Queen Hatshepsut: Death by Moisturizer?

Queen Hatshepsut was one of the most successful pharaohs in ancient Egypt and one of the most powerful women of all time. She died in 1458 BC of unknown causes. Now, a new theory proposes to solve this mystery. Did Hatshepsut moisturize herself to death?

The Mysterious Flask of Hatshepsut?

I wrote about Hatshepsut a little over a week ago. That article, Did Ancient Egyptians Conquer the Seas?, discussed her role in an overseas expedition to the mysterious Land of Punt. Now, she’s back in the news for something else…namely her own death.

German scholars recently announced the discovery of creosote and asphalt in a flask that supposedly belonged to Hatshepsut. These are carcinogenic substances and known to cause cancer.

The rest of the flask contained palm and nutmeg oil as well as polyunsaturated fats. Taken together, the contents indicate that the flask might have once held some sort of ancient skin care lotion. The research team believes that Hatsheptsut suffered from a chronic skin disease. By using the lotion as a salve, she exposed herself to the dangerous substances over an extended period of time. This ultimately caused her to contract cancer.

There is some outside evidence to support this new theory. Hatshepsut’s family apparently suffered from genetic skin diseases. Also, assuming that the 2007 identification of her mummy is correct, then Hatshepsut clearly suffered from a skin disease of her own as well as bone cancer.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Not everyone is convinced. Researchers have yet to find traces of the offending substances in her bone marrow. Skeptics can also point to a number of weak links in the evidence chain. We don’t know for sure that the flask is authentic or that Hatshepsut used it. Also, we can’t be positive that the mummy belongs to her. Finally, even if the mummy does belong to Hatshepsut, the so-called skin disease she appears to have suffered from may be nothing more than residue left over from the mummification process.

Still, the research team has put together an intriguing case. Further tests and analysis are of course required. But at the moment, it seems quite possible that Hatshepsut may have, in effect, moisturized herself to death.

Did Ancient Egyptians Conquer the Seas?

Around 1477 BC, Queen Hatshepsut funded a mysterious overseas expedition to the Land of Punt, or “the Land of God.” For over a century, archaeologists have questioned the ability of Egypt to conduct such an oceanic voyage, with many believing that the Land of Punt was inland or even fictional. Now, new evidence indicates that the ancient Egyptians weren’t just masters of the land…they were masters of the seas as well.

The Mysterious Land of Punt?

The famous expedition is depicted in relief at Deir el-Bahri. It consisted of five ships. Each ship measured about seventy feet long and carried 210 men. After reaching Punt, the expedition returned with plants, animals, incense, ebony, and even people native to the Land of Punt.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first nor the last recorded visit to Punt. Pharaoh Sahure led a similar expedition almost one thousand years earlier. And after Hatshepsut’s expedition, trade flourished between Egypt and Punt for another four hundred years until Egypt’s New Kingdom came to an end. Then trade ceased and Punt became known as a mythical, lost land.

Where was the Land of Punt?

The exact location of the Land of Punt has baffled scholars for decades. Many researchers doubted the ability of ancient Egyptians to master the deep seas. They tended to think that stories of long voyages were false and that Punt was accessible by land or perhaps, a mythical place from the beginning. However, a recent article by Discovery Magazine indicates that the Egyptians “
mastered oceangoing technology and 
launched a series of 
ambitious expeditions 
to far-off lands.”

Since 2003, a team of archaeologists led by Kathryn Bard have been excavating the dried-up ancient Red Sea port of Mersa Gawasis. Their most recent discovery, an ancient sophisticated harbor, provides substantial proof that the Egyptians traveled far beyond the Nile. Over the years, the team has also located supporting evidence in a series of nearby, hand-hewn caves. These caves, which may have once served as ancient boat houses, were found to contain timbers, rigging, limestone anchors, steering oars, cedar planks, and reed mats, amongst other things. The evidence points to the existence of numerous Egyptian ships, powered by rowers and sails, and capable of surviving deepwater excursions.

“These new finds remove all doubt that you reach Punt by sea. The Egyptians must have had considerable seagoing experience.” ~ John Baines, Egyptologist

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The ancient Egyptians were clearly incredible builders on land. And now, thanks to these new discoveries, it appears that their expertise extended to the sea as well. While the exact location of the Land of Punt remains a mystery, the evidence continues to mount that the Egyptians traveled throughout the Red Sea and perhaps into the Arabian Sea. Someday soon, we might even learn that ancient Egyptian vessels traveled far out into the Indian Ocean, voyaging to faraway points such as India…and perhaps, even beyond.