Egypt Says Mummy of Ancient Queen Identified Ancient Egypt's most powerful female pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut, has been identified Egyptian archaeologists said Wednesday. A monumental builder, she wielded more power than two other famous ancient Egyptian women, Cleopatra and Nefertiti.
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Egypt Says Mummy of Ancient Queen Identified

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Egypt Says Mummy of Ancient Queen Identified

Egypt Says Mummy of Ancient Queen Identified

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Right now, an ancient tooth and modern technology have come together to identify a long, lost Egyptian mummy. Egypt's chief archeologist - he joins us in a moment - announced today that CT scanning, DNA analysis and a recently discovered tooth positively identified a mummy as that of Hatshepsut, one of the few female pharaohs who ruled Egypt. The journey to today's announcement took over a hundred years, involved dozens of searches through massive underground crypts, modern technology and lots and lots of patience.

If you have questions about the find, who Queen Hatshepsut was and why her identification is so important, and why her mummy was lost for so long, give us a call. 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail talk@npr.org and you can join the conversation on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

Joining us now from Cairo is Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. He led the archeological team that identified Queen Hatshepsut's mummy. And nice to have you on the program today.

Dr. ZAHI HAWASS (Secretary General, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities): Hello.

CONAN: Zahi Hawass. Welcome to the program. Nice to have you.

Dr. HAWASS: Yes, how are you?

CONAN: I'm very well, thank you. And congratulations.

Dr. HAWASS: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Now, I understand the mummy itself was found over a hundred years ago, only identified a couple of weeks ago. What took so long?

Dr. HAWASS: You know, the mummy was found by Howard Carter in 1903. And when I began to search for the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, I was told that Hatshepsut left all the unidentified mummies of royal ladies, and I found there are six of them. And I began to take them to Cairo and do the CT scan of all of them. And I began to CT scan the father of Hatshepsut, Thutmose I…

CONAN: Right.

Dr. HAWASS: And the husband of Hatshepsut, Thutmose II and the stepson Thutmose III. And while I was doing the CAT scan, I found out that there is a box in the Cairo museum that belongs to Hatshepsut. It has her name written hieroglyphic and we're told before that this contain the liver of the queen.

CONAN: Her liver.

Dr. HAWASS: When they hooked the SCAT scan for that box, I found one tooth inside the box. I enlarged that tooth and I found that this tooth belonged to the mummy that found by Howard Carter in 1903. And I did made the DNA of this mummy that now we are sure that's Queen Hatshepsut was Ahmose Nefertari, the grandmother lady, and I found they are - they have similarities. And that's why I'm sure now that the mummy that they found belonged with the Queen Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh that - she ruled Egypt in the time of the golden age.

CONAN: This is 3,500 years ago. Tell us a little bit about her and why she's considered so important.

Dr. HAWASS: You know, I found out that this mummy of Hatshepsut - she died in the age of 50, had a very bad tooth and she had diabetes and she died of cancer. And that can show that Thutmose III did not kill her as (unintelligible) before. She died normally and Thutmose III took the throne after her.

CONAN: Right.

Dr. HAWASS: She was a very powerful lady. She ruled for 20 years. She tried to act as a male pharaoh, and she built a great temple by her lover Senemut at Deir el-Bahri in the west bank of Luxor and the great obelisk in the Temple of Karnack. And she even went to the country of Punt to bring incense for the temple. And she was really one of the greatest pharaohs, ruled Egypt in the time of the golden age of Egypt about 1530 B.C.

CONAN: Now, she was married by her half-brother who ruled as pharaoh, and he died. Their son - she took over as regent of Egypt. It was not her son that was next in line.

Dr. HAWASS: Yeah. That's - stepson was Thutmose III.

CONAN: Yes. And?

Dr. HAWASS: And she - he was supposed to be the king of Egypt, but she took the throne from him. And I believe the reason that she took the throne because she found out that a boy like this in the 9 - in the age of 9 cannot be the pharaoh of Egypt. And she wants to restore the power of Egypt, and she took the throne, then she can return the power to Egypt.

CONAN: And interestingly, though, you mentioned obviously, a lot of people had wondered over these many, many years whether her - Thutmose III had in fact had her killed. It turns out he did not. There's also been a lot of speculation over these many, many centuries over why she did not have him killed and then go on to serve as pharaoh. She kept him alive.

Dr. HAWASS: Yeah, you are right, that she - people thought that she took the throne from him. She did save the throne for the sake of Egypt and this is why I don't believe - now the CT scan proved that Thutmose III did not kill her. She died normally because of cancer.

CONAN: And you mentioned that she - the pictures of her, show her wearing the stylized beard and other aspects of male - did Egyptians have a problem with a woman pharaoh?

Dr. HAWASS: Yes. Egyptians cannot - based on the religious belief - that they cannot have a female to rule Egypt. They - a man should be the pharaoh. But the man cannot rule without women.

Then everything is fit. And therefore when she became a female pharaoh, she wanted the Egyptian to accept her then she did say that the god Amun made love to her mother and she became the daughter of the gods. Then everyone will accept the daughter of the gods to be the queen of Egypt, or the pharaoh of Egypt.

And you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you'll find that she has many statues, for herself as a male pharaoh to convince the Egyptians that she could rule the country.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. We're talking with Zahi Hawass, who is the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. He's on the line with us from Cairo. And this is Everett(ph). Everett's with us from San Francisco.

EVERETT (Caller): Yes. Dr. Hawass. It's an honor to talk to you. I think you're work is…

Dr. HAWASS: Thank you very much.

EVERETT: …yeah, you're work has just been magnificent over the past couple of years. I was wondering if you could use the similar techniques to positively identify or rule out the identity of Queen Taia, who was Akhnaton's mother. I think there's a mummy that some people think is that queen and what do you think.

Dr. HAWASS: You know, I have a project now called the Egyptian Mummy Project. There is a CT scan machine in the Cairo museum that's donated to us by the National Geographic and the DNA lab, donated to us by Discovery Channel.

I would reveal many mysteries of many pharaohs. And Queen Seti is actually is the one that I will work in September to find out something about her. She - some people believes she's elder lady in KV35, the tomb of Amenhotep II.

They would soon will hear some good news about many pharaohs now since they do have lots of technology that they can use to reveal the mystery of many pharaohs.

CONAN: I understand, Dr. Hawass, that when this technology was first made available to you, you were a little skeptical about how useful it might be.

Dr. HAWASS: You know, because I always thought that you don't have any DNA lab of ancient mummies. All the DNA labs are not made for mummies. And that's why there is lots of mistakes that can happen. I was, again, scared at the beginning, and they always see that many non-scientific people who really made the speculation of mummies.

I wanted to have a DNA lab not only for mummies, and I do have the one now, the only one in the world that's for mummies and it do have an Egyptian theme that really I can reveal mysteries and I'm sure that this will be important. And that's why, I now, I am now doing this work now with the DNA lab that's only for mummies with an Egyptian theme. We can learn to look about mummies now.

CONAN: Everett, thanks very much for the call.

EVERETT: Thanks.

Dr. HAWASS: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. And let's see if we get one more caller on the line. This is Karen. Karen is with us from Olathe in Kansas.

KAREN (Caller): Hi, Dr. Hawass.

Dr. HAWASS: Hi, Karen. How are you?

KAREN: I'm great. This is so wonderful to speak with you. My husband and I started to recognize you long ago and I wanted to thank you for our summer. My children, because of you and all of your work, have identified you and they're so interested in Egypt for this summer, and we've devoted the summer to studying in Egypt and they really, really want to know about Nefertiti.

Dr. HAWASS: You know, I think in Nefertiti is (unintelligible). And that's why we could do CT scan for the National Geographic and there is a film that's coming in this coming July 15 to show that the mummy that was identified before as the mummy of Nefertiti is not Nefertiti anymore.

And that's why I really believe that the technology that they do have now could reveal lots of important knowledge and maybe one day we'll be able to reveal the mystery of this Queen Nefertiti.

KAREN: Well, that would be great. And if you're ever in Kansas, we would love to have you come for dinner.

Dr. HAWASS: And please tell your children to go to my Web site to send me letters.

KAREN: We can do that.

Dr. HAWASS: Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: And Karen, thanks very much for the call.

KAREN: You're welcome.

CONAN: And Dr. Hawass, I know that your "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen," the broadcast is scheduled for July 15 on the Discovery Channel, where everyone will find out much more about Hatshepsut's mummy. And we thank you very much for being with us today.

Dr. HAWASS: Thank you.

CONAN: Zahi Hawass is secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, and he spoke with us on the line from Cairo.

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