A SINGLE tooth has identified an ancient mummy as Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled about 3,500 years ago, according to Egypt's chief archaeologist.
The right mummy turned out to be that of a fat woman in her 50s who had rotten teeth and died of bone cancer, Zahi Hawass said yesterday.
The mummy was found in 1903 in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where the young Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried, and Hawass himself thought until recently that it belonged to the owner of the tomb, Hatshepsut's wet-nurse Sitre In.
But the decisive evidence was a molar in a wooden box inscribed with the queen's name, and found in 1881 in a cache of royal mummies collected and hidden away for safekeeping at the Deir al-Bahari temple a few hundred metres away.
During the embalming process, it was common to set aside spare body parts and preserve them in such a box. Orthodontics professor Yehya Zakariya checked all the mummies which might be Hatshepsut's and found that the tooth was a perfect fit in a gap in the upper jaw of the fat woman.
"The identification of the tooth with the jaw can show this is Hatshepsut," Hawass said. "A tooth is like a fingerprint."
"It is 100 per cent definitive. It is 1.80 cm (wide) and the dentist took the measurement and studied that part. He found it fitted exactly 100 per cent with this part," he said.
The team examining the mummy are also doing DNA tests, and preliminary results show similarities between its DNA and that of Ahmose Nefertari, the wife of the founder of the 18th dynasty and a probable ancestor of Hatsephsut.
DNA analysis is complicated because Hawass recently concluded that the mummy once assumed to be that of Tuthmosis I, Hatshepsut's father, is not in fact his. It belongs to a much younger man who died from an arrow wound, he said.
Asked why he would not wait for more complete DNA analysis, Hawass said: "You do not need anything else (other than the tooth)...And we do have a definite answer now on the similarity between Hatshepsut and the grandmother, Ahmose Nefertari."
One Egyptologist, who asked not to be named, said not all archaeologists were confident the identification was watertight. "It's an interesting piece of scientific deduction which might point to the truth," the archaeologist said.
The confusion about the identities of many royal mummies often arises from political events after they died.
Hatshepsut's tomb, for example, was found looted and without any mummified female, possibly because her stepson and successor, Tuthmosis III, tried to wipe out all traces of her memory.
Priests probably moved the collection of 40 royal mummies, including the box with the tooth, to Deir al-Bahari hundreds of years after the Pharaohs died, in order to protect them from desecration and looting during a time of insecurity.
THE PROLIFIC BUILDER WHO WAS WIPED FROM PAGES OF HISTORY
A FEMALE monarch who called herself a Pharaoh, dressed like a man and wore a false beard, Hatshepsut ruled during the 15th century BC, wielding more power than two other women of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra and Nefertiti. But when her rule in the 18th Dynasty ended, all traces of her disappeared, including her mummy.
Hatshepsut is thought to have stolen the throne from her stepson, Tuthmosis III. Her rule of about 21 years was the longest of ancient Egyptian queens, ending in 1453BC.
Hatshepsut's funerary temple is located in ancient Thebes, on the west bank of the Nile in today's Luxor.
After Hatshepsut's death, her name was obliterated from records in what is believed to have been her stepson's revenge.
She was one of the most prolific builder Pharaohs, commissioning projects throughout upper and lower Egypt. Almost every major museum in the world holds Hatshepsut statuary.