MUMMY MUSICAL CHAIRS

The two caches of royal mummies did not contain such spectacular artifacts as did the tomb of Tutankhamon. In terms of historical value, however, they ought to have been more important; for, as we have mentioned, anthropologists can learn a great deal from human remains. One group of mummies from the Deir el Bahri cache dates to the Twenty-first Dynasty, family members and associates of the priest-kings Pinudjem. Another group from that cache includes kings, queens, and officials from the late Seventeenth through the Twentieth Dynasties. Add to this latter collection the royal mummies found in the second cache, in the tomb of Amenhotep II, and we have almost all the great kings of Egypt’s glory—Thutmoses, Amenhoteps, Rameses, Seti I. An examination of these mummies, surely, could answer some of the questions still remaining about length of reign and family relationships.

Once the mummies were in the museum, Maspero called in Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, one of the foremost anatomists of his time, to unwrap and examine them. The process went on for several years; not until 1886 were the majority of the remains unwrapped.

Maspero knew that the mummies weren’t in their original coffins or bandaging. Hieratic inscriptions, written on coffins and shrouds by the priests who had restored the bodies, were the only way of identifying them. Maspero had no reason to doubt these identifications; but even at the time Smith expressed doubts about certain of them. Not until 1967, when X-ray examinations of the royal mummies were made, did serious questions arise. To take a single example, the individual identified as that of Thutmose I was probably no more than twenty years old at his death. The historical evidence indicates that Thutmose had to have been a lot older.

By the time the later investigators, Edward Wente and James Harris, got through, they had proposed not one but three schemes of reidentification, based on the assumption that the priests who restored the bodies in ancient times hadn’t been paying attention. It’s a somewhat entertaining and very complicated subject; the reader who wishes to pursue it will find an excellent summary in an addendum to Dennis Forbes’s Tombs. Treasures. Mummies. (See Additional Reading.)

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