Once and Future Pharaoh
September 2003, a most unusual shipment from Atlanta Georgia will
arrive in Egypt. A king will be coming home. Three thousand years
after his death, and over a hundred since he was taken from his
native land to sojourn at Niagara Falls, Ramesses I will be landing
at Cairo airport.
I was the founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, father of
Seti I, and grandfather of Ramesses II, often called Ramesses
the Great. After ruling only two years, around 1291 BC, Ramesses
I died and was buried in his unfinished tomb in the Valley of
the Kings. Within four hundred years of the burial, his body had
been moved from his sarcophagus to a replacement coffin, and taken
for safety (and other reasons), from the royal necropolis. Though
the complete itinerary cannot be traced, his mummy certainly rested
in temporary locations before priests and officials in the reign
of Sheshonk II of the Twenty-Second Dynasty found what they hoped
would be an eternal resting place for him. By 890 BC, they had
sealed the replacement coffin into a tomb high in the cliffs above
Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri.
Solar Barque from KV 16
1817, Giovanni Baptista Belzoni opened Ramesses I's original tomb,
KV 16. Wooden guardian figures and strange images of underworld
deities greeted the explorer, and beautiful paintings from the
Book of Gates decorated the walls of the burial chamber, but the
king's mummy was not there. His fate was completely unknown until
1881, when Emile Brugsch, acting head of the Antiquities Service,
entered the tomb in the cliffs, DB 320. An amazing array of royal
mummies, including Seti I and Ramesses II lay in replacement coffins,
crowded into a long undecorated corridor, stripped of their gold.
Fragments of Ramesses I's replacement coffin were found, but where
was his body?
are many chapters in the story of the life and afterlife of Ramesses
I. One is the tale of a family of local guides on the West Bank
who had found the cache of royal mummies sometime between 1860
and 1871. After the Abd el Rassul family had explored the tomb,
they began selling the contents.
To avert government intervention, the
family were careful to sell only a few artefacts at a time.
Their agent was Mustapha Aga Ayat. Mustafa was a wise and hospitable
man worthy of his own book. As well as serving as Vice-Consular
Agent at Luxor for Britain, Belgium and Russia for over forty
years, he and his son dealt in antiquities. Around 1860, they
sold a mummy and coffins to a Canadian, James Douglas Jr. Douglas
(centre left) was buying Egyptian antiquities for his friend
Sidney Barnett. Barnett and his father, Thomas, owned and operated
a Museum in Niagara Falls. They wanted to add an Egyptian component
to their attraction.
DB 320 was finally located and cleared by Service des Antiquites
in 1881, only the damaged replacement coffin containing some loose
bandages remained of the burial of Ramesses I. The mummy had probably
been moved into a set of more durable, attractive, and saleable
coffins. Any identifying documentation which had survived from
Ancient times was lost. Neither Mustafa nor Douglas would have
had any way of identifying the mummy, nor even of suspecting that
he was royal. As of this writing, there is no proof that Ramesses
I was the mummy Douglas purchased. The circumstances of the purchase
are suggestive, but not conclusive.
the next hundred and twenty years or so, the royal mummy became
part of the story of the Niagara Falls Museum. This privately
owned museum was a real cabinet of curiosities, filled with treasures
and trifles from a dozen cultures. Along with eight other Ancient
Egyptians, mastodon and whale skeletons, two-headed calves and
collections of minerals and weapons from all over the world, Ramesses
crossed the Niagara River from Canada to New York State, and then
back again as the creation of national parks appropriated the
Museum's prime locations. The mummies were sometimes displayed
inside their coffins and sometimes beside them. During the collection's
relocations, some of the bodies and coffins got mixed up. The
final stop was a former corset factory on the Canadian side, with
a wonderful view of the American Falls. While the mummies were
in Niagara Falls, many enthusiasts and scholars looked at the
handsome mummy with the Ramesside profile and wondered if he might
be one of the missing kings of Egypt. Finally, in 1999, the whole
Egyptian collection was purchased by the Michael C. Carlos Museum
of Emory University, Atlanta.
Falls: The Coffin & Mummy of Ramesses I
of the most interesting chapters in the tale of Ramesses I concerns
the investigation of the mummy from the Niagara Falls Museum by
a team at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University in
Atlanta Georgia, led by Dr. Peter Lacovara, Curator of Ancient
Art. You can follow Dr. Lacovara and his team as they continue
to study the mummy of Ramesses I and the rest of the Niagara Falls
Collection at the Michael C. Carlos Museum website and in the
Museum's beautifully illustrated catalogue.
the story of Ramesses I will end with his triumphant return to
Egypt and the city that he ruled as Waset, modern Luxor. This
essay will attempt to fill in some of the earlier parts of the
story, and tell of a solider named Pa-ramessu who rose to become
Vizier of Egypt and, eventually, King Ramesses I.
© Odyssey, Adventures in Archaeology.