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Museum mystery: Spinning statue turns heads

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
June 25, 2013 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A figurine from an ancient tomb appears to move on its own
  • For decades it stood still
  • Museum officials set up a camera to observe it 24/7
  • Vibrations in the museum may be the cause

(CNN) -- The museum officials were stumped. A statue is supposed to stand still, not rotate all by itself.

But this one at the Manchester Museum seemed to have done just that. Turned around 180 degrees -- revealing an inscription on its back asking for beer.

No other figure in the display had moved -- nor had any other in the museum.

For the staff, it was a bona fide mystery. One that called for some serious sleuthing.

A simple statue

Spinning statue stumps museum officials

Statuette no. 9325 doesn't appear to go by any proper name. It's a prefabricated figure -- an off-the-shelf product -- that was placed into a small tomb around 1800 B.C.

A private collector in Britain donated it to the museum in 1933. The inscription on the back, requesting a sacrifice of beer, bread and animals, was a standard prayer for the deceased.

For decades, the figurine stood perfectly still -- until museum workers moved its case a few feet from its original position.

Turn, turn, turn

In February, curator Campbell Price noticed something curious was afoot.

The statue seemed to have slightly turned.

When he looked next, it was facing another direction. A day later, another.

The turns were subtle. But at the end of each day, you could tell the statue was angled differently.

Caught in the act

In April, museum officials installed a time-lapse camera that snapped an image of the statue every minute of every day for a week.

When they ran the images in fast motion, they came across a surprising revelation: the statue only moved during the day, when visitors were walking past.

It seemed, Price wrote, that vibrations caused by foot traffic in room was the culprit.

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Mystery solved?

Though officials now have a logical explanation, it still seems a bit mysterious.

"What is very strange is that the statue has spun in a perfect circle," Price said. "It hasn't wobbled off in any particular direction."

Some are in awe of the spirit nature of the figurine, and don't quite accept Price's explanation.

One of the blog's readers left his own theory for no. 9325's movements in the comments section: "The statue is cursed," wrote benabrahamse.

A museum guide has suggested saying a prayer for the statue.

But Price is unmoved.

"Most Egyptologists are not superstitious people," he said.

No one has bought the statue a beer.

After all, they don't want it wobbling.

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