The Case of the Spinning Egyptian Statue: Solved

Photo: Screen capture/Manchester Museum

An ancient statue in a British museum was caught on camera mysteriously turning in its locked display case in June. The footage mystified many and made international news. According to an article in the “Manchester Evening News:”

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 B.C., 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.

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• ”Maybe the statue has a material component that reacts to the rotation of the earth.”

• ”Perhaps there is magnetism that eventually turns it to face north or south? Pulled based upon the position of the sun/moon?”

• ”Magnetics are a possibility — some rocks have crystalline structures which can store charge.”

• ”It seems to only be turning while exposed to sunlight. It doesn’t move at all when it’s dark.”

• ”It’s releasing some kind of gas and being on glass it’s enough to let it rotate.”

• ”It seems to turn at a uniform rate whenever the lights are on. Could the transformer for the lights be causing a vibration at just the right frequency?”

• ”The sacred geometry of a pyramid creates a natural swirling vortex of energy that beams out of the top…. Perhaps this statue is emanating the same energy that pyramids do. If it’s sitting on a very clean, polished surface, it’s possible that energy is just enough to spin in it around slowly.”

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For each explanation — notably including the one that turned out to be correct — counter-arguments and counter-evidence was offered. Earlier this week, a scientist finally found the definitive explanation. As a BBC News report explained:

Vibrations expert Steve Gosling placed a specialist three-axis sensor under Neb-Senu’s glass cabinet to record its movement over 24 hours. The sensor revealed traffic and footfall vibrations at busy times of the day, such as 18:00 GMT and 07:00 GMT, caused the statue to rotate.
Mr. Gosling, of 24 Acoustics engineering noise consultancy, said: “The vibration is a combination of multiple sources so there’s buses outside on the busy road, there’s footfall activity.” Movement ceased overnight. “There’s a lump at the bottom which makes it more susceptible to vibrations than the others which have a flat base,” Mr. Gosling added.

This investigation, done on behalf of a myth-busting British television show, confirmed what many scientists had long suspected. In fact that exact explanation appeared six months ago in a Discovery News analysis of this mystery shortly after it happened:

“If the object is placed on a smooth surface 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.”

Now that the mystery has been definitively debunked, some are reacting with dismissals such as “So what? It was obvious,” or “Anyone could have figured it out.”

However as with many mysteries, the real value in investigation and research is in separating the truths from the myths, the valid theories from the invalid speculation. After a scientist or investigator has put in the time and effort into conclusively solving a mystery, it’s easy for armchair skeptics — and believers — to talk about how simple the solution turned out to be.

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