Bad tooth solves mystery of Egypt queen

A single tooth has clinched the identification of an ancient mummy as that of Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt about 3,500 years ago, the country’s chief archaeologist said on Wednesday.The right mummy turned out to be that of a fat woman in her 50s who had rotten teeth and died of bone cancer, Zahi Hawass told a news conference to announce the identification.

It was found in 1903 in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun was buried, and Hawass himself thought until recently that it belonged to the owner of the tomb, Hatshepsut’s wet-nurse by the name of Sitre In.

But the decisive evidence was a molar in a wooden box inscribed with the queen’s name, found in 1881 in a cache of royal mummies collected and hidden away for safekeeping at the Deir Bahari temple about 1,000 metres away.

During the embalming process, it was common to set aside spare body parts and preserve them in such a box. Orthodontics professor Yehya Zakariya checked all the mummies which might be Hatshepsut’s and found that the tooth was a perfect fit in a gap in the upper jaw of the fat woman. “The identification of the tooth with the jaw can show this is Hatshepsut,” Hawass said. “A tooth is like a fingerprint.” “It is 100 per cent definitive. It is 1.80cm [wide] and the dentist took the measurement and studied that part. He found it fit exactly 100 percent with this part,” he told Reuters.


DNA tests

The team examining the mummy are also doing DNA tests and preliminary results show similarities between its DNA and that of Ahmose Nefertari, the wife of the founder of the 18th dynasty and a probable ancestor of Hatshepsut. DNA analysis is complicated because Hawass recently concluded that the mummy once assumed to be that of Tuthmosis I, Hatshepsut’s father, is not in fact his. It belongs to a much younger man who died from an arrow wound, he said.

Asked why he would not wait for more complete DNA analysis, Hawass said: “You do not need anything else [other than the tooth]… And we do have a definite answer now on the similarity between Hatshepsut and the grandmother, Ahmose Nefertari.” One Egyptologist, who asked not to be named, said not all archaeologists were confident the identification was watertight.

“It’s an interesting piece of scientific deduction which might point to the truth,” the archaeologist said. The New York Times quoted Kathryn Bard, an Egyptologist at Boston University, as saying: “You have to be so careful in reaching conclusions from such data.” The confusion about the identities of many royal mummies often arises from political events after they died.

Hatshepsut’s tomb, for example, was found looted and without any mummified female, possibly because her son and successor, Tuthmosis III, tried to wipe out all traces of her memory after she died in about 1482BC.

Priests probably moved the collection of 40 royal mummies, including the box with the tooth, to Deir Bahari hundreds of years after the pharaohs died, in order  to protect them from  desecration and looting  during  a  time  of insecurity.

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