The discovery of Hatshepsut's lost mummy made headlines two summers ago, but the full story unfolded slowly, in increments, a forensic drama more along the lines of CSI than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indeed the search for Hatshepsut showed the extent to which the trowels and brushes of archaeology's traditional toolbox have been supplemented by CT scanners and DNA gradient thermocyclers.
In 1903 the renowned archaeologist Howard Carter had found Hatshepsut's sarcophagus in the 20th tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings—KV20. The sarcophagus, one of three Hatshepsut had prepared, was empty. Scholars did not know where her mummy was or whether it had even survived the campaign to eradicate the record of her rule during the reign of her co-regent and ultimate successor, Thutmose III, when almost all the images of her as king were systematically chiseled off temples, monuments, and obelisks. The search that seems to have finally solved the mystery was launched in 2005 by Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Mummy Project and secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Hawass and a team of scientists zeroed in on a mummy they called KV60a, which had been discovered more than a century earlier but wasn't thought significant enough to remove from the floor of a minor tomb in the Valley of the Kings. KV60a had been cruising eternity without even the hospitality of a coffin, much less a retinue of figurines to perform royal chores. She had nothing to wear, either—no headdress, no jewelry, no gold sandals or gold toe and finger coverings, none of the treasures that had been provided the pharaoh Tutankhamun, who was a pip-squeak of a king compared with Hatshepsut.
And even with all the high-tech methods used to crack one of Egypt's most notable missing person cases, if it had not been for the serendipitous discovery of a tooth, KV60a might still be lying alone in the dark, her royal name and status unacknowledged. Today she is enshrined in one of the two Royal Mummy Rooms at the Egyptian Museum, with plaques in Arabic and English proclaiming her to be Hatshepsut, the King Herself, reunited at long last with her extended family of fellow New Kingdom pharaohs.
Given the oblivion that befell Hatshepsut, it's hard to think of a pharaoh whose hopes of being remembered are more poignant. She seems to have been more afraid of anonymity than of death. She was one of the greatest builders in one of the greatest Egyptian dynasties. She raised and renovated temples and shrines from the Sinai to Nubia. The four granite obelisks she erected at the vast temple of the great god Amun at Karnak were among the most magnificent ever constructed. She commissioned hundreds of statues of herself and left accounts in stone of her lineage, her titles, her history, both real and concocted, even her thoughts and hopes, which at times she confided with uncommon candor. Expressions of worry Hatshepsut inscribed on one of her obelisks at Karnak still resonate with an almost charming insecurity: "Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done."