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Thursday, June 28, 2007Tooth Solved Mummy Mystery
A single tooth and some DNA clues appear to have solved the mystery of the lost mummy of Hatshepsut, one of the great queens of ancient Egypt, who reigned in the 15th century B.C.
Archaeologists who conducted the research, to be announced formally today in Cairo, said this was the first mummy of an Egyptian ruler to be found and “positively identified” since King Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened in 1922.
Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, said Monday in a telephone interview that the mummy was found in 1903 in an obscure, undecorated tomb in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from modern Luxor, and had been largely overlooked for more than a century.
Dr. Hawass said the identification of the well-preserved mummy as Hatshepsut (pronounced hat-shep-SOOT) was made a few weeks ago when a CT scan of a wooden box associated with the queen revealed a tooth. The tooth, he said, “fits exactly” into the jaw socket and broken root of the mummy of an obese woman originally found in Tomb 60 at the Valley of the Kings, the necropolis for royalty in the New Kingdom before and after Hatshepsut’s reign.
“We therefore have scientific proof that this is the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut,” Dr. Hawass concluded, citing primarily the tooth but also current DNA analysis suggesting a family relationship between the obese woman and Ahmose Nefertari, the matriarch of 18th dynasty royalty.
Other Egyptologists not involved in the project said that the finding was fascinating, but that they would reserve judgment until they had studied the results of the DNA analysis and had some of the evidence confirmed by other researchers.
“You have to be so careful in reaching conclusions from such data,” said Kathryn Bard, an Egyptologist at Boston University.
Dr. Bard said, however, that it was not surprising that Hatshepsut’s mummy would turn up in a humble tomb, not the more elaborate one presumably intended for her. She noted that the queen’s stepson Thutmose III, after he succeeded to the throne on her death, “tried to destroy every trace of her and her reign,” so it was likely that her preserved body was hidden in another burial chamber for safekeeping.
The search for Hatshepsut’s mummy by Egyptian archaeologists and medical scientists will be described in a television program, “Secrets of the Lost Queen of Egypt,” scheduled for July 15 on the Discovery Channel.
As Dr. Hawass tells the story, he was approached by the Discovery Channel to apply new scientific technology to the search for the lost mummy. He thought the odds of success were slim, but looked upon the project as an opportunity to investigate a collection of unidentified female mummies in tombs and in the Cairo Museum.
To the frustration of archaeologists, royal Egyptian mummies were often moved from their original tombs and hidden in less conspicuous ones to stymie would-be plunderers. Identifying marks were frequently lost in the transfer.
Dr. Hawass and his team began the search at Tomb 60. Howard Carter, the British archaeologist who discovered the King Tut tomb, had excavated these smaller chambers in 1903. He found two mummies there: one in a coffin inscribed for a royal nurse, the other stretched out on the floor.
On a recent visit to Tomb 60, Dr. Hawass examined the mummy that had been on the floor, the obese one. Her left arm was bent at the elbow, with the hand over her chest. Her right arm lay against her side. The fingernails of the left hand were painted red and outlined in black. She was bald in front, with long hair in back.
Seeing the arrangement of her arms, Dr. Hawass said, “I believed at once that she was royal, but had no real opinion as to who she might be.”
Other Egyptologists also saw the left arm on the chest as a royal characteristic. But Dr. Bard of Boston University said that royal mummies were usually laid out with both hands crossed at the chest.
In the search, Dr. Hawass had radiologists make CT scans of six unidentified female mummies as well as some objects associated with them. The last of these examined objects was a wooden box bearing the name Hatshepsut. The box had been recovered from yet another tomb.
The container held some of the viscera removed from the body during embalming. Everything associated with a royal body or its mummification was carefully and ritually preserved. Late one night recently, the box was subjected to the CT scan.
“It turned out that this box held the key to the riddle,” Dr. Hawass said.
The images revealed a well-preserved liver and the tooth. A dentist, Dr. Galal El-Beheri of Cairo University, was called in. He studied the images of the mummy collection, and the tooth seemed to belong to the obese mummy.
Further CT scans led physicians to conclude that the woman was about 50 when she died. She was overweight and had bad teeth. She probably had diabetes and died of bone cancer, which had spread through her body.
Dr. Hawass said the DNA research into the possible Hatshepsut mummy was continuing, and he was vague about when the results would be reported. But early tests of mitochondrial DNA, he said, showed a relationship between the mummy and the matriarch Ahmose Nefertari.