Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Mystery Of Maatkare

The mummy of Maatkare, a princess of the 21'st Dynasty, was found in 1881 in the Deir el-Bahri cache along with the mummies of her immediate family and numerous other rulers of the 17'th through 21'st Dynasties. Her body was contained in the beautiful coffin shown above, which is one of a set of coffins belonging to the princess now in the Cairo Museum. Placed at her feet in the coffin, Egyptologists discovered a tiny bundle of bandages, which for many years was thought to be the mummy of a baby. This interpretation seemed confirmed when an examination of Maatkare's body indicated that she had died in childbirth. However, recent x-rays of this tiny mummy show that it is actually the body of a baboon. No one has ever offered an explanation of why a baboon should be placed with the body of this ancient princess, but an examination of the details of Maatkare's life give a clue that might help solve the mystery.
    Maatkare was a great grand-daughter of Rameses XI'th through her mother's side of the family. She was the first woman to bear the title "Divine Votress," and was also referred to as a "God's Wife"--a very important title in ancient Egypt. As High Priestess ofAmen-Re, she wrote her name in a cartouche and held the most powerful religious office in Egypt next to the Pharaoh himself. Maatkare's position identified her with Amen-Re's wife, the goddess Mut. According to Egyptian mythology, Mut bore Amen a son named Khons, who was a god of the moon. Khons' lunar association related him closely to the god Thoth, and, like Thoth, he was sometimes depicted in the form of a baboon. Since Khons was symbolically the son of Maatkare in her ritual role as Amen-Re's wife, it seems fitting that she be given a baboon as a surrogate child to keep her company in the Underworld.
 Even if this explains the presence of the mummified baboon in Maatkare's coffin, there still remains a mystery surrounding her alleged pregnancy. No clue as to the identity of her unknown child's father was found among her few grave goods, which consisted of two shabti boxes, a small figure of the god Osiris, and a papyrus inscribed with the Pert Em Hru, known today as "The Book of the Dead." Her body had been disturbed by thieves in antiquity, and only a leather amulet thong and three gold and silver rings on each thumb remained of her once undoubtedly opulent funerary attire. Whoever he was, the father of Maatkare's child was either powerful enough to flaunt religious tradition (always a risky business in ancient Egypt) or very indiscreet, for it was decreed that a High Priestess of Amen-Re must remain celibate.

--- Wanixx