The reasons behind the thawing of ties between Ankara and Damascus

LONDON: During excavations at ancient Abydos in Egypt in 2009, archaeologists made an unexpected discovery – the remains of a lost Coptic monastery believed to have been founded in the fifth century by Coptic church leader Apa Moses. .

That was fascinating enough, but there were even bigger surprises.

Deep in the excavated ruins of a monastery, archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities made a discovery that shed light on the tension that existed between the early Coptic Church and the remnants of Egypt’s “pagan” past.

As a modest threshold in the monastery, a piece of red granite was pressed, 1.7 meters long and half.

Sarcophagus of Merenptah. (Photo courtesy of Frédéric Payraudeau)

A partial inscription revealed that it was part of the sarcophagus of Menkheperra, the high priest of Amun-Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun and air god who ruled southern Egypt from 1045 to 992 BC.

The find seems to have solved one mystery – where Menkheperre was buried. It was previously thought that he must have been buried near his power base in Thebes, in a tomb that has yet to be discovered. Now it seemed that he had been laid to rest in Abydos.

The existence of a fragment of his sarcophagus placed on the floor of the monastery, the authors of an article published in 2016 believed, owed something to Apu Moses’ “persecution of local pagan temples” and was “perhaps the result of the vigor with which his followers dismantled pagan structures and tombs throughout Abydos. “

And that’s where the story might have ended, if not for Frederic Payraudeau, an Egyptologist from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Frederic Payraudeau, Egyptologist at the Sorbonne University in Paris. (Supplied)

Ayman Damrani and Kevin Cahail, the Egyptian and American archaeologists who discovered the fragment, discovered from the beginning that the sarcophagus had another occupant before Menkheperr.

They saw that previous inscriptions had been overwritten and suggested that the original owner may have been an unknown royal prince.

The fragment, made of hard red granite, represented “a far greater allocation of time and resources associated with its construction,” they wrote, than would have been expended on the sarcophagus of even a high-ranking official.

This indicated that the original owner “had access to workshops and materials at a royal level”, and they concluded that he may have been a prince named Meryamunre or Meryamun.

“When I read this article, I was very interested because I’m an expert on this period,” Payraudeau said, “and reading the inscriptions didn’t really convince me.

He added: “I already suspected that this fragment came from the sarcophagus of the king, partly because of the quality of the object, which is very well carved, but also because of the decoration.

It consisted of scenes from the Book of Gates, an ancient Egyptian funerary text reserved almost exclusively for kings.

“It is known in the Valley of the Kings on the walls of the tombs and on the sarcophagi of the kings, and in the later period it was used by only one person who was not a king.

“But this is an exception, and it would be very strange for a prince to use this text—and especially a prince we haven’t heard of.”

The photos published in the newspaper were of too poor quality to confirm his suspicions, so he asked the author to send him high-resolution copies. “And when I saw the enlarged photographs of the objects, I could clearly see the cartouche of the king.

Royal cartouche, or inscription including Ramses’ name. (Photo courtesy of Frédéric Payraudeau)

The cartouche is an oval frame, underlined at one end, and containing a name written in hieroglyphics, which was used to denote royalty. This one read “User-Maat-Ra Setep-en-Ra”.

Roughly translated as “Justice of Ra is mighty, chosen of Ra”, it was the throne name of one of the most famous rulers of ancient Egypt – Ramses II.

Ramesses II, who ruled from 1279 to 1213 BC, is considered one of the most powerful warrior-pharaohs of ancient Egypt, famous for many battles and the creation of many temples, monuments and cities, and known by generations of subsequent rulers and their subjects as “great ancestor”.

Royal cartouche or inscription including Ramses’ name (photo courtesy of Frédéric Payraudeau)

His reign was the longest in Egyptian history and he is depicted in more than 300 often colossal statues found in the ancient kingdom.

After his death, after a reign that lasted 67 years, he was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Because many of the tombs were later looted, one of his successors, Ramses IX, who ruled from 1129 to 1111 BC, had many of the remains moved to a secret tomb in Deir El-Bahari, a necropolis on the Nile opposite the city of Luxor.

There they lay undisturbed for almost 3,000 years before being accidentally discovered by a goatherd in 1860.

It was not until 1881 that Egyptologists became aware of the extraordinary find, and among more than 50 mummies of pharaohs, each labeled with details of who they were and where they were originally buried, was Ramses II.

It was in a beautifully carved cedar chest. Originally, this would usually have been placed inside a golden coffin – lost in antiquity – which in turn would have been placed in an alabaster sarcophagus, which was then placed in a stone sarcophagus.

Small fragments of an alabaster sarcophagus were found in his original tomb in the Valley of the Kings, probably broken by robbers. But there was no sign of the granite sarcophagus – until now.

Tomb robbing and reuse of sarcophagi was a result of social and economic upheaval in ancient Egypt. “The sarcophagus was meant to be used by the owner for eternity,” Payraudeau said.

But after the death of Ramses XI in 1077 BC, at the end of a long period of prosperity, there was civil war and then a long period of unrest, he said.

“This was the third transitional period in which there was a lot of looting of the necropolises because the Egyptians knew that the tombs contained gold, silver and other valuable materials such as wood.”

In addition to ordinary grave robbers, even authorities who recycled sarcophagi for their own use participated in the looting. This is how Menkheperre was buried in a sarcophagus previously used by Ramses II.

Payraudeau is not convinced that the use of a sarcophagus fragment in a 5th-century Coptic monastery building was necessarily an act of disrespect.

“When they built this monastery, they did not know that they were reusing the sarcophagus of Ramses, because at that time no one could read hieroglyphs for about 500 years.”

This would have been in 1799 before the discovery of the Rosetta Tablet, which, with a royal decree written in three languages ​​including ancient Greek, provided the key to deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphic script.

The only mystery that now remained, Payraudeau said, was where in Abydos Menkheperre was originally buried.

“There must be undiscovered remains of the high priest’s tomb somewhere,” he said.

“Maybe she was completely destroyed. But I can’t shake the thought that they may have reused parts of the sarcophagus that were suitable for use as paving etc. in Abydos.”

In 1817, some 3,000 years after the death of Ramses II, archaeological discoveries in Egypt inspired the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to write a sonnet about how the once seemingly eternal power of the great king known to the ancient Greeks as Ozymandias had turned to dust. .

Echoing the inscription on the base of the broken, fallen statue, part of the poem reads: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Behold my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing else remained of that colossal wreck, throughout the time of decomposition. The lonely and flat sand stretches far.”

In fact, not only has Ramses II’s fame grown in the 3,236 years since he was buried in the Valley of the Kings, he has also become the most traveled of the ancient pharaohs.

In 1976, after it was discovered that his mummified remains were beginning to decompose, Ramses was sent to the Musee de l’Homme in Paris for restoration, along with a whimsical “passport” giving him the title of “King (deceased).

Since then, it has been seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors to numerous exhibitions around the world, including a return visit to Paris last year.

If the lid of his sarcophagus were discovered, it could be reunited with the mummy and her coffin, and the Ozymandias show would no doubt grow even more popular, further mocking Shelley’s poetic prediction that the Great Ancestor would be forgotten, swallowed up in the sand. time.

Leave a Comment