The Quest to find Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile
Nefertiti is one of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt, second only to Cleopatra. While many aspects of her life are well-documented, there are many mysteries surrounding her death and burial. While hundreds of royal mummies have already been recovered in Egypt, Nefertiti’s mummy has remained elusive.
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti lived from 1370 BC until 1340 BC. She was married to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, who gave her many titles, including: Great Royal Wife, Hereditary Princess, Great of Praises, Lady of Grace, Sweet of Love, Lady of The Two Lands, Great King’s Wife, Lady of all Women, and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt. Nefertiti was known for being very beautiful, and her name means “the beautiful one has come.” While little is known about Nefertiti’s origins, it is believed that she was from an Egyptian town known as Akhmim and was closely related to a high official named Ay. Others believe Nefertiti came from a foreign country.
The Wilbour Plaque, Brooklyn Museum. Nefertiti is shown nearly as large as her husband, indicating her importance. Image source: Brooklyn Museum.
Nefertiti is well-known as one of the most powerful female leaders from ancient times. Akhenaten considered her to be an equal counterpart, and went to great lengths to ensure that others saw her as such. She is shown in reliefs smiting her enemies in battle, or wearing the pharaoh crown. However, about twelve years into Akhenaten’s reign, Nefertiti’s image disappeared from the depictions entirely. The reason for her disappearance is unknown, although there is speculation. Some say that Nefertiti died. Others say that she was elevated in status to be equal to the pharaoh, in which case she may have begun dressing like a man.
In 2012, the discovery of an inscription dating to Akhenaten’s reign may have answered some questions about what happened to Nefertiti. The badly legible text indicated that Nefertiti was alive in the second-to-last year of Akhenaten’s reign, and that she was not ruling at the level of a pharaoh at that time.
However, the greatest mystery surrounding Nefertiti to this day is the location of her mummified remains. There have been several mummies found that could potentially be the remains of Nefertiti, but none that have been conclusively identified.
In 1898, an archeologist named Victor Loret found two female mummies that could likely be the remains of Nefertiti. The two mummies were found inside the tomb of Amenhotep II in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings. The two mummies were named “The Elder Lady” and “The Younger Lady.” In 2001, it was suggested that The Elder Lady was, in fact, Nefertiti. This was based on evidence that the estimated age of death was around the late 30s or early 40s, which is in alignment with Nefertiti’s likely age upon death. Some also said that the face of the mummy matched busts of Nefertiti.
Tomb KV35 was found in the well-known Valley of the Kings. Image source.
Later tests suggested that the mummy was actually that of Akhenaten’s mother, Queen Tiye. This left open the possibility that “The Younger Lady” was Nefertiti. On June 9, 2003, archaeologist Joann Fletcher, a specialist in ancient hair from the University of York in England, announced that the “Younger Lady” showed a number of characteristics that pointed to it being Nefertiti. Fletcher referred to her doubled-pierced ear lobe, which was a "rare fashion statement in Ancient Egypt"; a shaven head; and the clear impression of a tight-fitting brow-band worn by royalty.
The remains of the "Elder Lady" and “Younger Lady”, along with an unknown male. Image source.
Fletcher's team claimed that the mummy they examined was damaged in a way suggesting the body had been deliberately desecrated in antiquity. Mummification techniques, such as the use of embalming fluid and the presence of an intact brain, are suggestive of an eighteenth dynasty royal mummy. Other features support the identification were the age of the body, the presence of embedded nefer beads, and a wig of a rare style worn by Nefertiti.
Could the mummy of the “Younger Lady” be Nefertiti?
However, most Egyptologists dismiss Fletcher's claims as unsubstantiated, stating that a mummy cannot be identified based on circumstantial evidence such as hairstyle or fashion features. The eighteenth dynasty was one of the largest and most prosperous dynasties of ancient Egypt, and a female royal mummy could belong to any number of the royal wives or daughters from the dynasty's more than 200 years on the throne. Therefore, in order to conclusively confirm whether the Younger Lady is indeed Nefertiti, detailed DNA analysis must be conducted, and this has not yet taken place.
The quest to find the famous queen highlights the fact that the desert sands of Egypt have not yet given up all their secrets.
Featured image: The iconic bust of Nefertiti, discovered by Ludwig Borchardt, is part of the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin collection, currently on display in the Altes Museum. Image Source.
Nefertiti: biography – Biography.com
Nefertiti Found? – Time Magazine
Nefertiti: Will the real mummy please stand up? – Mummy Tombs
Nefertiti – New World Encyclopedia
Nefertiti, Great Royal Wife and Queen of Egypt – Archaeology.org