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Archaeologists identify original sarcophagus of Ramesses II

Archaeologists have identified the original sarcophagus of Ramesses II, otherwise known as Ramesses the Great.

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Published in 
 · 24 May 2024

Ramesses II was the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty during the New Kingdom period. His reign is often considered the most celebrated in Egypt's history, marked by several major military campaigns and numerous monument-building projects.

Fragment of the granite sarcophagus identified as that of Ramses II
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Fragment of the granite sarcophagus identified as that of Ramses II

Based on supporting historical accounts, most Egyptologists suggest that Ramesses II ascended the throne in 1279 BC and reigned until his death at the age of about 90 in 1212 or 1213 BC.

Details of the granite sarcophagus of Ramesses II
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Details of the granite sarcophagus of Ramesses II

His remains were interred in a tomb complex (designated KV7) in the Valley of the Kings, located opposite the tomb of his sons (KV5) and near the tomb (KV8) of his son and successor, Merenptah.

During the reign of Ramesses III, during the 20th Dynasty, Ramesses II's tomb was plundered by grave robbers. Ancient texts report that the priests moved his remains to the tomb of Queen Ahmose Inhapy, and then to the tomb of the high priest Pinedjem II.

His final resting place was a tomb (designated TT320), located near Deir el-Bahari, in the Theban necropolis opposite Luxor.

The tomb is a royal treasure containing the mummified remains of over 50 kings, queens and other members of the royal family from the New Kingdom period.

The mummy of Ramesses II was discovered in TT320 during excavations in 1881. It was found placed in a simple wooden coffin, suggesting that this was intended as a temporary measure until a more permanent resting place could be determined.

The Sarcophagus Fragment

A new study, published in the Revue d'Égyptologie, suggests that a sarcophagus fragment discovered in 2009 in Abydos was part of the original sarcophagus of Ramesses II. The sarcophagus fragment was found in a Coptic monastery and was recently re-examined by Egyptologist Frédéric Payraudeau of Sorbonne University. The sarcophagus dates back to approximately 1279-1213 BCE, aligning with Ramesses II’s reign. Its design and inscriptions underscore the artistic and religious conventions of the era.

According to the study author, the decoration and texts on the sarcophagus fragment indicate that it was first used by Ramesses II (as evidenced by the cartouche of Ramesses II), and later reused by a 21st Dynasty high priest, Menkheperre (around to 1000 BC) who probably had the sarcophagus transported to Abydos after the sacking of KV7.

Until now, we knew that the Ramesses II's tomb in the Valley of the Kings (Luxor) had been completely looted and his mummy moved to a wooden coffin during the 21st Dynasty (circa 1069–943 BC).

It is now known that the great king was buried in a gold coffin, now lost, placed in a first alabaster sarcophagus, found destroyed in his tomb, all placed in this large granite sarcophagus, now identified. After the tomb was looted, the high priest of the 21st dynasty recovered the sarcophagus for his own use and had it transported to Abydos.

This discovery is further proof that, in ancient time, the Valley of the Kings was not only plundered, but that its funerary objects were reused by later rulers.


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