Skip to main content

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.

Mysterious structure found at bottom of ancient lake

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.

Faithful flock to 'bleeding' Virgin Mary statue

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
The U.S. has promised to supply and train "acceptable" rebels in Syria to counter ISIS. But who are they and are can the strategy work?
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0916 GMT (1716 HKT)
Branded an "extremist" by China's state-run media, Joshua Wong isn't even old enough to drive.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0655 GMT (1455 HKT)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised political pundits with his rapid rise to power. CNN meets the man behind the enigma.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Liverpool's Italian forward Mario Balotelli reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Liverpool and Ludogorets Razgrad at the Anfield stadium in Liverpool on September 16, 2014.
British police launched an investigation into abusive tweets sent to Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2344 GMT (0744 HKT)
A woman who was texting her husband before he was killed reflects on the Westgate attack.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1049 GMT (1849 HKT)
British PM David Cameron has had the narrowest of political escapes.
The burial leader. The hospital gatekeeper. The disease detective. All telling powerful, stories from West Africa.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
The real secret to a faster commute has been with us all along -- the bus.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
13 brands retained their Top 20 status from last year, according to an annual survey.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
Think your new tattoo is cool? Look at how our ancestors did it and think again.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT