In 1902, when a group of scientists was examining the famous pharaoh‘s mummy in the recently opened Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo, an event took place that shocked those gathered there and even novelists of the stature of Pierre Loti or Vicente Blasco Ibáñez collected in their works.
After its discovery in the Deir el-Bahari cache in 1870, along with many of his pharaonic companions, the mummy of Ramses II was transferred to Cairo and housed in the Boulaq Museum, antecedent of the current Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where it was submitted to a study by the sages of the time.
In 1886, and in front of a large number of authorities, the mummy of Ramses the Great was studied by the country’s highest archaeological authority, the French Gaston Maspero, director general of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, who confirmed the identity of the Pharaoh thanks to an inscription on the shroud.
From Boulaq to Tahrir Square
But Maspero not only removed the bandages from the mummy, he also revealed three inscriptions engraved on the coffin: the first explained how the mummy was restored in Herihor’s time (1106-1077 BC), and the other two counted the transfers to which it was submitted the mummy of the great pharaoh, first from its original location to the tomb of his father, Seti I, and then to the tomb of Queen Ahmose-Inhapy, from the 17th dynasty (around 1540 BC).
The mummy of Ramses II, which was in pretty good condition, was finally housed in a special room and protected under a glass cover.
In 1902, the current headquarters of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was inaugurated in Tahrir Square, a large building designed by the French architect Marcel Dourgnon.
The royal mummies, including that of Ramses, were arranged on the first floor of the building, although they were not exposed to the public.
In fact, the royal mummies could only be seen by illustrious visitors and in very exceptional cases. These visitors include prestigious novelists such as Pierre Loti or Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.
Ramses is moving!
At that time, there was already talk of the magic of mummies and possible curses, and novels starring evil mummies that came back to life were beginning to be successful among readers.
Loti, who visited the Museum in 1907 accompanied by its director Gaston Maspero, was struck by a story that was told to him, an event that Blasco Ibáñez also echoed and that happened shortly after the museum’s inauguration.
In his work, Around the World of a Novelist, the writer tells the following:
“The truth is that the mummy of Ramses II, without losing his reclining immobility, raised one of his hands, slapping the glass cover … All the guardians of the Egyptian museum, who had looked with some alarm the arrival of the terrible character, not losing sight of him for a moment in his new installation, they immediately realized his awakening … They ran terrified towards the doors, fighting for who would escape first.”
A Logical Explanation
But did Ramses II really raise his left arm? Well, it seems that yes, but the explanation for such an event is quite simple: the pharaoh’s mummy was not at that time in a controlled environment and a sudden change in temperature caused the tendons of the arm to contract spontaneously.
Blasco Ibáñez himself explains it in his book: “[The mummy’s joints] suffered the dilation produced by heat on certain materials, one of them moving spasmodically [from his arms]”.
In fact, one day, British scientist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith was studying and photographing the mummy of Ramses II.
When his aide began to remove the bandages covering the pharaoh’s arm, the long-compressed fibers of the limb suddenly contracted, and the scientists standing next to the mummy retreated when they saw that the great pharaoh moved an arm seeming to awaken from his millennial dream, making a gesture that seemed to be an order.
Obviously nothing supernatural happened and the mummy of the pharaoh did not intend to indicate anything.
But if it had been possible, what would Ramses II have said to those gathered there? We will never know.
First photo: Study of a mummy in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Source: Carme Mayans, national geographic