The Missing Sarcophagi

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In 2009, archeologists Ayman Daramany and Kevin Cahail discovered a fragment of a granite sarcophagus beneath the floor of a Coptic monastery in Abydos, an ancient city in central Egypt. After intensive study, they realized that the sarcophagus bore the cartouche of the High Priest of Amun, Menkheperre, of the 21st dynasty – who existed around 1000 BC.

But they also found that it had belonged to someone else before, seeing that the stone had been carved on over and over again, masking previous inscriptions. They believed it must have belonged to a royal because the fragment was inscribed with the Book of Gates, an ancient funerary text only found on royal tombs.

Still, who it had belonged to remained a mystery.

A few years later, however, French Egyptologist Frédéric Payraudeau’s curiosity was piqued and he asked Daramany and Cahail for a picture of the fragment. Examining the carvings underneath, he found another cartouche with an inscription in hieroglyphics of a royal name, Ramesses II, a pharaoh of the 19th dynasty who ruled Egypt and beyond between ca. 1279 and 1213 BC.

His discovery not only solved the mystery of the sarcophagus fragment but an even older mystery, too: What happened to the multiple sarcophagi of Ramesses II?

“Such a discovery doesn’t occur every other day,” Payraudeau, who teaches at Paris’ Sorbonne University, told local outlet Le Maine Libre. “I was super happy, I’m still quivering a bit.”

Payraudeau’s findings proved that sarcophagi in the Valley of the Kings were often looted – explaining the broken state of the granite sarcophagus – and reused, according to a joint statement from Sorbonne University and France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

In 1881, Ramesses II’s mummy and coffin were found in a “secret” hiding place in Deir el-Bahari, a temple complex outside Luxor, according to the Egypt Museum. Initially, the pharaoh was buried in a now-lost gold coffin that was placed inside an alabaster sarcophagus – found destroyed in his tomb by looters – inside the granite sarcophagus. The latter was later appropriated by Menkheperre, La Brújula Verde wrote.

Ramesses II’s mummy is displayed in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Payraudeau said he wants the granite fragment to join its original owner.

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