Ramesses II’s lost sarcophagus was hidden in plain sight, research suggests

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A sarcophagus discovered in 2009 in an Egyptian burial chamber came with a complicated history: Ancient writing on the stone container showed that it was used twice, but while the second occupant, the 21st dynasty high priest Menkheperrê, was known, the first owner was known. still a mystery – until now.

New clues emerged as a result of Frédéric Payraudeau, associate professor of Egyptology at the Sorbonne University in Paris, re-examining a fragment of the granite sarcophagus and deciphering the hieroglyphs engraved on it. Placed in the cartouche, an oval-shaped ornament often found in tombs, he found the name of a recognizable figure: Ramesses II.

Payraudeau said the inscription is evidence that the artefact originally came from the famous pharaoh’s tomb and was reused after being looted.

“Obviously, this was the king’s sarcophagus,” said Payraudeau. “The cartouche dates back to its first use, and contains the throne name of Ramesses II, Usermaatra. He was the only pharaoh who used this name during his time, leaving no doubt that it was his sarcophagus.”

The results, published in the journal Revue d’Égyptologie, add to the legend of Ramesses II, also known as Ozymandias and one of Egypt’s most famous pharaohs. It also fills a gap in our understanding of how sarcophagi were used to bury kings.

Fit for a king

Ramesses II was the third king of the 19th dynasty, and his reign was — from 1279 to 1213 BC. — the second longest reigning king in Egyptian history. He was famous for his victorious military campaigns and interest in architecture, which led him to commission important monuments and statues of himself. His mummy is at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo.

Another coffin of Ramesses II was discovered in 1881 near Luxor, but the sarcophagus fragment analyzed in the study was found in Abydos, a city about 40 miles (64 kilometers) to the northwest in a straight line.

“That is not less than it seems,” says Payraudeau, “for we know that his tomb was burned in ancient times, perhaps two hundred years after his death, and it is certain that he was not the only king to destroy it.”

The granite fragment, which is almost complete from the far side of the sarcophagus, was previously believed to belong to a prince. “But this was always strange, because the decoration on this carefully crafted piece was a sign of a king, and features were traditionally reserved for kings,” said Payraudeau.

Psusennes I reused this sarcophagus that once belonged to Merneptah, the son and successor of Ramesses II.  The lid of the sarcophagus is above.  The reuse of funerary goods helped to link later rulers to the New Kingdom period of Ramesses II, which was considered to be the glorious age of Ancient Egypt.  - Frédéric Payraudeau

Psusennes I reused this sarcophagus belonging to Merneptah, son and successor of Ramesses II. The lid of the sarcophagus is above. The reuse of funerary goods helped to link later rulers to the New Kingdom period of Ramesses II, which is considered to be the glorious age of Ancient Egypt. – Frédéric Payraudeau

Another clue that points to the true origin of the piece, according to Payraudeau, is that its second owner, the high priest Menkheperrê, had an older half-brother who was the pharaoh, Psusennes I. The second owner reused a sarcophagus from the River Valley. . Kings – one of none other than Ramesses II’s son and successor, Merneptah.

The reuse of funerary goods served a dual purpose, according to Payraudeau. On the one hand, it was according to frugality during a time of economic crisis, but it also connected the subsequent rulers to the period of the New Kingdom of Ramesses II, which is considered to be the glorious age of ancient Egypt.

Protection from looting

If this fragment is confirmed to be part of the funerary items of Ramesses II, the king was left in three nested sarcophagi, Payraudeau said. The first was probably made of gold, like Tutankhamun’s, but was lost during early looting. Traces of the second sarcophagus were found as alabaster fragments during restoration work carried out on the pharaoh’s tomb in the 1990s. The two sarcophagi would be inside an even larger stone sarcophagus, the source of the Payraudeau granite fragment found.

“This also tells us when pharaohs started using more than just a stone sarcophagus,” Payraudeau said. “In the time of Ramesses I, we only see one, but Ramesses II’s successor already had four stone sarcophagi to provide more resistance to looting, which was becoming widespread. It was weird going from one to four directly – now we’re two to four, which is a more logical progression.”

The fragment is still in a storage room in Abydos, Payraudeau said, but he has notified Egyptian authorities of the discovery and said he hopes it will be moved to a museum.

The result was widely praised by researchers in the same field who were not involved in the work.

Joann Fletcher, an Egyptologist and professor in the Department of Archeology at the University of York in the United Kingdom, called it a great detective work that shows how the story of ancient Egypt is still evolving with new discoveries and interpretation.

“The final find is also very interesting, with Ramesses’ sarcophagus not only reused but at some point moved to Abydos, then considered Egypt’s most religious site and the spiritual home of the Egyptian kings,” said Fletcher.

Jean Revez, professor of history at the University of Quebec in Montreal, agreed. “Payraudeau’s reading of the cartouche appears to be correct and the similarities it promotes with the sarcophagi of another 19th dynasty king, Merneptah, son and successor of Ramesses II, are relevant.”

The coffins of New Kingdom pharaohs were always enclosed in stone sarcophagus boxes, often made of granite, but no trace of Ramesses II or his father Seti I has been found until now, according to Peter Brand, professor of Egyptology and ancient history at University. of Memphis.

“This suggests that they were both ‘recycled’ by later Egyptians,” Brand said.

It’s no wonder, he said, that Ramesses II’s stone sarcophagus was eventually removed — after his tomb was robbed and his mummy safely placed in a secret treasure tomb — and that a high priest would later find the This highly prestigious subject is on loan to him. self burial. He argued that the Egyptians had a special understanding of the ownership of ancient monuments and considered this recycling a “fair use”.

“Dr. Payraudeau’s detective work in locating Ramesses as the original owner is a significant and important discovery,” said Brand, “and a textbook example of the ‘forensic’ type of study of erased or altered inscriptions by Egyptologists, including myself, – to understand the situation. the complex history of ancient artifacts and gain a better understanding of the long and colorful history of ancient Egypt.”

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