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Did Ancient Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut Accidentally Poison Herself?


"She may have exposed herself to a major risk over the course of a few years."

Though the cause of death for Egypt's most powerful female ruler, Queen Hatshepsut, may never be fully known, researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany think it's a possibility she may have accidentally poisoned herself.

In a flask that researchers assumed for years contained perfume was recently analyzed as containing palm oil, nutmeg oil and other fatty acids, which indicate it was a lotion probably used to relieve skin diseases like eczema. They also found it contained benzopyrene, a highly carcinogenic substance. A substance that, as reported by History.com, was like a "cancer-causing tar" and is also found in cigarette smoke.

The researchers spent two years studying the dried-out contents of the flask, which is part of the university's Egyptian Museum's collection and bears an inscription saying it belonged to Hatshepsut.

"If one imagines that the queen had a chronic skin disease and the ointment gave her short-term relief, then she may have exposed herself to a major risk over the course of a few years," Helmut Wiedenfeld of the university's pharmaceutical institute said in a statement.

History.com has more on Hatshepsut's reign and death:

Many scholars regard Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt from 1479 to 1458 B.C., as one of the most powerful and successful pharaohs in history. During her 22-year reign, she ushered in an era of peace and stability, established a vast trade network and commissioned hundreds of construction projects. To win over detractors who considered women unfit for high office, she emphasized her royal birth and had artists depict her with a male body and false beard.

After Hatshepsut’s death, her resentful stepson and heir Thutmose III attempted to erase all traces of her from the historical record. This could explain the empty sarcophagus British archaeologist Howard Carter found when he discovered the queen’s royal burial place, located in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, in 1902. But in 2007, Egyptian authorities announced that Hatshepsut’s mummy had turned up in a nearby tomb. A CT scan revealed that she had died in her 50s of bone cancer and also suffered from diabetes and arthritis.

Hatshepsut's two-decade rule was the longest among ancient Egyptian queens, at a time of the New Kingdom's "golden age." Wiedenfeld said he thinks "there is a lot that speaks to the hypothesis" that Hatshepsut may have inadvertently poisoned herself while remedying a skin disease, which was said to have run in her family.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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