Egyptian archaeologists say they definitively have identified the mummy of Hatshepsut, the only woman to rule ancient Egypt while the kingdom was at the height of its power.
The mummy was discovered more than a century ago in a humble tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings, but suspicion that it was the female pharaoh was hard to prove because of a lack of direct evidence linking it to Hatshepsut.
New CT scans of the mummy and its internal organs confirm its identity, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief archaeologist.
“This is the most important discovery in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of King Tutankhamen, and one of the greatest adventures of my life,” said Hawass, who will detail the study at a news conference in Cairo today.
“I think it is very cool,” said archaeologist Donald Ryan of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., who rediscovered the mummy in 1989 but was not involved in the current study. The evidence “is very persuasive,” he said.
Hatshepsut was one of four women to rule ancient Egypt, but the others – Nitokerty, Sobekneferu and Twosert – presided over dynasties in decline.
Hatshepsut, who reigned from 1502 to 1482 B.C., re-established trade routes that had been disrupted by the Hyksos’ occupation of Egypt and sent military expeditions to Nubia, the Levant and Syria, extending the Egyptian empire.
As pharaoh, she was one of the most prolific builders, commissioning hundreds of construction projects in Upper and Lower Egypt. She also built a magnificent mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, possibly the first tomb to be built in the valley.
But her mummy was not found in the tomb, and statues and other artifacts were obliterated, perhaps as part of an effort by her successor, Thutmose III, to delete Hatshepsut from the record.
The mummy was discovered in 1903 by archaeologist Howard Carter in a small, undecorated tomb in front of Hatshepsut’s empty tomb. Inside were two mummies, one in a sarcophagus bearing an inscription indicating it was Hatshepsut’s wet-nurse, Sitre-In, and a second lying on the floor beside it.
The sarcophagus and its mummy at some point were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the location of the tomb was lost. The late Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas speculated that the mummy on the floor was Hatshepsut because her left arm was positioned over her chest, a pose typically associated with royalty.
When Ryan re-discovered the tomb, he too speculated that the mummy left behind was Hatshepsut, who had been hidden in the nondescript tomb by priests. “It was a very neat story, but we couldn’t prove it,” he said.
Hawass decided to re-investigate the situation for a television special to be aired by the Discovery network.
Hawass’ team removed the mummy and took it to Cairo for a CT scan.
The CT scan revealed that this mummy was an obese woman between the ages of 45 and 60 who had poor dental health. She also suffered from cancer.
In search of more clues, Hawass suggested a CT scanner be used to examine artifacts associated with the queen. One of those was a small wooden box that contained a liver and bore the cartouche, or royal seal, of Hatshepsut. Embalmers typically eviscerated the dead before embalming them but preserved the organs in canopic jars and boxes.
To Hawass’ surprise, the CT scan revealed that the box also contained a single tooth.
He called in a dentist, Dr. Galal El-Beheri from Cairo University, who studied the scans of the tooth and of several female mummies. “Not only was the fat lady from KV-60 missing a tooth, but the hole left behind and the type of tooth that was missing were an exact match for the loose one in the box,” Hawass said. “We therefore have scientific proof that this is the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut.”
An Egyptian team is testing DNA from the mummy to see if it can be linked to that from other royal mummies, providing further evidence of its royal origin.