Mummy dearest? Recent scholarship is changing thinking about female pharaoh Hatshepsut, whom Egyptologists once called “the vilest type of usurper.”
Elizabeth B. Wilson in Smithsonian Magazine:
It was a hot, dusty day in early 1927, and Herbert Winlock was staring at a scene of brutal destruction that had all the hallmarks of a vicious personal attack. Signs of desecration were everywhere; eyes had been gouged out, heads lopped off, the cobra-like symbol of royalty hacked from foreheads. Winlock, head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s archaeological team in Egypt, had unearthed a pit in the great temple complex at Deir el-Bahri, across the Nile from the ancient sites of Thebes and Karnak. In the pit were smashed statues of a pharaoh—pieces “from the size of a fingertip,” Winlock noted, “to others weighing a ton or more.” The images had suffered “almost every conceivable indignity,” he wrote, as the violators vented “their spite on the [pharaoh’s] brilliantly chiseled, smiling features.” To the ancient Egyptians, pharaohs were gods. What could this one have done to warrant such blasphemy? In the opinion of Winlock, and other Egyptologists of his generation, plenty.
The statues were those of Hatshepsut, the sixth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, one of the few—and by far the most successful—females to rule Egypt as pharaoh. Evidence of her remarkable reign (c. 1479-1458 b.c.) did not begin to emerge until the 19th century. But by Winlock’s day, historians had crafted the few known facts of her life into a soap opera of deceit, lust and revenge.