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Egypt brings back royal mummies

Egypt reopened a display of 3,500-year-old royal mummies Tuesday, hoping the remains of its pharaonic ancestors will help attract tourists scared away by militant Muslim attacks.

The display of 11 mummies, put under wraps by the late president, Anwar Sadat, in 1980, was unveiled by Prime Minister Atef Sedki.

It includes ancient leaders like Ramses II, the military pharaoh who ruled Egypt for 67 years until his death in 1224 B.C., as well as three of the pharaohs' queens.

Another 16 mummies are being prepared for public display.

The mummies, discovered in southern Egypt in the late 19th century, are kept in glass cases in a single, dimly-lit room.

They lie on their backs, gnarled and wrinkled hands crossed over their chests, partly covered in linen or sack-cloth. The dark skin on their faces is drawn taught over sharp aquiline features.

All appear peaceful, with closed eyelids and tight expressionless smiles, except Seqenenre Ta'a, killed in a battle in 1554 BC. His skull is damaged and his face is twisted in pain.

In the center of the room in a wooden sarcophagus lies Ramses II, who fought many military campaigns in West Asia and had giant temples and monuments constructed throughout Egypt in his name, many of which still remain popular tourist sites.

Next to him is Nedjemet, the wife of a pharaoh, who held the title Chief of the Harem. She lived to an old age and her wrinkled face is topped with a wig of black hair.

Mummification, a ritual burial practice for the wealthy, began with ancient Egyptians who believed in the after-life.

Few of the mummies were discovered in their original tombs, which were desecrated thousands of years ago and stripped of their lavish contents by tomb robbers. Most were transferred at least 2,500 years ago by priests to large communal graves.