TV: Psusennes I, the Silver Pharaoh (who ursurped Merenptah’s sarcophagus)

Dr. Fawzy Gaballah, who reopened the research on Psusennes I for the documentary. - Image credit Andy Webb, PBSThe royal tomb of Pharaoh Psusennes I is said to be one of the most spectacular discoveries ever made in Egypt. So, why hasn’t the world heard about it? And what does it reveal about Ancient Egypt? Find out in ‘Secrets of the Dead:The Silver Pharoah’, premiering this Wednesday.

Tanis, Egypt, circa 1939. An excavation team led by French archaeologist Pierre Montet unearthed an intact royal burial chamber (NRT III), which containedtreasures that (almost) rivals the riches found in Tutankhamuns tomb almost two decades before.

One of the most spectacular discoveries inside the crypt was the exquisite silver sarcophagus of Pharaoh Psusennes I, an, up till now, obscure ruler who governed Egypt more than 3000 years ago during one of its most difficult periods.

But while the 1922 Tut discovery created an international sensation, the opening of the tomb in Tanis made barely a ripple in a world focused on the impending war.

After Montet made his discovery, he raced to get his family back to Europe before the outbreak of war and the treasures he found – including Psusennes I’s golden burial mask (currently on tour) – were transported to Cairo for safe-keeping. There, the Silver Pharaoh’s treasures remained vaulted and unstudied.

It is hard to imagine a worse time to make such a spectacular discovery,says Egyptologist Salima Ikram.

Now, a team ofscientists- including Dr Salima Ikram, Dr Fawzy Gaballah and Dr Peter Lacovara -has taken a second look at the pharaoh’s 3,000-year-old remains, his treasures and Montet’s excavation notes. This research is the topic of a one-hour documentary ‘The Silver Pharaoh‘ (part of Secrets of the Dead), which premieres in the US this Wednesday.

 PBS, Andy WebbReconstruction portrait of Psusennes I by Melissa Dring - Image credit PBS, Andy Webb

Secrets of the Dead: The Silver Pharaoh

Psusennes ruled at the end of the 2nd millennium BC, about 300 years after King Tut.

At that time, Egypt was a fractured kingdom divided between rival rulers of north and south. High priests seized power to command the southern region from Thebes while deposed pharaohs were exiled north to Tanis.

From Tanis, Psusennes ruled for animpressive 46 years;the study of Psusennes skeleton showed a hard-working man who suffered a debilitating rheumatic disease but lived well into his eighties.

‘Cumul des mandats’

The pharaoh’s cartouche offered the archaeologists clues as to how Psusennes amassed his fortune.

The first one was found on an ordinary silver dish, marked with Psusennes signature along with a series of hieroglyphic inscriptions citing his titles the king was not only a pharaoh but also a high priest.

Additional investigation showed that he had his daughter marry his brother, a high priest in the south. In doing so, he cemented his family power and united the country.

Ursurping Merenptah’s Sarcophagus

Psusennes’ sarcophagus held another clue to Third Intermediate Period Egyptian politics. On it, the egyptologists found a cartouche belonging to Merenptah, son of Ramesses the Great. Merenptah died 150 years before Psusennes came into power.

Research showed Psusennes was given Merenptahs sarcophagus as a gift and had his signature added on it. This strategic act solidified his familys association with historical greats for eternity.

Moving Pi-Ramesses to Tanis

The team also discovered more about the relocation of the metropolis of Pi-Ramesses, the riverside capital built by Ramesses II, to Tanis. Montet discovered its ruins in Tanis, however, archaeologists began questioning Montets assumption since the river Nile often changed course.

Using radar scans along a previously discounted delta settlement 12 miles from Tanis, they discovered the foundation of Ramesses lost city. Pi-Ramesses became unlivable when the Nile became too silted at this location. Around the same time, Psusennes took the throne and ordered part of the city be moved stone by stone to Tanis.

‘Secrets of the Dead: The Silver Pharaoh’ airs nationally Wednesday, November 3, 2010 on PBS.