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Writer of the Lost Monarch

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By Sandy Siegel '72

Published Oct 1, 2014 8:00 AM


Kara Cooney wants you to know about an ancient Egyptian female ruler not named Cleopatra.

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Kara Cooney filming in Egypt for the Discovery Channel. Photo courtesy of Discovery Communications.

Do an internet search of Kara Cooney and up come the words "female Indiana Jones."

Still, the noted Egyptologist says she's "more of a muser than a discoverer." For the last four years, the associate professor of Egyptian art and architecture in UCLA's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures has been musing about an ancient Egyptian female ruler not named Cleopatra. The result is a new biography, The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt.

See a quick synopsis of Kara Cooney's show Out of Egypt on the Discovery Channel.

Combining research findings and speculation about Hatshepsut's life some 3,500 years ago, Cooney paints an illuminating portrait of the ancient world's longest-reigning female ruler. The daughter of a king, Thutmose I, she was also the half-sister and "great wife" of Thutmose II. When the latter died young, leaving only a daughter from his marriage to Hatshepsut, his infant son from a minor wife fell heir to the throne. With Thutmose III too young to rule, Hatshepsut assumed power as queen regent, and in time she was crowned king to serve alongside her nephew/stepson. Her combined 22-year reign was one of relative peace, prosperity, expansion and extensive building. But much of her legacy was eradicated by Thutmose III after her death, leaving a mystery Cooney was eager to unravel.

"I've always been interested in anything old and dead," she says, "and Egypt seems to always win the contest amongst the ancients."

The popular professor enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion. She will discuss the female king at a LACMA talk on October 18, and she appeared in the 2007 Discovery Channel documentary Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen. She later co-created and hosted the network's archaeology series Out of Egypt. Yet she hesitated about writing Hatshepsut's story since the Eighteenth Dynasty ruler was outside her period of expertise.

"[But] the larger issue of feminine power intrigued me," says Cooney, who teaches the course "Women and Power in the Ancient World." She came to see Hatshepsut's saga as more than just an account of an ancient woman ruler. "It's about female power and why there are so many obstacles in the way. … It's like a case study of a larger, ongoing problem."

And the book humanizes a historic figure known primarily from statuary, buildings and reliefs.

"We Egyptologists have written a history of monuments, of things, and forgotten to write a history of the person and the decisions, emotions and tribulations," she says. "So that was my intent."

Mission accomplished.

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