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Left; Mummified skull of Ramesses II, Right; Reconstructed face of Ramesses by Cicero Moraes	.	Source: Left; G. Elliot Smith/Public domain, Right; © Cicero Moraes

Wise Face of Egypt’s Most Powerful Pharaoh Moments Before Death

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The face of Ramesses II, or Ramesses the Great, one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs, has been meticulously reconstructed by scientists using advanced 3D modeling techniques. This recreation, showing the king's appearance moments before his death, portrays him as a frail yet wise elderly man, revealing a visage that aligns with some of the features depicted in his colossal statues that still stand in Egypt.

Ramesses II reigned from 1279 to 1213 BC, making significant contributions to Egypt's architectural and military achievements. His reign, known for its grandeur, included the construction of impressive monuments and statues, which solidified his legacy as one of Egypt’s greatest rulers.

Reconstructing the Face of Ramesses II

The Daily Mail reports that Cicero Moraes, a Brazilian graphics expert, led the reconstruction team, which used a 3D model of the king's mummified skull. By layering soft tissue and skin over the digital skull model, they recreated what Ramesses II likely looked like at around 90 years old, the age he is believed to have been at his death.

Mummified skull of Ramesses II. (G. Elliot Smith/Public domain)

Mummified skull of Ramesses II. (G. Elliot Smith/Public domain)

The reconstruction revealed a frail, elderly man with a weathered face. Despite the king’s advanced age, his face still bore a striking resemblance to the giant statues of him, though some differences were noted. The statues, often idealized, showed a more delicate forehead, pronounced lips, and a well-defined chin, features that Moraes’ reconstruction found to be “insufficiently reliable” for an accurate representation.

 

Younger Memnon Statue of Ramesses II from Thebes portrays him with pronounced lips and defined chin. (Nate Loper/CC BY 2.0)

Younger Memnon Statue of Ramesses II from Thebes portrays him with pronounced lips and defined chin. (Nate Loper/CC BY 2.0)

Scientific and Historical Validation

The team’s approach included analyzing anthropometric and DNA data from ancient Egyptian populations. They aimed to create a realistic depiction, considering the various elements that made up the Egyptian populace. The skin color palette used in the reconstruction was chosen based on ancient Egyptian art, as the true hue of the pharaoh's skin remains unknown. A grayscale version of the image was also produced to avoid making definitive judgments about his complexion.

Moraes explained:

"We carried out a broad analysis, comparing the reconstructed face with statues of Ramesses II. The objective was to understand the extent to which the statues are reliable. We saw that while there is good compatibility with the shape of the nose and, in some situations, the shape of the face, there are also significant differences."

Ramesses II reconstruction in traditional dress. (© Cicero Moraes)

Ramesses II reconstruction in traditional dress. (© Cicero Moraes)

Comparing with Previous Reconstructions

This recent reconstruction is not the first attempt to visualize Ramesses II. A 2022 reconstruction by Sahar Saleem of Cairo University and Caroline Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University presented a younger version of the pharaoh. Using different methods, their project also relied on a 3D model of the skull but reversed the aging process to reveal his appearance at the height of his power. Saleem described the younger Ramesses as a "very handsome Egyptian person with facial features characteristic of Ramesses II – the pronounced nose, and strong jaw."

2022 reconstruction by Sahar Saleem of Cairo University and Caroline Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University of a younger Ramesses. (Face Lab LJMU)

Revealing the Wisdom in Old Age

The latest reconstruction aimed to depict the king's aging features accurately. It highlighted the pronounced veins on his forehead, signs of memory loss, and poor dental and bone health, including a pronounced overbite and significant tooth wear. These details were corroborated by a 1976 study of Ramesses’ mummified remains, which had restored tissues and created new bandages.

The team also used anatomical deformation, matching the mummy's dimensions to a living donor with a similar overbite, to interpolate the final image. This technique helped produce a life-like representation that captured the king's wisdom and age.

Public Reaction and Future Implications

While the reconstruction has garnered significant attention, it has also sparked debates and criticisms, especially regarding the portrayal of Ramesses II's skin color and facial features. Moraes welcomes the discussion, emphasizing the importance of freedom of expression and the scientific process.

"I am in favor of freedom of expression. I generally use it to clarify points and refute what is incoherent," he stated.

This reconstruction adds a new dimension to our understanding of Ramesses II, providing a more personal and human connection to the ancient ruler. It bridges the gap between the grandiosity of his reign and the reality of his mortality, offering a poignant reminder of the wisdom and frailty that come with age.

The face of Ramesses II, moments before his death, is not just a scientific achievement but a powerful symbol of the enduring legacy of one of history's greatest leaders.

Top image: Left; Mummified skull of Ramesses II, Right; Reconstructed face of Ramesses by Cicero Moraes           .              Source: Left; G. Elliot Smith/Public domain, Right; © Cicero Moraes

By Gary Manners

 

Comments

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Gary Manners's picture

Gary

Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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