A team of Canadian archeologists has unearthed a rare wooden statue of a pharaoh at a dig site in southern Egypt, and clues suggest the figure may be an important new representation of Hatshepsut - the great female king who enjoyed a long and successful reign about 3,500 years ago, but was almost erased from history by a male successor trying to secure his own power.
Researchers led by University of Toronto archeologist Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner also exposed two previously unknown religious buildings and found dozens of animal mummies - including cats, sheep and dogs - during a hugely successful excavation last summer near the ancient city of Abydos...
...The discovery, announced recently at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, is to be fully detailed in a forthcoming publication.
The pharaonic figure is not obviously a female, said Pouls Wegner, but is notable for its "smaller waist" and the "more delicate modelling of the chin."
These attributes were typically reserved for female subjects in Egyptian art. And because Hatshepsut was traditionally depicted in the manner of a male pharaoh, such subtle clues are often used by experts to confirm her identity in stone statues and other imagery, she said.
But relatively few depictions of Hatshepsut have survived because of a concerted effort by her stepson and immediate successor - Tuthmosis III - to erase all prominent images of the female ruler. Many experts believe the campaign of destruction was carried out so Tuthmosis could claim credit for Hatshepsut's achievements and suppress challenges towards the legitimacy of his own rule.
Hatshepsut had initially assumed power in Ancient Egypt after the death of her husband, Tuthmosis II, and before Tuthmosis III was old enough to perform his kingly duties.
But she soon consolidated her position as pharaoh and ended up ruling for about 22 years, directing wars, key trade agreements and the construction of many major monuments.
"I do think there was a problem with having two rulers at the same time," said Pouls Wegner, explaining why Hatshepsut's successor may have felt compelled to obliterate his stepmother from Ancient Egypt's pharaonic iconography.
But "she is one of the most fascinating rulers," Pouls Wegner noted, "first because she was a woman and second because so many of her monuments have been defaced."
Pouls Wegner said she hopes to pursue further research aimed at identifying the type of wood used to carve the statue and to conduct carbon dating on the object to more precisely pin down its age.
For more on Hatshepsut, see The Woman who Would Be King in the April 2009 issue of National Geographic.