When Zahi Hawass set out to find Her Majesty King Hatshepsut, he was fairly certain of one thing: The naked mummy found resting on the floor of a minor tomb was not her. "When I started searching for Hatshepsut, I never thought I would discover that she was this mummy," Hawass says. For starters, she had no apparent regal bearing; she was fat, and as Hawass wrote in an article published in the journal KMT, she had "huge pendulous breasts" of the sort more likely to be found on Hatshepsut's wet nurse.
Months earlier Hawass had visited Hatshepsut's tomb, KV20, to search for clues to her whereabouts. Wearing his trademark fedora, Hawass lowered himself 700 feet into one of the most dangerous tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The tunnel through friable shale and limestone reeked of bat droppings. When Howard Carter cleared it in 1903, he called it "one of the most irksome pieces of work I ever supervised." In the tomb Carter found two sarcophagi bearing Hatshepsut's name, some limestone wall panels, and a canopic chest, but no mummy.
Carter made another discovery in a tomb close by—tomb KV60, a minor structure whose entrance was cut into the corridor entrance of KV19. In KV60 Carter found "two much denuded mummies of women and some mummified geese." One mummy was in a coffin, the other on the floor. Carter took the geese and closed the tomb. Three years later another archaeologist removed the mummy in the coffin to the Egyptian Museum. The inscription on the coffin was later linked to Hatshepsut's nurse. The mummy on the floor was left as she was, as she had been since being stashed there, probably by priests during the reburials of the 21st dynasty, around 1000 B.C.
Over the years Egyptologists lost track of the entrance to KV60, and the mummy on the tomb floor effectively disappeared. That changed in June 1989, when Donald Ryan, an Egyptologist and lecturer at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, came to explore several small, undecorated tombs in the valley. Prompted by the influential Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas, who suspected that KV60 might house Hatshepsut's mummy, Ryan had included it on his application for a research permit. Arriving too late his first day to start work, Ryan decided to stroll around the site to drop off some tools. He wandered over to the entrance of KV19 and for the heck of it, thinking KV60 might be nearby, started sweeping the entranceway with his broom. He worked backward from the door of KV19. Within half an hour he'd found a crack in the rock corridor. A stone hatch revealed a set of stairs. A week later, with Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata playing on a tape deck, he and a local antiquities inspector entered the "lost" tomb.
"It was spooky," he recalls. "I had never found a mummy before. The inspector and I walked in very carefully. There was a woman lying on the floor. Oh my gosh!"