Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Forensic Identification

I was a bit skeptical when newspapers announced that they had positively identified the mummy of Queen Hapshetsut (the Egyptian pharaoh from 1473-58 BCE). We visited her temple in Deir el Bahri when we were in Egypt, and her story is one of the more interesting pieces of Egyptian history.

She was the daughter of Thutmosis I, and married her half-brother Tuthmosis II. When he died, she became regent for Tuthmosis III, but after a few years, she assumed the throne as Pharaoh. She wore the traditional male articles of clothing, the false beard of the pharaoh, and reigned Egypt during a particularly prosperous period.

However, after her death, she was effectively "erased" from Egyptian history. Her statues were smashed, her name and image were defaced whevered they appeared, and she never appeared on the 'king-lists' that show the lineage of the pharaohs for over three millennia.

Like many of the pharaohs, her mummy had never been identified. So when Zahi Hawas and the Egyptian Antiquities group decided to re-open the search, I was expecting a much less positive result. Using a combination of CT scans, MRI images and even DNA testing, they assessed four possible mummies that might be Hatshepsut. The 3D image generated by the scans allowed them to compare known data and relics with the possible mummies -- and indeed, the final identifying bit was a broken tooth!

From a sealed box that has been accepted as belonging to Hatshepsut -- it's provenance is well known and everyone agrees that the contents of the canopic box are hers -- contained a fragment of a tooth, a molar with one of the roots broken off. The scans show that is matches exactly to the remaining broken root in the mummy that they had believed to be the queen.

Discovery channel did a special on the investigation which was fascinating (and reminded me that Mr. Hawas has never met a camera he didn't like!).

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