The mummy of the pharaoh Amenhotep II's foster brother may have been found in a former monastery, according to archival research into 19th-century documents.
The mummy, now reduced to a skeleton, is believed to be that of Qenamun, the chief steward of Amenhotep II (about 1427–1400 B.C.) who was the 7th Pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty and likely Tutankhamun's great-great-grandfather.
Qenamun was effectively Amenhotep II's foster brother, as his mother, Amenemipet, was the chief royal nurse of the future king. The two grew up together and the bond endured in adult life, with Qenamun enjoying a high and powerful status.
But the whereabouts of Qenamun's afterlife journey had remained a mystery -- no coffin nor mummy was found in his large and beautifully decorated tomb in Thebes.
"Identifying Qenamun has been like fitting together long-lost puzzle pieces," Marilina Betrò, professor of Egyptology at Pisa University, told Discovery News.
It all began two years ago when a skeleton resting in a cardboard box was found in a store room of a 14th-century monastery. Located in Calci, a village near Pisa, the monastery now houses one of the world's oldest natural history museums.
"Intriguingly, the skull bore an inscription in black ink stating it was one of the mummies brought from Egypt by Ippolito Rosellini, Europe's first Egyptology professor," Marilina Betrò told Discovery News. She holds the same chair at Pisa University that Rosellini did.
In 1828 the Pisa academic left for Egypt with Jean-Francois Champollion, the French philologist who had recently deciphered the Rosetta Stone.
Financed by the grand-duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, and the King of France, Charles X, the joint Franco-Tuscan expedition brought to Europe a treasure trove of ancient antiquities. At the same time, it yielded a survey of the monuments of Egypt and their hieroglyphic inscriptions, which, thanks to Champollion, were readable for the first time.
On Dec. 29, 1829, back from Egypt, Rosellini wrote a report to Grand Duke Leopold II. Attached to that letter was a list of 1878 antiquities he had packed for the journey back to Tuscany -- 660 were acquired by excavations, while 1,218 were purchased.
Rosellini stated he chose to take the best intact items, leaving behind several other objects because of shipping costs.
"Until a few years ago, only the draft of that letter was known, and it lacked the list. We found it in the National Archives in Prague, where all the documents of the Habsburg-Lorraine family are kept," Betrò said.
The list of the 660 antiquities began with the description of 11 mummies. Seven are currently on display in Florence's Egypt museum, while records about three others -- a woman, a man and a child -- reveal they were destroyed and never made to the Florence museum. The eleventh mummy remained a mystery.
The sarcophagus being restored. Giuseppe Venturini
In his report, Rosellini described the mummy as resting in a black varnished coffin with yellow painted hieroglyphs, "the body intact in its bandages." The elusive mummy was not mentioned in any later document.
"Something must have happened during the sea journey from Alexandria to Livorno," Betrò said.
Papers found among Rosellini's documents indicate the merchant ship Cleopatra faced a "long and stormy navigation" during which some of the antiquities were possibly damaged.
"Most likely, when the boxes were opened in Livorno, the mummy was no longer in condition to be brought to the grand duke," Betrò said.
"Rosellini possibly gave the mummy to his friend Paolo Savi, the director of Pisa's natural history museum, so that it could be useful to science at least," she said.
Anthropological analysis indicated the skeleton belonged to a rather tall male (5’ 9") who died around 30 years of age. The bone remains do not show any sign of disease but the head of one of the remains' femurs is enlarged and stretched.
"That's a peculiarity which is sometimes observed in those who were used to bumpy and speedy rides in chariots," anthropologist Francesco Mallegni and colleagues wrote in their report.
The skeleton was probably hung for display in the museum, as wires linking some bones suggest.
Meanwhile, parallel research in Florence's Egyptian museum revealed the presence of a black varnished coffin with yellow painted hieroglyphs which previous researches attributed as coming from Rosellini's expedition. Because of its condition, it lay almost forgotten in the museum's store rooms.
"It was so badly damaged that it wasn't recorded in the museum inventory," Maria Cristina Guidotti, director of the Egyptian museum, told Discovery News.
At a careful examination, the yellow painted hieroglyphs revealed the name of the coffin's owner as the "God's Father Qenamun."
"The very important title confirmed it belonged to Amenhotep II's foster brother," Betrò said.
The pharoah held Qenamun in such a great esteem that he had planned a magnificent funeral for him, with processions of Qenamun statues and singers of the Amon temples dancing and singing for him.
But such a memorable funeral might have never occurred. The reliefs in Qenamun's large Theban tomb were defaced and not a single image of him survived the chisel attacks.
"The skeleton suggests a disgraced Qenamun died young under the reign of his foster brother," Betrò said.
How the mummy was found by Rosellini's team remains a mystery.
During his expedition, the Pisa scholar discovered five intact tombs in the Theban necropolis; of these, two dated between the 18th dynasty and the beginning of the 19th dynasty.
Both burials were discovered in the absence of Rosellini and Champollion, who had left for Nubia. They had ordered that any intact tomb found while they were away should be left sealed and untouched until their return.
"This was done for one tomb only; the other was opened and emptied. In this tomb workers found the wonderful chariot that Rosellini brought to Florence," Betrò said.
Nearly a century later, in 1905, a similar chariot was found in the tomb of Yuya and Thuya, King Tut's great-grandparents; other chariots were found by Howard Carter in the boy king’s treasure packed tomb.
"Such names say a lot about the status of those who were able to carry a chariot in the afterlife," Betrò said.
"I believe the chariot and Qenamun's mummy were found in the tomb that was opened by workers in Rosellini and Champollion's absence," she concluded.
According to Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, the find shows a neat piece of detective work by Betrò.
“The research features strong and convincing circumstantial evidence, but it lacks a definitive proof that the mummy is indeed original to the coffin and not a composite that was sold to Rosellini,” Ikram told Discovery News.