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Oh mummy: Louvre's pharoah jars are not what they seemed

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 9:47 am    Post subject: Oh mummy: Louvre's pharoah jars are not what they seemed Reply with quote

Paris - One of the star exhibits at the Louvre's egyptology wing, a collection of four jars said to have contained the embalmed organs of Egypt's greatest pharoah, Rameses II, have a sadly less glamorous vintage.
The beautiful turquoise-blue earthenware pots, emblazoned with Rameses' name in hieroglyphs and with incantions to the gods Mut and Amon, are genuine.
But the belief that they held Rameses' preserved innards to help ease the pharoah into the afterlife is false, French investigators say.
Writing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, a team led by chemist Jacques Connan of the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg carried out molecular tests and carbon-dating on two samples of residue scraped from two jars.
Chromatography and mass spectrometry showed that one of the samples was an unguent, or scented oil, made from pine oil and animal fat.
It was dated to 1035 BC, plus or minus 50 years, an era called the Third Intermediate Period. Rameses, though, had died in 1213 BC, between 128 and 228 years earlier.
The other sample, an orange-yellow compound, was found to comprise pure vegetable resin and was used for embalming. But carbon-dating put its antiquity to the Ptolemaic period, at around 275 BC.
Connan believes that the jars were first used as vessels, or situlae, to store sacred cosmetics in the temple of Rameses II, which explains the unguent. They were then were reused much later as canopic jars for storing embalmed organs.
The fact that the individual's preserved organs were kept in a jar once earmarked for Rameses II suggests that this person may have been important, he believes.
"These results clarify a controversy which has been lasting over a century," observes Connan.
"The famous blue-glazed faience jars are not the canopic jars of Rameses II but are confirmed as situlae which were reused at least twice: first to store unguents during the Intermediate Period and later to store embalming packages of an unknown person during the Ptolemaic period."
The claim that the jars held Rameses' remains dates back to 1906, a year after the jars entered the Louvre's collection. Two of the jars were untouched, and two had been opened.
A doctor in Lyons, charged with investigating the pots, took out a linen-wrapped package from one of the jars and found it contained muscular tissue that he identified as a heart.
Because Rameses' inscription, or cartouche, was on the side of the pot, the presumption was that these were the pharoah's canopic jars.
Some egyptologists had doubts, though.
Under the rituals of ancient Egypt, embalmers left only one organ, the heart, inside the mummy, so that it could be weighed in the afterlife by Thoth, the ibis-headed god considered the supreme arbiter of good and evil.
In 1985, the sceptics gained ground when Rameses' mummy was indeed found to contain his heart.
During his six-decade reign, Rameses II expanded Egypt's empire and built some of its greatest monuments, including the colossal rock-cut temple at Abu Simbel as well as complexes at Luxor and Karnak. He reputedly sired a hundred children.
He was buried in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor; his mummy lies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Reports on Connan's study are carried in the latest issues of the British weekly New Scientist and the French monthly Sciences et Avenir.

Agence France Presse
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