Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Update in Ægyptology.

Update in Ægyptology
~ or ~
Raiders of the Lost Queen.

In a case of 'real life imitates Second Life', recent reports have been making the rounds concerning the discovery of Hatshepsut's mummy.

Why, Hatshepsut's mummy is where it has been since last year: the second level gallery of the Royal Society offices!

Fig 1. The Queen's exhibit.

We obtained the Queen's mummy via a, er, circuitous route (1), and put her on display as the centrepiece of our Ægyptology exhibit. Oh, and she also doubled as our Hallowe'en décor last October.

In any event, while we at the Society have had no doubts about the location of the first female Pharaoh, our colleagues in the real world have had more difficulty.

Fig. 2. "Eva, Hatshepsut. Hapshetsut, Eva."

Overview of Hatshepsut and her context.
While the interested reader is directed to a wonderful synopsis of the life and times of the Queen, I shall provide a shorter version of the story.

Hatshepsut was Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt during the New Kingdom, XVIII Dynasty, and unique in that she was the first Queen of Egypt to adopt the well-known (and male title) Pharaoh. She was known as a great ruler, responsible for building campaigns, and prudent domestic policy.

Unfortunately, after her death, her successor (and prior co-regent) Thutmose III apparently in an Orwellian mood, had her name and likeness eradicated from, well, pretty much wherever it existed.

So, to her mummy. Her tomb has been no secret. Located in the Valley of the Kings, and labelled KV20, her tomb contained her two sarcophagi, but not her mummy (2). So, where did she go?

Clues appear.
Perhaps due to the aggressive grave robbing going on in the Valley of the Kings, later priests took it upon themselves to gather up the royal mummies from their original tombs, and secret them away to more obscure locations. One such cache, TT320, contained an astounding collection of royals (3). Despite the site's contents spanning the XVII to the XXI Dynastic periods, Hatshepsut was absent. Her liver however was present and accounted for: a canopic jar bearing her name, complete with mummified liver, was part of a collection of artefacts in TT320 belonging to the Queen.

Fig. 3. Canopic container. Liver not visible.

Now, another tomb, KV60, was found to contain two mummies, but not much else of value, having been looted in antiquity. One mummy was lying on the floor, partially unwrapped, and unidentified (4). The other rested in a sarcophagus bearing the name of In-Sitre, the Royal Nurse of Hatshepsut's court (5). One theory holds that Thutmose III moved his former Queen out of her tomb, demoting her to a B-list site. Ironically, this shuffling may have saved the Queen for posterity, rather than succumbing to loss at the hands of tomb raiders, if I may coin a phrase.

Finding the Lost Queen.
Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, and a modern-day champion of Ægyptology (6) recently announced a solution to the identity of the unidentified mummy on the floor of KV60. A funerary box associated with Hatshepsut, upon CT scanning, showed a tooth removed from a mummy, and given the requisite rites due a post-mortem piece of a Pharaoh. Dental examinations of the tooth, and of the KV60 mummy provide an exact match. Dr Hawass alludes to further mitochondrial DNA sequencing evidence to link the mummy to that of Ahmose Nefertari, Hatshepsut's grandmother.

The argument for Hatshepsut as the unidentified KV60 mummy is well-made, though I will anxiously await Dr Hawass publishing his data in a peer-reviewed journal. Should the mDNA conclusions pass muster, then it would seem that we indeed know where this great Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt is. Regardless, her works and legacy remain.

(Now, if I could only figure out where that golden box-thing in the crate in the corner came from, the one that Prof Krogstad brought back from that particular trip to the Levant ... )

(1) Provenance of our mummy: the Royal Society's Hatshepsut was liberated from a shady antiquities dealer in Cairo, portaged by camel caravan to Jerusalem, then Acre, then (following the crusaders' route) Nicaea, Constantinople (not Istanbul), and then (via a series of misadventures too long to present here) eventually to Sankt Pitrbyurg, by a Baltic route over to Denmark, then (following Beowulf's route) to the United Kingdom. Then things became confusing, and, really, it's not that important at this point. See me after class for more details.

(2) KV20: Thutmose I and Hatshepsut.

(3) TT320: A cache of royal mummies, moved to the location presumably to protect them against further grave robbery. Hatshepsut was not among those represented.

(4) The unidentified mummy in KV60:

(5) KV60:

(6) Dr Zahi Hawass discusses his findings:


Burton Newall said...

> Constantinople (not Istanbul)

Wait a moment. I have a date with a young lady in Istanbul. Are you telling me that she will be waiting, instead, in Constantinople?

Amber_Palowakski said...

Fascinating reading, Lady Kate. I was unaware you even had a blog till I read abou the link in Lady Eva's blog. Well done!