Egypt: Archaeologists discover ‘mystery woman’
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Ancient Egypt has continued to provide a wealth of historical knowledge to Egyptologists and archaeologists. A whole range of civilisations once called the fertile region along the Nile Delta area home. Their lives and histories spanned thousands of years.
Perhaps best-known is the period in which great pharaohs ruled over Egypt, including figures like Djoser, Khufu, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Ramses II.
By the end of the 19th century, many of the tombs of the greats, scattered across the Valley of the Kings, had either been discovered and excavated or looted by both ancient and contemporary tomb raiders.
However, even to the present-day, tombs continue to be found around Egypt.
Last year, a fresh find was made in Dahshur, this time a royal necropolis located in the desert on the West Bank of the Nile, around 40 kilometres from Cairo.
Among the artefacts and relics found inside was a coffin, at first believed to belong to a king, given the fact that it was placed inside a pyramid, as pyramid burials were reserved for the rulers.
The discovery was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary ‘Mystery of the Lost Pyramid’.
Fragments of wood located in the burial chamber were pieced together by a team working under Egyptologist Dr Yasmin El Shazly.
Put together, they formed a coffin lid with a beautifully carved face.
Dr Shazly said: “Coffins normally had features similar to the owner.
“But they were idealised, because that’s what they would look like for eternity.”
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While researchers went into the work with the belief that it was a king, as the restoration came together, this was soon found to be false.
As the documentary’s narrator noted: “The restoration has revealed something astonishing: this isn’t a king.
“It is, in fact, a mystery woman.”
Dr Shazly explained that the coffin lid showed a person wearing something called a Hathor wig — an item of clothing popular during the Middle Kingdom era and only worn by women.
A chest was found alongside the woman, covered in hieroglyphs that researchers initially hoped would help them decipher her identity.
However, the place where her name would be was the most damaged part of the chest — an extremely “frustrating” fact, Dr Shazly said.
But the Egyptologist was able to decipher the rest of the script, and explained: “What’s extremely important about this chest is that we know that it belonged to a princess because here it says: ‘Daughter of the King.'”
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Not only did her name remain a mystery, but also the reason as to why she had ever been buried in a pyramid.
Professor Aidan Dodson from the University of Bristol said: “This kind of pyramid design is specific to a king.
“It’s not what you’d expect a junior member of the royal family to be in.
“Normally a princess would simply have a shaft tomb and a chamber at the bottom of it, which makes the whole thing a real mystery.”
To understand more about the princess, the team turned their attention to the age in which she lived, during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom.
Stretching from 2030 to 1650 BC, the Middle Kingdom is known as Egypt’s classical age.
It produced the first ever historical novel, called ‘The Story of Sinuhe’, and new techniques of working with gold to create the finest jewellery of the ancient world.
Inside the Cairo Museum are some of the treasures of another Middle Kingdom princess, Khenmet, that researchers hoped would help them in their quest to identify the mystery woman.
Who exactly Khenmet’s father is is uncertain, but from the position of her burial next to the pyramid of Amenemhat II, researchers say it is likely that she was his daughter.
Holding a glamorous piece of jewellery that once belonged to her , Dr Shazly said: “We have here the crown of Princess Khenmet from Dashur.
“It’s made out of gold and inlaid with semiprecious stones.
“And here, at the front, you have a branch, with very, very intricate leaves and flowers.
“This necklace is very delicate and very intricately decorated.”
Pointing to a tiny feature of the crown, she continued: “This, for example, is the symbol of life, the ankh.
“And this one, this is a very famous amulet as well — it’s the Eye of Horus that helps protect the wearer.
“The newly discovered tomb probably contains material very similar to this, a lot of gold, which is probably why it would have been robbed a long time ago.”
But, her identity remains a mystery that is as of yet unsolved.
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