DNA clues and a lost tooth helped unravel the riddle behind the 3,500-year-old mummy of an obese woman, who experts finally identified Wednesday as Queen Hatshepsut, the most powerful femalepharaoh to rule Egypt.
The revelation was hailed in Cairo as the most important discovery since British archeologist Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922.
"We are 100 per cent certain" the mummy of an overweight woman is that of Hatshepsut, Egypt antiquities chief Zahi Hawass told the Associated Press.
Hatshepsut (pronounced hat-shep-SOOT) reigned in Egypt during the 15th century B.C., and in her time she would have wielded more power than Cleopatra or Nefertiti.
But scientists believe that following her death — likely by bone or liver cancer — her male successors tried to erase all traces of her so as not to disrupt the male lineage.
Her mummy also seemed to have disappeared, as her sarcophagus in a royal tomb was empty. In fact, it was already known to Egyptologists, who had overlooked the anonymous corpse for more than a century.
Excavations at the Valley of the Kings first unearthed the mummified remains of two females in a bland, obscure tomb in 1903 — one in a coffin inscribed for a wet nurse, the other an obese woman stretched out on the ground.
Arm position signalled royal burial
On a recent visit to that tomb, Hawass noted the overweight mummy's left armhad been positioned over her chest — an indication she was a royal. Hawass ordered radiologists to make CT scans of that mummy and another scan of a wooden box bearing the name "Hatshepsut," which had been discovered in a completely separate tomb years earlier.
The images in the box revealed a well-preserved liver as well as a tooth that Hawass said "fit perfectly" into the jaw of the then-unknown mummy.
After conducting more DNA tests on the body, scientists concluded she was about 50 years old when she died, and had bad teeth and diabetes.
The Discovery Channel funded Hawass's research for the lost mummy and will air a documentary chronicling the find next month.