The Search for Hatshepsut and the Discovery of her Mummy
Dr. Zahi Hawass
June 2007

When the Discovery Channel approached me to search for the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, I did not really think I would be able to make a definite identification. But I did think that this would give me the perfect opportunity to look at the unidentified female mummies from Dynasty 18, which no one had ever studied in as a group. There were already many theories about the identities of these mummies, but the latest scientific technology had not yet been used to study them.

There are a number of unidentified high-status mummies of the New Kingdom, mostly found in what we call the Royal Mummy Caches. These are a series of secret tombs in the Valley of the Kings, in which agents of the High Priests of Amun, who controlled the Theban area during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, hid the bodies of many of the kings and queens of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties. Although they may also have stripped both the mummies and the royal tombs of most of their valuables, they also acted piously, to protect the royal remains from the tomb robbers who roamed the sacred hills of Thebes.
When we are studying the mummies from these caches, we have to keep in mind that these mummies were moved at night, and we have to know that the bodies could be misplaced and misidentified. When they were first taken from their original tombs, most of the royal mummies were put in tombs nearby. For example, we know from historical records that the mummy of Ramesses II was originally moved from its tomb to the tomb of his father Seti I. It was only afterward that it was moved to a cache at Deir el-Bahari. This is very important to keep in mind when searching for the mummy of Hatshepsut, because it shows how complicated the movements of these bodies could be. The second thing to keep in mind is how the mummies could be misidentified: When they were being transferred, the mummy of one king could easily be placed in a coffin intended for another. The people working for the priests identified the mummies through “dockets” written in hieratic (a cursive form of hieroglyphs) on the coffin lids or the linen shrouds with which they rewrapped the mummies, and it is easy to imagine one mummy being mistaken for another. In addition, some mummies have no identification at all associated with them any more.
This problem of identification is one of the reasons that I initiated the Egyptian Mummy Project, the purpose of which is to study both royal and non-royal mummies through CT scans. A portable machine was rented by Discovery Channel from Siemens for the project; my hope was to use it, among other things, to try to solve some of these puzzles of mistaken or unknown identity, beginning with the riddle of Hatshepsut.

In my search for Hathshepsut, the first thing that I did was look at the mummies from KV60, which is a small, undecorated tomb located in front of KV20, the real tomb of Hatshepsut. KV60 is actually a perfect cache for the reburial of mummies. Howard Carter, the discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun, had excavated this tomb in 1903, and found two mummies here: one, a small woman, was found inside an 18th Dynasty coffin inscribed for a royal nurse, In; the other was a hugely obese woman, discovered on the floor next to In’s coffin. We know from other sources that Hatshepsut’s wet-nurse was named Sitre-In, and that the last two letters of this name appeared on the coffin from KV60; based on this fact, and the location of KV 60 close to KV 20, Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas had already suggested that the obese mummy could be Hatshepsut.

KV 60 had been re-explored in 1906 by Edward Ayrton, and then left alone until 1989, when Donald Ryan recleared the tomb. When Ryan began working, there was only one mummy present in the tomb: the obese woman, whom he put into a wooden box. I went to the Valley of the Kings to see her for myself.
The tomb is very small, and is uninscribed. Its entrance is located directly in front of KV19, the 20th Dynasty tomb of Prince Mentuherkhepshef. KV 60 had clearly been robbed in antiquity; apart from the mummies, only miscellaneous scattered remains were found inside, including the lid of a wooden coffin, ancient tools, the remains of pottery vessels, jewelry, scarabs, and seals. The only decorations are wedjat eyes crudely painted in each of two niches that flank the entrance. Architecturally, Ryan believes that KV 60 dates from the 20th Dynasty.
The obese mummy has its left hand across the chest with its fist clenched, suggesting that it is a royal mummy (although there are non-royal mummies with their hand in that position as well). She is bald in front but has long hair in back, and is in very good condition. When I saw her, I believed at once that she was royal, but had no real opinion as to who she might be. I decided to bring this mummy to the Cairo Museum, so that she could be studied and protected there.
Someone (perhaps Ayrton) had moved the coffin and mummy of the wet nurse to the Cairo Museum. With the help of the curator in charge of mummies at the museum, Someya Abdel Someia, I found them in storage on the third floor. The manner of mummification was excellent, but to me her face and features did not look particularly royal.
I then began to look at other unidentified New Kingdom female mummies that might be royal. Two of these were found in the cache of royal mummies found at Deir el-Bahari, DB320. This was discovered in about 1871 by a local family, who kept their find a secret for a decade. In July of 1881, the Egyptian Antiquities Department entered the tomb, and found about 40 mummies, including many of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom, along with the bodies of the 21st Dynasty family of the High Priest of Amun who had been responsible for rescuing them from the Valley of the Kings. Included among the mummies in this cache were Seqenenre Taa II, the great warrior king of the 17th Dynasty who died in battle, his son Ahmose I and grandson Amenhotep I, Thutmose II and III, and Ramses II. All of these mummies are now in the Cairo Museum.
Now I had never even been inside this cache of the mummies, and I thought that I needed to feel the site by entering the tomb. This is difficult because the shaft leading to it is 15 meters deep. It was fascinating to descend and then enter the narrow corridors and roughly cut burial chamber, all of which had been crammed full of coffins, mummies, and burial equipment.

The first mummy from DB320 in which I was interested is known as Unknown Woman B (CG 61056 in the Cairo Museum). It is the mummy of an old lady. People think that this mummy might be Tetisheri, the wife of Seqenenre Taa I, and the mother of both Seqenenre Taa II and his queen Ahhotep. This lady was not of royal origin but from the common people, and she lived at a time when the Egyptian people were beginning their struggle for independence against the Hyksos invaders. This mummy was found in the cache inside a coffin dated to Dynasty 21 that had been inscribed with the name of Ramesses I. (The mummy of Ramesses I was not there – a royal mummy of the New Kingdom that many Egyptologists, including myself, believe to be Ramesses I turned up several years ago in a museum in Niagara Falls. This was bought by the Michael C. Carlos Museum, who gave it back to Egypt.) The length of the mummy of Unknown Woman B is 157 cm. Her head is bald in front, with the remaining white hair in curls with fake black locks attached. Her ears are pierced for earrings, a common style of the New Kingdom. The face is oval in shape, short, and with a pointed chin.

When it was discovered, the mummy was covered with black resin, the residue from the funeral and burial ceremonies. The head and the right arm of the mummy are broken. Previous X-ray studies of this mummy focused only on her mouth and teeth.
The second mummy from DB320 is another elderly woman, Unknown Woman A (CG 61052). This was poorly preserved, and the mummification was not of the highest quality. The upper teeth are lost, and there is no hair. Maspero thought that it was the mummy of Meritamun, the daughter and wife of Ramesses II from Dynasty 19. Some people who studied the mummification style thought that it was not of royal origin and dated it to the Middle Kingdom. Elliot Smith, who also studied this mummy, remarked that the position of the body was very unusual. The head bends to the side, and the two legs are crossed below the knees. The mouth is wide open. It may be that she suffered some kind of trauma before death. The left leg is broken in the front and the two arms were cut off, possibly by thieves, or maybe by the people who moved this mummy from its original place to the DB320 cache. I planned to CT-scan both of these mummies.

Then it was time for me to go and see the original tomb of Hatshepsut, KV20. I don’t think that many people have entered this tomb. Even Egyptologists who have worked in the Valley of the Kings have avoided it, because KV20 is one of the most difficult tombs in the valley to enter, not least (as Howard Carter, who explored this tomb in modern tombs, pointed out) because of the smell of bat droppings. People before Carter knew the location of the tomb; it was described by Belzoni at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and James Burton had cleared it to the second stairway in 1824. In 1903-04, Carter cleared the tomb completely, albeit with much difficulty, and came to the conclusion that it was a double tomb for Hatshepsut and her father, Thutmose I.


The style of the tomb is unique. It consists of a long curved tunnel carved in four sections, which descends 210 meters into the bedrock before passing through a roughly cut, undecorated antechamber and ending in a rectangular burial chamber with three storerooms. The entrance passage begins by descending to the east, then curves around to run north before swinging around to the west. It has been suggested that this was done so that the burial chamber of the tomb would be directly below the sanctuary of Hathshepsut’s temple on the east side of the cliffs at Deir el-Bahari. Some people, however, believe that the poor quality of the rock may have forced the architect to change the tomb’s plan. The walls of the tomb were uninscribed, but in the burial chamber were found about 15 pieces of limestone decorated with drawings and inscriptions in red and black ink from the royal funerary book called the Imy-Duat, or ”What is in the Netherworld.” These limestone slabs may have been intended to replace decoration that could not be applied to the walls because of the poor quality of the stone. Entering this tomb was quite an adventure, because of the slippery descending tunnels and the smell of the bats. To enter the burial chamber and see what was hidden there, we had to open the blocks that sealed it
Carter found two sarcophaguses in the burial chamber: one for Hatshepsut (now in the Cairo Museum), and the second, originally for Hatshepsut and recarved for Thutmose I (now in Boston). No mummies were found, but Hatshepsut’s canopic jars were here. In addition, Carter found the remains of a shabti (funerary statuette), which looks like Hatshepsut, and may be the only one still extant that belonged to her; stone vessels on which were written the names of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, and the grandmother of the family, Ahmose Nefertari; pieces of faience; fragments of a head and a small piece of a foot possibly from a guardian statue. One of the most interesting artifacts connected with the queen, however, was found not in her tomb but in the cache of the mummies in DB320. This was a wooden box that bore the cartouches of Hatshepsut, which supposedly contained the liver of the queen. This made me wonder whether we should be focused on the DB 320 mummies: since this box was in the cache, this means that the mummy should have been there as well, because the box would never have been put there without the mummy.
Many scholars believe that it was Thutmose I who was responsible for the construction of KV 20, and that Hatshepsut, who had built a tomb in Wadi Sikket Taqa el-Zeide before she became pharaoh, needed a tomb in the Valley of the Kings and wanted to be buried with her father. Others think that it was Hatshepsut that built the tomb, and that she brought her father from his original tomb, which has not yet been securely identified. Later, it seems that Thutmose I’s grandson, Thutmose III, moved the king’s body again, to a small tomb called KV 38. There is a mummy that was found in DB320 in a coffin inscribed for Thutmose I, but scholars are not sure that this is really this king: it has been argued that it cannot be the father of queen Hatshepsut because it is too young, it does not look like Thutmose II or III, and its arms are not in the proper “royal” position, crossed at the chest.
After DB320, a second mummy cache, in this case of the Hight Priests of Amun and their families, was found in 1891. A third cache was found in 1898, in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35). In addition to more mummies of great pharaohs, including Thutmose IV, Amenhotep III, and Ramesses III, there were several unidentified female mummies discovered here. One, a beautiful lady with long hair who has been nicknamed the Elder Woman (although she was only about 40 when she died), is believed by many to be Queen Tiye; the second is a younger woman who, it has been suggested, could be queen Nefertiti, although this identification is highly unlikely, as I had discovered through previous research. Another possible cache of mummies were found in the tomb of Horemheb (KV 57), although the remains here were skeletal and appear to have been lost.
We now had four mummies to CT-scan: the two from KV 60 and the two from DB320. Our scientific team consisted of myself leading the search; my assistant Hisham El-Leithy; radiologist Dr. Ashraf Selim; and Dr. Hany Abdel Rahman Amer, a CT and MRI applications specialist with Siemens Ltd. When we began our CT scans of the mummies of the unidentified ladies, only three of them were in the Cairo Museum. The mummy of Unknown Woman A from KV 60 was still in the Valley of the Kings. I had her mummy brought to the Cairo Museum for this project. I am actually planning to make a room for unidentified mummies in the Cairo Museum because each of them has a very interesting story. For this project, we also scanned the mummies that are believed to be most closely related to Hatshepsut: the mummy that might be Thutmose I, Hatshepsut’s father; Thutmose II, her husband and probably her brother; and Thutmose III, her stepson.

While I was doing these CT scans in the evening at the Cairo Museum, I told Brando Quilici, the director of the Discovery Channel film on the search for Hatshepsut, that it was very important also to scan some objects from these tombs, to find out more about them. The first objects that were brought to me were Hatshepsut’s canopic jars, and we put them under the machine. The last thing that we scanned was the wooden box bearing her cartouches that was found inside the DB320 cache.
It turned out that this box held the key to the riddle. To our surprise, in addition to mummified viscera, there was a single tooth inside the box. We know from other “embalming caches” that anything associated with a body or its mummification became ritually charged, and had to be buried properly. Therefore, it seemed that during the mummification of Queen Hatshepsut, the embalmers put into the box anything that came loose from the body during the mummification process. The other surprise in the box confirmed this: it contained not only the liver but other, unidentified organic material, probably from the queen’s body.

When I saw the tooth in the box I asked Dr. Ashraf Selim to bring in a dentist right away. The dentist was a professor from Cairo University, Dr. Galal El-Beheri. He began to study the tooth, and we went back to the CT scans of all six of the unidentified female mummies, to see if any one of them was missing a tooth. Not only was the fat lady from KV60 missing a tooth, but the hole left behind and the type of tooth that was missing was an exact match for the loose one in the box from DB320! We therefore have scientific proof that this is the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut.


This discovery was not the only important result of my search for Hatshepsut. Brando Quilici, the director from the Discovery Channel, and I had a talk with the Discovery Channel. For the film, they built for us the only DNA lab in the world that is dedicated exclusively to mummies. DNA has never before been shown to be reliable for mummies, since it is hard to get along enough sequence to learn anything useful, and it is very hard to be sure that the sample has not been contaminated. My opinion is that in order for such analysis to be worthwhile, we need a lab reserved exclusively for mummy DNA. When you take a mummy and put it in another lab that is used for other things, you can have a 40% rate of error in the results due to contamination. For example, we have heard recently about the DNA study of a mummy that was done in a museum in St. Louis. They announced that the origin of this Egyptian mummy was European! For this reason I wanted all of the DNA studies to be done by Egyptians, who were well trained outside of the country in this field. When I could have a DNA lab only for mummies at the Cairo Museum, and I could see that there were some good Egyptian scholars that could do this work, I thought this would be a good start. I believe that for the success of the project, and in order to produce results that we can control, it is important that the project should begin in Egypt, with Egyptian scholars. We have a person from the National Research Center, Dr. Yehia Gad, who is in charge of our new lab. The lab itself was built by the SCA, and the equipment was brought in by the Discovery Channel from a company called Applied Biosystems. The DNA lab is in the perfect location, the basement of the Cairo Museum. Now we can say that we have at the Cairo Museum one of the most remarkable scientific and archaeological facilities in the world with the addition of the DNA and CT scan labs. It is important in archaeology to use the most up-to-date scientific methods. Now, for the first time, we can go inside the mummies and find out about their lives. We can learn about their diseases and deaths from CT scans, and now with the DNA lab we can find out about their family relationships, and possibly identify them with certainty.
We decided that we would use this lab first to test DNA samples from Hatshepsut, her great-grandmother Ahmose Nefertari, her father, Thutmose I, and the wet-nurse, Sitre-In. DNA testing had been carried out on a number of 18th Dynasty royal mummies in the mid-1990’s. The methods that those researchers used were highly invasive. Nine different holes where samples were taken by the previous researchers in the 1990’s were identified in the mummy of Thutmose I by the current team. This time, we used a much less invasive technique that relied on a bone marrow biopsy needle. Multiple samples were obtained by entering the same puncture hole from a number of different angles, minimizing damage to the mummies. The great difficulty of using DNA to learn about ancient remains is that it is fragile, and decays quickly. It is not at all easy to obtain a long enough sequence from the genetic code of a mummy to tell anything useful about it. Many people have expressed skepticism that it would be possible to get a useful sequence from these mummies. However, using a new assay kit that had been developed for forensic use and had only been on the market a few months when we conducted our tests, we were able to retrieve and amplify partial sequences of both mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to daughter, and more fragile nuclear DNA, which may be able to reveal something about Hatshepsut’s relationship to the mummy known as Thutmose I and the mummy of Thutmose II. Our genetic research is still progressing, and it will take some time to perfect the procedures that we are using and obtain complete results.
We hope to construct a second DNA lab at the National Research Center in the Dokki area of Cairo, in which we can reproduce and verify our work in order to produce the highest quality scientific results. In the meantime, we are delighted finally to know that we have seen the face of Queen Hatshepsut, and we are excited about the fascinating scientific discoveries that we will make in the future by the use both of new technology, and the kind of old-fashioned detective work (backed up by state-of-the-art technology) that led me to connect a single loose tooth in a box with the great female pharaoh, Hatshepsut.


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