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Egyptologists Identify Mummy of Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut


Egyptian authorities say they have identified the mummy belonging to ancient Egypt's most famous female pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut. Her remains were long believed to have been lost. VOA correspondent Challiss McDonough has details from Cairo.

The mummy of Queen Hatshepsut was not found in a newly discovered tomb. It was actually found more than 100 years ago - an overweight woman lying on the floor in somebody else's tomb, with one arm bent over her chest in the position reserved for royalty.

The tomb was believed to belong to Hatshepsut's wet nurse. But the mummy on the floor was never identified.

For more than a century, she remained largely forgotten in Tomb KV60 in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor's West Bank.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosny said modern science has corrected the historical record.

"It was just neglected," said Hosny. "Nobody ever even imagined that this could be the mummy of a queen."

The quest to identify Hatshepsut began about a year ago, when Egyptian antiquities authorities began analyzing six unidentified female mummies. They eventually narrowed the search to two.

Two months ago, the mysterious heavy-set mummy was moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for a series of tests in the museum's new $5 million DNA lab.

The lab was paid for by the Discovery Channel, which plans to air a documentary about Hatshepsut's identification next month.

A team of researchers used a type of medical imaging known as a CT scan to map the physical characteristics of the mummies and the contents of a wooden box found in a different location with Hatshepsut's name on it.

Inside the box, they found some of the queen's internal organs and a single tooth that turned out to be the key to the mystery. The CT scan of the overweight mummy revealed that she was missing a molar. The tooth in the box fit the space perfectly.

Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass led the team that worked for over a year to identify the mummy.

"That tooth exactly fit with the mummy that we found in KV60," said Hawass. "This lady was fat. She died at the age of 50. She had diabetes, and she died because of cancer."

Some Egyptologists believe this is the most significant development since the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. But a few have cautioned that identifications such as this are notoriously difficult to make for certain.

Hawass, however, has no doubts.

"We are sure 100 percent now, with the discovery of the tooth with the mummy, that this is actually the mummy of Hatshepsut," he said.

She was one of the most powerful women ever born in ancient Egypt, and one of very few female pharaohs. She ruled for about 21 years, starting around 1479 BC. She used a male title and wore men's clothing, including a ceremonial fake beard.

Hatshepsut was the daughter of King Tuthmosis I. Her step-brother, King Tuthmosis II, was also her husband, and archaeologists believe he intended to hand power down to his son born to another woman. But the king died when Tuthmosis III was too young to rule on his own.

It is believed that Hatshepsut first took power with the boy as co-regent, and then forced him out and assumed the throne for herself.

When Hatshepsut died, her stepson Tuthmosis III succeeded her on the throne, and jealously tried to eradicate all signs of her reign. Her name and image were systematically erased from the many temples and monuments that she had built.

The queen's elaborate mortuary temple still stands, and is one of the main tourist attractions on Luxor's west bank. It was the site of a terrorist attack in 1997, when Islamist militants killed more than 60 tourists in what has become known as the Luxor Massacre.

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