Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 June - 4 July 2007
Issue No. 851
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Back in the limelight

After three and a half millennia, the mummy of Egypt's most famous female ruler has been identified. The giveaway, writes Nevine El-Aref, was a single loose tooth

Click to view caption
The four female mummies that were subjected to CT-scan; Hatshepsut's mummy; the wooden box that preserved the liver and molar of Hatshepsut

Ancient mystery resolved


More than 300 foreign and Egyptian journalists, TV crews, photographers, Egyptologists and scientists gathered in front of the Egyptian Museum hoping for a glimpse of the mummy of Egypt's best known female ruler, Hatshepsut.

The object of their interest lay in a sandstone sarcophagus, one arm folded across her chest, a face frozen in the mask of death: thus it is that Queen Hatshepsut silently greets her visitors after spending 3,500 years unattended inside the modest undecorated tomb of her Wet Nurse Sittre-In (KV60), located in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor's West Bank.

Ever since Howard Carter discovered the tomb in 1903 and found two well preserved 18th Dynasty female mummies in royal pose, speculations that one of them was Hatshepsut have regularly emerged.

The whereabouts of Hatshepsut's mummy has been one of the great riddles of Egyptology. It was not among the cache of royal mummies found in 1871 and 1881 in Deir Al-Bahari, nor in the unfinished tomb KV20, planned for her in the Valley of the Kings in her capacity as the official wife of Thutmose II. Hatshepsut's empty sarcophagus was discovered -- it is now in the Egyptian Museum -- alongside that of her father, Thutmose I, also empty and now in Boston. Some of Hatshepsut's funerary objects -- Canopic jars and ushabti figurines -- have also been discovered, and a small wooden box supposedly containing her liver. But the whereabouts of the female Pharaoh's own mummy has always been a subject of conjecture.

In KV60 a small female mummy was found inside an 18th Dynasty sarcophagus inscribed with the name of Hatshepsut's royal Wet Nurse Sittre-In. Alongside the sarcophagus, lying on the floor, was a second mummy, of an obese woman with a shaved forehead and long hair at the back of her head. The arms were laid across the figure's chest, and the hand was clenched -- a classic royal pose. But Carter paid little attention to the tomb, continuing instead with his search for the final resting place of the boy- king Tutankhamun.

In 1906, when Edward Ayrton re-explored the tomb and removed what was thought to be Sittre-In's mummy, along with her sarcophagus, to the Egyptian Museum, the obese woman was left alone in the tomb until 1989, when anthropologist Donald Ryan recleared KV60.

With the launch two years ago of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) five-year mummy project, involving CT-scans of a large number of mummies, it was decided the obese woman of KV60 should be among them.

"Last year, when Discovery Channel approached me about searching for the mummy of Hatshepsut, I did not think I would be able to make a definite identification but it would give me an opportunity to examine unidentified female mummies from the 18th Dynasty, which no one has studied as a group," SCA Secretary- General Zahi Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly. He pointed out that although there were many theories about the identities of these mummies none of them had been tested against the latest scientific technology.

"I had to depend on a team of skilled Egyptologists, radiologists, anatomists, pathologists and forensic expert," Hawass continues, "to examine these mummies, keeping in mind that they were moved quickly at night by the high priests of Amun who controlled the Theban necropolis during the Late Intermediate Period, and who wanted to hide and preserve the bodies of 18th,19th and 20th dynasty rulers. The priests might have stripped the mummies and the royal tombs of their most valuable treasures yet still they wanted to protect the royal remains from the tomb robbers who roamed the sacred hills of Thebes."

In their hurry, Hawass believes, mummies were misplaced or unidentified. Initially the royal mummies were rehoused in nearby tombs -- records show, for instance, that the mummy of Ramses II was originally moved to the tomb of his father Seti I and then later transferred to the Deir Al-Bahari Cache. "It is difficult to plot the routes followed by the mummies," says Hawass. In the process of moving the corpses and the confusion that ensued some, at least, were unidentified, while others were stripped of all identification.

"The SCA initiated the CT-scan project in order to solve at least some of the mysteries that grew out of the relocating of mummies," says Hawass, "and Hatshepsut seemed a perfect place to start."

Efforts to identify the mummy of Hatshepsut began last year when four unidentified New Kingdom royal female mummies were examined. The mummy thought to be that of Sittre-In, housed in its sarcophagus -- double the size needed for the corpse -- on the third floor of the Egyptian Museum, was also examined, along with two additional unidentified New Kingdom mummies originally found in the cache of 1881 at Deir Al-Bahari.

The first, designated as "Unknown Woman B", was of an older woman, bald in front and with the remains of white curly hair and fake black locks attached. "At first glance it seemed not to be royal but CT-scans revealed that the arms were originally crossed over the chest, a sign of royal mummification," says Ashraf Selim, professor of radiology at Cairo University. Scans also revealed the second mummy, "Unknown Woman A", had been mummified in an unusual position. The head is bent to one side, the legs crossed below the knees and her mouth is wide open, suggesting she suffered some kind of trauma at the time of her death. Her left leg is broken in the front and her arms have been cut off, possibly by thieves.

Mummies believed to be most closely related to Hatshepsut were also scanned, including those thought to be of Thutmose II and III. The first was Hatshepsut's husband, and probably her half- brother, the second her stepson. The result of the scans, reveals Hawass, shows that Thutmose II was suffering from heart disease which led to his early death. The mummies thought to be those of Hatshepsut's father and her grandmother, Thutmose I and Ahmose- Nefertari, were also scanned.

Hawass said that CT-scans indicate that the mummy which was once believed to be that of King Thutmose I, Hatshepsut's father, is not actually his. The scans show that the mummy belongs to a young man who was not placed in the royal pose of mummification, and had the remains of an arrow embedded in his chest, implying that he had been killed, whereas Thutmose I died of natural causes. The mummy is that of a man who died at the age of 40, making it impossible for him to be Hatshepsut's father.

That left only the mummy of the obese woman found in KV60. Four months ago it was moved to the Egyptian Museum for scanning. Examinations showed the woman was about 50 years old and had suffered tooth decay and a number of other illnesses. She was diabetic, and could have died from complications from her diabetes, or from the results of a 2cm wide tumor in her left leg, says Selim.

Following the mummy scans, Hawass ordered a re-examination of funerary objects associated with Hatshepsut, including Canopic jars found in tomb KV20 and a small wooden box bearing her cartouches found with the DB320 cache.

"The box eventually held the key to the riddle," says Hawass. To his surprise it contained, in addition to the mummified viscera, a single tooth, a molar. During the process of embalming, anything associated with the body or its mummification was ritually preserved in a box and had to be buried properly. It seemed, therefore, that during the mummification of Hatshepsut the corpse had lost a tooth which the embalmers placed in the box.

Galal El-Beheiri, professor of orthodontics at Cairo University, examined the CT scans of the four unidentified female mummies to check whether any of them had a missing molar. To everyone's surprise, the obese mummy from KV60 was missing a tooth, and the hole left behind matched the tooth found in the box from DB320. "The mummy of the obese woman, then, is really that of Queen Hatshepsut," says Hawass.

Minister of Culture Hosni told the Weekly that the identification of Hatshepsut was an important milestone in Egyptology, and that the use of high-tech equipment could lead to solving other riddles, including the whereabouts of the mummies of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. "Identifying the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut and resolving the mystery of her death, and that of members of her family will result in rewriting an important part of ancient Egyptian history, especially that of the 18th Dynasty, which witnessed several drastic shifts in religion, politics, trade and economy," Hosni told the reporters crowded at the entrance of the Egyptian Museum to witness the event. He added that the "marriage" between modern technology and archaeology has resulted in important findings which helped resolve the enigma surrounding some of the ancient Egyptian royals. Two years ago, the mystery behind Tutankhamun's death was resolved, and, as well, the diseases he suffered from.

Hawass struck a deal with Discovery Channel to establish a DNA lab in the Egyptian Museum. With a budget of $5 million, the lab serves as the backdrop for a documentary film on the search for Hatshepsut. Supervised by Yehia Zakaria Gad, professor of molecular genetics at the National Research Centre, the lab has already taken DNA samples from Hatshepsut, her grandmother Ahmose Nefertari, her father Thutmose I and the Wet-Nurse Sitre- In.

After finally being identified, the mummy of Hatshepsut will now join those of her ancestors and descendants on the Egyptian Museum's second floor.

WHO WAS HATSHEPSUT: Queen Hatshepsut's (1502- 1482 BC) name means "united with Amun in front of the nobles".

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 Egypt there was no word for Queen regent.

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.

The myth of her divine birth goes as such: Amun placed the ankh, the symbol of life, beneath Ahmose's nose, and then Hatshepsut was conceived. Khnum, the god who formed the bodies of human children, was then instructed to create a body and ka, or corporal presence/ life force, for Hatshepsut. Khnum and Heket, the goddess of life and fertility, led Ahmose to a lion bed where she gave 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.

She was the daughter of Thutmose I, the third ruler of the 18th Dynasty, and of Ahmose Hetep Temhu. She was married to her step brother, Thutmose II, who held Egypt's throne from 1516-1504 BC They had one daughter, Neferure.

Some Egyptologists believe when Thutmose II died he bequeathed Egypt's throne to Thutmose III, his son from another wife. Because Thutmose III was still a child Hatshepsut became a co-regent. She ruled in that capacity for two years before declaring herself Pharaoh, and though she continued to include Thutmose's name beside her own for several more years, by the ninth year of her regency hers was the only name to appear on royal documents. To legitimate her role as Egypt's ruling Pharaoh, Hatshepsut dressed in men's attire; assumed the regalia and symbols of Pharaonic office, held male titles and used masculine grammatical forms in official documents in an attempt to stop any opposition, as well as to make Egyptians feel that nothing had changed in their tradition by her arrival on the throne. She even eventually dropped the female ending from her name (t), becoming, in effect, His Majesty Hatshepsu.

To support her claims the priests of Amun promulgated the myth, depicted on the walls of Deir Al-Bahari Temple in Luxor's West Bank, that she was the daughter of Amun-Re.

MONUMENTS ASSOCIATED WITH HATSHEPSUT: Like all 18th Dynasty kings, Hatshepsut constructed a number of monuments dedicated to Amun-Re. She had temples, chapels and obelisks erected in Karnak, Luxor, Deir Al-Bahari and Medinet Habu to commemorate the god, herself and her political role.

DEIR AL-BAHARI: Hatshepsut ordered the engineer Senmut to carve her funerary temple complex into the side of a mountain to the east of the Valley of the Kings. It consists of three colonnaded balconies, and its holy of holies was built on the same axis as Hatshepsut's burial chamber inside her tomb, KV20.

Senmut designed the temple with rows of colonnades that reflect vertical patterns displayed by the cliff backdrop. A ramp connects the three levels of the temple, and on either side of the lower end of the incline are T-shaped papyrus pools. On the ground level the ramp is lined in antiquity with 200 sandstone statues of sphinxes with Hatshepsut's head. The third level is decorated with 22 life-size statues featuring Hatshepsut.

The most important decorations on the temple walls relate to Hatshepsut's divine birth and the mission to the land of Punt during the ninth year of her reign. The latter feature the life of Punt's inhabitants, showing their traditions, costumes and houses as well as the animals and plants that were found there. Religious scenes showing Hatshepsut and her father Thutmose I with different deities are also carved in relief on the walls.

The temple includes a number of chapels, including ones dedicated to the mummification god Anubis, Hathor, the sun god Re-Horakhti, and Amun-Min as well as those dedicated to king Thutmose I and Hatshepsut.

THE OBELISKS OF HATSHEPSUT: Hatshepsut erected two obelisks between the fourth and the fifth pylons of Karnak temple. One of them was toppled in antiquity, but the northern one still stands today. It is 29.5 metres tall, made of red granite and weighs 323 tonnes. Its lower part bears 32 hieroglyphic lines, eight on each side. The pyramidion atop the obelisk was covered with gold and silver to reflect the sun's rays.

Egyptologists have found pieces of the toppled obelisk scattered within Karnak Temple, while its pyramidion was found beside the sacred lake. Pieces are on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and museums in Liverpool, Glasgow and Sydney.

These obelisks differed in their decoration from others erected during the New Kingdom. Hatshepsut and her step-son Thutmose III are shown worshipping Amun Re and presenting their offerings to the god.

Hatshepsut also built two other obelisks, but King Thutmose III removed them to the Festival Hall in Karnak Temple and obliterated her image and name from them. The pyramidion of one of them is now on display at the Egyptian Museum.

THE RED CHAPEL: At the open-air museum in Karnak Temple, the French mission has reconstructed Hatshepsut's Red Chapel. Some of the blocks were found by the French archaeologist Henri Chevrier in 1924 near the Third Pylon, partly demolished in the massive earthquake that hit Egypt during the late 19th century.

The blocks of the Red Chapel, along with others of Senwosret I's White Chapel, were reused by king Thutmose III in the construction of the Third Pylon.

In 2002, the French mission re-assembled 315 of these blocks.

HATSHEPSUT'S COLLECTION AT THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM: The museum displays a large collection of objects related to Hatshepsut, including a painted sandstone head featuring the queen in the Osiride shape which originally decorated the façade of Deir Al-Bahari Temple. Her red sandstone sarcophagus decorated with a number of gods and deities is also on display, along with several ushabtis and pieces of jewellery.

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