ow this royal mummy came to be purchased, restored, and identified as a pharaoh by Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum before being returned to Egypt is an unlikely tale that involves tomb robbers, ocean voyages, a somewhat undignified sojourn in Niagara Falls, and some high-tech detective work.

Born in the Nile delta city of Avaris in approximately 1350 B.C., Pa-Ramessu was the son of a judge and troop commander who rose through the ranks of the military to become the most trusted adviser of the army commander Horemheb, who assumed control of Egypt at a time when the royal family was in disarray and the country had been torn apart by religious reforms. Horemheb, who had no heir, appointed his confidante to be king upon his death. Pa-Ramessu assumed the royal name Ramesses, meaning “eternal is the strength of Ra, Ra has fashioned him.” Ra, the sun god, was the most powerful deity in the Egyptian pantheon.

Already nearly sixty years old when he became king in 1293 B.C., Ramesses I ruled the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt from Luxor, formerly the Greek city of Thebes, for just two years. Still, he begat one of the most illustrious dynasties in Egypt’s New Kingdom—the Nineteenth Dynasty. The best known of the Ramesside line is Ramesses I’s grandson, Ramesses II (“Ramesses the Great”), whose reign lasted almost seventy years and whose dominion stretched from modern-day Sudan to Syria.

After his death in 1291 B.C., Ramesses I was interred in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, burial site for most rulers of the New Kingdom. Around 900 B.C., the royal mummies were relocated to a secret cache hidden in the cliffs for safekeeping. There they remained until the mid-nineteenth century, when tomb robbers discovered them and began selling off the mummies and their treasures.

In 1860, Quebec physician and world traveler James Douglas was in Luxor as a representative of the Niagara Falls Museum, buying mummies and artifacts for display. In writing about the trip, Douglas makes reference to the purchase of an exceptionally high-quality mummy “in double cases, for Mr. Barnett, of Niagara Museum, for seven pounds.”

For the next one hundred and forty years, this mummy and several others held court at the Niagara Falls Museum in Ontario, where in their prime they attracted thousands of visitors, including such dignitaries as Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and Theodore Roosevelt. The museum later became the Niagara Falls Museum and Daredevil Hall of Fame and moved into an old corset factory, where the mummies took their place beside such curiosities as the skeleton of a humpback whale, Japanese armor, the trunk of a giant redwood, a preserved two-headed calf, and barrels used by thrillseekers who rode them down the falls. In 1999, facing declining crowds, the museum decided to close up shop.

Tipped off by Canadian colleagues that the Niagara Falls Museum might be interested in selling its Egyptian collection, Carlos Museum curator Peter Lacovara paid a visit to Ontario. In addition to ten mummies and nine coffins, Lacovara discovered canopic jars, jewelry, bronze sculptures, amulets, relief fragments, and other high quality funerary art.

“I’d heard rumors about this collection for years,” says Lacovara, an Egyptologist and the museum’s curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art. “It was amazing to see how many artifacts there were—and how beautiful they were.”

Said then-museum director Anthony G. Hirschel, “The quality is such that it would put the Carlos on par with the great collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.”

The asking price was two million dollars. Faced with a deadline of just seven days to amass the funds, museum officials turned to the public for help in a campaign that played out in the pages of the Atlanta Constitution. The community’s response was immediate and generous. Kindergarten classrooms broke open their piggy banks; people walked into the museum with ten dollar bills to “help buy the mummies.” The largest single donation, $1 million, was given by Fidelity Bank President Jim Miller and his wife, Emory alumna Karina Lichirie Miller ’61C. At week’s end, $1,725,000 had been raised—enough to secure a commitment from the collection’s owner to sell the antiquities to Emory. By the summer of 1999, the 145 artifacts from Niagara Falls were purchased for the full price and became part of the Carlos Museum’s holdings as the Charlotte Lichirie Collection of Ancient Egyptian Art, named in honor of Karina Miller’s mother.

A team led by Carlos conservator Thérèse O’Gorman spent two years painstakingly repairing and restoring the mummies, coffins, and other artifacts. In 2001, the Lichirie collection became the centerpiece of the museum’s newly expanded Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern galleries.

“It's all very exciting,” said Karina Miller, who fully approved of returning the mummy to Egypt if he turned out to be royalty. “It's certainly a departure from normal museum conduct, to be giving something away.”

For years, scholars had suspected that the Niagara Falls collection’s five-foot, five-inch male mummy was a king. In the 1980s, German Egyptologist Arne Eggebrecht visited the mummy in Ontario and, after viewing the style of mummification and hearing the story of its purchase in Egypt, suggested that the unwrapped body might actually be that of a New Kingdom pharaoh. With the mummy in Atlanta, Lacovara and other experts had the chance to study it up close, with all the high-tech resources a major research university could offer.

“The remarkable state of preservation and the care with which it was made indicated that this was no ordinary mummy,” Lacovara said. “And the prominent hooked nose and high forehead were characteristic of the Ramesside line.”

Radiocarbon dating placed the mummy’s origins in the era that included Ramesses I’s rule. X-rays showed a large mass of costly resin in the mummy’s skull, an indication of high-status embalming. Also, the mummy’s arms were crossed over its chest in a posture reserved for royal mummies. Computed tomography scans by Emory’s Department of Radiology allowed a “virtual” tour through the body, without damaging the mummified remains (to view, go to www.carlos.emory.edu/ RAMESSES). DNA tests, which could have provided the ultimate proof, were deemed too destructive and too unreliable to be undertaken. The evidence was largely circumstantial—yet persuasive.

Even Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council on Antiquities, who was initially quite skeptical about the odds of a pharaoh being discovered outside Egypt, is now convinced that the mummy is definitely royal and most probably Ramesses I. “When I came to the museum in May, I was ten feet away, and I felt he was a king,” said Hawass, who in addition to being Egypt’s head archeologist is also a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence. “When I saw him, I was sure.”

More than 115,000 museum-goers had a similar opportunity to see the mummy last summer at the Carlos Museum and form their own opinions. When the exhibition “Ramesses I: The Search for the Lost Pharaoh” closed on September 14, preparations for the royal mummy’s return to his homeland began.

“We felt all along that if an investigation did prove his identity as one of the great pharaohs of ancient Egypt, it was only fitting and proper that he rejoin the others in Cairo,” Lacovara said. “We’re happy to see him go back.”

>>> Emory repatriates Ramesses I



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