From working out the movements of the stars to building geometrically and architecturally-perfect pyramids, the Ancient Egyptians were certainly proficient at a great many things. But as advanced as their civilization was, unfortunately, they weren’t quite up-to-date enough to begin issuing passports to their citizens — and in the mid-1970s, that posed something of a problem…
The mummified remains of one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, Ramses II, were discovered in 1881 alongside the bodies of more than 50 Egyptian noblemen, high priests, and rulers. They were found in a secret chamber at an ancient royal burial complex known as Deir el-Bahri, on the west bank of the river Nile. Pharaoh Ramses—who ruled over his kingdom for more than six decades, from 1,279-1,213 BCE—had originally been buried in Ancient Egypt’s famous Valley of the Kings, but so great was his power and influence at the time of his death that those who went on to succeed him feared that his tomb may be the target of looters and grave robbers. As a result, his priests and advisors later had his remains removed to a more distant location, in an ancient Theban burial cache or “necropolis,” Deir el-Bahri, opposite the grand city of Luxor.
There, Ramses remained undisturbed for the next three millennia, until a team of archeologists discovered his remains in the late 19th century.
After the discovery, it was decided that Ramses’ remains be put on display —alongside many of his treasures and burial trappings — as the centerpiece of a grand new exhibition at the national Egyptian Museum in Cairo. After more than 90 years on display to the public, however, in 1974 archeologists in Cairo realized that Ramses’ mummified body was beginning to deteriorate and break down at an alarming rate. Fearing that the mummy might eventually disintegrate altogether, arrangements were quickly made for it to be shipped to a team of expert archeological restorers in Paris, France, for examination where it was hoped, that expert treatment and some much-needed repair would occur.
There was, however, a problem. Customs and travel laws between Egypt and Europe in the 1970s demanded that everyone wishing to travel between the two places needed to have valid documentation. And what is more, those laws were so stringent that they even applied to dead bodies!
As a result, some 3,189 years after his death, Pharaoh Ramses II was issued with an official Egyptian passport, complete with a headshot photograph, and some brief identification details. The pharaoh’s occupation, just for the record, was listed as “KING (DECEASED).”
In the typically majestic style, as befits a king, on his arrival in France in September 1976, Ramses’ mummy was greeted at the Le Bourget Airport in Paris with full military honors and was then transported to a high-tech laboratory at the city’s Musee de l’Homme under an impressive police escort. It was there that his remains were assessed and given a special irradiating anti-fungal treatment to prevent any further deterioration. Given that the chance to carry out such in-depth analysis on a three millennium-old corpse doesn’t come along too often, the museum also took the opportunity to carry out a full forensic examination of his remains, under the watchful eye of Pierre-Fernand Ceccaldi, the chief professor of forensic science at Paris’ Criminal Identification Laboratory of Paris.
Professor Ceccaldi’s examination revealed that the ancient king had suffered several battle wounds and had broken several bones in his life; had likely also suffered from both arthritis and poor circulation; and, astonishingly, he was even able to tell that Pharaoh Ramses—like many of the members of his dynastic line—likely had wavy or curly ginger-colored hair.
With the examination and preservation treatment over, Ramses’ mummy was once more prepared for travel. (The official paperwork Ramses had been issued with allowed not only for his mummy to be safely shipped to France but also ensured that it could be returned safely and without any unnecessary hold-up.) Ultimately, in May 1977, he was successfully returned to Cairo and has remained on display in the city’s Egyptian Museum ever since.