In June, the social media world began buzzing when a time-lapse video from the Manchester Museum in Manchester England was released, depicting an Ancient Egyptian statue physically rotating on its own.
(courtesy of Cavendish Press)
Although much research has subsequently been done looking into reasons why the statue might be spinning, scientific or magical, let’s start from the very beginning (I hear it’s a very good place to start.)
The statuette was donated to the museum in 1933 by Annie Barlow, a mill owner from Bolton who sponsored archaeological digs in the great era of discovery—King Tut’s tomb being discovered only a decade earlier by Howard Carter. Nothing is known about the specific tomb that the statuette came from, but by examining the figurine’s hieroglyphic inscriptions, it is possible to decipher a few bits of information about the tomb’s owner. From the statue’s shoulder-length wig and knee-length civil-service kilt, it is gauged that the tomb owner, named Neb-Senu, was a senior civil servant. Little is known about Neb-Senu other than that he was a man of means, given the quality of the 10 inch tall serpentine statuette created as a place for his ka, or spirit, to live when his body had passed into the afterlife. Neb-Senu is thought to have died around 1800 BC, and the inscription requests offerings of beer, beef, and a fowl—a standard prayer in Ancient Egyptian funerary texts.
(courtesy of Campbell Price)
The statue has been housed at the Manchester Museum for 80 years, and was brought to the global stage after Campbell Price, the curator of the Egyptian Artifacts at the institution, noticed that the statue had been moved from its original position. This continued for multiple days, sparking the interest of Price. In order to formally investigate, he returned the statuette to its original position in a locked glass case and set up a camera to film the time-lapse video that has since become an internet sensation.
Scientists have taken many different approaches to explaining the self-spinning statue. Some attribute the movement to the vibrations in the room caused by foot traffic, due the revelation that the statuette only moved during the day, when visitors were present. Other experts claim that “differential friction” is the culprit, but even then, some kind of force must be exerted on the statue for it to move. In fact, all of the scientific explanations have major flaws. For example, on one occasion, the statue moved 45 degrees in 90 minutes when there were no visitors or staff members in the chamber. And, even more oddly, the statue has rotated in a perfect circle without “wobbling off” in any other direction while none of the other statues in the case, most notably on the same shelf, have shifted at all.
Other possible explanations state that it is simply the individual placement and character of the statue itself, that a magnetic force is working on the figure, or that the spirit of Neb-Senu himself has returned to his ka statue and waiting for offerings to be brought.
Unfortunately, the spinning of the Neb-Senu statue may remain a mystery for all eternity due to museum renovators being forced to move the case from its current location. But before they do, perhaps someone should give Neb-Senu the beer he’s been requesting for over 2000 years?