Thursday, August 14, 2008

To the Great Lord Granted Eternal Life

With the arrival of the great cache of Dier el Bahari to the Boulaq museum in 1881 the directors found themselves in the presence of eleven kings of Dynasties 17 -21, ca. 1650 - 945 BCE. Also accompanying the kings were seven queens and a number of prince's, princesses and courtiers plus a baboon and a gazelle.

With the faces of the "Warrior king" Thutmosis III and Rameses II "the Great" being hidden by only a few meters of cloth it was decided to unwrap the "warrior king" who curiously had a broom and a few oars tied into his wrappings. These oars would have originally been laid around that king's sarcophagus in the Valley of the kings.

Instead of unrolling the king which might have subjected the body to undue handling it was decided to cut open his bandages at the end of which the great warriors pathetic smashed remains lay before those in attendance, a picture was taken and to the further horror, the mummy fell to pieces. With this disaster, it was decided no more kings would be unrolled.

By December of the following year, it was noticed that the elderly 17th dynasty princess Hontimehu had been damaged during her journey from the tomb to the museum and so she was examined. This examination revealed a mummy that had also been damaged by tomb robbers but that she was still in pretty good condition and very hard from the resins used in her mummification.

Among the mummies found in the cache 2 of them were found without inscriptions in the huge coffin of the king's wife Nofretari, one mummy was wrapped in a shroud while the second was in a small cheap coffin. By September 1885 a putrid smell was emerging from the mummy salons, an investigation found that the shrouded mummy from the coffin of Nofretari was beginning to rot and so the decaying mummy was buried beneath the museum's store rooms.

The 1885 Baedecker guide book tells us that the interior coffin and wrapped mummy of queen Nofretari is on display next to her son Amenhotep I who was the only mummy in the cache to still have a mask, though not original to that king's burial.

By 1886 the absurdity of displaying royal mummies covered in tattered bandages when their faces and in some cases true identities from inscriptions were hidden in their wrappings. So that on the 1rst of June 1886 a gala event was held which included the unwrapping of Rameses II. First up that evening the first queen of the 21rst dynasty of priest-kings, king Herihor's wife Nodjmet. queen Nodjmet's mummy was opened and put on a good show.

Next up was the star of the gala event the mummy of Rameses the Great was opened to the delight of those present the great king's mummy was in beautiful conditioned and undamaged.

Unfortunately the unrolling had taken only 15 minutes and was not much of a show, this author is unaware if the coffined mummy displayed as queen Nofretari was meant to be unrolled or whether the quick unwrapping of Rameses had left a vacuum in the evening's entertainment.

The mummy was brought out removed from its coffin and placed on the table for unwrapping, As the shroud was taken away and the bandages removed an amulet of gilded wood was revealed, this was inscribed for the last great emperor of the New Kingdom, Rameses III.

The suspense was heightened at the thought that the museum's collection may have another great king in their collection when further unwrapping revealed another amulet this one of heavy solid gold also inscribed for the pharaoh Rameses III.

By the end of the evening museum, officials and guests found themselves in the presence of a handsome mummy of a king they did not know they possessed. The evening had ended on a high finding another king but also by the fact that all three mummies unwrapped that evening were all undamaged.

However, if the person that had been on display as queen Nofretari was actually Rameses III than where was the queen?

So the mummy which had been buried beneath the store rooms years earlier was exhumed and found that the burial had stopped the mummy from decaying further and though the mummy bore no inscription during its unwrapping. A female mummy from the correct period for the queen was found, her mummy furthermore resembles the mummies of other women from the court of that queens own time.

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