Dancing with the mummies

Zahi Hawass
Sunday 25 Aug 2019

Zahi Hawass describes the discovery of the mummy of the ancient Egyptian queen Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings

This article describes the adventure of the discovery of the mummy of queen Hatshepsut, who was from the same dynasty as our Egyptian star Tutankhamun. 

She ruled before Tutankhamun was born, along with a young boy called Thutmose III who was her stepson from her husband Thutmose II. After the death of Thutmose II, his son became the king of Egypt, but Hatshepsut took over the throne and ruled the country for almost 20 years. 

She built a beautiful temple on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, which was designed by her architect Senenmut. 

I started the search for Hatshepsut’s mummy by collecting all the nameless female mummies that had been found in the Valley of the Kings and that are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I went to Hatshepsut’s tomb, KV 21, which was very dangerous and slippery inside. I had to tie a rope to the door of the tomb, and I began to navigate its interior only with its assistance. This tomb was also found by famed Egyptologist Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb. 

I also was able to go inside the tomb of Hatshepsut’s wet-nurse, KV 60, and found two mummies in it. One was in a coffin with the name of the wet-nurse, and the other female mummy was not in a coffin. 

When you look at a female mummy and spot that her left arm is crossed over her chest, this likely means that the mummy was either of a priestess or a queen. The coffin-less mummy had her left arm crossed over the chest, which was very suggestive. I took this mummy to the museum in Cairo, but I also did not stop there and collected all the artefacts that had belonged to Hatshepsut. One of the objects was a wooden box that had a liver inside. The name of Hatshepsut was carved on the box in hieroglyphs. 

We put 20 mummies through a CT-scan machine. This machine can take 1,000 photographs of each mummy, and we can tell from these if the mummy had any diseases and the age of the person when he did. 

One night, I was at the museum watching the movement of all the mummies. We were working with the CT scan machine, and I asked my assistant, Hisham, to bring me the box which bore the name of Hatshepsut and put it under the scan. Using the scanner, we saw the liver inside the box along with a part of the stomach. However, the big surprise was discovering a tooth inside the box as well.

We started to look at the teeth of the mummies in our possession. The only mummy that was missing a tooth was the mummy of a woman from the tomb of Hatshepsut’s wet nurse, the one with the left arm crossed over the chest. The tooth fitted perfectly inside the gap which we found in her jaw. It was a beautiful moment in my life when I discovered the mummy of Hatshepsut, based on this little tooth inside this box. 

When we studied the mummy of Hatshepsut, we found that she had been 55 years old when she died and had been overweight as well as diabetic. She had died of cancer. Many people had earlier believed that her stepson Thutmose III had been the one who had killed her, but now we knew the truth. 

Hatshepsut wasn’t the only royal female that was of interest to us. Queen Nefertiti is the most famous queen of ancient Egypt, and her fame continues to this day. She is the one who married Akhenaten, the father of Tutankhamun. 

There are many mysteries surrounding this lady. Some think that she disappeared during the time of Akhenaten. Others think that she became a king herself after the death of her husband. Today, she has become even more famous, especially after an English scholar suggested that she was buried inside the tomb, inside a secret chamber, of the golden boy-king. 

Another English scholar has studied a mummy found in tomb 35 in the Valley of the Kings. We know this mummy as the “Younger Lady”. The English scholar announced that this mummy belonged to Nefertiti. I refused to accept this idea, so I began to search for the mummy of Nefertiti myself. 

I looked at the mummies of the two ladies that were found in tomb 21 in the Valley of the Kings. One of these had no head because of the floods that had entered the tomb and damaged the body. However, the other mummy that was found next to it was in good condition. 

We also have the two fetuses of Tutankhamun’s children buried with the golden boy-king in his tomb. We believe that Ankhsenamun, Tut’s wife and queen, gave birth to the two fetuses. One died when she was only seven months old, and the other when she was nine months old. I asked scientists to run DNA tests to show the family relations between the individuals. 

The scientists took liquid from the hands or legs of the mummies and compared this material to other mummies. The scientists compared the DNA of the two fetuses to the headless mummy, and they found that the headless mummy was the mother of the two fetuses and the daughter of Akhenaten, making her Ankhsenamun, Tut’s wife. 

I had had a feeling that the mummy that was next to the headless mummy was that of Nefertiti. We know that Ankhsenamun was also the daughter of Nefertiti and that when the ancient Egyptians saved the mummies and hid them from tomb robbers, they always put the mummies of the same family together in one place. 

I think that this second mummy from tomb 21 is queen Nefertiti, and this is my next adventure: to prove that this is Nefertiti and to finally find the mummy of the most-famous queen in the world.

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