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Mummy Could Be Powerful Female Pharaoh

Egypt's chief of antiquities says these are the mummified remains of Queen Hatshepsut. They were unveiled at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Cris Bouroncle
AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's chief of antiquities says these are the mummified remains of Queen Hatshepsut. They were unveiled at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Archaeologists using DNA testing said they have identified a mummy discovered more than a century ago as Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt's most powerful female pharaoh.

The discovery has not been independently reviewed by other experts.

The mummy was discovered in 1903 in the Valley of the Kings, but it was left in place until two months ago. Archaeologists then took the mummy to the Cairo Museum for testing, said Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass.

Hawass has been searching for the queen for about a year, setting up a DNA lab in the basement of the Cairo Museum. The study was funded by The Discovery Channel, which is set to air an exclusive documentary on the find in July.

Hawass said the key clue was a molar. It was found in a jar bearing the queen's insignia and containing some of her embalmed organs. The tooth fit a gap in the mummy's jaw. Hawass' team is still conducting DNA testing that they hope could help confirm the find.

"We are 100 percent certain" that the mummy is that of Hatshepsut, Hawass told The Associated Press.

Hatshepsut ruled Egypt in the 15th century B.C. and was known for dressing like a man and wearing a false beard. When her reign ended, all traces of her disappeared. Her 22-year rule ended in 1453 B.C. and was the longest among ancient Egyptian queens.

The mummy identified as Hatshepsut died in her 50s, Hawass said. He said she was obese and probably had diabetes and liver cancer. When the mummy was discovered, the left hand was positioned against her chest, which is a traditional sign of royalty in ancient Egypt.

But other Egyptologists are not as certain that the mummy is Hatshepsut.

Molecular biologist Scott Woodward, director of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in Salt Lake City, was cautious about the announcement.

"It's a very difficult process to obtain DNA from a mummy," Woodward said. "To make a claim as to a relationship, you need other individuals from which you have obtained DNA, to make a comparison between the DNA sequences."

Such DNA material would typically come from parents or grandparents. With female mummies, the most common type of DNA to look for is the mitochondrial DNA that reveals maternal lineage, Woodward said.

Molecular geneticist Yehia Zakaria Gad, who is part of Hawass' team, said DNA samples were taken from the mummy's pelvis and femur, so that more genetic tests can be run that compare the mummy to the queen's grandmother, Amos Nefreteri, who was previously identified. Gad said preliminary results are "very encouraging."

Molecular biologist Paul Evans of the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said the discovery would be remarkable if the mummy is indeed Hatshepsut.

"Hatshepsut is an individual who has a unique place in Egypt's history. To have her identified is on the same magnitude as King Tut's discovery," Evans said.

Hatshepsut is believed to have stolen the throne from her young stepson, Thutmose III.

Hatshepsut's funerary temple is located in ancient Thebes on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor, a multi-collonaded sandstone temple built to serve as tribute to her power.

But after her death, her name was obliterated from the records in what is believed to have been her stepson's revenge.

She was one of the most prolific builder pharaohs of ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of projects throughout both Upper and Lower Egypt. Almost every major museum in the world today has a collection of Hatshepsut statuary.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press.

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