Saturday, August 20, 2011

Carcinogenic substance found in a flacon belonging to Hatshepsut


Press Release

The corpus delicti is a plain flacon from among the possessions of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, who lived around 1450 B.C., which is on exhibit in the permanent collection of the Egyptian Museum of the University of Bonn. For three and a half millennia, the vessel may have held a deadly secret. This is what the Head of the collection, Michael Höveler-Müller and Dr. Helmut Wiedenfeld from the university's Pharmacology Institute just discovered. After two years of research it is now clear that the flacon did not hold a perfume; instead, it was a kind of skin care lotion or even medication for a monarch suffering from eczema. In addition, the pharmacologists found a strongly carcinogenic substance. Was Hatshepsut killed by her medicine?

When Michael Höveler-Müller became the curator of the Egyptian Museum of the University of Bonn in 2009, it occurred to him to examine the interior of the vessel that, according to an inscription, belonged to Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Its neck had been blocked with what was generally considered "dirt," but Höveler-Müller suspected that it might also be the original clay stopper. So possibly, some of the original contents might still be inside. In Dr. Helmut Wiedenfeld from the Pharmacy Institute, he found just the right partner, to get to the bottom of this question and of the flacon.

At the Radiology Clinic of the Bonn Universitätsklinikum, the flacon was subjected to a CAT scan. Here, the Egyptologist's suspicion was confirmed – not only was the closure intact, but the vessel also held residue of a dried-up liquid. In the summer of 2009, Professor Dr. Friedrich Bootz from the Klinik und Poliklinik für Hals-, Nasen- und Ohrenheilkunde (laryngology, rhinology and otology) of the University of Bonn took samples, using an endoscope.

The Egyptian queen Hatshepsut might have accidentally poisoned herself with skin lotion, according to a new study. Researchers have detected a highly carcinogenic substance in the dried contents of a cosmetic vial found among the female pharaoh’s possessions. One of ancient Egypt’s most powerful rulers, Hatshepsut is thought to have died of bone cancer in 1458 B.C.

A flask of lotion believed to have belonged to the female pharaoh Hatshepsut contains a carcinogenic substance that might ultimately have killed the Egyptian queen, German researchers said today. Part of the permanent collection at the University of Bonn’s Egyptian Museum, the vessel was thought to have held perfume until a two-year study uncovered traces of what appears to be an ancient treatment for eczema or psoriasis. Its ingredients include palm and nutmeg oil, fatty acids that can relieve certain skin conditions and a type of cancer-causing tar residue, which is also found in cigarette smoke.

“We have known for a long time that Hatshepsut had cancer and maybe even died from it,” said Michael Höveler-Müller, the collection’s curator. “We may now know the actual cause.” He also said that other members of the queen’s family are thought to have suffered from inflammatory skin diseases that tend to be genetic.


Detectiveoat13 said...

Why Dr. Wiedenfeld said "It is quite possible that they owe their knowledge of certain medications to their contacts with Persia and India where the healing arts were very advanced even in Antiquity."?

Persia by Cyrus the Great was just started around 500BC

India in the reign of Hatshepsut was only Vedic Period.

How Hatshepsut obtained the knowledge of medications from these 2 civilizations?

Thank you.

Andie said...

I'm afraid that I am not personally in touch with Dr Wiedenfeld and don't know how he arrived at that idea. If you want to ask him directly, his email is shown at the end of the EurekAlert article, to which there is a link on the above post.

Stuart Tyler said...

Good afternoon Andie.

Of concern to me is the line:

“We have known for a long time that Hatshepsut had cancer and maybe even died from it,”

Not true. The mummy which has been identified (by Zahi Hawass) as Hatshepsut has been known (for a while) to have had cancer. NOT skin cancer i might add.

No ancient records survive which give us clues as to the death of Hatshepsut. It all depends on our belief in the Hawass identification (or not).


Andie said...

A very good point Stuart. Thanks for making it. I haven't read anything about the analysis of the mummy identified by Hawass as Hatshepsut (apart from the fact that it was obese, if memory serves) but I can imagine that there are still many details that need clarifying.

Stuart Tyler said...

Hi Andie,
You are correct.Dylan Bickerstaffe's new book will take on the DNA further than before and will offer some very interesting new theories on (for example) "Hatshepsut's Mummy".

As a brief update, I am now in touch with Dr Wiedenfeld. As i have requested further clarification on a number of points, I will be unable to report further until I speak to Dr.Wiedenfeld again.

For clarity, the Hatshepsut mummy was obese, aged around 50, had osteoporosis and arthritis and basically seemed to have little going for her in the way of health. She did NOT die of skin cancer. At least not that Dr Hawass reported in 2007:


Just for fun, i recall Dr Hawass struggling to describe the fact that the mummy had huge breasts. He really struggled, but you knew what he was referring to.

Andie said...

Excellent - thanks Stuart.

Laughing about the big breast dilemma!

Stuart Tyler said...

I can't find it for now, but i will let you know when i locate it. :)

Anonymous said...

do you know what Bickerstaffe`s book will be called and when it will be available to buy?

Stuart Tyler said...

@ Anon,

No exact release date, but it will be this year.

Dylan's site will keep you up to date:


Andie said...

Hello Anonymous. In a recent post on Dylan Bickerstaffe mentioned that the title of the book is "Finding the Pharaohs" but he has not yet given an indication of the due date. As Stuart says, his own website is the one to watch but I'll post here if I hear anything new.