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July 8, 2002

Royal mummy will return to Egypt

By Allison Germaneso Dixon

Emory’s mysterious “royal mummy” is going home. Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass has accepted the Carlos Museum’s offer to return to Egypt a male mummy that scholarly evidence suggests is that of the missing pharaoh Ramesses I, the founder of the famous line that included Seti I and Ramesses II (The Great).

Since the museum acquired the mummy as part of a large collection of ancient Egyptian art and artifacts purchased from the Niagara Falls Museum in Canada in 1999, it has been the Carlos’ intent to return the mummy to its rightful place as a goodwill gesture from the citizens of Atlanta.

The mummy will be the centerpiece of an exhibition, “Ramesses I: Science and the Search for the Lost Pharaoh,” to be held at the Carlos beginning May 3, 2003. Upon conclusion of the exhibition, the museum’s Egyptologist, Peter Lacovara, will join with Hawass and others to present the mummy to Egypt with appropriate fanfare and celebration.

“At the beginning, I compared this to finding George Washington’s body abroad—certainly, we would hope [Washington’s body] would be sent back to the United States,” Lacovara said. “It is exciting to now be collaborating more closely with our colleagues in Egypt, 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.”

The mummy was purchased in the 1860s in Luxor, Egypt, by a broker for the Niagara Falls Museum. It was roughly the same time that a famous cache of royal mummies at Deir el-Bahri was discovered by the Abed el-Rassul family and was partially sold off without the knowledge that it was the burial place of Egypt’s most fabled pharaohs. In the 1980s German Egyptologist Arne Eggebrecht examined the mummy in Niagara Falls and suggested it could be one of the missing royal mummies.

The position of the mummy’s arms (crossed over the chest) was reserved for royal mummies until the Late Dynastic Period (525–343 B.C.). The careful treatment of the body and other details of the mummification, however, suggest an early date, as does radiocarbon dating of the mummy, which places it in the New Kingdom (1570–1070 B.C.), the era of Ramesses I (1293–1291 B.C.). Perhaps the most compelling of all the evidence is the physical resemblance of this mummy to the features of Seti I, the son of Ramesses I.

Emory Hospital’s Department of Radiology conducted CT-scanning, revealing elaborate mummification techniques, including copious amounts of resin in the skull, a practice usually lavished only on royal mummies. Visiting scholars included James Harris, a physician who has X-rayed all the royal mummies in the Cairo Museum, and mummification expert Salima Ikram, professor at American University in Cairo and a renowned authority on mummification. Each found the evidence compelling.