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The Mummy Who Would Be King: The Saga of Pharaoh Rameses I cover image

The Mummy Who Would Be King: The Saga of Pharaoh Rameses I 2006

Highly Recommended

Distributed by WGBH Boston, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134; 617-300-2000
Produced by Gail Willumsen and Hill Shinefield
Directed by Gail Willumsen
DVD, color, 56 min.



Jr. High - Adult
Middle Eastern Studies, History, Museums, Archaeology

Date Entered: 06/13/2006

Reviewed by Gloria Maxwell, Reference Librarian, Penn Valley Community College, Kansas City, MO

Who would believe that an Egyptian Pharaoh’s mummy would lie unwrapped in a museum dedicated to freaks of nature for more than 125 years? The Niagara Falls Museum was one of Canada’s first museums, and was dedicated to entertain as well as educate—on a minimal level. In 1860, Dr. James Douglas, who sailed the Nile every winter, arranged to purchase several coffins and mummies from Egypt. This was strictly a legal transaction at that time. The Egyptian artifacts Douglas obtained for the museum were wildly popular and a tremendous draw. Visitors to this museum included Lincoln, Grant, and P.T. Barnum. In 1966, a German engineer named Meinhard Hoffman visited the Niagara Falls Museum and conjectured that one of the mummies might actually be a pharaoh. The mummy under scrutiny had both arms crossed at the chest, a burial custom that was usually reserved only for royalty. An expert working with Hoffman declared that the mummy in question was not a pharaoh, and this mummy was left to languish once again.

Gayle Gibson, from the Royal Ontario Museum, studied the coffins at the Niagara Falls Museum, while she was working on her M.A. Degree. She was impressed by the condition and the crossed arms of this same mummy. In 1991, she invited an Egyptologist and friend, to look at him. Her friend declared he thought it was the mummy of a pharaoh, based on the way he was embalmed.

In 1998, Bill Jamieson, an ethnographer and art collector/dealer, bought the contents of the Niagara Falls Museum. He decided to sell off the Egyptian artifacts and put them on the world market for $2 million dollars. The new curator of the Carlos LaCovara Museum at Emory University, raised the money in two months. He was interested in the artifacts and coffins more than the mummies. But, once in their possession, he, too, was struck by the mummy with the crossed arms.

With the efforts of an expert on royal mummies from Cairo, and the CT scans compared to the ex-rays made by James Harris of all the royal mummies in the Cairo museum, the pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place.

What determined that this mummy might really be Rameses I related to the type of embalming techniques used, the quality and amount of resin placed in the brain and chest cavities (resin was rare and costly and usually reserved for royalty), and the crossed arms, typical of burial style for New Kingdom Pharaohs.

Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, was invited to Atlanta to see this controversial mummy and give his opinion on the matter. Hawass states he can “smell” a Royal mummy. After close observation, Hawass proclaimed that “He looks like a King,” and exhibited the perfect style of the New Kingdom Pharaohs. With that pronouncement, the mummy’s identity was assured.

The royal mummy, now widely accepted as Rameses I, remained in Atlanta for a season, but it was thought by those at Emory University that he should be returned home to Egypt. In October, 2003, the mummy of Rameses I was flown “home” to lie next to the other Pharaohs in the Cairo museum. Thus ended the strange and bizarre journey of this royal pharaoh.

This program looks at the problems with radio carbon dating as related to mummies due to the amount of contamination mummies experience from the point of being unearthed to finally arriving in a sterile laboratory environment. Also considered are the problems caused by DNA testing and the sample size required to achieve effective results, which can be very harmful to mummies.

Photography, video and audio qualities are all superb and scenic cinematography of all the places mentioned enhances the delivery of the facts. Archival footage of the historical events and old newspaper accounts are used effectively throughout the documentary. The individuals involved with the mummy of Rameses I are interviewed personally and serve to move the program along. The accompanying music is appropriate to the subject and setting.

Supplemental DVD features include the following: a link to the NOVA Web site, materials and activities for educators, scene selections, closed captions, and described video for the visually impaired.

This film is suitable for college library or curriculum collections, as well as public high school and middle school collections.

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