Queen Hatshepsut and the case of the poison skin cream

HatshepsutGerman archaeologists studying a skin cream once owned by Queen Hatshepsut have found evidence that the female pharaoh may have accidentally poisoned herself.

The tiny bottle, which has an inscription saying it was owned by Hatshepsut, was still partially filled with a substance that the archaeologists subjected to chemical analysis. It included nutmeg and palm oils, commonly used to soothe skin irritations. It also included benzopyrene, which smells nice but is highly carcinogenic. It’s found in burnt substances such as pitch, coal tar, cigarette smoke, and burnt foods such as barbeque and coffee. Keep that in mind this Labor Day Weekend.

In contrast to the idealized statue of Hatshepsut shown here, her mummy revealed that she was obese, had liver cancer, and probably suffered from diabetes.

Hatshepsut’s rule saw two decades of peace and ambitious trade expeditions as far as Puntland, which was probably in the modern unrecognized state of the same name. Her modern-looking temple at Deir el Bahri is one of Egypt´s most stunning attractions. You can reach it by bus, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can take a mountain path from the Valley of the Kings, which leads you to a cliff overlooking the temple before sloping down past the tombs of its builders and to the temple itself. I did this one August, which is not the best time. That was probably as bad for my skin as Hatshepsut’s skin cream.

[Photo courtesy Rob Koopman]