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Nefertiti always and forever

Has the mummy of the beautiful Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, really been identified? Nevine El-Aref investigates

Click to view caption
Nefertiti bust on display at Berlin Museum; the controversial newly identified mummy; the three 18th-Dynasty mummies discovered in a secret tomb in Amenhotep II's tomb; Fletcher while brushing the dust off the alleged Nefertiti mummy

For the second time in a week, the 18th-dynasty queen, Nefertiti, has been making headlines, and has again been the subject of much discussion. After the incident in the Berlin Museum, in which the famous painted limestone bust of the queen was placed on top of a modern bronze female statue, Joanne Fletcher, a mummification expert from the University of York in England, announced that she and her team may have identified the actual mummy of the queen.

Back in 1898, the French Egyptologist Victor Loret excavated the tomb of Amenhotep II on the Theban necropolis and came upon a remarkable find. This was the first tomb ever opened in which the Pharaoh was still in his original resting place, and, moreover, 11 other mummies were also discovered in a sealed chamber in the tomb; 11 in all, nine belonging to members of the royalty family. Eight of the mummies were transferred to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and three were left in situ due to their critical state of preservation.

One of this trio of mummies is now thought to be that of Nefertiti. One of the others, a female who had managed to retain her remarkable beauty, became known among Egyptologists as the "Elder Lady" and was identified as queen Tiye, the chief wife of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. A mummy of the young prince, not identified, bears a facial resemblance to that of Tiye's mummy, suggesting it could be Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Amenhotep III. And as for the third mummy, known as the "Younger Lady", the Egyptologists sway between the lovely queen Nefertiti and Princess Sitamun, a daughter of Amenhotep III (whom he may also have married and who would perhaps have been interred with her mother, Tiye).

This is, of course, mere speculation. Some research was carried out at an early stage to verify whether the mummy of the Younger Lady was, in fact, Nefertiti, but to no avail. However, early last week, Fletcher asserted that it was indeed Queen Nefertiti. Filed under catalogue number 61072, Fletcher was able to locate this mummy, along with the other two mummies lying on the floor of a side chamber of the tomb of Amenhotep II. She was drawn to the tomb during an expedition in June 2002 when, after identifying a Nubian-style wig worn by royal women during Akhenaten's reign, she identified a similar wig found near three unidentified mummies. This, she claimed, suggested the strong possibility of the link. If true, it would certainly have some wide- ranging implications for Egyptology.

Apart from the similarity in physiognomy, and the swan-like neck of the mummy that bears a resemblance to Nefertiti's beautiful face as immortalised in the limestone bust in Berlin, Fletcher pointed to other clues to support her hypothesis: a doubled- pierced ear lobe, which she claims was a rare fashion statement in Ancient Egypt; a shaven head; and the clear impression of the tight-fitting brow-band worn by royalty. "Think of the tight-fitting, tall blue crown worn by Nefertiti, something that would have required a shaven head to fit properly," said Fletcher.

Fletcher's assertion, released on the Discovery Channel's Web site, placed considerable stress on these particular characteristics of the mummy -- the brow-band over the foreheads of Egyptian rulers, and a double-pierced ear of the mummy, which she stressed can also be seen on busts of the queen and one of her daughters.

"There is a puzzle," she conceded, and explained that in 1907, when Egyptologist Grafton Elliot Smith first examined the three mummies, he reported that the Younger Lady was lacking a right arm. Nearby, however, he had found a detached right forearm, bent at the elbow and with clenched fingers. She said that the mummy had deteriorated badly; that the skull was pierced with a large hole, and the chest hacked away. Worse still, the face, which would otherwise have been excellently preserved, had been cruelly mutilated, the mouth and cheek no more than a gaping hole. Further examination using cutting- edge Canon digital X-ray machinery, the team spotted jewellery within the smashed chest cavity of the mummy. They also noticed a woman's severed arm beneath the remaining wrappings. The arm was bent at the elbow in Pharaonic style with its fingers still clutching a long-vanished royal sceptre.

Following Discovery Channel's coverage of the events, the identification of the Younger Lady's mummy as Nefertiti immediately attracted an eager audience and made headlines around the world. But Egyptologists are not so convinced. In fact, they are divided into two schools of thought. Salima Ikram, author of The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity, sees the identification as "interesting" and one that will doubtless cause endless speculation. Others express doubt that the remains are those of the legendary queen of beauty. Egyptologist Susan James, who trained at Cambridge University and who spent a long time studying the three mummies, told Discovery Channel, who financed the expedition, " What we know about mummy 61072 would indicate that it is one of the young females of the late 18th dynasty, very probably a member of the royal family. However, physical evidence known and published prior to this expedition indicates the unlikelihood of this being the mummy of Nefertiti. Without any comparative DNA studies, statements of certainty are wishful thinking."

For his part, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Zahi Hawass totally refutes the idea, and describes it as "pure fiction". He accuses Fletcher of lacking in experience, as "a new PhD recipient", and told Al-Ahram Weekly that Fletcher's theory was not based on facts or solid evidence, "only on facial resemblance between the mummy and Nefertiti's bust, and on artistic representations of the Amarna period in which the queen lived".

Hawass asserted, moreover, that the physical resemblance is not significant, "because all the statues of the Amarna era have the same characteristics. Amarna art was idealistic and not realistic," he said, and pointed out that in the Egyptian Museum, there were five of six mummies with the same characteristics. Mamdouh El-Damati, director of the Egyptian Museum, mentioned that this theory was not new, this being the second time that a claim to have discovered Nefertiti's mummy within this group of mummies had been made.

Elaborating on his scepticism about the mummy being that of Nefertiti, Hawass told the Weekly that X-ray analysis carried out previously by himself and Egyptologist Kent Weeks indicated that it was the body of a 16-year-old girl, whereas Nefertiti is thought to have died in her 30s. He explained that, "Nefertiti was involved in the assassination of her husband's successor, Smenkhare, and was later in conflict with King Horemhab who overthrew the monotheistic cult of his predecessor and erased all traces of it. Horemhab would never have allowed Queen Nefertari to be buried in the Valley of Kings," he concluded.

Nefertiti was a high-profile queen, who, incidentally, appeared nearly twice as often in reliefs as her husband, the king, during the first five years of his reign. After this she continued to appear in reliefs, though outshone to some extent by other royal favourites like Kiya and her own eldest daughter Mereaten. In the latter years of the Akhenaten's reign, however, she disappeared from the scene. So whether or not the mummy is indeed that of the beautiful queen, the dearth of convincing evidence means this may remain one of Ancient Egypt's most enthralling and enduring mysteries.













Detalle de una estela excavada en Amarna en la que se muestra a Akhenatón entregando un pendiente a la princesa Meritatón. Piedra caliza. Museo Egipcio de El Cairo.



 By Marianne Luban ©1999



nefertiti.JPG (9541 byte)              titimu.JPG (10037 byte)

Limestone bust of Nefertiti, Berlin Museum                                    Unidentified female mummy from                                                                                               KV35, dimensions slightly restored


When Victor Loret, a French Egyptologist, found a trio of denuded, unidentified mummies lying side-by-side on the floor of the tomb of Amenhotep II (designated "King's Valley, No. 35"), he described them as an older woman, a little prince and a young man (1). Later, it was determined that the "young man" was, in fact, a woman, her baldness having confused even a Frenchman like Loret:

"The last corpse nearest the wall seemed to be that of a man. His head was shaved but a wig lay on the ground not far from him. The face of this person displayed something horrible and something droll at the same time. The mouth, running obliquely from one side nearly to the middle of the cheek, bit a pad of linen whose two ends hung from the corner of the lips. The half-closed eyes had a strange expression; he could have died choking on a gag but he looked like a young, playful cat with a piece of cloth. Death, which had respected the severe beauty of the woman and the impish grace of the boy, had turned in derision and amused itself with the countenance of the man.(2)"

The female mummy who had managed to retain a "severe beauty", has, in recent years, been identified as Queen Tiye, the Chief Wife of the pharaoh, Amenhotep III. A sample of hair from the head of this mummy was compared with a lock of hair within a small case discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The two samples were deemed a perfect match. However, since the identification has been challenged for several reasons, this mummy is still mostly known to Egyptologists as the " Elder Lady" (3). The young prince has not been identified, although I think he bears a considerable facial resemblance to the latter and may be Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Amenhotep III, who died at an undetermined age and was succeeded as heir by his brother, who later became Amenhotep IV or Akhenaten.

Akhenaten was the 18th Dynasty king who established the monotheistic worship of the sun-god, the Aten, and built his capital, Akhetaten, ("The Horizon of the Aten") in the desert on the site now known as Tel el Amarna. He abolished the worship of the gods of Egypt and, as a result, the temples fell into neglect and the priests lost much of their wealth and power. Such cultural activities and scholarship that would normally have been centered around the temples went into a decline and the ordinary people who made a living supplying these edifices of the gods with commodities of every sort, also felt the crunch. In addition, Akhenaten's effectiveness as administrator of the Egyptian Empire, the legacy of his warlike ancestors, is in considerable doubt. As a result, it was unlikely that this pharaoh's iconoclastic and eccentric seventeen-year reign was popular with anybody except his faithful followers at Akhetaten (4). The foremost among these was Akhenaten's beautiful queen, Nefertiti.

The exact age of the mummy, the man- who -proved -a - female, cannot be positively fixed, but the body is not entirely without clues as regards its place in the chronology of ancient Egypt. The process by which this woman was mummified seems to date her to the latter part of the 18th Dynasty (5). The unusual shape of her skull puts her in the Amarna period, where this type of cranial formation was either artificially fostered or a genetic condition. The skull of the "Younger Lady" from KV35 corresponds closely to those of Tutankhamun and the mummy of a young individual from KV55, (the so called "tomb of Queen Tiye"). It is also like the heads of the Amarna princesses, as seen in the art of that era. And, not least, there may have been a skull shaped like that of the "Younger Lady" under the tall, blue crown of Queen Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten.

Clearly, the mummy has suffered from the cavalier attentions of ancient plunderers. Like the other two mummies with which it was found, its skull is pierced with a large hole and the chest has been hacked away (6). Worse yet, the face, which would have otherwise been excellently preserved, has been cruelly mutilated, it's mouth and cheek no more than a gaping hole. On the other hand, the mummy seems to have suffered from an unjust lack of attention from modern investigators. I suppose it has been difficult to imagine this hairless, battered corpse as having once been a beautiful anybody, much less an Egyptian queen of legendary loveliness. Some have postulated that this might be the body of Sitamun, a daughter of Amenhotep III, whom he also seems to have married and who would perhaps have been interred with him and her mother, the chief queen. Sitamun, it is true, would have been considered of a very high status, and it is far more likely that a king's wife would have been taken to the two royal caches by the priests of the re-burial commissions than a mere king's daughter (7). At this writing, I do not know whether a DNA sample has been taken from the mummy in question for comparison with that of the other 18th Dynasty royals (8).

I think it is safe to assume that, were the mummy of Queen Nefertiti to be discovered, it would probably have little remaining of the exquisite beauty of the famous bust in the Berlin Museum. Yet, in my view, the bone-structures of the "Younger Lady" and Nefertiti, as immortalized in stone, are strikingly similar. Each has a slender neck of extraordinary length and a strong, but very beautiful jawline. Seen from the front, the mummy's jaw appears quite square in the manner of the likeness of Nefertiti. Also very alike are the noses that descend in almost an unbroken line from the brow and the angle of the eye sockets in relation to the nose. The eyelids are long in both cases. The mouth of the mummy is now impossible to determine, so I gave her the full lips of the sculpture in my restoration of the mummy's profile and these seem to fit quite well with the rest of the face. Unlike the figures of her mother-in-law, Tiye, Nefertiti does not give the impression, in her portraits, of being an especially diminutive woman and sometimes she is shown as being nearly on a level with the king. While the mummy of the "Elder Lady" measures only 1.455 metres, the younger one is 1.580 metres in height (9). Since the putative mummy of Tiye's husband, Amenhotep III, is only 1.561 metres, I think we may safely conclude that, with such parents, Akhenaten was lucky to have been 1.580 metres tall, himself (10). The chances of Sitamun, his sister, ever achieving this "height" are even less.

There is little doubt in my mind that, in order to facilitate the wearing Nefertiti's famous unique crown, a tight, narrow head-dress, the skull would be shaved like that of the mummy of the "Younger Lady" from KV35. Moreover, the one preserved ear of the mummy appears to be "double-pierced", a feature I have observed in more than one of Nefertiti's probable portraits (11). As an experiment, I took a full-size photo of a life-size bust of what is thought to be a young Nefertiti and decided to do some measuring to determine if its dimensions co-respond to the facial measurements of the mummy as obtained by G. Elliot Smith, the professor of anatomy who wrote the invaluable book, "The Royal Mummies" (1912).

Smith obtained 94mm as a "minimal frontal breadth" on the mummy. This I understand to be the distance of the forehead between the two frontal lobes. These are very clearly marked on the bust and, measuring between them, I got 94-95mm, as well. Smith gave 112 mm as an "auricular height". I don't know exactly how he measured the height of the ears, but when I put my tape measure at the base of the chin of the bust, 112 mm was the point where the ear is attached to the head in its upper part. As a "total facial height", Smith got 119 mm. I would say this is not an easy thing to measure on a bald -headed mummy, but perhaps Smith saw the shadow of a hairline. The bust I measured has no hairline because the queen is wearing a diadem (it being a "composite statue" upon which a crown, presumably the tall blue one, would be added of a different material). However, placing my tape at the tip of the chin, I see that 119 mm is a very reasonable facial height for this bust and could have been where the natural hairline began. The only thing left that I was able to measure was the nose. Smith got 56mm for the nasal height and, yes, if I place my tape at the end of the nose of the bust I get 56mm up to the spot where the nasal bridge begins--the part that is supposed to jut out from the brow. I say "supposed to" because this would not be very pronounced in either the case of the mummy or of the bust. In most of her busts Nefertiti seems to have almost a "Grecian profile". Since this is very noticeable on the mummy, it is one of the reasons I think she may be Nefertiti. Unlike Smith, I cannot get a nasal breadth of 25mm. This is simply too narrow and is probably due to the desiccation of the cartilage that one sees on all Egyptian mummies. The marks for "double-piercing" of the ears are very evident on the bust I measured, although the holes were never drilled, the piece having been left unfinished.

 In one photograph, the "Elder Lady", the prince and the younger female (if, in fact, she is actually younger) (12) all seem to be arranged en familie, candles burning at their heads. I believe that they were found together is no accidental grouping and that the ancient restorers of the royal mummies may have understood that this trio was closely related. While it is true that the mummy's left arm is not raised in the queenly attitude, such as is that of "The Elder Lady", this does not necessarily disqualify her from being a king's wife in the unconventional and chaotic Amarna era. In fact, the right arm of the corpse is broken off above the elbow and a right arm that appears to have been flexed was discovered nearby in the chamber of the tomb where these mummies rested. We have found no other female royal mummies with a raised right arm, but this anomaly can possibly be explained by Nefertiti's special status, which will be addressed herein: Nefertiti, it is believed by many, suddenly disappears from the iconography and textual records in about Year 13 of the rule of her husband, King Akhenaten. Since there are no reliefs showing her funeral, it has been assumed that she fell from favor for some reason and was supplanted by her own daughter, dying in a state of disgrace. In contradiction of this theory, that Nefertiti was given a queenly burial could be assumed because pieces of an ushabti figure bearing her name has been found. In fact, a reconstruction of it from portions in the Louvre and Brooklyn Museums (13) bears the inscription "Great Heiress of the Palace, praised of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt (Akhenaten?)...Great Royal Wife, Neferneferuaten, Nefertiti, given life forever." Still, as we know tombs were prepared far in advance of a person's demise, this broken ushabti does not guarantee us much information about Nefertiti's ultimate position within the royal circle. No one knows how old Nefertiti was when she died or exactly where she was (originally) buried. Even though she was a mother at least six times, giving birth to six princesses with whom she is often shown, she may have begun her child-bearing very early and been no more than thirty when her eldest daughter was fifteen. However, there is no proof that Queen Nefertiti died a young woman and there is also no conclusive proof that the mummy in KV35 is particularly young. The third molars of the mummy are reported not to have erupted, a normal indication of youth, but wisdom teeth do not erupt in all people. At this point we will examine the part that Nefertiti may have played in the reign of her husband, and its aftermath, and the work of art, so different from the world-famous bust of the queen, that most belies Nefertiti having disappeared around Year 13. This is a limestone statue of the aging beauty, also in the Agyptisches Museum, Berlin (14).

In this sculpture Nefertiti is draped in a transparent, open robe that does not conceal her breasts in any way. On her head, instead of a tall, blue crown, she wears a rounded, blue helmet-like hat. It is quite clear that the figure of the queen has succumbed to the pull of gravity and the effects of numerous pregnancies. Her lovely face is actually ravaged--much older than it looks in any other portrait of Nefertiti of which I am aware. The point here is time, which not only destroys beauty but is the stuff of which chronologies are made. In this statuette Nefertiti, unless she was extremely ill when it was executed (her body certainly doesn't appear wasted) must have been a bare minimum of thirty years old.

Yet, as was mentioned, the conventional wisdom has pronounced that Nefertiti died or disappeared after Year 13 of Akhenaten. What are the mathematics involved here? Let us suppose that Akhenaten became co-regent with Amenhotep III at a minimum of age sixteen, a man in oriental terms, his own highest attested regnal year being 17. Just when he became sole king cannot be known with accuracy but, thirteen years later, Akhenaten would be twenty-nine. Indeed, Nefertiti, in her last portraits, looks this age-- at very least--and may have even been between thirty and forty (15)

Sometime after Year 13, Nefertiti was replaced as Great Royal Wife by her own daughter, Meritaten (16). Donald Redford writes: "In even the earliest reliefs Nefertiti is very often accompanied by a little daughter who follows behind her, clad like her mother and shaking the sistrum...If Meritaten was already a toddler in the second year of the reign, when the talatat structures began to arise, she can scarcely have been born later than the earliest months of her father's occupancy of the throne." (17) By this reasoning, Meritaten was barely past reaching puberty in Year 13, hardly a rival to supplant a renowned beauty still possibly under the age of thirty who had been greatly loved by her husband, to all appearances. A tomb painting depicting the "great durbar" of the previous year shows the royal couple affectionately holding hands. Was Nefertiti perhaps dead within the next twelve months? But if Nefertiti had not died but had fallen out of favor by Year 13 and was yet a young woman of, say, twenty-eight or nine--why are there still portraits being commissioned of her in middle age with the uraeus on her brow? The obvious answer is that the queen did not die young, nor was she disgraced or supplanted in favor of another. If anything, the status of Nefertiti was elevated after Year 13 and that of her daughter, Meritaten, for the same reason (18), a theory that increasingly gains support. In fact, it is very likely that Akhenaten declared Nefertiti his co-regent, styled "Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten" (19), and that the khepresh-crowned individual who is probably seated next to him in the Stele of Pasi, whom he chucks under the chin and who does seem to have the lithe body of a woman, is not a young man named "Smenkhkare" after all. Dr. James P. Allen, curator of the Egyptian department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, convinced me, with his article entitled "Akhenaten's Mystery Co-regent and Successor" (20), that the evidence for Nefertiti as co-regent and perhaps subsequent sole "king" exists for those whose minds are open to the notion. Arguments offered by Julia Samson, following those of J.R. Harris, in her "Nefertiti and Cleopatra" (21) are compelling, as well. Earl L. Ertman, in his article "Is There Visual Evidence For A 'King' Nefertiti" (22), sums it up: "The visual and textual evidence continues to mount that Neferneferuaten Nefertiti was co-ruler with her husband throughout much of his reign, performing duties and responsibilities of a king, if not actually holding the title. Her regalia and depicted actions suggest that she operated as co-king prior to Akhenaten's final years. Whether she ruled only while her husband was alive or also, in fact, succeeded him as sole ruler is still being reviewed and debated."

In my view Nefertiti was the co-regent of Akhenaten, but it was one of her older daughters who eventually became a "woman-king" called "Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten", there being possibly three persons with the prenomen "Ankhkheperure" before the reign of Horemheb.

Why would an Egyptian king bestow so much simultaneous power and responsibility upon his own wife? The most logical answer would be that Akhenaten was a sick man and trusted only one individual implicitly--Nefertiti. It would also seem that the pharaoh, at least in Year 13, had no son that was even close to manhood because such an heir would have been the first choice to fill the role of "junior partner". Perhaps there were small sons or even the hope of an heir in Year 13. Whatever the situation was in this department, it is quite certain that the king's eldest daughter, Princess Meritaten, was ultimately given the title of Chief Wife and even foreign rulers seem to understand she is the mistress of Akhenaten's household. Meritaten perhaps gives birth to a little daughter, named after herself--although some have claimed the child as being that of Kiya, a lesser wife of Akhenaten. Regardless, Meritaten becomes a queen with a proper cartouche. Is it because she is the wife of Smenkhkare, the new co-king of the conventional wisdom--or is it due to the fact that the former Chief Wife is now the co-regent and has rejected this title in the manner of other "woman kings" before and after her (23)? We shall probably never know the answer to this puzzle or if Meritaten's father, sometime after Year 13, actually cohabited with her as a true wife or if her title was merely an honorary one at this point.

I am not one of those, like Samson, who is willing to completely dispense with the shadowy individual called "Smenkhkare" as a male. I believe there could have been a certain young man named Smenkhkare married to Akhenaten's eldest daughter, Meritaten, who became pharaoh for an instant, and that it may have been some of his funerary equipment that was altered for Tutankhamun. How to fit Smenkhkare into this theory of Nefertiti as co-regent with Akhenaten is problematic. However, since his reign lasted no longer than a year, it would not offend reason to postulate that this prince (perhaps a son of Amenhotep III by a minor queen) succeeded his half-brother, Akhenaten, and even adopted the same prenomen of "Ankhkheperure" so as to smooth over the traces that there ever was a female co-regent in the interim.

Of course, there are those who take the opposite view, steadfastly maintaining that there was only one "Ankhkheperure", the young man otherwise known as "Smenkhkare". Aidan Dodson, for example, has attempted to demonstrate a progression of this male co-regent's loyalty to the senior king by the changes in the inscriptions of a set of canopic coffinettes, which were ultimately used by Tutankhamun (24). Dodson's theories in this area don't make much sense to me even though I am not able to dispute his epigraphic conclusions. I would tend to think that if Smenkhkare were a co-regent of Akhenaten and he wanted to mollify or please the heretic, he would probably have gotten some new coffinettes for his viscera that didn't display any of the traditional and taboo gods of Egypt or feature an emblem of Nekhbet, that great vulture goddess, smack in the center of his forehead. Are we to believe the co-regent sat in state with double emblems on his brow while Akhenaten contented himself merely with one--the cobra? It appears to me that if young Smenkhkare wanted to show the "progress" he was making in currying favor with Akhenaten, he could have "re-worked" a lot more on these coffinettes than a few cartouches! ! So, somehow, it seems more logical to me to believe that those canopic coffinettes were never fashioned or modified during the sway of Akhenaten for anyone in a subordinate position to him and whom he ostensibly trusted to help him carry out his policies but by individuals who sat on the throne after Akhenaten was gone, even so they wanted to be associated, nominally, with the latter.

In the twelfth year of his rule the pharaoh, Akhenaten, had at least one lovely wife and six growing daughters . This family unit is portrayed in the tomb of an official, Meryre II, with the king and queen perpetuating the artistic innovations of this regime by showing their affection for one another. Before two more years had passed, tragedy evidently struck. Perhaps it was due to a plague that may have eventually decimated the royal house, but there is no doubt that, by Year 14, Akhenaten's second daughter, the Princess Meketaten, was dead. We see her laid out in scenes in the Royal Tomb at Amarna, mourned by her distraught parents and the entire court. Most interestingly, these depictions also contain the figure of an infant, held in the arms of a nurse.(25) That the child is a male, perhaps the long-awaited heir, is indicated by the great deference shown to him with fan-bearers hovering in attendance lest strong light, heat or insects threaten this precious individual. Pestilence or no, the tiny, nameless person tantalizingly inserted into these scenes does likely survive and in due course becomes the pharaoh Tutankhamun, the most famous king of Egypt ever.

As it happens, the great posthumous renown of Tutankhamun is the only sure thing in all of this, for the period in which he was born, known to Egyptologists as the "Amarna Era", is shrouded with a figurative mist that shifts now and then but never lifts enough for scholars to get a firm grasp of the events of the time. In fact, the Amarna Era is highly vexatious to many scholars because it presents itself as a bundle with "loose ends" of which it is difficult to make a neat parcel. Theories have abounded nevertheless and many of them appear to be earnest efforts to render the events of this particular time as "normal" as possible, even harmonious, with a smooth succession from one king to the next. Yet it is my belief that the Amarna Era and its aftermath was far more chaotic and unusual than has been heretofore supposed. That is, supposed in modern times, because the ancient writers have certainly offered hints of the irregularities to which I refer, most of which have not been taken seriously by Amarna experts.

In his Year 17 Akhenaten apparently died, but there are indications that perhaps he was forced from his throne. At any rate, he disappears from the record. Even though Nefertiti may have been her husband's choice for a co-regent, it is doubtful that, after Akhenaten had passed from the scene, that she would have had any legal rights to the throne with grown daughters of the king being present.

Perhaps someday we shall know in whose reign Nefertiti actually died. Geoffrey Martin and Nicholas Reeves are searching for her tomb, but somehow I doubt they will discover her mummy in it. Regardless, we have no conclusive information that says Queen Nefertiti cannot have been alive up to and during the reign of Tutankhamun.

Indeed, in order to be the age she appears to be in her last portrait, she would have had to be still there. In the aftermath of the Amarna period, Queen Nefertiti would certainly have been regarded as the wife of a reviled heretic, but there is no real reason to believe that her mummy would have been targeted for destruction beyond the usual rough handling of royal mummies by tomb robbers for the valuables their corpses contained. Although the ultimate victor in the struggle for power that seems to have taken place in this part of the 18th Dynasty, Horemheb, razed Akhetaten, desecrated its royal tomb and is even thought to have exercised damnatio memoriae in the tomb of King Ay, his predecessor, we cannot be sure that he would have tried to completely obliterate her remains. Still, signs that there was animus directed against her by someone do exist (26). Nevertheless, even though Thutmose III eventually destroyed the monuments of his ambitious aunt, Queen/King Hatshepsut, the other "woman-king" of the 18th Dynasty", I am convinced her mummy, in very good condition, is still with us. It makes sense that Nefertiti should have been removed from Amarna, where she was probably entombed, and be afforded a safe haven in the tomb of a powerful ancestor of her husband's family, Amenhotep II, still in his sarcophagus and giving sanctuary to a number of displaced persons. Perhaps we ought to let go of our romantic notions about this royal lady, Nefertiti (The-beautiful-one-comes), take another look at the younger female from KV35 and concede that death is something against which even the greatest beauty rarely prevails.



1) A total of seventeen mummies, both labelled and anonymous, were discovered in KV35, among them great kings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties.

2) Romer, John, Valley of the Kings (New York, 1981)

3) The identity is based, not on hair, but on the inscription of Queen Tiye's name and titles on the mummiform case. To suppose that the mummy is Queen Tiye is to suppose that the hair in the case actually came from the head of that great lady. Since the hair of the mummy is still dark brown and  without gray and the teeth only moderately worn, it has been questioned that this can be Tiye, who, according to the generally accepted understanding of her history, must have been quite an elderly lady when she died. However, that is only if one assumes a short or no co-regency between her son, Akhenaten, and his father, Amenhotep III. As I believe, judging from facial characteristics, that this mummy is, indeed, Queen Tiye, I would have to find it a powerful argument for a lengthy co-regency. The late Cyril Aldred proposed it was as long as twelve years.

4) The possibility exists that, although the temples of the old gods were abandoned, the new religion did not actually catch on in Egypt anywhere except at Akhetaten, the royal city.

5) Smith, G. Elliot, The Royal Mummies (Cairo, 1912)

6) In order to get at the "heart scarab", which in the case of a royal mummy, could be made of gold and other valuable materials.

7) The priests of the re-burial commission, who transported the mummies to the Deir el Bahari cache and KV35, appear to have been quite selective in whom they chose for these repositories. Because of their polygamous habits, the pharaohs presumably had plenty of daughters, yet few that were not queens found their way into the two collections of royal mummies. Likewise the male progeny. I know of only two example of mummies of little princes with "the Horus-lock" on their otherwise shaved heads. The one in the tomb of Thutmose IV was not even removed for safe-keeping in KV35 with his father, but was found propped up against a wall of his father's own tomb (KV43) by Howard Carter in 1903.

8) Professor Scott Woodward of Brigham Young University, a microbiologist, has taken samples of several of the mummies. I eagerly await his findings.

9) Somewhat over 5 feet 2 inches.

10) Amenhotep III is the shortest of the pharaohs whose mummies we have--except the mummy of Thutmose I, measuring only 1.545 metres. However, I believe this mummy is most certainly that of a woman and not a man. See my article "Is the Mummy Thutmose I Really Hatshepsut", Discussions In Egyptology, Vol. 42, InScription, Issue 4, Autumn, both 1998, and Kemet, Spring, 1999.

11) A yellow quartzite head, Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin, and the Wilbour Plaque, which can be viewed on pages 72 and 90, respectively, of the Metropolitan Museum's The Royal Women of Amarna, which will be further used as an illustration source for the works of art discussed in this article.

12) We have no real idea at all how old Tiye was when she died, although the great Amarna scholar, Cyril Aldred, wrote that, historically, fifty years had to go by between her marriage to the king and her death. The "Elder lady" is hard to pinpoint as well. Because of her hair and other considerations, she has been given the round number of forty, (although Wente and Harris in their X-ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies gave her, on the basis of forensic examinations, a minimum age of 25 and a maximum of 35) a rather problematic figure to adjust to the chronology of the life of Queen Tiye , the mother of the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten--unless she was a mere toddler upon her marriage. However, age estimates of the mummies have always tended to be on the conservative or low side.

13) Depicted in Volume One (page 78) of the Amarna Letters published by KMT Communications, San Francisco. Some have seen this ushabti as being the proof that Nefertiti predeceased Akhenaten. Even if Nefertiti died in the reign of a later pharaoh, her old title may have been restored to her but the crook and flail added to her burial equipment to signify she had once been a co-regent or a "pharaoh" in her own right.

14) Pages 77 through 79, The Royal Women of Amarna.

15) In her The Royal Women of Amarna, Dorothea Arnold takes the position that Nefertiti, as co-ruler with Akhenaten, assumed the status of "wise woman", vacated by the deceased Queen Tiye and is therefore prematurely aged in her portraits. I do not agree, as I cannot imagine the circumstances compelling enough to cause any woman, much less a celebrated beauty, to allow herself to be shown much older than in reality in any portrait, official or private.

16) James Allen, in "Two Altered Inscriptions of the Late Amarna Period" (JARCE XXV, 1988), argues that "Meritaten's promotion to Chief Queen probably did not occur until after Akhenaten's Year 17", and goes on to say that "there is evidence both for the existence of Nefertiti as queen sometime after Year 17 and for the appearance of Neferneferuaten even later."

17) Redford, Donald B., "Akhenaten, the Heretic King" (New Jersey, 1984)

18) In the article quoted above, James Allen expresses the idea that the writing of Meritaten's name on the "Coregency Stela" represents "a stage between that of King's Daughter (without cartouche) and Chief Queen".

19) Attestations of this prenomen exist as "Ankhetkheperure", using the feminine form.

20) KMT, Amarna Letters, Vol. One, Fall 1991

21) Samson, Julia, "Nefertiti and Cleopatra, Queen-Monarchs of Ancient Egypt" (London, 1997)

22) KMT, Amarna Letters, Vol. Two, Fall 1992

23) For example, both Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty and Tawosret of the 19th were once styled Great Royal Wife, but both relinquished this title upon becoming regents for their young princes.

24) "King's Valley Tomb 55 and the Fates of the Amarna Kings", KMT's Amarna Letters, Vol. 3.

25) The French scholar, Marc Gabolde, has published a 300 page study of the period from year12 of Akhenaten to the accession of Tutankhamun, "D'Akhenaton a Toutankhamon" (Paris, 1998). He cites the remnants of textual evidence that the child depicted in the scenes is born of Nefertiti, the Chief Wife of Akhenaten

26) Redford, Akhenaten, the Heretic King (page 228) "The four major shrines were still standing, though somewhat delapidated. The wreckers found as they approached that at Karnak, just as at Akhetaten (now largely abandoned), vandals had hammered out some of the reliefs here and there. The faces of the queen had often been hacked with hammer and chisel; less often had the king's visage been so treated."



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Dig Days

Tampering with Nefertiti

By Zahi Hawass

Zahi HawassIn the last few weeks I have received many e-mails from art historians in the United States expressing outrage at the Berlin Museum's astonishing insolence in briefly fusing the beautiful painted bust of Nefertiti to a modern bronze nude body. One scholar, highly respected in his field, wrote passionately about this "disgusting, ugly and unscientific" synthesis, an affront to one of our most treasured masterpieces.

Writing to the director of UNESCO, the German ambassador to Egypt, and to Mohamed El-Orabi, the Egyptian ambassador in Berlin, I listed our objections to the treatment of Nefertiti, pointing out not only the aesthetic offence but the very real peril. Attaching a limestone bust to a bronze body may have caused it irreparable damage and risked its destruction, had it somehow fallen from the body. To subject a rare masterpiece to such degradation combined with the possibility of harm, is inexcusable.

The Egyptian artist, Thuthmose, who created this work of art in his studio in Tel Al-Amerada, sculpted the bust of the beautiful queen as a trial piece. He did not intend it to have a torso, let alone a nude body sculpted 3,300 years later in a completely different medium. This bust was created in the likeness of the queen in order that her fine features could be reproduced in later works. The sculptor must be turning over in his grave at the thought of the abuse done to his art.

The intricately painted bust of Nefertiti was unearthed in 1912 by a German mission directed by Ludwig Borchardt, discovered inside the studio of the long-deceased artist. The archaeologist brought it, along with other remarkably well-preserved artefacts found during his excavation to the Egyptian Museum.

The beauty of the statue, and its excellent state of preservation, was hidden -- according to some, intentionally -- by a layer of grime, so that its priceless value was not recognised. Pierre Lacau, director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service at the time, was deceived. With Lacau's permission, the bust left Egypt for Germany, though it was not exhibited in Berlin for 10 years.

On 26 May, Nefertiti was removed from its display area in Berlin Museum and joined with a nude bronze body made by Hungarian artists, apparently in a bid to draw publicity to the museum. Thus, one of the most wonderful examples of ancient art, and an irreplaceable Egyptian national treasure, was treated with wanton disrespect and subjected to physical danger.

International law permits Egypt to ask for the return of objects taken abroad, and the outroar over the Berlin Museum's fusion prompted Farouk Hosni, the minister of culture, to hold a press conference at the Cairo Opera House, announcing Egypt's intent to formally request that the German government return the bust of Nefertiti.

Let me add that we have nothing against the German Egyptologists who are currently active in the field; their work is of the highest quality and care, and we consider them friends who are always welcome to continue their activities in Egypt. But when we see in foreign museums the base of a sarcophagus that everyone recognises as the rightful property of the Egyptian Museum, or notice Pharaonic statues illicitly excavated from Fayoum, tension is introduced into the amicable relationship between Egyptologists and Egypt.

The Permanent Committee of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) recently convened, deciding to sever relations with any foreign institution or museum that bought, sold or exhibited artefacts stolen from Egypt. Additionally, German archaeologist Dieter Wildung and his wife are to be denied permission to excavate in Egypt in the future, and moreover, no Egyptian official should cooperate with them in any capacity.

We are sending a letter to remind museums around the world that it is unbending SCA policy that the acquisition of Egyptian artefacts without prior consultation with SCA is unacceptable. It is official policy that Egypt will sever relations with any person, regardless of their affiliation, who is found buying, selling or smuggling Egyptian artefacts.

As for Queen Nefertiti, the humiliation done to her will never be forgotten. How the authorities at the Berlin Museum could acquiesce to the idea of thus degrading the icon of Egyptian identity is inconceivable. Queen Nefertiti's bust should be returned to her home -- Egypt!








Mummy 61070, The Elder WomanIt's stunning and exciting news, when the media announces that the missing mummy of Queen Nefertiti may have been found by a team of English researchers led by Dr. Joanne Fletcher.

But another Egyptologist, Susan James, has a different theory, reported two years ago (follow this link for the full original story). She believes that the missing mummy of Nefertiti is actually Mummy 61070 (now at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), not Mummy 61072 (Fletcher's favorite).

Mummy 61070 on the left; Mummy 61072 on the right

James also made these comments about Fletcher's latest theory for the Discovery Channel documentary (it airs August 17 in the U.S.), which were posted on Discovery. com :

"What we know about mummy 61072 would indicate that it is one of a young female of the late eighteenth dynasty, very probably a member of the royal family. However, physical evidence known and published prior to this expedition indicates the unlikelihood of it being the mummy of Nefertiti. Without any comparative DNA studies, statements of certainty are merely wishful thinking."

The Elder Woman's MummyIt is unlikely that Egyptian authorities will ever allow the study of the mummy's DNA (even if it could be retrieved), since this raises many concerns about the mummy's possible ancestry. Researchers have applied to study the DNA of King Tut--and Atlanta's Rameses I), but the Egyptian Government has been steadfast in its refusal to permit this. 

(According to London's Sunday Times, Egyptian officials may have blocked research on King Tut, because "they feared Israel would use the tests to suggest the boy pharaoh was related to Hebrew patriarchs." And in another article at Thetimes.co.uk, noted Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass is quoted as saying that DNA testing “is not always accurate and cannot be done with complete success when dealing with mummies. Until we know for sure that it is accurate, we will not use it in our research.” Is this a case of too much information may be a dangerous thing?)

Without a DNA study, however, it is unlikely that James or Fletcher will ever be able to determine which mummy is Nefertiti. Even then, a DNA study may reveal nothing. Lisa Sabbahy, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, told the AP that a DNA test would be meaningless, since Nefertiti was born outside the royal family. 

Nefertiti unwrapped? Looks like it
The desecrated mummy of a woman stored in a nondescript Egyptian tomb more than 3,000 years ago may be Queen Nefertiti, archaeologists report.

Nefertiti's image is one of the most popular today from ancient Egypt. But the real queen was reviled by Egyptian society after her era. She married Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled for 17 years in the late 18th dynasty of 14th century B.C. She was an unusually powerful queen who co-reigned with Ahkenaten and may have ruled as pharaoh for three years after his death, says Joann Fletcher of the University of York's Mummy Research Team.

Nefertiti vanished from Egyptian history with no trace of a royal tomb or evidence of a burial. In 1990, Fletcher was conducting research on wigs worn by Egyptian royalty. In connection with a wig at the Cairo Museum, Fletcher learned of three unidentified mummies still sealed in a chamber of the tomb of Amenhotep II.

The mummies of an older woman, a younger woman and a boy had been discovered in 1898 unwrapped on the floor of a small chamber with no identification. They were located next to a room containing a group of wrapped mummies clearly of royal status. The royal mummies later were taken to the museum; the three were resealed and left behind.

Fletcher said the mummies were placed in the two chambers 300 years after Nefertiti's reign. Priests saved the mummies from looted tombs. The priests carefully rewrapped the second group and placed them in coffins but left the others unwrapped on the floor.

The wig linked to the neglected mummies was the type worn by royalty in Nefertiti's time. Fletcher obtained permission to study the mummies and, with funding from Discovery Channel Quest, began to piece together clues indicating the younger female was Nefertiti:

  • X-rays revealed skeletal features strikingly similar to Nefertiti's famous bust.
  • The mummy's mouth was smashed, perhaps by the priests, to prevent the body from breathing and eating in the afterlife.
  • The left ear lobe revealed two piercings seen rarely or only in portraits of Nefertiti.
  • A missing right arm of the younger woman's mummy was discovered nearby, bent in a position reserved for pharaohs.
  • The head was shaved for a wig. Royalty shaved their heads to eliminate lice and maintained numerous wigs with elaborate hairstyles. The forehead has an indentation made by a royal headband.

Archaeological chemist Stephen Buckley of theYork team said embalming techniques of the mummy are associated with the 18th dynasty and are of high quality.

Poor treatment of the mummies fit the hatred of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. He disrupted more than 1,000 years of tradition by usurping power from the Amun religious cult, shifting it to a sun god, Aten, and moving the capital from Thebes to Amarna, says Earl Ertman, professor emeritus at the University of Akron. Ertman is a leading expert on Amarna art and culture.

The conclusions are likely to spark debate, but Ertman believes the evidence supports Fletcher's theory: "From the available evidence, this seems to be the most logical deduction one would make."

 Famed throughout the ancient world for her outstanding beauty, Akhenaten's queen Nefertiti remains the one of the most well known of the queens of Egypt.
The famous statue of Nefertiti, found in a sculptors workshop in Akhetaten, is one of the most immediately recognisable icons from this period of history. It has escaped the excesses of the Amarna artistic style, and survived the wholesale destruction of Akhenaten's monuments after his death.



Little is known about the origins of Nefertiti but it seems unlikely that she was of royal blood. Her father was possibly a high official of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten called Ay, who went on to become Pharaoh after Tutankhamun.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti had six daughters, although the succession after his death is uncertain as there is no record of a male heir. It is possible that Akhenaten's successors Smenkhkare and Tutankhaten were his children by another royal wife called Kiya who became his principle queen for a short while after year 12 of his reign.

Nefertiti seems to have taken a hitherto unprecedented level of importance in the Amarna period art. As in the example shown above from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford she is often shown making offerings to the Aten, and appears to be almost the Pharaohs equal in terms of status.


As with Akhenaten there is no trace of Nefertiti's mummy. Some jewelry bearing her cartouche was found outside the royal tomb at Akhetaten but there is no real evidence that she was buried there. From surviving record it seems she either fell from favor or died at around year 12 of Akhenaten's reign. In this case her burial may have been elsewhere.
It is interesting to consider that the busts on this page were found in a sculptors workshop at Akhetaten. It seems that when the city was abandoned they were left behind because such was the anti Atenist feelings that no one wanted them.

Nefertiti : Egypts Sun Queen

The Chronicle of the Pharaohs

The British Museum
Dictionary of Ancient Egypt

Mummy thought to be Nefertiti may be a man

Monday, September 1, 2003 Posted: 11:07 AM EDT (1507 GMT)

Nefertiti was the stepmother of King Tutankhamun.
Nefertiti was the stepmother of King Tutankhamun.

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Egyptologists use an X-ray machine on a mummy that may be Queen Nefertiti. CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva reports (August 31)
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A British Egyptologist announced that her team may have identified the mummy of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti (June 10)
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CAIRO, Egypt (Reuters) -- The mummy a British Egyptologist says could be the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, renowned for her beauty, is much more likely to be a man, Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said.

Nefertiti, wife and co-ruler with the pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother of legendary boy King Tutankhamun, has long been considered one of the most powerful women of ancient Egypt.

Joann Fletcher, a mummification specialist from the University of York in England, said in June there was a "strong possibility" her team had unearthed Nefertiti from a tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The Discovery Channel publicized the find in a television program aired this month.

But Secretary-General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Hawass, expressed doubts Saturday about the find and said there were questions over the gender of the mummy.

"I'm sure that this mummy is not a female," Hawass told Reuters at his office in the Egyptian capital.

A report submitted to Egypt's SCA from the University of York expedition leader Don Brothwell said of the mummy: "There has been some confusion as to the sex of this individual."

www.cnn.com/.../09/ 01/mummy.nefertiti.reut/

However, the report concluded that the mummy was a female because of a lack of evidence of male genitalia.

Hawass said a double-piercing in the mummy's ear was common to both sexes, but in a different period to the Amarna era in which Nefertiti lived. He said it was even more common in men.


"All the queens used to wear earrings in their wigs, not in their ears," Hawass said, who has worked in the field for 35 years. He added that the male mummy found alongside the mummy said to be Nefertiti's also had pierced ears.

A sculpted bust of Nefertiti, whose name means "the beautiful woman has come," is exhibited in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin.

Her husband Akhenaten, who ruled from 1379-1362 BC, is believed to have all but killed off the idea of pharaoh as god-king in trying to impose a form of monotheism.

"Nefertiti gave birth six times, so her hips should be very broad, but this mummy's hips are very narrow," said Hawass, who inspected the mummy on Friday.

Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo Salima Ikram said X-rays of the mummy taken by the University of York's expedition would clarify whether the body had given birth.

"The evidence does not at all support the finding of Nefertiti," Ikram said in a telephone interview. "It would be very obvious from any X-rays of the mummy whether it had given birth...there would be specific markings."

Hawass said Nefertiti was widely believed to be at least 35 years old when she died, but Brothwell's expedition report concluded an age range of 18-30 for the mummy.

Reuters obtained a copy of Brothwell's report from the SCA.