November 3, 2003

Ceremony marks Ramesses’ return home

By Eric Rangus

Almost 150 years after it was removed from Egypt by a collector, the mummy believed to be Ramesses I was returned to its homeland following a gifting ceremony at Hartsfield International Airport, Friday, Oct. 24.

The ceremony, complete with musical accompaniment and a large Deed of Gift displayed on an easel, took place in an airport conference room crowded with television cameras at 2 p.m.

Leading the Egyptian delegation was Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council on Antiquities. He was the first to sign the deed and did so with great flourish. His signature was about the size of a football.

"I’m not sure I’m going to sign quite like that," quipped Carlos Museum Director Bonnie Speed, whose signature was a bit more understated.

And with that, the deed was done.

The Delta flight carrying the mummy departed at 5 p.m. first for Rome, then on to Cairo where Ramesses I and his traveling companions, which included media and representatives from Emory and the Egyptian government, were met with great fanfare.

The ceremony on this side of the Atlantic was also impressive. Ramesses I left the Carlos Museum in a large crate covered by an Egyptian flag earlier that morning. At the airport, the gifting ceremony began with two songs from Atlanta’s international youth chorus Harmony and featured comments from several of those in attendance, including Hawass, Speed, Georgia Congresswoman Denise Majette, President Jim Wagner and Carlos Egyptologist Peter Lacovara. Speed and Lacovara were among the Carlos representatives making the trip.

"This moment will be engraved in history," said Hawass, who has traveled the globe lobbying for the return of antiquities to his homeland. As part of his comments, he triumphantly related the story of replacing several pieces taken from the tomb of Seti I (Ramesses I’s son), which previously had been in the Carlos Museum’s collection.

Hawass, an internationally known archaeologist, spent several days in Atlanta and spoke earlier in the week to a crowd of more than 500 in Glenn Auditorium.

"The Carlos Museum, Atlanta and America have given us a gift," Hawass said. "Not a small gift, but a big one."

And one that Emory was happy to present. In 1999 the museum purchased the complete Egyptian art and artifacts collection of Canada’s Niagara Falls Museum. Even before the purchase was made, there was discussion among experts about the possibility that the collection’s centerpiece mummy was royal.

A combined effort by museum scholars and doctors in Emory Hospital’s Depart-ment of Radiology led experts to believe that the mummy in question was the patriarch of one of ancient Egypt’s greatest dynasties, which ruled more than 3,000 years ago.

Upon this discovery, the Carlos Museum offered to return the mummy to Egypt—but not before throwing a months-long celebration. Ramesses I was the featured guest of a record-setting exhibit that drew more than 115,000 before closing in September. Even after "Ramesses I: The Search for the Lost Pharaoh" closed, Emory was able to host such distinguished speakers as Hawass.

While possessing an Egyptian pharaoh could be a boon to a museum, returning him to his homeland was never a question, Wagner said upon stepping to the podium.

"Emory understood it to be a discovery for the world, which allowed us to do the right thing and return it to its homeland and people," Wagner said.

After display in Cairo, the mummy’s final resting place will be in the Luxor Museum. On the wall will be the Deed of Gift signed just prior to the final leg of his long journey home.