The secrets of the mummy of Ramses II, one of the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egypt

France has the privilege of hosting for the second time the coffin of Pharaoh Ramses II. The first trip of the Egyptian sovereign, in 1976, aimed to save his mummy by exposing it to X-rays. photogrammetry and medical imaging. Here is what we learn from the latest radiological analyzes of Ramses II, who died after a reign of 66 years, of incredible longevity. You may also be interested[EN VIDÉO] The mystery of the alignment of the pyramids finally solved? How did the engineers of ancient Egypt manage to align with such precision the… the spotlight on a sovereign who is undoubtedly one of the most famous of antiquity… Ramses himself will not be present, however, his mummy over 3,200 years old, after many adventures, is now too fragile. His remains were indeed traveling, even daring – even taking the plane in 1976. His last journey, after many adventures, will undoubtedly remain this improbable parade of April 3, 2021: Ramses II, in the company of other equally royal mummies, including that of Hatshepsout, left the old museum, Tahrir Square, in Cairo, to go and take up residence – permanently? – at the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. This does not prevent the royal mummy from being talkative… For 140 years that she has been studied from every angle of her bandages, she has told a lot, both about herself and about the old sovereign. What did the meticulous investigations and care carried out on this illustrious patient reveal? The tribulations of the mummyThe reign of Ramses II (1279 to 1213 BC) is incredibly long, even if it does not surpass that of Louis XIV and his 71 years of power, a few centuries later: we speaks of 66 years of warlike facts and conquests, of “pharaonic” constructions and wise geopolitics, punctuated by the battle of Qadesh and the construction of the temples of Abu Simbel. The sovereign died at over 80 years old and was buried in the Valley of the Kings, in a tomb some 168 meters long. Located in 1737 by the British traveler Richard Pococke, it is today the tomb “KV7” (KV for Kings’ Valley, the number referring to the order of the discoveries of the tombs). But with regard to the marvels of Abu Simbel or the tomb of his wife Nefertari, the monument can turn out to be disappointing… The tomb has been empty for a long time. It is moreover weakened by the floods, and its frescoes and bas-reliefs are largely degraded. Since 1993, excavation and consolidation campaigns carried out by the French Archaeological Mission of Thebes-West (Mafto) have been fighting for its preservation. Despite many geological and historical hazards, the precious mummy is preserved. For fear of early looting, she had been transferred since Antiquity to the hypogeum of her father, Seti I, then to that of Inhapy dug into the steep walls that surround the royal valley. This tomb will in fact be recycled by the authorities of the end of the New Kingdom in…cache for the remains of the most powerful sovereigns of the period. The royal hiding place of Deir el-Bahari was probably laid out at the beginning of the 10th century BC. AD in the sector of the Theban necropolis. For nearly 3,000 years, it was to house the mummies of Ramses, Seti I, Thutmose III, Ahmose… It was not rediscovered until 1881, by a collaborator of the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero. And in the midst of more than 5,000 funerary objects, including 36 sarcophagi, archaeologists will fall, amazed, on the mummy of the old pharaoh, still wrapped in his bandages, and rests in a sarcophagus made of cedar wood – perhaps of his grandfather, Ramesses I. In 1886, while it was exhibited at the Boulaq Museum, one of the first Egyptology museums in Cairo, the Pasha of Egypt ordered it to be stripped… It is rumored that the terror of the spectators, diplomats and politicians, at the sight of an unexpected “jolt” linked to the post-mortem tension in the arm of Ramses II would be, in part, at the origin of the so tenacious curse of the pharaohs! A unique and life-saving state tripAs far as Ramses is concerned, however, it is not in good condition. In 1907, the travel writer Pierre Loti, passing through Cairo, was already sorry for the profound degradation of the body, whose first X-ray, a few years later, revealed the major cracks in the abdominal muscles. In 1976, taking advantage of the exhibition dedicated to her at the Grand Palais in Paris, and despite a delicate geopolitical context, the tireless French Egyptologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt confided to the local authorities that it was urgent to “treat” the mummy. Half a century after a first exhibition, the sarcophagus of Ramses II returns to Paris. © France 24 The diagnosis of the French specialists, mandated on site, is cruel: the proliferation of contemporary fungi – and not of ancient molds – must be stopped as soon as possible. A pungent odor emanates from the body, which must be both rehydrated and solidified by injections of silicone and polymer. A work and “retouching” protocol is deployed, bringing together around a hundred researchers and technicians, within a dedicated laboratory, set up at the Musée de l’Homme. Ramses II, the first Pharaoh to board a French Air Force Transall, is welcomed by the Republican Guard at Le Bourget on September 26, 1976. As a Head of State would be on an official visit. No invasive technique on the treatment program: a few tiny samples (including “yellowish” hair trapped by the pieces of linen, etc.) are however sealed and submitted to the competent laboratories. While scanner, MRI and tomography remain confidential, radioscopy, endoscopy and even chromodensimetry will be used to study the patient. The primordial question is that of the origin of the biological degradation of the mummy. The culprit, quickly identified among many strains, is a very virulent fungus, called Daedalea biennis. Variations in temperature and humidity favored its attacks, making it susceptible to degrading all the organic matter of Ramses II and his neighbours. When was the attack? Even if the mummification of the pharaoh would not have been optimal, the burning resin used by the embalmers should have stopped all microbial activity, especially in the dry climate of Upper Egypt. The infection of the mummy therefore occurred “recently”, probably in Cairo – we speak of a “museum disease”. Ramses will also see himself attacked there by moths and an indelicate spraying of insecticide at the beginning of the 20th century. The treatment must be radical for the invading fungus, but not for the patient – ​​even if he is already dead. Abandoning cold and heat, the specialists opted for irradiation… which made many researchers shudder, who fear for Ramses’ fragile hair. It was inconceivable to return a cured but depigmented or bald pharaoh! Gamma rays, tested beforehand on a mummy of less historical importance, will prove to be sufficiently penetrating and efficient to sterilize this improbable “archaeological object”, and without residual radioactivity. The intervention took place on May 9, 1977 at the Saclay Atomic Energy Commission. The illustrious patient was able to fly back the day after his treatment to return to Cairo. “Each mummy is an archive” The expression of Alain Froment, a specialist in biological anthropology, sums up well these thousand-year-old remains, subjected to batteries of tests, today have things to say… The mummy thus healed, which has we learned about the sovereign himself? New photogrammetry and medical imaging technologies make it possible to understand the health of the pharaohs (like all other mummies), from the most intimate intestinal parasite to the most spectacular bone trauma. If the less privileged endured the pangs of growing stress, starvation and degraded living conditions, the elite manifest high cholesterol levels – the coronary arteries of many pharaohs are clogged – and the signs of a very sedentary lifestyle well Fed ! It was thus possible to carry out genuine retrospective diagnoses, revealing the cancer and skin disease of Hatshepsout or the pox of Ramses V. For Ramses II, the radiological examination delivers a fairly complete health report: the old pharaoh presents pathologies both congenital and related to his advanced age. His oral sphere is particularly affected: he suffered from cavities, some teeth being only represented by their roots. Deep stigmata of periodontitis (inflammation of the gums) affect several molars and ante-mortem losses, with closure of the alveoli, affect incisors and canines. On the other hand, despite the impact of previous publications strongly asserting it, and even though the Egyptians were remarkable dentists and orthodontists, there is no trace of dental care and even less of prostheses or implants. But above all, Ramses II had to move with difficulty. His skeleton is devoured by probable ankylosing spondylitis, a pathology that mainly affects the spine, pelvis or rib cage. It also affects the joints of the lower limbs and the extremities; the pharaoh thus presents a fracture at the level of the first phalanx of the left third toe with a healing callus. In Ramses II, it caused such a cervical lordosis (concavity) that, bent and almost hunchbacked, he could probably no longer straighten his head. The legible fractures on these same vertebrae are linked to the invasive gestures of the embalmers, intended to lengthen it during the final ceremony. The old pharaoh was also suffering from various ailments, usual for a person of his age, such as vascular disorders, leading in particular to calcification of the iliac and femoral arteries, and joint disorders. Far from the fantasies of an assassination in his sleep, it seems that Ramses II died of old age, crippled with painful and disabling ailments. The return of the mummy… or almost The old pharaoh, gone for a second eternity, will not be present at this new international exhibition. Only his magnificent cedar sarcophagus, less vulnerable, will be present – ​​in France only. The symbol remains strong, 45 years after the first voyage. And if the regret of not being able to meet, in person, the old sovereign led to a collective ethical reflection? The one on the “staging” of human remains. From the cabinet of curiosities to museum collections, exhibiting the dead from the excavation of funerary contexts, whether skeletonized or mummified, is never trivial. Does the respect due to the human body cease with death? Is it really disrespectful to “show” the actors of the past? The question of consent continues to haunt specialists, even when it comes to ruling on the nature of these remains: are they objects or subjects? National laws, the code of ethics set imperfect frameworks while some are already legislating on the issue of restitution.