The Mummy Who Would Be King

PBS Airdate: January 3, 2006
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NARRATOR: To the untrained eye, this might look like any other Egyptian mummy, but not to the experts.

AIDAN DODSON (University of Bristol): My first reaction, when I saw this mummy, was, "Oh, my god, it's a pharaoh!"

PETER LACOVARA (Michael C. Carlos Museum): He looked impressive. I mean, you could see why people had suggested he was one of the missing royal mummies.

NARRATOR: There's a growing consensus this is the long lost mummy of a great king. As science probes the mystery of his identity, the tale of his life after death is unfolding.

He had arranged to spend eternity in the sanctuary of his tomb, but he traveled far, to strange lands beyond the boundaries of the world he knew. He expected to enjoy an afterlife in the company of the gods. Instead, he was exiled for ages in a cabinet of curiosities, surrounded by monsters. He believed the gods would judge him by weighing his heart. He never could have dreamed every inch of his body would be scanned and digitized to answer one question: "Who was he?"

Researchers are closing in on the name of a pharaoh, but the final word is not yet in.

ZAHI HAWASS (Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt): I thought that this is really speculation. How a king will appear suddenly like this. How will we know that this mummy of a king left Egypt and no one knows anything about it?

NARRATOR: This man has begun to share his secrets. Will we ever grant him eternal peace? The Mummy Who Would Be King, right now, on NOVA.

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NARRATOR: On the campus of Emory University, in Atlanta, the Michael C. Carlos Museum celebrates a royal visitor. It's a gala cocktail party with a twist: the guest of honor has been dead a few thousand years.

When the museum acquired this mummy four years ago, no one knew who he was. Since then, scholars and scientists have reached a startling conclusion: this is the long lost mummy of a great pharaoh. The museum discovered him in the most unlikely place on Earth.

Niagara Falls has always attracted crowds: novelty seekers, nature lovers, just plain lovers. The relentless flow of tourists made this an ideal spot for one of Canada's first museums. Founded in 1827, the Niagara Falls Museum was state of the art for its day, designed to educate and entertain in equal measure. It served up a microcosm of all the wonders of the world to a public hungry for distant horizons. It had something for everyone. Visiting scholars praised its vast collections of specimens; children were enthralled by its assorted "freaks of nature."

BILL JAMIESON (Ethnographic Art Collector and Dealer): These cabinets of curiosities, full of all this wacky stuff, are basically the origin of museums. And, sadly enough, I think some of the academics today, and experts in this and that, forget that this is where it came from. In my view, museums were even more entertaining back then. They really were set up to romance the imagination.

NARRATOR: In the mid-19th century, little could match the romance of Egypt, and the Niagara Falls Museum decided to purchase some mummies. It was an age when such commodities were readily available.

GAYLE GIBSON (Royal Ontario Museum): What you had in Egypt in those days was poor people who made their living taking tourists around. So, if a European tourist said, "I'd really like to take a coffin home," and you knew that the price you'd get for that coffin might feed your family for the rest of the year, I certainly would have gone and got a mummy out of a tomb for them.

NARRATOR: In truth, the land nearly overflowed with bodies. The ancient Egyptians had practiced mummification for 3,000 years, compelled by the conviction that the body had to last forever.

PETER LACOVARA: The Egyptians believed that, in order for your spirit to have continued existence, it needed the body as a home base on Earth, and so that was the important part of keeping the tomb closed and keeping the mummy intact in the tomb.

NARRATOR: Over the centuries, mummification techniques evolved and different styles emerged, but the goal remained the same: to prevent the decay of the body. Sometimes the brain and internal organs were removed. Often, the body was dried out with natural salts. Linen wrappings preserved a lifelike silhouette. Resin, the sap from pine and fir trees, sealed the body and killed bacteria.

The ancient embalmers did excellent work. Still, it's a wonder any mummies are left at all. Europeans imported them by the boatload—in the Middle Ages and beyond—to pulverize into potions to treat everything from headaches to impotence. Later, countless mummies were ruined at fashionable "unwrapping parties." The lucky ones ended up in museums where Egyptology was taken seriously.

To obtain its mummies, the Niagara Falls Museum enlisted the services of Dr. James Douglas. A physician from Quebec, Douglas was obsessed with Egypt and sailed the Nile most winters. He had bought mummies for himself, which he displayed on his front porch back home. Around 1860, Douglas secured the purchase of several coffins and mummies, and arranged shipment to the Niagara Falls Museum. The deal was strictly aboveboard.

SALIMA IKRAM (American University in Cairo): In the 19th century, and into, in fact, the 20th century, it was legal to purchase government-approved antiquities from Egypt. So, in fact, this mummy is not an illegal purchase at all and never was.

NARRATOR: The mummy was headed west, where the ancient Egyptians believed the soul traveled after death. The journey to the next life is described in their sacred funerary text, the Book of the Dead, "Westward, westward to the Land of the Just. I am a Spirit-body. I am a Spirit-soul..."

When Douglas's shipment arrived in the "Honeymoon Capital of the World," the Niagara Falls Museum had an instant hit. People flocked to see the mummies in their painted coffins, especially the beautifully wrapped General Ossipumphneferu, even though his name and rank were entirely fabricated.

No one thought twice about the unwrapped mummy with crossed arms.

GAYLE GIBSON: The study of mummies is really pretty new. Nobody had unwrapped a royal mummy until the 18...until the1890s, and so nobody knew what to expect. Nobody knew how a royal mummy would look different from another kind of mummy.

NARRATOR: The mummy was seen by thousands of visitors who signed the museum guest book. Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and P. T. Barnum dropped by. The museum changed locations five times. The world went to war twice. For a century, the mummy lay exposed, sharing the limelight with a real crowd-pleaser, the museum's whale skeleton.

All sorts of people gazed upon the mummy, just not the right people.

SALIMA IKRAM: Few Egyptologists seem to have honeymoons, so we don't wind up in Niagara Falls. And I think it had just not really been noticed by most people for a long time, because no one really went there.

AIDAN DODSON: Egyptologists all have their own little specialties, and unless you were somebody who knows your mummies, you probably wouldn't even, wouldn't even think anything odd about it—as well as the unbelievable thing that a pharaoh could be found in, effectively, a freak show.

NARRATOR: For a century, the mummy got no respect. And then someone finally gave him a second glance. In 1966, a German engineer on a business trip found himself with time to kill on a Saturday afternoon.

MEINHARD HOFFMANN (Systems Analyst, retired): We took a walk around Niagara Falls, and we stopped by the Niagara Falls Museum which claimed to have the best prepared mummies in the world.

NARRATOR: Inside, Meinhard Hoffmann was drawn to a mummy in tattered wrappings. Its name, Septhnestp, was probably made up, but the wife of Amenhotep the Fourth? That would be Queen Nefertiti, whose famous bust resides in a museum in Berlin and whose mummy has never been found.

MEINHARD HOFFMANN: The Germans have a certain affinity for Nefertiti, so that's really how I started wondering. Was it possible that a queen, mummified by the ancient Egyptians, could end up in a cabinet of curiosities at Niagara Falls?

NARRATOR: For a decade, Hoffmann hit the books for clues to Nefertiti's fate. Then, in 1976, he found an article suggesting Egyptian queens were mummified with the left arm crossed over the chest.

That sent him to his slides of the Museum. The mummy named Septhnestp had straight arms. But there --the unwrapped mummy draped in a shroud... Hoffmann could see its left hand. Clearly, its left arm was crossed over its chest.

Next, Hoffmann compared a replica of the Nefertiti bust to that mummy's profile.

MEINHARD HOFFMANN: The similarity was so impressive, it could only be that face. This had to be Nefertiti.

NARRATOR: Hoffmann bolstered his case with a computer and, in 1985, convinced a television producer he was onto something big.

GÜNTER ALT (Television Producer): Of course, we figured that if he was right about what he was saying—and I was convinced he was—then this was a world sensation, and we wanted a contract with him. We wanted him to do this with Germany's Channel Two, to be our man, perhaps write a book.

NARRATOR: But first, Günter Alt would make a TV show. He took Hoffmann back to the Niagara Falls Museum, with Egyptologist Arne Eggebrecht. His first move was to unveil the mummy, revealing two crossed arms and the unmistakable anatomy of a man.

In a café next door, Hoffmann awaited Eggebrecht's expert opinion.

ARNE EGGEBRECHT (Egyptologist/Clip from 1985 film): Well, I think we have a very simple solution.

MEINHARD HOFFMANN (Clip from 1985 film): Yes.

ARNE EGGEBRECHT: We saw her naked; she is a man.

MEINHARD HOFFMANN (Clip from 1985 film): Ah, yes, that's very interesting.

GÜNTER ALT: He didn't faint or scream. He immediately said, "Then it must be a pharaoh." Immediately!

NARRATOR: No, it wasn't a queen, but Hoffmann knew it just might be a king, because of those arms, crossed high over the chest.

Mummies with crossed arms are common in just two eras of Egyptian history. Around 1500 B.C., during the New Kingdom, crossed arms were a sign of kingship, reserved strictly for the mummies of the pharaohs. Crossed arms also show up around 2,000 years ago, when Egypt was conquered and ruled by Rome and common people were embalmed in this position.

Was the mummy a common man from the Roman Era, or an ancient king? Radiologist Wolfgang Pahl was sent to find out.

WOLFGANG PAHL (University of Tübingen): I was the only person in Germany who was active in the area of mummy research. On this basis, I was contacted to provide my expert opinion on the mummy in Canada.

NARRATOR: Pahl took hundreds of X-rays for clues to the mummy's origins. His conclusion would rest on these masses in the chest. What were they?

During the New Kingdom, embalmers removed the internal organs, and packed the chest cavity with linen or other materials, to preserve its shape. In later periods, embalmers often wrapped the internal organs in linen, and placed these organ packets back in the body.

Wolfgang Pahl would deliver a clear interpretation of the X-ray to producer Günter Alt.

WOLFGANG PAHL: With absolute certainty, I can say that these are two organ packets. We can therefore make the unequivocal statement that the so-called Nefertiti mummy is not a royal mummy and is not a king's mummy of the New Kingdom.

GÜNTER ALT: Clearly, if the expert, with all his studies and all his knowledge of 5,000 or so mummies, if he says it is not, then it is not.

NARRATOR: German television pulled its funding. Pahl's report was never published. It had been an outrageous long shot, the idea that Niagara Falls might be home to a pharaoh, much less one from the New Kingdom.

Some of Egypt's greatest pharaohs ruled during the New Kingdom. It was a golden age that began around 3,500 years ago, and lasted five centuries. The arts flourished, shining monuments arose, Egypt became one of the most powerful nations on Earth.

The pharaohs of the New Kingdom were the first to carve their tombs into the rock of the Valley of the Kings. Sealed in underground chambers stocked with treasure, their mummies would be safe for eternity, or so they believed.

Excavations began in the Valley of the Kings over a century ago, but only one pharaoh was found undisturbed in his tomb. His dazzling grave goods and gold coffin were sent to Cairo, but the mummy of Tutankhamen still rests in his burial chamber.

All the other royal tombs had been robbed in antiquity. It seemed the mummies of the pharaohs had been lost in the plunder. But just outside the Valley of the Kings, the hills were honeycombed with the tombs of noblemen. And though it was illegal, villagers mined the cliffs for treasure. The members of one local family, the Abd el Rassuls, seemed to have uncanny luck. Sometime in the mid-1800s, they nearly fell into the biggest find of their lives.

PETER LACOVARA: They told people they were looking for a missing goat and stumbled upon the tomb by accident, but in fact, I'm sure they were prospecting for tombs to rob.

NARRATOR: At a place called Deir el Bahri, they spotted a steep shaft carved into the rock, so deep they would need ropes to investigate. They had discovered a royal tomb they would keep secret for years. But eventually, royal grave goods appeared on the antiquities market. By 1881, rumors reached the authorities in Cairo.

PETER LACOVARA: They sent agents down to investigate and there was a falling out in the Abd el Rassul family, and eventually one of them squealed on the others and brought the people from the Cairo Museum to see where the tomb was. And of course, when they went in there, they were shocked beyond belief.

NARRATOR: The moment was recreated in an Egyptian feature film. The tomb was filled with coffins bearing the names of some of the most important pharaohs of the New Kingdom: Seti I, Ramesses II, Tuthmosis III. Within the coffins were the long lost mummies of nine kings. Why were they assembled here in an unmarked, unadorned tomb?

AIDAN DODSON: The royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings were plundered during the New Kingdom, and it got so bad that the priesthood of around 1000 or so B.C. decided to give up on trying to preserve the mummies in their individual tombs and instead move them to a couple of hiding places where they were all concentrated together. There was nothing left on them to, to tempt robbers, and they could be watched.

NARRATOR: The authorities moved the royal mummies to Cairo. Years later a second cache was discovered, and today, the mummies of some 20 New Kingdom pharaohs rest in the Egyptian Museum.

SALIMA IKRAM: You can read about the exploits of these pharaohs; you can go and look at their monuments. But we're very fortunate, because we can actually look at the pharaohs themselves.

NARRATOR: Majestic, even in death, is King Seti I, who expanded Egypt's empire in a series of military campaigns. His son, Ramesses II, was unrivaled in Egyptian history. He earned the title Ramesses the Great for reigning 67 years and building more monuments than any other pharaoh. His son and successor was the pharaoh Merneptah. Tuthmosis IV lies with his forebears, as does Ramesses V. But not all the royal mummies have been recovered.

The New Kingdom saw the rise of three dynasties and more than 30 pharaohs. About a dozen have yet to be found.

Was there a chance one of the missing kings had made his way to Niagara Falls? The German scientists had ruled it out, but then the mummy caught someone else's eye.

GAYLE GIBSON: I first went to the Niagara Falls Museum back in the 1980s, when I started working on my M.A. in Egyptology, and became interested in these four beautiful 21st Dynasty coffins down there. And so I went and started looking at the coffins very carefully and gradually got interested in the inhabitants of the coffins.

NARRATOR: Soon, Gayle Gibson began to speculate about the superb preservation of this mummy...the position of his arms.

GAYLE GIBSON: The mummy was always a very interesting fellow to look at, but it never occurred to me that it was not just my own romantic imagination, thinking he was a king.

NARRATOR: But in 1991, Gibson had a reality check when she invited a visiting mummy expert to Niagara Falls for the day.

AIDAN DODSON: We went out to the museum, saw they got a really nice collection of coffins and mummies and so on. Then my eyes fell on this gentlemen lying...just exposed on a shelf in this glass case, and I'm afraid my immediate thought was, "Oh, my god, it's a royal mummy."

Well, first of all, there was just this general feel about him, and the sheer quality of the mummification, clearly New Kingdom. But the key thing was the arms crossed at the breast, and that's not something you'd expect with a mummy of that kind of quality. Arms crossed at the breast are normally something you get in the Roman period where mummies aren't going to be that well preserved, normally. So, it was very much a case of, "All taken together," I was thinking, "this looks like a pharaoh."

GAYLE GIBSON: When Aidan took very seriously my suggestion that this might really be a royal mummy, I was pretty impressed. If Aidan thinks something, it's probably so.

AIDAN DODSON: When I got back to U.K.,...this was something, really quite something, so I was talking to colleagues about it.

SALIMA IKRAM: Aidan called me, and I thought, "Okay, he's obsessed by royalty, so he's seeing royals everywhere he goes."

AIDAN DODSON: And everybody was just sort of saying, "Well, it may look like it. It's probably just a very, very nice Roman. It's not, it's just not one of the usual grotty Romans."

SALIMA IKRAM: And I thought, "Okay, you know, maybe he's had one gin too many, or he's just seen too many museums, and he's having an excess of Egyptological excitement."

NARRATOR: It was exciting, the thought that a missing pharaoh might be hiding in Niagara Falls. But how to prove it? To be a mummy of the New Kingdom, he would have to be over 3,000 years old. Unfortunately, radiocarbon dating can be problematic when dealing with Egyptian mummies because of contamination.

GAYLE GIBSON: The Niagara Falls mummies left Egypt back in the 1860s, then they were shipped across the ocean, landed in Montreal, came up the St. Lawrence Seaway into Toronto, at last. All the way along, people are handling them, people are breathing on them, people are smoking in their faces, opening the coffins, taking a look. And all of that contaminates the subject. And, so, you might get a date that was quite wrong.

NARRATOR: Still, in 1994, the owner of the Niagara Falls Museum allowed a researcher to date a small tissue sample from the mummy.

The test produced a range between 790 and 1085 B.C., right at the end of the New Kingdom, but old enough to rule out the possibility that the mummy was from the Roman Era.

AIDAN DODSON: This clearly showed at least a thousand years older than the Roman period, and once you know that, it becomes even more likely to be a king's mummy because crossed arms at the breast are really not found at any other time in Egyptian history, except in the New Kingdom pharaohs.

NARRATOR: Finally, a piece of hard evidence he really could be one of the missing kings, but which one? Probably not one of the pharaohs at the end of the New Kingdom, who were buried near the Nile delta, where their mummies would have decayed; presumably not one of the kings whose mummies may well have been destroyed by vengeful priests or noblemen. Ultimately, one candidate seemed to stand out: the founder of the 19th Dynasty, Ramesses I.

The mummy bore a strong resemblance to that king's descendants.

GAYLE GIBSON: Many people have thought that this mummy looks an awful lot like King Seti I and Ramesses II and Merneptah. He really looks like that group of kings who are father, son and grandson.

NARRATOR: If he was Ramesses I, here were his son, his grandson and his great-grandson.

In addition to his striking looks, it was clear this was the mummy of a mature man, not a boy king. Ramesses I was Egypt's top military commander and past middle age when the pharaoh he served appointed him to the throne. He died after ruling less than two years and was buried in the Valley of the Kings. But when his tomb was opened in the 19th century, his mummy was gone.

Ramesses I was not among the pharaohs the authorities discovered in the Royal Cache at Deir el Bahri. But they did find an intriguing clue: a shattered coffin bearing the name of Ramesses I, with inscriptions by the priests stating they had moved his body to safety. Exactly how and when his mummy might have left the cache remained to be solved.

The case for Ramesses I was promising but needed serious research. And so the man with crossed arms continued to play second fiddle to General Ossipumphneferu. He was a footnote in a freak show that had seen better days. The roof leaked, the owner wanted out, the Museum needed a savior.

Ethnographic art collector Bill Jamieson lives in his own cabinet of curiosities. A connoisseur of shrunken heads and other oddities, Jamieson was a longtime fan of the Niagara Falls Museum.

BILL JAMIESON: I probably went a couple times a year, and I started talking to the owner. I said, "Have you ever thought of selling the place?" And he said, "Make me an offer."

NARRATOR: In the fall of 1998, Jamieson signed a deal to buy the entire contents of the Museum. To offset the expense, he decided to sell off what seemed most valuable: the Egyptian artifacts. He consulted Gayle Gibson, who explained that the coffins, though battered, were of exceptional quality. The mummies were probably average folks from late in Egyptian history except for the man with crossed arms.

BILL JAMIESON: She said he did have the look of a king, if I recall, or he looked like somebody in some kind of royal capacity. But I never really took notice of it, you know?

NARRATOR: Jamieson put the entire collection on the world market.

BILL JAMIESON: All these letters went out telling people we had this collection for sale for $2,000,000 U.S. Where I came up with the price, I don't know. It just kind of seemed...I liked that figure.

NARRATOR: Word drifted south. At Emory University, the Michael C. Carlos Museum had a new curator of Egyptian Art. Peter Lacovara hoped to expand the museum's holdings. He was surprised to hear a trove of artifacts was on sale in Niagara Falls.

PETER LACOVARA: I think most people knew that there was sort of a collection up there, but it had never been published and, or, in any way, made available to the scholarly community.

NARRATOR: On the advice of a Canadian colleague, Lacovara traveled north.

PETER LACOVARA: I was very impressed with the number and quality of the coffins, the fact that they weren't too far gone, not yet.

NARRATOR: The Carlos Museum snatched up the Egyptian collection with funds raised in just two months. A team mobilized to Niagara Falls to prep the precious coffins for shipping. The mummies were of less interest, but Lacovara was intrigued by the one that had spawned all those rumors.

PETER LACOVARA: It was sort of sitting on a shelf next to another even more gruesome looking mummy in a sort of very ignominious kind of display. So he looked kind of sad, but he looked impressive. I mean, you could see why people had suggested he was one of the missing royal mummies.

NARRATOR: He, too, needed a touchup before the trip. No longer a creepy curiosity, now a valued archaeological artifact, the mummy was en route to his final judgment, just as foretold in the Book of the Dead:

"Fleeter than greyhounds, quicker than a shadow, I have traveled the Earth. I come to you without a witness against me."

At the Carlos Museum, the question could no longer be ignored. Was this Ramesses I? In theory, DNA could provide the answer.

Researchers at Emory University began tests on the loose teeth from another mummy, with limited results.

PETER LACOVARA: People have not had a lot of success in DNA tests on Egyptian mummies anyway—and we're still not sure why that is, whether something in the mummification process sort of degrades the DNA—not to mention the utter futility of the effort if samples of the DNA of the descendants of Ramesses I were not available.

SALIMA IKRAM: In Egypt, we're not going to be giving out DNA samples unless we are assured that this technology works. But at this point, it would be a crime to abuse these royal mummies and take sections out of them. And you would generally have to take teeth out, so that is quite a dramatic thing. It would be like having an object in a museum, like a perfect stone vessel and then chipping out a chunk, so it is very destructive. And, until we are assured of results, it is a complete waste of time.

NARRATOR: The issue of the mummy's identity would have to be resolved with more circumstantial evidence—time to call in the experts.

After years of hearsay, Salima Ikram would finally see for herself. She wrote a volume on the pharaohs in the Cairo museum. How would this mummy measure up?

SALIMA IKRAM: Well this mummy is a very nice, well preserved mummy, and it doesn't smell bad, so it must have been quite a good job of mummification, because most mummies that have not been well prepared are completely odoriferous.

It certainly isn't a late 20th Dynasty royal mummy because if it were, it would have had onions put into its eyes, and this one doesn't. It's got nice bits of resin in the ear which is something you see in the 18th and 19th Dynasties, as well as earlier.

Now, over here, you see the incision, and it's not a very big deep gouge, which is what you start getting later on in 20th Dynasty, because that's when people become much more careless in how they're doing these things, even if they're doing it to kings.

Down here, his genitalia is also wrapped, and this again you get with a lot of the royal mummies in the same way. Sometimes it's more attached to one leg or the other, but he seems to be quite well centered.

The most thrilling moment was actually looking at the mummy and thinking, "Oh, you cannot possibly be a royal mummy." And then looking at it and thinking, "Oh, my god, you probably are a royal mummy." And so I e-mailed Aidan and said that he was totally right, that, as far as I could tell, it was a royal mummy.

AIDAN DODSON: Gayle had had this view, I had this view, and now Salima had joined me in this. It suggested there really was something in it, and we...and it wasn't just one of us having a hallucination.

NARRATOR: Momentum was building. Emory Hospital volunteered its services.

Orthodontist James Harris has a unique claim to fame. In the 1960s, when he traveled to Egypt with a portable X-ray machine, the authorities invited him to study the pharaohs. Twenty years later, he had compiled an X-ray catalog of all the royal mummies in Egypt. He flew in from Michigan to assess this contender.

JAMES HARRIS (University of Michigan, Retired): I actually assumed it would not be royal, because of my previous experience with other mummies that are in collections around the United States, which are non-royal. Almost all of them are Late Period. They're Greek Roman, they're, they're very end of the, of the Pharaonic Period and, and they were not royal.

NARRATOR: Harris would focus on the skull, because its shape is largely inherited, to determine whether this man might be related to any of the pharaohs.

It was critical that he X-ray this mummy's skull in precisely the same alignment he had used on the royal mummies. On the X-ray, Harris identified key anatomical "landmarks" and generated a series of skull measurements. He had taken identical measurements on the collection of pharaohs in Egypt.

Then he entered these numbers into his royal mummy database. The computer arranged the pharaohs into a tree of relationships, and placed the mummy from the Carlos Museum squarely with the descendants of Ramesses I.

JAMES HARRIS: Statistically, it appeared that he was most close to the 19th Dynasty. We're talking about Ramesses II and Seti I. His profile fit these individuals best. We weren't able to narrow it down further than that, but he is a candidate for a royal mummy in that dynasty.

NARRATOR: Advanced technology would yield several more stunning clues. A CT scanner provided three-dimensional views of the mummy inside and out.

RADIOLOGIST : We'll take some high resolution detailed images of the head and neck.

NARRATOR: The brain had been removed through the nose, standard practice in New Kingdom mummifications. The skull was nearly filled with a hardened mass of tree resin, a rare commodity in Egypt.

PETER LACOVARA: It was very expensive, and so you would consider that it would be lavished on royalty and not used so much on lesser people.

NARRATOR: Then the team explored the contents of the chest cavity. First up: more resin.

RADIOLOGIST: You can see the resin has pooled in there.

PETER LACOVARA: It's a huge amount.

RADIOLOGIST: These are tubular structures in both chest cavities, inside the resin.

NARRATOR: Fifteen years earlier, Wolfgang Pahl had claimed these structures were organ packets, which are rarely found in mummies of the New Kingdom. This team would anxiously contemplate the same conclusion.

PETER LACOVARA: We began to see some ghost images in the body and we were, you know, wondering, whether, "Oops, does that mean that this is a later mummy?" But then they turned out not to be the, these organ packs but tightly rolled strips of linen.

NARRATOR: The CT scan revealed what an X-ray could not: embalmers had stuffed rolls of linen beneath the mummy's ribs. The same technique was used on several royal mummies.

PETER LACOVARA: That was a nice confirmation that it's a New Kingdom mummy. We became secure in the fact that this most probably was Ramesses I.

NARRATOR: With the tools of science, the museum had gone as far as it could to uncover this man's identity. Then Bill Jamieson provided one last clue, when he received an unexpected package from a fellow collector. It was a copy of a travel journal written and photographed in 1860, by Doctor James Douglas, on a cruise up the Nile.

BILL JAMIESON: In this journal, there was some reference to purchasing of a mummy. And I made copies of this, and I sent it to Atlanta because I thought it might help with their investigation.

NARRATOR: It did help. In it, Douglas boasted about buying a "fine" mummy for the Niagara Falls Museum. He also wrote about one of his contacts in the antiquities trade: Mustapha Aga, a notorious middleman between tourists and tomb robbers.

PETER LACOVARA: Mustapha Aga was the dealer who was working with the Abd el Rassuls who found the cache of royal mummies at Deir el Bahri. So that journal really linked Niagara Falls to the cache.

NARRATOR: At last, a plausible scenario for what might have happened to the mummy of Ramesses I. When the Abd el Rassuls discovered the cache, the body of Ramesses I was probably there. Perhaps they broke open his coffin and unwrapped his mummy, looking for jewelry. Then Mustapha Aga could have alerted them that a Canadian tourist, Dr. James Douglas, was looking for mummies. The Abd el Rassuls could have pulled the mummy from the cache, and sold him off to a museum in Niagara Falls. The rest is history.

AIDAN DODSON: If we look at it in legal terms, let's say that our mummy is in a court of law being accused of being Ramesses I. I think he'd beif it was a criminal court—he'd be not guilty, because you can't prove beyond reasonable doubt. In a civil case, it's on the balance of probabilities. And I think that the balance of probability does favor him being a pharaoh, and the most probable pharaoh? Ramesses I.

NARRATOR: For the Carlos Museum, the case is closed. In the spring of 2003, the staff prepares an exhibit fit for a king. News of the pharaoh in Atlanta reaches those who knew him when.

Meinhard Hoffmann has never doubted the royal status of the mummy. Back in 1985, he even had his lawyer notarize a statement that he was the first to discover a king in Niagara Falls. He listed three possible candidates: the pharaohs Aye, Horemheb and Ramesses I.

MEINHARD HOFFMANN: Here's the real reason I did that: because, if all of a sudden, you come out and say, "Oh, I knew all that 20 years ago," people can doubt you. People will doubt you and say you're nothing but an opportunist.

NARRATOR: As for Wolfgang Pahl, who dismissed the mummy in 1985, his views have been tempered by the carbon-14 date, CT scans and other new findings.

WOLFGANG PAHL: Based on these facts, today I would no longer say, so definitively, that this is not a royal mummy. For me the mummy remains an interesting object of study that is far from having yielded its final secrets.

NARRATOR: And what of the mummy's homeland? Will his descendants embrace him as the founder of a great dynasty? In matters of mummies and all antiquities, one man speaks for Egypt: Zahi Hawass.

ZAHI HAWASS: When I heard the news that this is a mummy of Ramesses I, I thought that this is speculation. I thought it's maybe a joke. How a king will appear suddenly like this? How will we know that this mummy of a king left Egypt and no one knows anything about it? The only person, really, who talked to me about this mummy is Peter Lacovara. And I told him that in the future, I should see this mummy.

NARRATOR: In April 2003, Hawass comes to Atlanta to provide the final word. He'll rely on a unique set of skills.

ZAHI HAWASS: Myself, I can smell royal mummies. And I know the difference from a mummy to the others. You know, I discovered, in my career, more than 254 mummies. And I can really look at the face and from the first sight I will find out that it's royal mummy or not.

That's him!


ZAHI HAWASS: He looks like a king, hmm?

PETER LACOVARA: Yeah. He looks like Seti, doesn't he?

ZAHI HAWASS: Yes, he looks like Seti.

PETER LACOVARA: He does, yeah.

ZAHI HAWASS: And the style of the New Kingdom is perfect.

I can confirm that this is the mummy of a pharaoh, but I'm not sure if I can say that this is the mummy of Ramesses I or not. But since Ramesses I mummy is missing from the cache of Deir el Bahri, then maybe we can say that this is the mummy of Ramesses I.

NARRATOR: The Carlos Museum honors its king with a gathering of Egyptologists and old friends.

SALIMA IKRAM: It gives one a sense of great personal connection when you can look on the face of Ramesses I and find the missing link between all of these royal mummies of the 19th Dynasty.

GAYLE GIBSON: Well, there's an old saying, "To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again." So, to say "Ramesses" to him again is rather nice. He has his name back.

AIDAN DODSON: It's nice to see him in a fitting position, rather than what looked like the cases in some cheap jewelry store.

So you're the man to be credited for getting him out?

BILL JAMIESON: I just, I just sold him, just sold him.

I don't know, I don't think you can actually own a pharaoh. It'll be around a lot longer than me. I'll be dead and gone, and it'll be in another collection or museum.

PETER LACOVARA: Looking down from heaven or wherever Ramesses I is, I think he'd probably be pleased that, you know, here, thousands of years later, he's back to receive prayers and visits from friends and relatives in order to continue his eternal life.

NARRATOR: For a season, the people of Atlanta marvel at a time traveler in their midst, but he will not rest here long. In October 2003, the mummy comes closer to heaven than ever imagined in the Book of the Dead: "I have risen up out of the chamber. I fly, I alight like a hawk. The gods have heard my name."

In Cairo, the mummy-who-would-be-king is received like superstar.

ZAHI HAWASS: We invite everyone to come tomorrow to the press conference to see the face of the king for the first time, when he will smell the air of Cairo.

NARRATOR: The Egyptian Museum celebrates an extraordinary gift from an American museum.

ZAHI HAWASS: I would like to state that Michael Carlos Museum, I think, did the best effort by sending this mummy to Egypt. When they found out that this is the mummy of a pharaoh, they thought the pharaoh should be home, and home means Egypt.

NARRATOR: In life, he may have ruled the land, but in death, he lays claim to our imagination. His journey goes on: "I am strong. I have awakened. My body will not be destroyed in this eternal land."

How was The Mummy Who Would Be King preserved for all eternity? On NOVA's Web site, examine the ritual. Find it on

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The Mummy Who Would Be King

Narrated by
Stacy Keach

Produced by
Gail Willumsen and Jill Shinefield

Written and Directed by
Gail Willumsen

Edited by
Leonard Feinstein

Bill Mills

Gil Talmi
Andrew Gross

Sound Recordists
Shirley Libby
Victor Gamble
Andreas Rauch
Noel Dannemiller
Sherif Ez El Din

Production Manager - Egypt
Romany Helmy

Billy Sherill

Ron Chambley
Alfons Hanna

Additional Producing by
Jonathan Wickham

Additional Camera
DJ Roller

Radical 3D

Online Editor
Bill Admans

Randy Coonfield

Audio Mix
Mark Linden
Tara Paul

Archival Material
Bibliothèque de l'Université Laval
Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY
Corbis Motion
Egyptian Film Center
Emory University Hospital
Fototeca Storica Nazionale/Getty Images
Getty Images
Heidi Hoffman
Keystone/Getty Images
Michael C. Carlos Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Niagara Falls Museum Archives
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
WSB-TV, Atlanta
ZDF Enterprises

Special Thanks
Abd el-Rassul Family
James B. Douglas
Egyptian Museum
Emory University Hospital
Zahi Hawass
Michael C. Carlos Museum
Royal Ontario Museum
Skylon Tower
The Niagara Parks Commission

NOVA Series Graphics
yU + co.

NOVA Theme Music
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.

Additional NOVA Theme Music
Ray Loring

Post Production Online Editor
Mark Steele

Closed Captioning
The Caption Center

NOVA Administrator
Dara Bourne

Eileen Campion
Olivia Wong

Senior Researcher
Barbara Moran

Production Coordinator
Linda Callahan

Unit Manager
Lola Norman-Salako
Carla Raimer

Richard Parr

Legal Counsel
Susan Rosen Shishko

Post Production Assistant
Alex Kreuter

Associate Producers, Post Production
Nathan Gunner
Patrick Carey

Post Production Supervisor
Regina O'Toole

Post Production Editor
Rebecca Nieto

Post Production Manager
Maureen Barden Lynch

Supervising Producer
Stephen Sweigart

Producer, Special Projects
Susanne Simpson

Coordinating Producer
Laurie Cahalane

Senior Science Editor
Evan Hadingham

Senior Series Producer
Melanie Wallace

Managing Director
Alan Ritsko

Senior Executive Producer
Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA Production by Gemini Productions LLC for WGBH/Boston in association with Channel Four, Spiegel TV GmbH, Sveriges Television and Zöe TV.

© 2006 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

The Mummy Who Would Be King

Undiscovered Tombs

Undiscovered Tombs
Could Egypt's Valley of the Kings still hold missing tombs?

Who Was Ramese I?

Who Was Rameses I?
A man of humble origins launches one of ancient Egypt's greatest dynasties.

Making Mummies

Making Mummies
Witness the elaborate ritual of preparing a body for burial.

The Afterlife

The Afterlife
See a gallery of mummies as you read about Egyptians' idea of eternal life.


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