Ramses I, the search for the lost pharaoh

In the 1980s, German Egyptologist Dr. Arne Eggebrecht visited the Niagara Falls Museum and Daredevil Hall of Fame. Upon seeing this mummy and hearing the story of its purchase in Egypt, he was the first to suggest that the unwrapped body might actually be that of a New Kingdom pharaoh. Eggebrecht's identification was based on knowledge of the history of the royal mummies, and a thorough knowledge of the changes in mummification practices throughout Egyptian history.

Many Egyptologists have commented on the uncanny resemblance of this mummy to the descendents of Ramesses I, which, luckily, are among the most well preserved of the mummies that survive from the New Kingdom. Though this evidence is more anecdotal than scientific, the resemblance of this mummy to the mummies of Seti I (son) and Ramesses II (grandson) is compelling. In particular, the noses of all three kings are especially prominent, with a pronounced bridge. The nose of Ramesses II was even packed with seeds and a small animal bone during mummification to preserve its shape.

When the mummy came to Atlanta, the resources of Emory University made it possible to continue the investigation into its identity from the inside. Continuing a tradition of using medical imaging to study Egyptian mummies that is almost as old as the X-ray machine itself, in March of 2000 the body was taken to Emory University Hospital where a team of radiologists, lead by Dr. William E. Torres, examined it using X-ray and computer tomography (CT) imaging technology.

Hundreds of images were taken of the mummy, which were used to compile a three-dimensional reconstruction of the body. These images have fascinated Egyptologists and medical doctors who have lent their expertise to interpreting them.

Though X-rays, CT scans, and three-dimensional reconstructions of Egyptian mummies often reveal incomplete procedures and shoddy workmanship, the images of the Carlos mummy confirm that he was embalmed with the care and skill appropriate for a high-status or royal individual in the New Kingdom.

The most important indication of the royal status of the mummy is the position of the arms, which are crossed right over left on the chest.

The arms of Predynastic mummies were bent at the elbows with the hands covering the face. Throughout the Old and Middle Kingdoms bodies were mummified with their arms at their sides, sometimes with their hands covering the pelvic area. The crossed-arm position is not generally found until the New Kingdom when it is reserved for royal males. The mummy's left hand is clenched, and probably held a royal scepter, now lost.

During the New Kingdom, the nails of royal mummies and other high-status individuals were often hennaed. Though the nails of Ramesses I have not been analyzed for traces of henna, they are a distinct deep orange color.

The toes of the Carlos mummy may also indicate a high-status mummification. If the toes are left alone during the mummification process, they typically will curl together as they are pressed by bandaging, as shown in the X-ray image of the feet of another mummy in the Museum's collection. The toes of the mummy believed to Ramesses I are separated or splayed.

They were probably wrapped separately and covered with toe stalls. Toe stalls, like the ones worn by Tutankhamen were caps, often made of gold, which covered the toes in order to prevent these delicate extremities from breaking. These were a burial luxury reserved for persons of wealth or status, including royalty, and were probably stolen from this body in antiquity.

The embalming incision on the left side of the body helps to date the mummy to the New Kingdom. This incision was made during the mummification process to allow the embalmers to remove the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines of the deceased. Like the position of the arms, the placement and angle of the embalming incision changed over time. Before the l8th Dynasty, the incision was vertical, along the side of the belly. Beginning in the late 18th Dynasty and continuing into the 19th, the incision was made diagonally across the body, like that of the Carlos mummy, from the hipbone to the pubic area, close to the thigh. Axial CT scans of the body provide a clear view of the incision and the linen wrapping that covers the mummy's pelvis, as well as linens that were inserted deep into the incision.

The incision may have been stitched or sealed with resin. Both methods of closure were used until the 20th Dynasty when stitching became the norm. Because of the layer of resin and linen that coats the entire body, it is not possible to tell which method was used to close the incision on the mummy of Ramesses I. Samples of the resin coating were sent to the Scientific Research Lab at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where they were analyzed by Dr. Richard Newman, Head of Scientific Research. The samples were analyzed for their organic components using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). A mixture of organic compounds was identified, including vegetable oil and two types of natural resin, Pistacia and a conifer resin, possibly pine.

Ancient Egyptians considered the heart to be the center of the soul and the source of all knowledge. The heart was supposed to be left in place during mummification so that it could be weighed against the feather of truth in the final judgment. Though this was the ideal, it was not always the reality. It was a difficult task to remove all the other internal organs through an incision in the lower abdomen and leave the heart in place. Less expensive mummifications, if they included evisceration at all, often resulted in the careless or accidental removal of the heart along with the other organs. In the event that the heart was removed, a protective heart amulet was placed within the linen wrappings near the place where the heart should be. CT images of the mummy of Ramesses I clearly show that his heart remains in place, indicating the high quality of the mummification process.

Also visible in the CT image, and in a video flythrough composed of multiple CT scan slices, are long, tightly-rolled bundles of linen that would have been placed inside the empty body cavity to absorb moisture and maintain a natural human shape against the pressure of the wrappings and adornments. The linen would have been soaked in resin, which was believed to have disinfectant properties. Resin, which was an expensive material used lavishly in other royal mummifications, was also poured into the body cavity filling it about half way.
Resinated linen rolls were also placed in the mouth, throat, and rectum, evidence of the high quality of this particular mummification procedure. Similar rolls of resinated linen were found in the mummy of Seti I.

Since the functions of the mind were believed to be centered in the heart, the ancient Egyptians saw no need to preserve the brain for the afterlife. Ideally, the brain was removed and discarded. But just as lower status mummifications often resulted in the careless or accidental removal of the heart, the brain was frequently left in place, as here in a CT image of the mummy of Ta-hasat from the Carlos Museum's collection. The cribiform plate (the roof of the sinuses), which would have been broken in order to remove the brain, remains intact.

In the mummy of Ramesses I, the brain was carefully removed leaving an empty skull cavity. The cribiform plate has clearly been broken. A long metal tool would have been inserted through the right nostril to break the cribiform plate and then gyrated to liquefy the brain matter. Once the skull was drained of the liquefied brain matter, it was then filled approximately halfway with resin. A video flythrough, constructed by compiling multiple CT images, follows the path of the metal tool, as it would have entered the right nostril and moved upward through the broken cribiform plate to remove the brain.

Medical imaging also provides clues as to the age of the mummy and a suggestion for a possible cause of death. In analyzing a lateral x-ray of the mummy's spine, Dr. Heidi Hoffman, a former radiology resident at Emory now practicing in Chicago, observed signs of bone degeneration that indicate that the individual was at least 45 years of age or older.

Dr. Hoffman also pointed out the destruction of the temporal bone and mastoid air cells near the right ear. Although these images do not provide a certain diagnosis, this type of bone erosion and coalescence of air cells can be seen in cases of chronic mastoiditis, an inflammatory condition usually due to chronic ear infections. Easily treated with antibiotics today, such a condition 3,000 years ago could have developed into intracranial or widespread infection possibly resulting in death.

Though it may never be possible to know with one hundred percent certainty, the physical evidence observed both directly and with the aide of sophisticated imaging technology, combined with the Egyptological information regarding the burial of Ramesses I in the royal cache and the body's journey out of Egypt to Atlanta, supports the attribution of this mummy as a high status or royal body, probably the body of Ramesses I.


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