Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Egypt's Missing King Volume 59 Number 3, May/June 2006
by Mark Rose

Egyptian bagpipers playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" outside the Cairo Museum? It sounds improbable, but it did happen. The mummy of Ramesses I, ruler of Egypt circa 1298-1296 ("Mystery Mummy," March/April 2003, and "New Life for the Dead," September/October 2001) found in a museum in Niagra Falls, Canada, along with a two-headed calf and pig? Where it was viewed by Abe Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and P.T. Barnum? Yes, that, too, might have happened.

Final Report

You'll find this mix of science, mystery, and the weird in "The Mummy Who Would Be King," a newly released DVD version of a Nova special that traces the mummy's strange journey and argues that it is Ramesses I, whose coffin was found in 1881 without his remains (WGBH Boston Video, $19.95).

During hard times in the 1990s, the Niagara Falls Museum sold its holdings to a Canadian collector of ethnographic objects who then put the Egyptian antiquities on the market. Curator Peter Lacovara of the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta purchased the lot, including seven mummies.

Canadian Egyptologist Gayle Gibson recalls how she had noted one of the mummies had crossed arms, often considered an indicator of royalty though it was also seen later in Egyptian nonroyal tombs. She showed the mummy to Bristol University's Aidan Dodson, a specialist in such things, and he was immediately convinced it was royal. Another expert, Salima Ikram, is shown examining it, ticking off clues: no onion eye replacements, only a small incision on the abdomen, the genitalia wrapped separately, and resin in the ears. It's not a late mummy and it's high quality. Who could it be?

Could it be Ramesses I? Dodson sums it up: he can't say definitively, but it probably is. And Egypt's chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass--who initially rejected the possibility that it was a pharaoh on the lam--admits that he was wrong and graciously accepts the mummy as Ramesses I while the bagpipes play.

Mark Rose is executive editor of ARCHAEOLOGY

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© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America