A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
CT-scans, DNA analysis, and the search for a pharaoh's mummy.
While it pretty much comes down to a tooth in a box, Discovery Channel's "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen" (airs Sunday, July 15, at 9:00pm EST) tries to cover a lot of ground: who was Hatshepsut, the early 18th Dynasty queen and pharaoh, where's her mummy, and who obliterated many of her images and inscriptions? That's a lot, even for a two-hour program.
I've watched the film twice, consulted with a couple of Egyptologists who know the subject, interviewed Egypt's archaeo-honcho Zahi Hawass, and talked with the producer, Brando Quilici (who did last year's Tut special and, before that, a documentary on the Iceman). As an archaeologist, journalist, and some-time docu consultant, I have mixed feelings about "Lost Queen." Overall, I do think it's better than many shows out there (but is that good enough?) and unlike some past offerings from Discovery it isn't larded with superfluous re-enactments. The science is pretty neat, but I have some questions about its applications here, and there are some gaps and things that are not really explained adequately. So, it is worth watching, but although I have some criticisms.
Does it matter if we find, or identify, Hatshepsut's mummy? If you think of it only in terms of "Royal Mummies Musical Chairs" as Dennis Forbes, editor of KMT, called it in his Tombs, Treasures, and Mummies (1998), it is little more than an intellectual jigsaw puzzle. Fascinating, yes, but not necessarily a gateway to understanding ancient Egyptian culture. It's laudable that the film tries to go beyond that simple game, but it really is the hook for the show and Discovery isn't shy about playing that card. It also matters because this is an important test case. There are new techniques being applied here, especially the DNA work, that have the possibility to replace decades of conjecture with scientific evidence--if the analysis and intertpretation is done right. If it isn't, then things just become more obscure than ever.
The basic structure of the film (which I'll ignore from this point on) is a bouncing back and forth between what Zahi Hawass--head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and director of this project--is doing and the footwork of Egyptologist Kara Cooney, who talks to various archaeologists about their work at various sites and logs their various opinions about Hatshepsut. The division of labor is Hawass does the mummies and Cooney does the historical background (who was Hatshepsut, how did she move from princess to queen to pharaoh, and who tried to obliterate her name from history).
We follow Hawass through a number of tombs--KV20, KV60, and DB320--and to the Cairo museum. He's checking the funerary sites linked to Hatshepsut and her immediate family, "all the places we can smell the queen," he says. He gathers relevant mummies from KV60 and the museum, where they are studied with a CT scanner on loan for the purpose and in a new DNA lab in the museum's basement. Assisting there are CT scanning specialist Hany Amer and Cairo University radiologist Selim Ashraf.
For her part, as a younger scholar Cooney does a good job of interpreting and conveying the expert's interpretations to a younger audience (key for Discovery's hoped-for advertising sales demographic). The experts include French archaeologists at Karnak, Spanish and Polish scholars at Deir el-Bahri (site of Hatshepsut's mortuary temple and of the tomb of her architect Senenmut), and Americans Betsy Bryan (at Karnak) and Donald Ryan (at KV20 and what is supposed to be the tomb of Hatshepsut's daughter, Neferure's tomb). Whether you agree with her evaluations or those of the experts is a separate question.
Rounding up the usual suspects
A mummy (identified in the show as DB320B and dubbed the "serene one" but actually from KV35), goes into the scanner under the eye of Hany Amer. (Discovery Communications)
So, let's do the mummies first! After all they are more fun. First we burrow into KV20 (tomb number 20 in the Valley of the Kings). That's where Hatshepsut was originally buried, in a stone sarcophagus alongside a second sarcophagus that was originally made for her but later was re-inscribed for her father, Thutmose I. There's not much to see there now, but Hawass fills in viewers about tomb plundering and the 21st Dynasty priests who gathered all the royal mummies they could find and secreted them into a few caches for safe keeping.
At KV60, nearby KV20, Hawass checks in on a mummy first found there back in 1903 by Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tut. Carter found two mummies in KV60, both of women. One was in a wooden coffin marked with the title and name of Hatshepsut's nurse, Sitre-In. That one was apparently moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo back in 1908, though the records are not entirely clear, while the second, lying on the tomb's floor was left behind. Notably, Elizabeth Thomas, an authority on the Valley of the Kings, suggested in Royal Necropoleis of Thebes (1966) that this might be Hatshepsut. In 1989, the tomb was re-investigated by Donald Ryan, who felt that Thomas's suggestion had merit.
Hawass finds the remaining KV60 mummy there in the wooden box it was put in by Ryan, and arranges for its transfer to the museum in Cairo. There, Hawass tracks down the supposed mummy of Hatshepsut's nurse, the one moved from KV60 in 1908, and two other possibly royal mummies of unknown women. These were found at Deir el-Bahri, adjacent to the Valley of the Kings, in the royal mummy cache known to Egyptologists as DB320. Near them, according to the film, was a small chest bearing Hatshepsut's name. But even in 1881 when the tomb was rapidly cleared (and without adequate documentation) of its contents, it had already been found and disturbed by looters. Any association between these mummies and the chest is not without doubt (the more so since one of the two is the incorrect mummy--see below).
For comparison, three males, all from the Deir el-Bahri cache, are taken from the museum's Royal Mummy Room. In an oddly humorous bit of narration we are told that "The mummies will be permitted to leave their cases for one night." (Why not give them a weekend pass and let them have some fun?) First, there's Thutmose III, Hatshepsut's stepson for whom she acted as regent before assuming the throne as pharaoh in her own right. Second, there's Thutmose II, her husband and half-brother. Last, there's Thutmose I, and that's a problem. The 21st Dynasty priests who rewrapped the royal mummies and hid them away in the DB cache messed up. Although they labeled this mummy as Thutmose I, Hatshepsut's father, that identification has long been questioned. Examination of the mummy by anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith a century ago revealed that the mummy is of a young man. James E. Harris and Fawzia Hussein, writing in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (1991), noted that X-ray images suggested he was "not yet in his twenties." But we know from literary sources that Thutmose I died in old age. In fact, we don't know who this impostor is. He may be royal and a member of this family, but he's not Thutmose I, and that should have been made clear from the beginning in this show.
So, the pool of contenders for identification as Hatshepsut: KV60A (from the tomb and dubbed "the strong one" for the show), KV 60B (from the nurse's coffin), DB320A (called "the screaming one" because her mouth is open), and DB320B ("the serene one"). Dennis Forbes has pointed out that "the serene one" is in fact Unknown Woman D from KV35, often thought to be the 19th Dynasty queen Tausert. DB320B is often thought to be Tetisheri, matriarch of the 18th Dynasty. And we have Thutmose II and III for comparison, along with "Thutmose I." These all get run through a CT scanner in the museum's basement and that's when the fun begins. Who will be voted off Hatshepsut's Island? Who will be Pharaoh for a Day?
Weeding out the poseurs
Let's start with the gentlemen. The three are scanned and then their skulls are digitally mashed into a single generic Thutmose-family skull that, we are told, the researchers will use to see which of the four female mummies is closest to the type. Why they included "Thutmose I" here I don't know. He might be a family member, but "might" isn't good enough. He should have been eliminated. Even then, I don't know if "averaging" the faces is a good approach. Wouldn't that mask intra-familial variation, and wouldn't you want to know if any of the mummies falls within the range of Thutmose-family faces--and they could vary considerably, for all we know--rather than at some artifcial mid-point of them? Setting that question aside, we learn that "Thutmose I" turns out to have something metal in his right thoracic region (it could be an arrowhead, but they don't show a very clear image of it) and a broken rib on that side. Hawass told me that the scans confirmed that "Thutmose I" was under 30 years at death, reinforcing the earlier observations that this was a younger man and cannot be Hatshepsut's father, especially if he caught an arrow in his chest. As for Thutmose II's death, there's nothing in the historical record to helps us. The scans reveal was some calcifications and enlargement of the heart. Diagnosis anyone? Is there a cardiologist in the house? He also has a gash in the left side of his neck, going almost to the cervical vertebrae, but the film leaves the cause of this unresolved (Hawass told me this is apparently not related to the question of Thutmose's death, so he must consider it to be post mortem). It's too bad that so little time is spent on these three mummies, they're worth a separate film, but we're searching for Hatshepsut after all.
Mislabeled Thutmose I in the 21st Dynasty move of royal mummies into caches, the identity of this individual is unknown. (Discovery Communications)
The finely preserved "serene one" (supposedly DB320B, but really a different mummy entirely from KV35) is first to be dropped from consideration as Hatshepsut. Her arms are extended along her sides, and the scan reveals that that's how they were originally arranged, not that they were subsequently broken or dislocated at the elbows by tomb robbers or the 21st Dynasty clean-up crew. So, she's not in the so-called "royal pose." Some 18th Dynasty queens were mummified with their left hand held high and diagonally across their chest, and several pharaohs have both hands across their chest. But it's easy to overstate the uniformity. When I asked Hawass about this, he downplayed the significance of the arm position, especially in regard to Hatshepsut, who was early in the dynasty.
Next up is the scary "screaming one" (DB320A), and here's another problem with the show. It has fallen victim to Screaming Mummy Syndrome, or SMS. Normally a mummy's mouth was held tightly shut by the wrappings, but sometimes that didn't happen and the jaw dropped down, so it looks like the mummy is screaming. You can see that in other Egyptian mummies (such as Unknown Man E from Deir el-Bahri) and most recent bodies, like some of the desiccated corpses at Palermo, Sicily. It is not, however, the person's final, agonized death scream. Time and again, in print and on film, such mummies are presented as if frozen at the moment of deat, and that's just plain silly. DB320A, does have something unusual going on with the back of her skull, but unfortunately the image of her skull spins around on the screen, so you can't get a good look at it. It's not like there's a hole in the back of her head, however, and I really wish they had taken a moment to focus in on it and tell us more about it. Instead, we get "a terrible head wound, an agonized scream" and, earlier, "Is this the face of a queen? What kind of terible end did she meet?" Hatshepsut was maybe 50 when she died, but DB320A was significantly older than that. The mummification doesn't really fit Hatshepsut either. The arms are broken off and gone, so we don't how they were placed. But the head is at an angle, the legs cross near the ankles (a linen strip holds them together), and there's the slack jaw. Not what you'd expect.
KV60A ("the strong one") is, we learn, closest to the Thutmose family skull morphology. She's also got her left arm in a queenly position, her mummification is high quality, and she's age appropriate. So she's a real contender, as a member of the royal family and conceivably as Hatshepsut herself. Whoever she was, her health was poor. The scans reveal that she had a tumor in her abdomen and massive dental problems (a burst abcess and subsequent infection is suggested as a cause of death), plus miscellaneous osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Also, she was overweight and maybe a diabetic. The dental problems, whether cause of death or not, were substantial. There's a good view of the facial bones, jaw, and teeth on Hawass's website ("The Search for Hatshepsut"). You can see areas at the tips of some roots where infection has led to the erosion of bone, and there's been a lot of bone resorption at the back of the jaw. The diabetes claim is speculative, and this is made clear in a Discovery News account, "Pharaoh Hatshepsut Died in Pain," which states, "Obesity and poor oral hygiene suggested to [radiologist Ashraf] Selim and colleagues that she might have suffered from diabetes. But, Selim said, 'Surely this is just a theory based on this circumstantial evidence, which we cannot confirm.'" That same website adds details to the tumor description: "'The type of cancer we discovered is affecting the pelvic bone, specifically the left iliac bone. From its location, character and the few tiny foci of bone rarefaction in the spine, we concluded that this tumor is a metastatic deposit rather than a primary tumor,' Selim said. Though bone cancer could not be totally ruled out, Selim said he believed it was more likely that another kind of tumor spread to the bone."
Finally, there's the "nurse" (KV60B). When the Hatshepsut search got going a year ago, Hawass speculated on his website and in the press that this might be the queen and that mummies of nurse and ruler had been switched by accident or on purpose by the 21st Dynasty priests to fool tomb robbers (though they would have plundered both anyway). In the museum, he points out that the coffin was a bit spacious for the mummy. It's not a show-stopper, but Hawass says that he's "100 percent sure" that she is not the coffin's original resident. While he admits that in his heart he likes this mummy better as a Hatshepsut candidate than KV60A, he adds that "you have to use science." The scan reveals nothing that eliminates the "nurse." Her left arm, now positioned low across the body might have been higher originally (the scan shows the elbow joint is no longer articulated). She also has some skin condition that appears on some royal mummies (see below, however).
Will the real Hatshepsut please stand up!
Going into round two, the "strong one" is out in front, but the "nurse" isn't out of the running. Round two is DNA analysis, and it marks a huge change in how things are being done in Egypt. For years, Hawass and the Supreme Council have ruled out DNA studies on royal mummies. But now the Cairo Museum has a spiffy new DNA lab and staff members are being trained in new methods that are better able to handle degraded DNA. In the new lab--funded by Discovery and set up by Applied Biosystems, a California-based company--everyone has scrubs and gloves on, face masks, and medical-grade shower caps. The narrator intones: "the enemy of any DNA hunt is contamination." Maybe viewers will be taken aback by that, as I was, since throughout the film wearing of gloves and face masks while handling the mummies has been sporadic. In one scene somebody actually blows the dust off a mummy. I asked producer Brando Quilici about this. He agreed that it looks bad, but noted that the samples are taken using a biopsy probe from deep within the mummy, for example, with KV60A it was from the tibia or upper leg bone. Ten samples are extracted and the first, which includes the skin and any other tissue from near the mummy's surface, is discarded.
It sounds great, and we see samples extracted from the two KV60 mummies. Both yield nuclear DNA (from the nucleus of the cell and best for establishing familial relationships). Who to compare them to? Inexplicably the samples come from "Thutmose I." He's still being identified as Hatshepsut's father at this point in the film, even though the CT scan results presented earlier confirmed he isn't, which was long suspected anyway. Perhaps the researchers figured he was a family member of some sort and that was good enough, but it's not made clear to the viewer. That ends up being a moot point, however, as his bone samples have only minimal nuclear DNA preserved: "When they turn to Hatshepsut's father, their luck runs out." Still it's a bad instance of false advertising and not fair to the viewers.
So now what? Ahmose Nefertari's mummy is added to the mix. She might be Hatshepsut's maternal grandmother, but not all Egyptologists see that as a definite. In fact, the parentage of Hatshepsut's mother, who is named Ahmose, is unknown. Nonetheless, Ahmose Nefertari's sampled and her mitochondrial DNA (the type passed maternally only) is recovered. It is not at all clear, however, that this will produce a helpful comparison. It might match one of the two KV60 mummies, but it might not. If it doesn't match either, that might mean neither of them is Hatshepsut or simply that Hatshepsut wasn't maternally descended from Ahmose Nefertari. This conundrum is neatly avoided in the film. While waiting for results, which will take some time, it's decided to peak inside the Hatshepsut chest from DB320 that's been gathering dust on a museum shelf for the past few decades.
The box is a real enigma. First, there's the question of how it ended up in the DB320 cache, while the two mummies under consideration as Hatshepsut's were found in KV60. Second, the lid of the chest isn't completely closed and there's a linen-wrapped mummified organ, variously identified as a liver or spleen. Gaston Maspero, head of the antiquities service when the cache was investigated, thought the cartouches with Hatshepsut's name had been altered and that the box was re-used by a later, 21st Dynasty princess with a similar name, which would explain how it ended up in DB320. But that would mean that the organ and anything else in the chest might be from the later princess and have nothing to do with the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Hatshepsut. In looking at the chest, Egyptologist Nick Reeves, however, saw no evidence for a name change (Valley of the Kings ). So the chest's contents might belong to Hatshepsut, leaving the how and why of the chest's presence in DB320 an open question. As a footnote, it is stated in the film a couple of times that this chest is the only artifact directly associated with Hatshepsut. But there is a fragmentary funerary figurine or ushabti (possiby an early nineteenth-century find from KV20) and some pieces of her wooden coffin. The latter were found by John Romer in the late 1970s in KV4, the tomb of Ramesses XI, which apparently was used by the 21st Dynasty crews repackagaing the royal mummies (N. Reeves and R. Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings ).
CT scanning reveals several things. The wrapped organ visible at the top of the chest is a liver, but there's more inside. There's a length of intestine and a couple of other things--they almost look like small linen rolls, not very opaque like a bone would be--but they aren't discussed (which is frustrating). Finally, there's someting small and bright in the image--it's a tooth! Dental expertise is summoned up in the form of Galal El-Beheiri, a Cairo University professor of orthodontics. He identifies it as a molar with one root preserved and the other broken off. Comparisons are then made with teeth in KV60A and B. The latter is mising incisors, so that's not a match. KV60A is missing several teeth, including a molar of which only a single root remains. The tooth and root match in terms of size, suggesting that (if the chest contents are Hatsheput's) KV60A is the queen.
There are high-fives all around at the fitting of the tooth (at least digitally) back in the jaw. Everyone present--and vicariously us viewers--now know what the prince must have felt when he put the lost slipper on Cinderella's foot. The narrator lapses into forensic chic, inspired by all those crime-solving TV shows: "It's the kind of proof that never happens in a cold case 3,500 years old." It is neat. Hawass tells me he is considering trying DNA analysis of the liver from the chest, by the way, and a match of it with KV60A would be good confirmation of the identification.
How solid is the tooth evidence? The film doesn't lay out the science as thoroughly as one might hope, so here's what I gleaned off a fact sheet provided by Discovery: The exact dimensions of teeth are unique to each mouth. The molar tooth in the box inscribed with Hatshepsut's name fits within a fraction of a millimeter with the space of the missing molar in the mouth of the mummy called KV60A. The miniscule difference could be due to erosion of the gums after the tooth was extracted (she had a severe gum disease). More scientific proof for the match comes from the tooth density measurements. Measured in Hounsfield units--the scale for describing radio density--the densities of the tooth in the box and of those in the mummy's mouth are nearly identical (tooth in box: 1,549 HU; mummy teeth 1,591-considered identical since both numbers fall within 1,500-2,000 HU). These data were studied and confirmed by Dr. Paul Gostner (former head of radiology at Bolzano General hospital in Italy and lead forensic investigator on the Ice Man mummy) and Dr. Andreas Blaha (senior computed tomography scan imaging analyst at Siemens German headquarters). Not being able to evaluate this myself, I simply put the information out here. That the statement "the miniscule difference could be due to erosion of the gums after the tooth was extracted" presupposes the tooth was extracted during life, while I think elsewhere (in the film or ancillary documents from Discovery, but maybe among various postings about this on the web) the consensus is that the tooth likely broke post mortem, maybe during embalming(?), and was placed into the box then.
Looking for "Hatshepsut's story"
Meanwhile, what about Kara Cooney and her mission to "look for Hatshepsut's story"? A visit to Hatshepsut's Red Chapel gives Cooney the setting to explain how Hatshepsut took precedence over her young ward, Thutmose III, after the death of her husband Thutmose II. At Hatshepsut's funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri, the reliefs of her expedition to Punt are interpreted as propganda reinforcing her rule. No surprises there. In the nearby tomb of Hatshepsut's architect Senenmut, Cooney is faced with the uncertain interpretation of what the relationship between Hatshepsut and Senenmut was, strictly professional or lovers? Initially a fence sitter, she translates inscritptions in the tomb that, she says, say Senenmut worked for the queen's pleasure. The narrator helpfully adds that the inscriptions read like "love letters." Hawass indicated to me, in strong (=unprintable!) terms, that he disgrees with this interpretation.
Things are more exciting at the French dig at the base of Hatshepsut's obelisk. The initial excitement is that a statue has been found buried at the foot of the obelisk. There's more excitement when some of the stones supporting things shift. Physics quiz: What happens if a 96 foot, nine inch tall granite obelisk weighing some 323 tons falls over? There's scenes of frantic archaeologists and workers adding screw jacks to hold things up and then doing some quick drilling and reinforcing. One of two things has happened. Either: something catastrophic to a major ancient monument nearly occurred, quite possibly with loss of life. Or: viewers have been deceived and things weren't that bad. I can't tell which, but lean to the former. Fortunately, the obelisk does not lean. Incredibly, work is resumed. The statue is revealed to be of Neferhotep, an early pharaoh with a somewhat shaky claim to rule. The French team believe Hatshepsut had the statue buried under the obelisk, and the narrator tells us it was "a magic burial of a great ancestor." That may be a jump, and Hawass says he doesn't buy it himself.
There's a bit more excitement to come when Cooney heads into the desert with Donald Ryan to look into the supposed tomb of Hatshepsut's daughter, Nefurure. The purpose is to see if Nefurure's name and face have been obliterated, as were Hatshepsut's in many cases. Problem is the tomb is way up on a cliff face and there's no easy way to reach it from above or below. Ryan looks at the camera and announces he isn't willing to die for a TV show. Somehow a 100-foot-tall ladder is produced and the dynamic, if cautious, duo ascend. The tomb's a mess, is infested with bats, and has very little paint left on the walls. No answers there.
It's in the sections with Cooney, and in narrated interludes with re-enactors, that we get most of the "mystery" talk, "Who or what killed her?" and "Did he kill her?" He is Thutmose III, and the question is did he have Hatshepsut's name and face obliterated from monuments because she usurped his rights to the throne or she was a bad stepmother? The film concludes that it was late in his reign that Thutmose III had the monuments altered and then not so much because he hated Hatshepsut but because he wanted to consolidate his son Amenhotep II's claim to the throne. Or, as the narrator succinctly puts it, she was "not the victim of hot-blooded murder, but cold-blooded purging."
What's next for the Lost Queen, her extended family, and veiwers of this show?
Well, there does seem to be solid evidence that KV60A is the mummy of Hatshepsut, and there's nobody out there with a better claim. In the show we were told that the mummy displays the "powerful physique of a queen" and has the "powerful presence of a ruler." Reality is a bit different. Only about five-feet tall and greatly overweight, she must have been a bowling ball of a pharaoh, especially since she was bald up front. And now she has linen gobs hanging out of her nostrils (stuffed in there by the embalmers to maintain the shape of her nose, they were forced partly back out by the pressure of the wrappings). Not terribly dignified or "powerful." Still, I suppose Napoleon would look about the same now if he had been mummified.
New evidence, in the form of a broken tooth, suggests that this mummy found by Howard Carter in KV60 more than a century ago could well be Hatshepsut. (Discovery Communications)
Hatshepsut's story is far from finished by this film. In fact the last chapter of it, from her burial to today, is almost as much a mystery as ever. You could guess that her mummy was moved from its original burial place, KV20, to the nearby KV60 by the 21st Dynasty folks. But then you have to explain her chest in the royal mummy cache, DB320, and coffin pieces over in KV4, the tomb of Ramesses XI. What about the mummy found in the coffin of her nurse in KV60? Is it the nurse, or was the coffin re-used by the 21st Dynasty crew? In a sense we are on more solid ground with Thutmose I, Hatshepsut's father. We can definitely say we don't know where he is.
Hopefully, at the end of this film, viewers won't be as lost as Thutmose I. But I think that the "Lost Queen" raises important questions about what happens when you cross a science-based documentary with reality TV. There's a real danger there of half-thought-through ideas ending up being broadcast to millions, who will take them as gospel truth. That's especially true when you have a very complex tale to tell, like Hatshepsut's, and you have a) a limited amount of time to tell it, and b) an audience with a short little attention span. What happens, say, when a specialist in one area comments on camera as data are initially presented to him or her? Being human, they comment, whether or not that observation is well informed or not. But it's an immediate reaction, and it's on film.
For example, viewers will possibly be confused by discussion of the bizarre-looking eruptions or pustules that can be seen on the neck, back of head, and onto the sides of the face of some of the mummies in this film. In the film, radiologist Ashraf Selim postulates that this may indicate some hereditary disease, and thus be a clue in identifying Hatshepsut (assuming she was afflicted with this undefined disease or skin condition). The alternative explanation, that it is an artifact of the embalming process receives short shrift. But in "Pharaoh Hatshepsut Died in Pain," Selim reverses himself: Another ailment--a rather disgusting skin disease on the face and neck--might have added to Hatshepsut's health problems. "We found numerous tiny spots within Hatshepsut and the Tuthmose family which could indicate a skin disease," Selim said. However, Selim believes that the spots were more likely caused by the mummification process than dermatosis. Certain aspects of the resins could be responsible for the eruptions found on the skins of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut's father, Thutmose II, her half-brother and husband, and Amenhotep II, Thutmose I's grandson. Notably, these eruptions also occur on the "nurse" mummy, which may or may not be Hatshepsut's nurse--we don't know who she is really. When I asked Hawass about this, he said he thought the eruptions were indeed caused by the embalming process.
Live action by specialists talking about other fields, basically winging it, is not good. That reaction may reflect my own bias--I would have gladly seen this focused only on the science and conclusions. Even forget Hatshepsut and the DNA, what do the scans show? Apparently the brains were left inside the mummies scanned for this show, and that's interesting. But I think that's seen in only one clip and there's no mention of it. That's too bad. Hawass say he will write up these findings. Still maybe there's a problem when you are looking at mummies scanned for a show geared to entertaining as opposed to mummies scanned to answer specific questions. With his boundless enthusiasm, Hawass told me he wants to bring science to this kind of study. But can Hollywood and science really get along?
One perhaps small quibble with the video is that, at least on the early copy I had, not everybody was well identified. I haven't been more specific about some of the archaeology end of things her simply because I did not know who was speaking--hopefully that's corrected. An example of that is in the new DNA lab. It's great that the Cairo museum has this facility, but there was an international element in setting it up and doing these analyses. That's good for everyone and needs to be recognized.
Oh yes, re-enactments. Ay, yi, yi. I can't let these go without comment. Maybe these help some viewers connect with the individuals who are the subjects of the film--now either missing or present only as human beef jerky and hence not so warm and fuzzy. I usually think of them as comic relief. In that vein, there are a couple of shots of 21st Dynasty re-enactors wandering about at night looking for a place to secretly stow a royal mummy. These are repeated a few times, and one wonders if the priests haven't gotten lost. Other scenes include Hatshepsut and her dad (Thutmose I), Hatshepsut and her daughter (Neferure), Thutmose II (her husband), Thutmose III (her stepson), and herself on death's door. Oh, yes, she's also shown with Senenmut in ambiguous scenes. Mercifully these re-enactments are all relatively short.
The "Lost Queen" is worth watching--pay close attention to the visuals, there's more there than the story line suggests.
Mark Rose is Online Editorial Director, Archaeological Institute of America.