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The queen who was king

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 3/22/2012, 3:22 p.m.

Hatshepsut's greatest architectural achievement was her temple, Deir el Bahari. Her chief architect and Great Steward of Amun, Senenmut, conceived the structure, which was built out of a rock cliff looking down on the temple of Amen-Ra in the Valley of the Kings. The 800-foot temple was decorated with shrines, statues, terraces and gardens. It is considered one of the world's most remarkable architectural specimens and the crowning achievement of Senenmut's genius.

Trouble came for Hatshepsut when Thutmose III came of age and took his birthright. The queen simply disappeared suddenly under mysterious circumstances. It is speculated that Thutmose had his aunt killed, but no one could prove it. Her mummy would not be found for centuries.

The new ruler worked hard to erase Hatshepsut from history, removing her name from the king's list, defacing her statues and destroying her temples, obelisks and anything else with her name or image on it. For centuries after her death, the question loomed: Where was her mummy and how did she really die?

The mystery may finally have been solved. In 1881, a canoptic box, used to store the organs of royal mummies, was discovered in a tomb with other mummies. The box had the name Hatshepsut on it. It is suspected that the box and the mummies were moved to protect them from grave robbers.

In 1903, Howard Carter discovered a tomb called KV60 with two female mummies, one inside an ill-fitting coffin and one on the floor. Carter closed the tomb, thinking that these were not royal mummies. He went on to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun (aka King Tut).

In 1989, Donald Ryan rediscovered the tomb and suspected that the uncoffined mummy called KV60A was Hatshepsut, as it was in the royal position, with the left arm bent across the chest.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Council of Antiquities, conducted DNA testing on four mummies taken from the tomb and tests on mummies known to be Hatshepsut's relatives. He found similarities in the facial features and, most notably, a skin condition thought to be hereditary. The results were not conclusive.

The mummy KV60A is that of a woman who died at around 50 years of age. She was about 5 feet tall and obese. She had gum disease, rotted teeth and the skin disease found on the mummies of Thutmose I, II and III. The female mummy was also found to have bone cancer and diabetes.

What finally sealed the deal on the identification was a tooth found in the canoptic box. It was a molar with a missing root. The uncoffined mummy had a missing molar, but the root was still intact. Measurements determined that the missing tooth belonged to mummy KV60A, now identified as Hatshepsut.

It is now speculated that the queen's last days were agonizing, as she was plagued by obesity, painful cancer and a mouth full of bad teeth. This great Egyptian ruler had none of the grandeur in her discovery that surrounded King Tut; there were no royal treasures or gold sarcophagus. She had been removed from her original coffin and was simply left on the floor of the tomb -- a sad end for the pharaoh queen.