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Representation of sarcophagus of Princess Hatshepset. Source: Denis Doukhan / Public Domain.

Coffin Pieced Together Reveals Egyptian Princess Face

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In Egypt archaeologists have been able to reconstruct the face of the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh . They painstakingly pieced together what seems to be the sarcophagus of an Egyptian princess named Hatshepset, and this allowed them to reveal her likeness. The coffin had been destroyed by ancient grave robbers .

The royal coffin of the princess was found in the Dahshur's royal necropolis , some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Cairo, in 2017. Archaeologists from the American University in Cairo were investigating an area that was once a pyramid and is now only a field of rubble. When the team dug beneath the structure, they made an amazing discovery, they found a tomb with the remains of a wooden sarcophagus .

The coffin, like so many others from ancient Egypt, had been ransacked by ancient grave robbers. According to the Daily Mail “The coffin had been split open so that the priceless jewels could be ripped from her corpse”. During the robbery the bones of the deceased were callously thrown around the floor.

Archaeologists reached the burial chamber of the 3,800-year-old pyramid and discovered the remains of a poorly preserved sarcophagus and a wooden box inscribed with three lines of hieroglyphs. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

Archaeologists reached the burial chamber of the 3,800-year-old pyramid and discovered the remains of a poorly preserved sarcophagus and a wooden box inscribed with three lines of hieroglyphs. ( Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities )

The Face of a Princess

Experts from the American University of Cairo began to piece the shattered coffin together. In the process, they also cleaned the fragments. Slowly, but surely, the face of a young female with a traditional Hathor wig was revealed. This was a symbol of female fertility in the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (2,040 – 1,780 BC).

The reconstructed coffin revealed what were probably the idealized features of the young woman. The Daily Mail quotes Dr. Yasmin El Shazly, an expert on ancient Egypt, as saying that “coffins normally had features that were similar to the owner but idealized because that's what they would look like for eternity”. It is likely that the face on the reconstructed sarcophagus only bears a passing resemblance to the woman when she was alive.

A Pharaoh with Two Tombs?

The tomb, where the coffin was found was once believed to have been the pyramid of Pharaoh Ameny Qemau, because of an inscription found at the site. But there is another burial monument with the same name only a mile away.

This raises the question as to “why a pharaoh named Ameny Qemau has two pyramids at Dahshur” reports Live Science . Some academics speculated that one tomb was possibly a decoy, to deceive grave robbers.

When the archaeologists entered the mysterious tomb, they found a wooden box which once held canopic jars . There was a symbol on the container stating the 'pharaoh’s daughter' and another indicating the name ‘Hatshepset’.

This wooden box was discovered inside the burial chamber of a 3,800-year-old pyramid and is inscribed with hieroglyphs that mention the name of the daughter of pharaoh Ameny Qemau. The box once held the remains of jars containing the internal organs of a mummy. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

This wooden box was discovered inside the burial chamber of a 3,800-year-old pyramid and is inscribed with hieroglyphs that mention the name of the daughter of pharaoh Ameny Qemau. The box once held the remains of jars containing the internal organs of a mummy. ( Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities )

Based on the evidence, the team is confident that they found the tomb of a Princess Hatshepset, who lived over 3,800 years ago. This is not to be confused with the pharaoh ‘Hatshepsut’, who had a similar name.

This would solve the mystery as why a pharaoh had two tombs. It seems that one belonged to the monarch Ameny Qemau and the other belonged to his daughter.

Mysterious Egyptian Princess

Little is known about Princess Hatshepset because her grave was ransacked. She was almost certainly the daughter of Ameny Qemau who ruled Egypt from 1,793 to 1,791 BC. He is a poorly attested monarch and we know very little about his life and reign.

The princess lived and died during a period of unrest in Egypt, because of drought and famine. Not long after her death, began the Second Intermediate Period when much of the kingdom was controlled by a people known as the Hykos.

Princess Hatshepset’s tomb is near her father’s tomb in the so-called ‘ Black Pyramid ’. This is a badly eroded structure, with many winding corridors, that was robbed in ancient times. It has been suggested by American archaeologist Mark Lehner, that “the tomb may have been raided before the door was sealed, suggesting that priests may have been involved” reports the Daily Mail .

The so called ‘Black Pyramid’ where the tomb of Princess Hatshepset was discovered. (Tekisch / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The so called ‘Black Pyramid’ where the tomb of Princess Hatshepset was discovered. (Tekisch / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

It is not known when or if the coffin, that was pieced together, will go on public display. If it is, it will allow us to look into the face of a princess from almost 4,000 years ago. This is not the first time that a royal sarcophagus was pieced together, in 2004, the coffin of Ramesses IV was reconstructed.

Hatshepset’s image will be seen for the first time on UK’s Channel 4's Egypt's Lost Pyramid program.

Top image: Representation of sarcophagus of Princess Hatshepset. Source: Denis Doukhan / Public Domain .

By Ed Whelan

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