For over 100 years, four blue-glazed jars bearing the nametag of Rameses II (1302-1213 B.C.) were believed to contain the Egyptian pharaoh's bodily organs. But analysis of organic residues scraped from the jars has determined one actually contained an aromatic salve, while a second jar held the organs of an entirely different person who lived around 760 years later.
Now the question is, who was this individual?
"We do believe that the unknown person was of importance for at least two reasons," said Jacques Connan, one of the study’s authors. "First, he or she had access to the famous jars and secondly, his or her organs were embalmed with pure Pistacia resin, which is uncommon according to our present chemical knowledge on balms of Egyptian mummies, especially during the Roman period."
The mystery concerning the jars began in 1905, when they were brought to Paris’ Louvre Museum, where they are still housed. Shortly after that time, researchers cut into a packet inside one of the jars and plucked out a piece of heart. The packet is now lost, but from that point on, the containers were labeled as "the canopic jars of Rameses II."
Connan, a professor in the bio-organic geochemistry laboratory at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, and his colleagues questioned the description, especially as the heart of Rameses II was later found inside his mummy. The scientists recently radiocarbon dated residue from two of the four jars and used molecular biomarkers to identify the contents.