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Archaeologists identify Temple of Hatshepsut, the female Pharaoh the ancients tried to erase


King Thutmose III, sixth Pharaoh of the 18 th Dynasty in Ancient Egypt, tried to erase all memory of Hatshepsut, the “Woman Who Was King”, but he was unsuccessful as traces of this powerful female Pharaoh have remained. Now more evidence of her reign has been found, as archaeologists have discovered a temple with inscriptions to Hatshepsut.

Polish archaeologists were working at a temple in the ancient Gebelein complex 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) southwest of Luxor, when they identified a temple dedicated to Hathor and possibly Amun-Ra, which appears to have been commissioned by Hatshepsut. According to a new report at Science & Scholarship in Poland, the temple has been known for some time but archaeologists have eschewed studying it until now, perhaps because of the deteriorated condition of the artworks.

The archaeologists, led by Wojciech Ejsmond, believe it is possible the temple was built during Hatshepsut’s reign in the 15 th century BC.

It is somewhat amazing that any indications of gods invoked earlier than the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 14 th century BC survived because he went on an iconoclastic spree to instead promote his favorite god—Aten, the sun god. Also, kings would hammer out previous rulers’ names and instead have their own names and attributes carved into rock surfaces of temples and other buildings. This was true especially for Hatshepsut, whose stepson Thutmose III (also known as Tuthmosis III), tried to erase her from history. However, the attempt to eradicate her from memory only fueled the desire of modern civilizations to know more about her.

“Images of many deities were destroyed in antiquity,” the report states. “Pharaoh Akhenaten … promoted the worship of one god, whose symbol was the solar disk. Depictions of other gods who did not have solar aspects were destroyed during his rule. The Goddess Hathor was associated with the sun, so her depictions were spared. … ‘The most puzzling was the lack of royal names in the temple. Rulers of ancient Egypt loved to put their names on the walls of temples exposed to the public view. Sometimes they would destroy the names of previous kings to put their own in these places,’ added Wojciech Ejsmond.”

Hathor is the cow-headed goddess at right in this image from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Hathor is the cow-headed goddess at right in this image from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. (Wikimedia Commons)

The scholars believe the construction of the temple happened during Hatshepsut’s reign. Fragments of hieroglyphs with feminine word endings and placement of a cartouche indicate the temple was hers, the article states.

Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh. Egypt’s economy flourished during her rule. She was known as “The Woman Who Was King” and directed the construction and repairs of many buildings, memorials and temples.

Gebelein is a complex of archaeological sites known for many years. This relief from Gebeline showing the jackal-headed-god Wepwawet and the earth-deity Geb was acquired by Henry Walters in 1925.

Gebelein is a complex of archaeological sites known for many years. This relief from Gebeline showing the jackal-headed-god Wepwawet and the earth-deity Geb was acquired by Henry Walters in 1925. (Wikimedia Commons)

Born in 1508 BC, Hatshepsut was the only child of Egyptian king Thutmose I and his principal wife and queen, Ahmose. When Hatshepsut was 12, her father died. She married her half-brother Thutmose II and assumed the role of principal wife and queen.  She remained Thutmose II’s queen until he died 15 years later, leaving Hatshepsut a widow at 27. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II had one child together – a daughter named Neferure. Thutmose II also had a son, his heir Thutmose III, born to a concubine. Thutmose III was an infant upon Thutmose II’s death, so Hatshepsut served as his regent.

This was highly unusual. Egypt’s gods had supposedly decreed that the king’s role could never be fulfilled by a woman ruling on her own. But Hatshepsut refused to submit to this and in around 1437 BC, she had herself crowned as pharaoh, changing her name from the female version Hatshepsut—which means Foremost of the Noble Ladies—to the male version, Hatshepsu.

"At present it is believed that the situation was more complicated. The Queen Hatshepsut ruled together with young Tuthmosis III in order to ensure the stability of Egypt, and many of her actions led to strengthening the position of the young king,” Ejsmond says in the article at Science & Scholarship in Poland. "Perhaps many years after her death, due to a complicated dynastic situation, Tuthmosis III was afraid that another ambitious queen might take over and push his own son away from power? This could lead to his decision to remove references to Hatshepsut as a pharaoh, according to the principle, if it is not engraved in hieroglyphics, it never happened."

Twenty-two years after taking reign, in around 1458 BC, Hatshepsut died in her late 40s. She was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, in the hills behind Deir el-Bahri. Thutmose III ruled for 30 years. He demanded that evidence of Hatshepsut’s rule be eradicated and ordered her image removed from temples and monuments. Thutmose III likely wanted to remove evidence that Egypt had been ruled by a strong woman. For this reason, scholars knew very little of Hatshepsut’s existence prior to 1822 AD, when hieroglyphs on the walls of Deir el-Bahri were deciphered.

The excavations of the temple are part of a multi-discipline study of the Gebelein complex, which was on ancient Egyptian maps and may have had a capital of one of the early Egyptian states 5,000 years ago that led to the rise of the pharaohs’ civilization, the article states.

Featured image: Hatshepsut by catch22/deviantart

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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