The sarcophagus of Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279-1212 BC) has been identified following the re-examination of a sarcophagus found in 2009 in Abydos (Egypt) by archaeologists Ayman Damarani and Kevin Cahail.

The discovery was made possible by the study of a fragment of this sarcophagus by Frédéric Payraudeau, professor and researcher of Egyptology at the University of Sorbonne and researcher at the university’s Centre for Egyptian Research and the research laboratory Orient et Méditerranée (University of Sorbonne/CNRS/Collège de France/Université Panthéon-Sorbonne/EPHE-PSL).

Frédéric Payraudeau made the discovery while studying a large fragment of a granite sarcophagus found in 2009 on the floor of a Coptic monastery in Abydos, previously presented by Egyptian and American archaeologists Ayman Damrani and Kevin Cahail.

Long side of the granite sarcophagus identified as that of Ramesses II
Long side of the granite sarcophagus identified as that of Ramesses II. Credit: Kevin Cahail

The decoration and texts of this sarcophagus demonstrated that it had been used twice, the second time by a high priest of the XXI dynasty, Menkheperre (around 1000 BC). Its first owner, however, remained a mystery, although the quality of the object indicated that it belonged to a very high-ranking figure in the Egyptian New Kingdom. By examining the newly engraved hieroglyphic texts, Frédéric Payraudeau was able to establish that they contained the cartouche of Ramesses II himself.

Until now, we knew that the tomb of this pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings (Luxor) had been completely looted and his mummy transferred to a wooden coffin during the XXI dynasty (circa 1069-943 BC).

It is now known for certain that the great king was buried in a gold coffin, now lost, placed in a first alabaster sarcophagus, found destroyed in his tomb, all of it placed in this large granite sarcophagus, now identified. After the tomb was looted, the high priest of the XXI dynasty recovered the sarcophagus for his own use and had it transported to Abydos.

This discovery is further proof that, during this period, the Valley of the Kings was not only looted, but its funerary objects were reused by later rulers. For example, Pharaoh Psusennes I recovered one of the sarcophagi of Ramesses II’s successor, Merenptah, for himself.

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