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Sci-tech unravels secrets of Egypt’s lost queen

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Cairo: The suave, silver-haired Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and secretary-general of the Supreme Antiquities Council, Egypt, counter-part of the Archaeological Survey of India, is the pop icon of heritage infotainment. He spoke to Narayani Ganesh.

Your team identified the 3,500-year-old mummy of Egypt’s female Pharaoh Hatshepsut in June 2007 after a year’s research. Wasn’t your earlier premise different?

I was convinced then that the unidentified smaller mummy preserved in a sarcophagus inscribed with the name of Sitre-In, her wet nurse – found in tomb KV60 in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, and stored on the third floor of the Cairo Museum – was that of the New Kingdom 18th dynasty pharaoh, Hatshepsut, who ruled Upper and Lower Egypt for 20 years during the golden age. However, everything changed when i focused on the second unidentified mummy of an obese woman that was found and left on the floor of tomb KV60. Howard Carter first accessed the tomb in 1903 and lost interest in the two mummies, as he found no treasures there. (Carter went on to discover king Tutankhamun’s undisturbed tomb in 1922, a treasure trove.)

The smaller mummy was moved to Cairo Museum in 1907 and forgotten. Rediscovering it, i’d thought that this could be Hatshepsut. I said as much in my lecture last year. I was terribly wrong.

How did you identify the obese mummy on the floor as that of the female pharaoh?

Thanks to science, technology and archaeological expertise, and a dedicated team of Egyptologists, radiologists, CT and MRI specialists, orthodontic and molecular genetics experts, and state-of-the-art facilities afforded by Discovery channel’s $5 million DNA testing laboratory set up in Cairo Museum, the one-year search for Hatshepsut’s mummy culminated in the accurate identification.

The clinching factor was the loose tooth found in a box containing viscera and inscribed with her name. This is the most important discovery after that of king Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.


Because Hatshepsut disappeared from records once her stepson Tuthmose III became pharaoh. It was believed he took revenge on his stepmother for having usurped the throne for two decades.

This was confusing since some inscriptions bear her name and during her reign her stepson held the important post of commander of the army. Now we know Hatshepsut wasn’t murdered – DNA tests show she was 50 years old, ill with diabetes, osteoporosis and bad teeth, and she probably died of blood cancer. The obliteration attempts were more likely directed at erasing memory of Hatshepsut’s pure royal lineage (only women carried forward royal bloodline) to ensure that Tuthmose III’s progeny – from a non-royal line – carried on as pharaohs.

Source: Times of India

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