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Rameses I

And his great North American advensture

 

Background information

Rameses I was the first pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. NOVA: The Mummy Who Would Be KingHe ruled from 1292 to 1290 B.C.

The mummy's origins: In the early 1860s, a Canadian doctor named James Douglas illegally took some artifacts from Egypt, including a number of mummies. He reportedly purchased one of the mummy's for the Niagara Falls Museum (Ontario, Canada)  for approximately seven pounds. The mummy is believed to have been stolen from a cache of royal mummies discovered in Deir el-Bahri near the Valley of the Kings in 1861, though this remains uncertain.

The Ontario museum: The doctor's goods became part of the Niagara Falls Museum and remained there until 1999. Among them was the mummy of Rameses I.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia struck it rich (archaeologically speaking) with its purchase of a collection of Egyptian artifacts from the Niagara Falls Museum. Included in the collection were nine mummies--one of which bore a striking resemblance to Seti I (the son of Rameses I). The mummy's pose was regal (arms crossed across the chest).

When Egyptian authorities realized that an American museum might be in possession of an Egyptian pharaoh, they asked the museum to return the mummy. Museum officials, however, wished to confirm the royal identity of the mummy.

 

What the research revealed

The researchers were able to determine that the mummy's pose is regal (arms crossed across the chest) and that the type of mummification process performed on the mummy would have been made during the time that Rameses lived.

A CT-scan revealed that the skull had been filled with molten resin (a substance reserved primarily for royalty). It also showed that the abdomen had been cut open, organs removed, tightly wrapped with rolls of linen inserted. (This type of incision and procedure was used during Rameses I's time.) His back showed signs of arthritis, and one ear was severely infected.Finally, the high cheekbones and other facial features resemble other members of Rameses I's family.

What researchers wanted to do was compare DNA samples from the mummy (possibly from an area in his mouth where a loose tooth resides) to samples from Rameses I's relatives (who are on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). Egyptian authorities denied this request, however. According to an article appearing at thetimes.co.uk:

While DNA testing might give some clues, the Egyptian authorities will not at present allow the vital comparative sampling from the royal mummies in the Cairo Museum. “It is not always accurate and cannot be done with complete success when dealing with mummies. Until we know for sure that it is accurate, we will not use it in our research,” Dr Zahi Hawass, of the Supreme Council of Archaeology, says. Whoever the Niagara mummy was, he will return to the land of his birth in at least temporary anonymity.

Japanese researchers who wanted to study the DNA of Tutankhamun were stopped. According to London's Sunday Times, Egyptian officials may have blocked such research, because "they feared Israel would use the tests to suggest the boy pharaoh was related to Hebrew patriarchs." 

The Museum finally invited Egyptian officials to the museum to see for themselves. The officials, however, have made it clear that all illegally exported mummies should be returned to Egypt, royal or not. "If this is Rameses I, then he is the greatest pharaoh not on his native soil and we would want both him and the other mummies back in Cairo. We want all stolen artifacts returned, and these were not exported legally," one official was quoted as saying in the London Sunday Times.

 

How he was returned in Egypt

In early 2002, a researcher from the American University in Cairo examined the mummy and concluded that it was likely to be that of Rameses I.

Negotiations between the museum and Egyptian authorities continued. The museum agreed to return the mummy of Rameses I after it was exhibited t the museum from April through September 2003.

"If George Washington's body were found abroad, we would certainly hope that it would be sent back to the United States," one museum official stated. "It is exciting to be collaborating more closely with our colleagues in Egypt and to be moving closer to the moment when we return the mummy to the people of Egypt and to have an opportunity to share an exhibition with visitors before its departure."

After the exhibit ended, Zahi Hawass, Director General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of the Egyptian government, delivered a speech at Emory University on October 22, 2003. During this visit, officials from the Carlos Museum held a ceremony in which Rameses I was officially returned to the Egyptian government. According to an article in an  online newsletter for the museum, "Several days after he speaks, Hawass will return to Egypt with a contingency of people from the Carlos Museum." Presumably, Rameses I will accompany this group.

In Egypt, the mummy of Rameses I has become part of the permanent exhibit in a special annex to the Luxor Museum. Along with Rameses I, Ahmose I is also included in the exhibit which aims to give visitors the military history and importance of Thebes (Luxor's former name). Rameses I is exhibited in Luxor, because, according to an Emory Museum official, he "was a general before he became pharaoh, and figures prominently into the [Luxor] museum's story."

 

What's special about Rameses I

Rameses I was the first pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty and ruled from 1292 to 1290 B.C. He was an army officer, the son of a troop commander named Seti,  and a close friend of the pharaoh Horemheb (who was heirless).

Apparently chosen by Horemheb to succeed him, Rameses reigned less than two years. His unfinished burial chamber indicates that he was buried rather quickly; his tomb was also robbed.

No one is certain when his mummy was removed, but it would have been taken from the tomb no later than 968 B.C. (when other mummies were moved for safekeeping).

Catherine Roehrig, the Egyptian curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, has said that Rameses "brought stability to the region and his family, especially his grandson, are probably the greatest kings mentioned in the Bible in the stories of Moses. That's why so many people are fascinated by the 19th dynasty."

 

Where to find more information about him

Archaeology published an article in the March/April 2003 issue by editor Mark Rose. The article is 8 pages long and features many photos, including one archival shot of James Douglas (who purchased the  mummy in Egypt originally). The article covers the issues very well and would be an excellent resource. 

KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt featured an article in the Winter 2000-2001 issue by Egyptologist Gayle Gibson about Rameses I and the other mummies that the Carlos Museum purchased from the Niagara Falls Museum.  Author Gibson reviews the history of the mummy and of the other mummies in the Niagara Falls Museum. Fourteen excellent photos accompany the article, including the one shown below. Highly recommended.

You can also read about Rameses I and see many photos of him at the Carlos Museum's website.