Bill Jamieson figured he knew what he was getting when he bought the collection from a kitschy museum in Niagara Falls, Ont., after the owners decided to retire.
A humpback whale skeleton. Stuffed animals. Some beat-up Egyptian artifacts.
Now, almost four years later, the Toronto collector of curiosities could only laugh when he was told that one of his mummies, which he quickly sold to a U.S. museum to finance the Niagara Falls purchase, has been identified as the fabled Egyptian pharaoh Rameses I. The mummy will soon be sent back to Egypt.
"I'm the guy who sold Rameses I. That's funny," Mr. Jamieson said yesterday.
This week, the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University in Atlanta announced it that would return the mummified corpse, which was taken by tomb robbers and in 1861 wound up at the Niagara Falls Museum. There had long been speculation the mummy was Rameses I, who took the throne in 1293 BC, and ruled for just two years, but became the patriarch of Egypt's 19th dynasty.
Officials at Emory promised to return the mummy to Cairo if royal lineage was established. Peter Lacovara, the museum's curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern art, said Egyptian officials are now satisfied of the mummy's blue blood.
"There's not one single piece of evidence, but just the aggregate weight of evidence seems to point in that direction," he said.
Mummification techniques are consistent with the era. The body was wrapped with its arms crossed -- a sign of royalty. X-ray comparison of the skull and that of Rameses I's son establishes a familial resemblance. Radiocarbon dating places it to Rameses I's rule. Then there is the evidence surrounding the looting of the Deir el-Bahri royal cache of mummies -- the cache from which Rameses I vanished.
An investigator discovered that the Niagara Falls mummy was bought from dealers who were selling items from that robbery.
"That's the sort of smoking gun that historically associates it with the cache of royal mummies," Dr. Lacovara said.
That is also where the mummy's Canadian connection begins as detailed in a recent article in Toronto Life. A Canadian doctor named James Douglas was a customer of the grave robbers linked to the Deir el-Bahri cache. His son shared his interest in Egypt and picked up the mummy through a middle man to the grave robbers in 1860.
But that mummy ended up with the son of Thomas Barnett, founder of the Niagara Falls Museum circa 1827, described as Canada's oldest museum. Bankruptcy sent the mummy to the United States for a period, but it ended up back in Niagara Falls in 1958.
Gayle Gibson, president of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and a teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum, has been visiting the mummy since the early 1980s.
She fingered him as royalty. The facial structure and the mummification style made her suspect it was someone in the Rameses line.
Mr. Jamieson, who fancies himself an amateur anthropologist and whose vast collection includes shrunken heads and stuffed tigers, had also been a frequent visitor to the Niagara Falls Museum. He described it as one of the last remaining "cabinet of curiosities."
He had become friendly with the owner, Jacob Sherman, and had asked over the years whether he wanted to trade curiosities. Mr. Sherman always declined.
But during a 1998 visit, his then girlfriend, now friend, Danielle Goraski, suggested Mr. Jamieson just buy the museum. When Mr. Jamieson inquired, he recalled that Mr. Sherman replied: Make me an offer.
The building was too rich for Mr. Jamieson's blood, but he could afford the contents. He said he cannot disclose the price. But to come up with the money, Mr. Jamieson knew he had to sell the museum's Egyptian mummies and coffins.
"Someone said it looked like they went over the Falls," Mr. Jamieson said. "Nobody really looked at it like it was an artifact and it was important. It was more of a curiosity and would sell tickets."
He first approached the ROM, but the $2-million (U.S.) price tag was too steep.
Emory snapped it up in 1999 and dedicated researchers to study and restore the new acquisition.
Ms. Gibson was thrilled to learn her suspicions were correct. But more important, Rameses I will be going home to Cairo once an exhibit in Atlanta ends in 2004.
"I think it will be really delightful that he will be back with his family," Ms. Gibson said. "I really do believe that their spirits are there."
Mr. Jamieson talks with some sadness about selling the Niagara Falls Museum mummies, but quickly brightens.
"It's kind of fun knowing you sold Rameses I and somehow took part in helping him get home," he said. "When I'm old and in Egypt with my grandchildren I'll be able to say 'Hey, I helped get him here.' The whole thing's kind of strange."