Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 April 2009
Issue No. 944
Heritage
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Zahi Hawass

The Mummy of the Pharaoh of Moses

By Zahi Hawass

I recently read on the Internet the story of Ramses II's mummy. We know that during the late 1970s the French president, Giscard d'Estaing, asked President Anwar El-Sadat if the mummy of Ramses II could be sent to Paris for conservation and preservation. Being that this mummy did not require any treatment, the real reason behind their request lay in their search for the Pharaoh of the biblical Exodus whom they believed to be Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, third ruler of the New Kingdom's 19th Dynasty. This ulterior motive, however, was never voiced to the authorities.

According to the holy books, the Pharaoh ruling in Moses's time drowned in the Red Sea during an epic chase after the parting of the waters. The French scientists were seeking evidence to prove the occurrence of this miraculous event.

The mummy of Ramses the Great was given a royal welcome at Le Bourget airport. Even the French president attended the glamorous ceremony. The mummy was then transferred to the French archaeological centre for examination.

One of the scientists responsible for the mummy's examination was a very dishonest man. He stole strands of Ramses II's hair and kept them for himself. Later on, his son attempted to sell the strands of hair on the Internet. With the help of our ambassador to France, Nasser Kamel, we were able to put an end to this and return the strands of hair to Cairo.

On the mummy's return to Cairo, reporters interviewed the French scientist about his findings. He stated that, inside the mummy, he had discovered a strange insect. The reporters laughed and called it a French insect. I seriously believe that sending the mummy of Ramses II to France was a big mistake.

Numerous false ideas about the mummy have recently been published. First, it has been said that the hands of the mummy are positioned differently than all other royal mummies, especially the left hand. This is inaccurate. Both Ramses II's arms are laid on his chest, just like all the other royal New Kingdom mummies. It has also been said that when the linen surrounding the mummy was untied the left arm jumped up, leading to the conclusion that the embalmers forced the mummy's arms position. Finally, some have stated that the laboratory results demonstrated the remains of salt inside the body of Ramses II, and that X-rays showed that many of his bones were broken. According to theorists, these results indicate that the Pharaoh drowned in the sea. They claimed that the strange position of his left hand indicated that he was holding the reins of a horse, while swinging a sword in his right. Furthermore, they added that while the Pharaoh was drowning he was attempting to push the water with his left hand, hence the reason for the embalmers having to force the left arm back into the traditional position.

I do not think that any of these ideas is correct. Egyptologists know that salt was used in the mummification process and that a great amount of salt is always found while examining mummies. For example, about 28 large jars full of natron, the type of salt used in mummification, were recently discovered in tomb KV 63 in the Valley of the Kings. Therefore, the fact that salt was found inside the royal mummy of Ramses II does not, by any means, prove that he drowned in the Red Sea. This said, I do not believe that there is any real evidence demonstrating that Pharaoh Ramses II drowned at all.

All these theories posted on the Internet are inaccurate, as the research conducted was not scientific.

It is my opinion that we should conduct further research into the lineage of Ramses II. Now that I have successfully had the mummy believed to be that of Ramses I flown back to Cairo from Atlanta, our scientists can investigate further into the true identity of this mummy. Lastly, with the help of the DNA labs and CT-Scanning machines in Cairo, the Egyptian Mummy Project can begin to determine the true identity of Ramses II's family members. These tests could, perhaps, also help us answer the everlasting question of whether or not Ramses II was truly the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Most importantly, the CT- Scanning machine can take up to 1,700 images which will reveal to be important evidence for our research. It will be the first time that an Egyptian team has attempted this study.

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