I was sixteen and was visiting Egypt for the first time with my family. Having wanted to be an Egyptologist since I was about nine, I had seen mummies in books before, but none ‘in real’.
I recall entering the mummy room in the Egyptian Museum alone, leaving the family behind. As I entered the empty room, it took a few seconds for my eyes to get used to the darkness. And there they were, all these pharaohs I had read about in books, lying in front of me, illuminated in soft light. I circulated silently between the cases.
I don’t remember much of the mummies on display, except for one: Ramesses II. More than remembering how he looked, I remember how I felt: I was fascinated. I couldn’t remove my eyes from his face, him resting calmly in this room, with the hubbub of the museum going on outside. He was commanding respect. I gazed at him in wonderment and awe, somehow wishing he would sit up and speak.
I am unsure as to how long I stayed there with him—time had stopped—but during that moment of time, I was surely not looking at an object in a museum, I was looking at a man whose life I wished to know more about.
Solène Klein is a fourth year PhD student at the University of Oxford, Faculty of Oriental Studies (Egyptology). Her doctoral research aims at assessing and understanding the changes occurring in the practice of protection of the viscera in the early first millennium BCE (21st–26th dynasties).