U.S. Museum to Return Ramses I Mummy to Egypt

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
April 30, 2003

View a photo gallery of the royal mummy. Go >>

A 3,000-year-old mummy that many scholars believe is ancient Egypt's King Ramses I is the star attraction of an exhibit at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta that will run from April 26 to September 14.

How the mummy came to reside in North America for 140 years, and wound up in Atlanta, is a tale that includes the collapse of law and order in ancient Egypt, grave robbers, stolen antiquities, a two-headed calf and a five-legged pig, the wonders of modern science, and an international gesture of good will.

The royal mummy will make its final journey home this fall, part of a gift from the people of Atlanta to the people of Egypt. Tuesday, museum officials presented Zahi Hawass, general director of Egypt's Supreme Council on Antiquities, with four fragments of painted limestone relief that are part of the tomb of Seti I, son and successor of Ramses I.

"By returning these items to Egypt, the museum is doing something no other museum has done before and should set an example for museums all over the world," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. "This is being done at a time of great destruction of antiquities and emphasizes the great importance of our cultural heritage."

The royal mummy and four fragments are part of a 145-piece collection of mummies, coffins, and artifacts the Carlos museum purchased in 1999 from a tacky museum in Niagara Falls that also featured a "Freaks of Nature" exhibit.

"There was never any question about whether the mummy would be returned to Egypt if it proved to be a royal," said Peter Lacovara, an Egyptologist and curator of ancient art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. "It was simply the right thing to do."

Gayle Gibson, an Egyptologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, who has studied the Niagara mummies for years, concurs. As part of the ceremony to open the exhibit, the Carlos Museum hosted a reception for an international gathering of Egyptologists April 25—a night that Gibson remembers for a particularly spectacular storm.

"Ramses was from northern Egypt, and the family's god was Seth, the god of storms," she said. "The night of the reception there was a powerful storm, with thunder and lightning and hail; a tornado just missed us. It was a very unusual storm for Atlanta. I think it was Rameses, letting us know that he's happy to be going home."

Following the trail of the royal mummy from the Valley of the Kings to the Carlos Museum is a fascinating tale.

Brief Reign, Long Journey

Ramses I ascended to power in 1293 B.C. Though he died two years later, he managed to found Egypt's 19th Dynasty; his son Seti I and grandson Ramses the Great are known as two of ancient Egypt's most illustrious rulers.

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