Hatshepsut was the most significant of Egypt's female rulers. She came to power early in Dynasty 18, at the beginning of the New Kingdom. First as regent, then as co-ruler with her stepson and nephew, Thutmose III, Hatshepsut wielded the authority of king for more than twenty years (ca. 1479–1458 B.C.).
The crowning architectural achievement of Hatshepsut's reign was her terraced funerary temple, Djeser-djeseru, at Deir el-Bahri in western Thebes opposite modern Luxor. The temple, with its three levels of pillared porticoes, combined building, sculpture, and landscape in one of the world's great architectural masterpieces. Djeser-djeseru was partly inspired by a neighboring temple built five centuries earlier for Mentuhotep II, founder of the Middle Kingdom. By associating herself with Mentuhotep, one of Egypt's greatest rulers, Hatshepsut reinforced her own position as king.
Hatshepsut revitalized the royal funerary complex by combining her mortuary cult with a temple of the gods. Chief among the deities worshipped at Djeser-djeseru was Amun, whose principal temple, Karnak, was at Thebes, on the east bank of the Nile. Amun's chapel dominates the central axis of Djeser-djeseru, and once a year, during the "Beautiful Feast of the Valley," the god's image was brought from Karnak, in a boat-shaped shrine, to rest in Hatshepsut's temple.
Although Djeser-djeseru was partly destroyed by falling rock from the cliffs above, it was never completely buried. In the seventh century A.D., a Coptic monastery of mudbrick was constructed on the ruins of the upper terrace and, centuries later, the ruined monastery inspired the name of the site, Deir el-Bahri (northern monastery).
The temples of Hatshepsut and Mentuhotep II were well known when the Metropolitan Museum's excavators, led by Museum Egyptologist Herbert E. Winlock, began clearing the area in front of them in 1923. Winlock was searching for information about the early Middle Kingdom when he began finding fragments of statues belonging to the time of Hatshepsut. Some were pieces of limestone sculpture that had been part of the temple architecture. These giant images of Hatshepsut had once decorated the portico and niches of the upper terrace. Other fragments of granite and sandstone came from huge sphinxes and freestanding statues of Hatshepsut that had lined the processional way leading to the sanctuary of Amun. The sculpture had been destroyed some twenty years after Hatshepsut's death by her nephew, Thutmose III, for reasons that still are not completely understood.
Between 1923 and 1931, tens of thousands of fragments—some weighing more than a ton, others smaller than a human fist—were recovered and sorted. Examples of the architectural statues were reattached to the temple's facade and some of the sphinxes and other freestanding statues were reassembled and divided between the Egyptian Antiquities Service and the Metropolitan Museum. Objects acquired by the Museum in this division of finds are on view in Egyptian galleries 115, 116, and 117.