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Seal of Ramesses II

Cartouche purchased for £12 may be precious seal of Ramesses II


It has been one lucky find after another for an archaeologist from England. A couple of months ago he found what may be an Anglo-Saxon or Viking stonework artifact that was on sale as a garden stone. But this time, he has possibly hit it big by buying what may be a 3,000-year-old cartouche or seal of Ramesses II. The personal seal of one of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs, sold for £12 (about $19) on a charity website.

James Balme, the lucky archaeologist, told the Mail Online that the stone cartouche is being analyzed by experts to determine whether it is the genuine article. If it is, it could be immensely valuable.

Earlier in February, Balme announced he’d found a stone with strange carvings, possibly dating from the Anglo-Saxon or Viking era. It had been on sale as a garden ornament when he bought it, cleaned it and revealed an intricately designed carving.

But this latest find, if it is genuine, is much older. Balme said his initial research of hieroglyphics shows it is the seal of Ramesses the Great, who ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1213 B.C.

The cartouche is carved with a scene on one side showing a sitting man with a scarab beetle at his feet and eagle overhead. Directly in front of the seated figure is a sun disk. The other side has hieroglyphics.

Ramesses II is considered one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt and is also one of its most well-known. The third pharaoh of the 19 th Dynasty ascended the throne during his late teens in 1279 B.C. following the death of his father, Seti I. He ruled Egypt for 66 years, outliving many of his sons– though he is believed to have fathered more than 100 children. As a result of his long and prosperous reign, Ramesses II was able to undertake numerous military campaigns against neighboring regions, as well as build monuments to the gods, and of course, to himself.

Ramesses II at his Abu Simbel, a large monument he had built to himself and his wife Nefertari

Ramesses II at his Abu Simbel, a large monument he had built to himself and his wife Nefertari (Photo by Codadilupo78/Wikimedia Commons)

Despite being the one of the most powerful men on Earth during his life, Ramesses II did not have much control over his physical remains after his death. While his mummified body was originally buried in the tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings, looting by grave robbers prompted the Egyptian priests to move his body to a safer resting place. The actions of these priests have rescued the mummy of Ramesses II from the looters, only to have it fall into the hands of archaeologists. In 1881, the mummy of Ramesses II, along with those of more than 50 other rulers and nobles were discovered in a secret royal cache at Dier el-Bahri. Ramesses II’s mummy was identified based on the hieroglyphics, which detailed the relocation of his mummy by the priests, on the linen covering the body of the pharaoh. About a hundred years after his mummy was discovered, archaeologists noticed the deteriorating condition of Ramesses II’s mummy and decided to fly it to Paris to be treated for a fungal infection. Interestingly, the pharaoh was issued an Egyptian passport, in which his occupation was listed as ‘King (deceased)’. Today, the mummy of this great pharaoh rests in the Cairo Museum in Egypt.

The mummy of Ramesses the Great in Cairo Museum, Egypt

The mummy of Ramesses the Great in Cairo Museum, Egypt (Wikimedia Commons)

Hieroglyphics will also tell the tale of the cartouche Balme found. Balme said his preliminary research into the cartouche and its hieroglyphics shows it is of Ramesses II, but Egyptian experts are looking at it to possibly confirm this.

The hieroglyphics on the flat face of the stone should be able to be translated in the coming weeks telling us more about the history of the stone,” Balme told MailOnline. “As [it seems that] the cartouche is the royal seal of Ramesses II then it is plausible that the figure seated could be that of Ramesses himself. This is a real mystery at the moment but an exciting one nonetheless.

An article by Jimmy Dunn titled “The Ancient Egyptian Cartouche” says

In ancient Egypt, kings, and sometimes others, encircled their name hieroglyphs with a design that we now call a cartouche. While we may find it rarely used to enclose the name of non-kings, for the most part, the cartouche's presence identifies the name it encloses as the king of Egypt. A cartouche is an oval ring that is a hieroglyph representation of a length of rope folded and tied at one end. It symbolized everything that the sun encircled and is thus an indication of the king's rule of the cosmos. Later, in the demotic script, the cartouche was reduced to a pair of parentheses and a vertical line. … The cartouche proved invaluable to early scholars such as Jean-Francois Champollion, who were attempting to decipher the hieroglyphic script, in that it could be presumed to indicate which groups of signs were the royal names.

Referring to his recently purchased cartouche, Balme told Ancient Origins on Twitter: “The stone is solid carved stone and not cast. I am still awaiting someone to run tests on it.”

Featured image: James Balme came upon this cartouche, possibly of Ramesses II, a pharaoh in Egypt more than 3,200 years ago, on a charity website and bought it for $19. The side above has hieroglyphic writing on it. The reverse side (see below) has a bas-relief of a man, a scarab beetle at his feet, a sun in front and an eagle above.

By Mark Miller



mrtkpc's picture

This sort of this is happening more and more often in this world...amazing artifacts that’ve defied time and somehow stayed preserved are innocently offered at auctions or garage sales for pocket change prices. Picture Ramses II upon finding out his kingly possesions are being sold as garden ornaments or paperweights. Lol

Hopefully (if real) it will be returned to its rightful origin as a mark of respect. To actually see Ramesses II Mummified body just sends chills down my spine . . . . . What an amazing Civilization Egypt once had - still capturing the imagination & awe of modern man to this day.

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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