A misplaced tooth held the clue to the identity of one of the world’s most powerful queens, Hatshepsut, and it took the detective work of Egypt’s Indiana Jones, Zahi Hawass, to figure it out. Alone near midnight at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Hawass—the secretary general for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities—decided to scan a box with Hatshepsut’s name on it. To his surprise, a single molar in the box perfectly matched the space left by a missing tooth in the mouth of one of the museum’s unidentified mummies.
DNA analysis bore out Hawass’s suspicion that the mummy was indeed Hatshepsut, perhaps the greatest discovery since that of King Tutankhamen in 1922. While King Tut had his name all over his tomb, Hatshepsut had been removed from hers and put into an unmarked crypt, stowed safely away from raiders, says Angelique Corthals, a biomedical Egyptologist at the University of Manchester in England. Corthals took preliminary DNA samples that confirmed Hatshepsut’s identity by matching the mummy’s mitochondrial DNA with that of her supposed great-grandmother, Ahmose Nefertari.
Hatshepsut, who often dressed like a man to affirm her kinglike status, ruled 3,500 years ago during Egypt’s 18th dynasty, at a time when female rulers were almost unheard of, says Hawass. The obese queen is believed to have suffered from diabetes, and CT scans show she had bone cancer and died when she was about 50. Still, Corthals believes, at a time when tooth infections could be fatal, it was a tooth abscess that did her in, piercing the legend that her stepson, Thutmose III, killed her.
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