Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 June 2007
Issue No. 849
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Queen for a day

Nevine El-Aref attempts to unravel the identity of Hatshepsut

Click to view caption
Research will determine which of the two is Hatshepsut

Though not the only female ruler of Egypt, Queen Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC), which means "united with Amun in front of the nobles", is one of the best known.

In ancient Egypt women often held high status, and could own and inherit property. Yet female rulers remained rare: only Khent- Kaues, Sobeknefru and, possibly, Nitocris, preceded Hatshepsut. Pharaoh was an exclusively male title and in early Egyptian history there was no word for a Queen regent, unlike Queen consort.

Hatshepsut slowly assumed the regalia and symbols of Pharaonic office, including the Khat head cloth topped with an uraeus, the traditional false beard, and the shendyt kilt.

She created a myth about her own divine birth in which Amun goes to Ahmose in the form of Thutmose I and awakens her with pleasant odours. When Amun places the ankh, a symbol of life, beneath Ahmose's nose, Hatshepsut is conceived. Khnum, the god who forms the bodies of human children, is then instructed to create a body and ka, or corporal presence/life force, for Hatshepsut. Khnum and Heket, goddess of life and fertility, leads Ahmose to a lion bed where she gives birth to Hatshepsut.

To further strengthen her position, the Oracle of Amun proclaimed that it was the will of Amun that Hatshepsut be Pharaoh. She also claimed that she was her father's intended heir and that he had made her crown prince of Egypt.

Hatshepsut enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous reign. She built magnificent temples, protected Egypt's borders and masterminded a highly profitable trading mission to the Land of Punt. Yet as a result of the relocation of royal mummies by 21st Dynasty temple priests during the third Intermediate Period the whereabouts of Hatshepsut's mummy has long been a mystery. It was not among the royal mummies discovered in 1881 and 1898 in the Valley of the Kings, nor in the unfinished tomb KV20, built for her as the official wife of king Thutmose II. When Howard Carter explored the tomb in 1920, he found two empty sarcophagi; one for Hatshepsut and the second for her father, Thutmose, along with some of Hatshepsut's funerary objects which were transferred to the Egyptian museum in Cairo.

In 1903, Carter found the tomb of Siter In, Hatshepsut's wet nurse. Two sarcophagi were found in KV60, one for Siter In and the second containing an unknown female's mummy. Carter paid little attention to the tomb.

Three years later KV60 was re-entered by Edward Ayrton, who removed the mummy of Siter In to the Egyptian museum, where it joined other royal mummies as part of the royal funerary collection.

It was not disturbed again until 1989, when anthropologist Donald Ryan found it in more or less the same condition as Carter and Ayrton, with the second, unidentified mummy lying down near the core of the burial chamber. The well preserved fat woman with dyed long hair was wrapped in linen, her right arm crossed over her chest -- a sign of royalty -- while her left arm was laid beside her.

A few years later, in her book about the Valley of the Kings, Elizabeth Thomas would suggest the mummy left inside KV60 was that of Hatshepsut. She had several reasons for doing so: the mummy dated from the 18th Dynasty and was in royal pose; a part of Hatshepsut's wooden mummy mask had been found inside KV60; Hatshepsut was known to have requested that people close to her be buried alongside her. There was also the small hole found in the mummy's chin, suggesting that a fake beard had been attached at some point. While the circumstantial evidence seems compelling, it remained circumstantial. The tomb was closed once again.

Two years ago the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) launched its five-year mummy project, involving CT scans of a vast number of mummies, the one in KV60 among them.

"At the Valley of the Kings I went to see KV60 with Egyptologist Salima Ikram to examine the mummy for a television documentary," wrote Zahi Hawass, secretary- general of the SCA, in an article, "The quest for the mummy of Hatshepsut", published last year on his official website. They made their way to the burial chamber down a set of rough stairs and an undecorated tunnel with niches on both sides, and entered the unfinished burial chamber with difficulty. "It might have been a perfect place to hide mummies in the Pharaonic period," wrote Hawass.

Three caches of royal mummies have been found in the Valley of the Kings: KV35 in 1898; KV55 in 1907; and the tomb of Horemheb in 1908; neither these, nor the royal mummy cache discovered at Deir Al-Bahari, have ever been associated with Hatshepsut.

"Despite Thomas's suggestion that the mummy left behind in KV60 is Hatshepsut and Ryan's support for such a hypothesis, I do not believe that this mummy is Hatshepsut," writes Hawass, explaining that the mummy is very fat with huge pendulous breasts, and the position of her arm is not convincing evidence of royalty.

Hawass instructed curators at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to look for the second mummy found by Carter and moved by Ayrton in 1908. They found it on the third floor of the museum. Examinations revealed that the badly damaged coffin is typical 18th Dynasty and among the inscriptions engraved on it is " wr Sdt nfrw nswt In, [great royal nurse In]." The mummy inside is 1.5m tall while the coffin is 2.13m, suggesting that the coffin was not originally intended for the mummy it contains. "The obese mummy still in the tomb is significantly taller, and would fit much better in the coffin," says Hawass. The examination also revealed that the mummy in the Egyptian Museum has her right hand by her side and the left hand across her abdomen, with the hand closed as if it was originally holding something. She was mummified in fine linen, with the fingers wrapped individually. The toes were evidently wrapped together; this wrapping has been torn away, as if the robbers were looking for gold. The woman was eviscerated through a U-shaped incision in the abdomen. She has long curly hair remaining on her head. There is also a mass of linen at the bottom of the coffin but this is not of the same quality.

"I think the face is quite royal, and believe that anyone who sees it will have the same reaction," concluded Hawass in his article.

He suggests that in the Third Intermediate Period, during the 21st Dynasty, the priests moved the mummy of Hatshepsut to KV60, which was possibly cut in the 18th Dynasty but never used. The priests moved Hatshepsut's mummy for security reasons, as they did with many mummies in the valley.

According to Hawass the big breasted mummy in KV60 may well be the wet nurse, the original occupant of the coffin at the Egyptian Museum, while the mummy on the third floor of the Egyptian Museum could be Hatshepsut.

In an attempt to end such speculation, the mummy was moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where it was subjected to CT scans and other examinations.

Talking at the Metropolitan Museum during the inauguration of the Hatshepsut exhibition, Hawass said that while they had considered DNA testing the problem is that "there are mistakes about 40 per cent of the time. We might, though, experiment with an Egyptian team, with the mummy of Thutmosis II and with the mummies thought to be of Hatshepsut. If they are related, maybe this will settle the issue."

Examinations are now in their final stages and Hawass will declare which is the mummy of Hatshepsut at the end of this month during an international press conference at the Egyptian Museum.

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