Egyptian archeologists say they have definitively identified the mummy of Hatshepsut, the only woman to rule ancient Egypt while the kingdom was at the height of its wealth and power.
The mummy was discovered more than a century ago in a humble tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings, but suspicion that it was the female pharaoh was hard to prove because of the lack of evidence directly linking it to Hatshepsut.
New CT scans of the mummy and its internal organs confirm its identity, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archeologist.
"This is the most important discovery in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of King Tutankhamen, and one of the greatest adventures of my life," said Hawass, who is expected to detail the study at a news conference in Cairo today.
"I think it is very cool," said archeologist Donald Ryan of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., who rediscovered the mummy in 1989 but was not involved in the current study. The evidence "is very persuasive," he said.
Hatshepsut is believed to be one of four women to rule ancient Egypt, but the others -- Nitocris, Sobekneferu and Tausret -- presided over dynasties in decline.
Hatshepsut's reign from about 1502 to 1482 BC occurred when Egypt was at the height of its power. She reestablished trade routes that had been disrupted by the Hyksos' occupation of Egypt and sent military expeditions to Nubia, the Levant and Syria, extending the Egyptian empire.
As pharaoh, she was one of the most prolific builders, commissioning hundreds of construction projects in Upper and Lower Egypt. She also built a magnificent mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, possibly the first tomb to be built in the valley.
But her mummy was not found in the tomb, and statues and other artifacts were obliterated, perhaps as part of an effort by her successor, Thutmose III, to delete Hatshepsut from the Pharaonic record.
Historians have long speculated that Thutmose murdered her or had her killed, but there has been no evidence to support that theory.
"Identifying the body could provide clues to what ultimately happened to her," Ryan said.
The mummy was originally discovered in 1903 by archeologist Howard Carter in a small, undecorated tomb in front of Hatshepsut's empty tomb. Inside were two mummies, one in a sarcophagus bearing an inscription indicating it was Hatshepsut's wet-nurse, Sitre-In, and a second lying on the floor beside it.
The sarcophagus and its mummy were at some point moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the location of the tomb was lost. The late Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas speculated that the mummy on the floor was actually Hatshepsut's because the left arm was positioned over the chest, a pose typically associated with royalty.
When Ryan rediscovered the tomb, he too speculated that the mummy left behind was Hatshepsut's, which had been hidden in the nondescript tomb by priests to preserve it.
"It was a very neat story, but we couldn't prove it," he said.
Hawass decided to reinvestigate the case for a television special to be aired by the Discovery cable TV network.
The tomb, KV60, is one of the most difficult to enter in the Valley of the Kings because the long, narrow tunnel leading into it is extremely slippery and the odor of bat dung is "overwhelming," Hawass said.
His team removed the mummy and took it to Cairo for a CT scan.
"That is the only mummy I have removed from the Valley of the Kings," Hawass said.
One reason he was willing to move it was that he didn't think it was royal. As he explained on his website, he believed that the mummy was Sitre-In and that the sarcophagus contained Hatshepsut, a view that proved wrong.
The CT scan revealed that this mummy was an obese woman between the ages of 45 and 60 who had very poor dental health. She also suffered from cancer, evidence of which can be seen in the pelvic region and the spine.
In search of more clues, Hawass suggested they use the CT scanner to examine artifacts associated with the queen. One of those was a small wooden box that contained a liver and bore the cartouche, or royal seal, of Hatshepsut. Embalmers typically eviscerated the dead before embalming them but preserved the organs in canopic jars and boxes.
To Hawass' surprise, the CT scan revealed that the box also contained a tooth.
He called in a dentist, Dr. Galal El-Beheri of Cairo University, who studied images of the tooth and of several female mummies.
"Not only was the fat lady from KV60 missing a tooth, but the hole left behind and the type of tooth that was missing were an exact match for the loose one in the box," Hawass said.
"We therefore have scientific proof that this is the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut," he said.
An Egyptian team is testing DNA from the mummy to see whether they can link it to that of other royal mummies, providing further evidence of its royal origin.
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Ladies of the Nile
Hatshepsut was one of four women believed to have become pharaohs in ancient Egypt. The others were:
* Nitocris, who ruled at the end of the Old Kingdom, circa 2184 to 2181 BC.
* Sobekneferu, who ruled at the end of the Middle Kingdom, circa 1806 to 1802 BC.
* Tausret, the last pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, who ruled circa 1191 to 1190 BC.
Cleopatra came much later, and Nefertiti was never pharaoh.