PRICE: That's true. That's true. Our conservator has a key. But I doubt very much our conservator would trick me on this way.

SIEGEL: Now, there's one online video that reports to explain all this, a gentleman who goes by Mick. He says that if you look at the time-lapse photos, the statue only moves when people are walking around it, and therefore, he links it to the vibrations created by all that pedestrian traffic. Make sense to you?

PRICE: I think that's the most sensible and logical explanation, a combination of foot fall from visitors and traffic outside the museum.

SIEGEL: Tell us about the statue itself.

PRICE: The statue represents a gentleman we think - we're not quite sure of the reading of the hieroglyphics - of a man called Neb-Senu, and he lived around 1800 B.C. So he's about 3,800 years old. He would have been a high-ranking official. And ancient Egyptians wanted to be remembered after they passed away. And I don't think Neb-Senu could have had any greater publicity. He could not have dreamed...

(LAUGHTER)

PRICE: ...that he would get the attention he's getting now. So I think he will be happy in the Egyptian afterlife.

SIEGEL: Well, you face an interesting conflict as a curator, which is to say you could say, you know, this isn't very good. People come to the museum, and half of them will see the back of the statue, that seems to be the point.

PRICE: Sure. Yeah.

SIEGEL: Or you could say how could we possibly give this up? It's gone viral on the Web.

PRICE: Yes, it has, absolutely.

SIEGEL: So there would be certain pressures on you just to let the thing spin for a while longer.

PRICE: You're absolutely right, Robert, and I think it's the attraction to our visitors that we didn't want to simply put it back in place because since the story has become such a hit, we've got a lot more visitors to the museum. And if we attract some people that would never come in to a public museum and they get to look around about, then I think the statue has been a very good thing.

SIEGEL: Dr. Campbell Price, curator at the Manchester Museum in charge of Egyptology, thank you very much for talking with us about your spinning statue.

PRICE: Oh, thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.