Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Four sarcophagi for Pharaoh Merneptah of Egypt

Experts restored the largest ancient Egyptian sarcophagus made of red granite that housed the mummy of Merneptah, son and successor of Ramses II. The external dimensions of the sarcophagus are not the only striking feature. There are four sarcophagi, one inside the other. The images on them should tell scientists why they were made.

The thirteenth son of Pharaoh Ramses II of the 19th dynasty Merneptah ruled approximately ten years, from 1212 to 1202 years BC. e. According to the dating of the modern German Egyptologist Thomas Schneider, that date is 1213-1204 years BC. e. Ramses II ruled the country for so long that his eldest sons had already passed away. Merneptah, who were not young, got the throne when unrest broke out at the northern border with Syria, and the tribes in western Asia rebelled against Egyptian colonizers.

In 1886, a prominent British archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie made a plan and described the ruins of the temple of Merneptah. According to the scientist, it was almost entirely built of stones taken from the nearby temple of Amenhotep III. However, it was not Merneptah who broke the temple of his predecessor that started to break down during heavy flooding. He only had to carry the stone blocks and statues to his temple. In fact, his father, Ramses II, was doing the same thing with the older sanctuaries.

Merneptah ordered to make inscriptions in prose and verse listing the areas and territories that fell under the Egyptian authorities on the wall behind the sixth pylon at Karnak and a large stele, known as the "Stele of Israel." This gave us information that his army severely punished the rebels in Syria and Palestine. He managed to repel the invasion of the so-called "Sea People." In the fifth year of Merneptah's rule he defeated Libyans in a bloody battle. For his successful military campaign Merneptah was named "victorious", and "worthy of the gods."

Earlier Egyptologists assumed that Merneptah was the "Pharaoh of the Exodus," drowned in the Red Sea. However, his mummy strongly damaged by tomb raiders was found with 12 others in the Valley of the Kings in the tomb of Amenhotep II. In all likelihood, the priests put away his mummy in four stone boxes, one inside the other. Currently the external one is being restored. It is 4 meters long, 2.3 meters wide and 2.5 meters high. The sarcophagus was brightly colored and had a cover that was preserved intact. Embalming experts claimed that Pharaoh Merneptah suffered from toothache, arthritis, atherosclerosis, and hip fractures.

"As far as I know, this is the largest of all king's sarcophagus," head of works on the reconstruction Edwin Brock told LiveScience. The Researcher of the Canadian Royal Ontario Museum suggested that the sarcophagi were already nested when placed in the tomb. Holes in the input shaft indicated that the system used blocks and pulleys, through which coffins were lowered into the tomb. When the workers reached the burial chamber, they found that the sarcophagi could not fit through the door. They had to destroy the door, but then it was sealed again. "This study has revealed some interesting aspects of life in ancient Egypt, which makes them look less godlike," Edwin Brock said.

The study of the fragments from the tomb of Merenptah began in the 1980s. At the time they were placed in a funeral chamber in a disorderly heap. When they put them together, there was only a third of the sarcophagus. Its full-scale reconstruction began in March of last year.

The outer box is followed by another granite sarcophagus with an oval lid and cartouche surrounding the name of Merneptah. The third coffin was taken out during the reign of the Pharaoh of the 21st dynasty Psusennes I (reigned about 1040-994 years BC.).

The fourth box, made of travertine (tufa), contained a mummy. Only a few fragments of the box remained, and the mummy was reburied after tomb robbers entered the tomb more than three thousand years ago. The first two boxes were broken to get to the third one, which was intended for Psusennes I. Traces from fire and hacking, according to Brock, suggested that the granite was first heated and then cooled rapidly with water to make it brittle.

Egyptologists are not able to answer the question why Merneptah needed such a large sarcophagus. Some kings were also buried in several sarcophagi, but none of them had a large external one. Brock mentioned that Merenptah's father Ramses II and grandfather Seti I (both - great builders), each were buried in a coffin made of travertine. The scientists are trying to find clues through images on Merneptah's sarcophagi. They depict two texts.

Funerary text of the "Book of Gates" tells the story of the transition of the soul of the deceased into the other world, like the journey of the sun, heading to the underworld at night. The book "Amduat" also refers to the mortuary texts inscribed on the walls of the tomb of Pharaoh. Both literary works consist of 12 chapters, or "clock".

Edwin Brock noted that similar clocks were shown on the boxes and lids of Merneptah's sarcophagi. According to a modern connoisseur of Egyptian theology, German scientist Erik Hornung, after entering of ​​the Sun god into the underworld, he was greeted not by a separate deity, but the dead. For Merneptah these repetitive scenes may have meant resurrection from the dead.

Igor Bukker  


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