Hatshepsut, a prominent female pharaoh of ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, ruled in the 15th century BCE. While her mummy was lost to history for centuries, in 2007, it was identified in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Her remains offer insights into her reign and the era’s mummification practices.

The story of the mummy of Hatshepsut is a complicated one that is yet to come to a conclusion. Manetho was the record keeper of kings and wrote in his Epitome that Hatshepsut reigned for 21 years and 9 months. This suggests that Hatshepsut died 9 months after her 22nd anniversary as king.

Hatshepsut’s preparations for her death

When Hatshepsut was married to Thutmose II, she began constructing a tomb. When Hatshepsut became Pharaoh, she started to work on another tomb as the one she started when married to Thutmose II wasn’t suitable for a Pharaoh. The site known as KV20 was originally for her father, Thutmose I. This became the first tomb in the Valley of Kings to be extended with another burial chamber. Hatshepsut refurbished her father’s tomb so she can be buried with him at KV20.

The mummification process for Hatshepsut

The ancient Egyptian method of embalming and treating a dead body is called mummification. They removed moisture from a body which leaves the dry parts of the body behind so it takes a long time for the body to decay. This was done for religious reasons to preserve the body in the most life-like condition. The ancient Egyptians were very successful with this that we can see an Egyptian body from 3,000 years ago and have a good idea of what the person looked like when they were alive.

The earliest Egyptian mummies that were discovered are from prehistoric times and this might have been accidental as dry air and sand preserved the bodies that were buried in pits dug into the sand. From 2,600 BCE onwards, Egyptians started to mummify intentionally. The quality of the mummies varied over time, the quality was also affected by the price paid for the process. The best-preserved mummies are from the 18th to the 20th dynasties (1570 – 1075 BCE). Examples of this are Tutankhamen as well as other known Pharaohs such as Hatshepsut.

Mummifying a body takes 70 days, with special priests who had detailed knowledge of the human body. The special priests were responsible for embalming, treating and wrapping the body.

The first step required the removal of internal body parts that decay quickly. The brain was carefully removed with hooked instruments that were inserted through the nostrils so they could pull out brain tissue. This was a delicate process as the face can be easily disfigured if done incorrectly. The priests then made a cut on the left side of the abdomen to remove organs in the chest and abdomen but left the heart. The ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the centre of a person’s intelligence and consciousness. The organs that were removed from the body were preserved in canopic jars. The canopic jars were buried with the mummy. Over time, this process changed, the organs were treated, wrapped and placed in the body. The unused canopic jars were still used for the burial ritual.

The next step was to remove moisture from the body. This was done using a type of salt known as Natron. The embalmers covered the body with Natron and place packets of Natron in the body. When the body was completely dry, the packets inside the body were removed and they washed the Natron off the body. This resulted in a dry but recognisable body. To make the mummy more life-like, the priests filled the body with linen and added false eyes.

The final step was to wrap the body. One mummy required hundred of yards of linen. The priests wrapped long strips of linen around the body, they would also wrap each toe and finger separately before wrapping the entire hand or foot. At various stages of the wrapping process, the wrapped body would be covered with resin and then the wrapping would continue. Once the final cloth or shroud was wrapped around the body, it would be secured with linen strips.

During the funeral, religious rites were performed by the priests at the tomb’s entrance. The most important part of the funeral was “Opening of the Mouth”. The priest touched parts of the body that a person enjoyed in life and needed in the Afterlife. By touching the mouth with the instrument, the person will be able to speak and eat in the Afterlife. Once the ceremony was completed, the mummy was placed in the coffin, in the burial chamber and the tomb’s entrance sealed.

The mummy of Hatshepsut being preserved in the Cairo museum

Discovery of the mummy of Hatshepsut

During the reign of Thutmose III, historians believe the mummy of Hatshepsut was moved to her nurse’s tomb which is located at KV60. Amenhotep II, the son of Thutmose III was behind this because he wanted to secure his right to the throne.

In 1903, a tomb in KV60 was discovered by Howard Carter. This tomb had two female mummies. One of the mummies was identified to be Hatshepsut’s wet nurse and the other was known as KV60A as it was unidentified. By 2007, Dr Zahi Hawass removed the unidentified mummy and placed it in the Cairo Museum to identify the mummy. The mummy had a missing tooth with space in the jaw that matched Hatshepsut’s molar which was discovered in the DB320 canopic box. Because of this, Dr Hawass believed this was the mummy of Hatshepsut. Dr Hawass Egyptologists and Cairo Museum were against testing the tooth for DNA because this would lead to the tooth being destroyed.

In 2011, the tooth was identified to be the molar from the lower jaw but the mummy from KV60, which was believed to be Hatshepsut was missing a molar from the upper jaw, making the identification of the mummy as Hatshepsut questionable.

Historians believe Hatshepsut’s death was due to benzopyrene carcinogenic skin lotion as it gave her bone cancer. Hatshepsut’s family had suffered from an inflammatory skin disease which can be passed on genetically. If the mummy from KV60 is the mummy of Hatshepsut, it is safe to say Hatshepsut poisoned herself by using the lotion in an attempt to soothe her irritated and itchy skin.

Image of Howard Carter analysing the mummy of Hatshepsut

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Sources

Smithsonian Magazine. “Egyptian Mummy Identified as Legendary Hatshepsut.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 27 June 2011, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/egyptian-mummy-identified-as-legendary-hatshepsut-180940772/.

Abdel Razek, Maha. “Magic for all of us: The mummy of Hatshepsut.” Ahram Online, 20 Apr. 2021, https://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/50/1207/396460/AlAhram-Weekly/Heritage/Magic-for-all-of-us-The-mummy-of-Hatshepsut.aspx.

World Archaeology. “Hatshepsut Mummy.” World Archaeology, Current Publishing, 6 Apr. 2018, https://www.world-archaeology.com/world/africa/egypt/hatshepsut-mummy/.