The sarcophagus of one of Ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs is set to make the rare journey to Australia after the Australian Museum negotiated a loan of the priceless antiquity for its upcoming antiquity blockbuster exhibition.
The sarcophagus once contained the mummified remains of Ramses II, who ruled for almost 67 years during the 13th century BC and oversaw major military conquests and monumental construction projects while fathering more than 100 children.
It will join 181 priceless artefacts and ornate treasures to go on public display at the museum next month, with the sarcophagus the star attraction of its Ramses & The Gold of the Pharoahs blockbuster. It’s the first of three exhibitions on Ancient Egypt opening in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne in the next several months.
The exceptional loan was announced by the Egyptian government in Cairo on Monday evening Australian time as renowned archaeologist, Dr Zahi Hawass, revealed his team had made major discoveries while excavating the burial chamber of the 19th Dynasty king. These include never-before-seen funerary texts and burial chamber reliefs ushering the king into the afterlife, and showing Ramses’ god-like status in ancient Egypt.
Archaeologists say they are inching closer to finding the passage linking Ramses’ burial chamber with that of his sons in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor. The cedar coffin of Ramses II now on its way to Sydney had been included in the Paris leg of the multi-city exhibition tour of ancient Egyptian artefacts, in recognition of the French conservators who helped save the mummy from decay 50 years ago.
It was to have returned to Cairo until museum chief executive Kim McKay intervened.
“I walked up to the Minister of Tourism in Egypt, a very charming man, and introduced myself, and he did this beautiful thing of kissing my hand. And I said, ‘I’m Kim from Australia, and I want that coffin’. He laughed. We got chatting, and he said he would see what he could do.
“This beautiful sarcophagus is a work of inestimable value and a powerful symbol of one of the greatest leaders of the ancient world. Egyptians worshipped their Pharaohs, and their devotion to Ramses II can be seen through the craftsmanship of the coffin.”
Costs of transporting the coffin to Australia will be covered by ticket admission, Ms McKay said.
Hawass says proceeds the Egyptian government receives from the ten-city blockbuster tour, of which Sydney is the fourth stop, is helping conserve the tomb and its newly discovered contents including those showing Ramses with the Lord of Death and Rebirth, Osiris.