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3D scan of bust of Nefertiti. Source: CosmoWenman / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

The Battle Is Over. Nefertiti 3D Is Finally Available


After a “hoax heist” and legal battle, full color interactive 3-dimensional scans of Queen Nefertiti’s bust are now available online.

The high resolution 3D scan captures every single last detail of the ancient bust that was created in 1345 BC, including the famous Nefertiti’s delicate neck, colorful headdress, distinctive high set cheekbones, and sharply drawn eyeliner.

3D scanning expert Cosmo Wenman announced earlier this month on Reason.com that Berlin’s  Neues Museum  had sent him a flash drive loaded with full-color scans of the famous bust . After a three year legal battle over the data’s release, the artist uploaded the scans for public use on November 13.

3-D scan of bust of Nefertiti. (CosmoWenman / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

3-D scan of bust of Nefertiti. (CosmoWenman / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 )

Queen Nefertiti's Head Stays In Germany

German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt first discovered the bust in 1912 and according to a 2012 Time article Egyptian authorities began petitioning Germany for the artifact’s return as soon as they realized its importance. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government was going to hand it over in the 1930s but the dictator changed his mind declaring that he would “never relinquish the head of the queen”.

The bust of Nefertiti on display at the Neues Museum in Germany. (Xenon 77 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The bust of Nefertiti on display at the Neues Museum in Germany. (Xenon 77 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In 2011, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities sent its petition to the  Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation , which runs the museum displaying the bust, but the group’s president, Hermann Parzinger, told  Reuters at the time that the famous ancient Egyptian queen “is and remains the ambassador of Egypt in Berlin”.

A Female Pharaoh?

Neferneferuaten or Nefertiti lived between 1370 and 1330 BC and this powerful woman was the Egyptian queen and Great Royal Wife of  Akhenaten, the famous Egyptian pharaoh who instigated religious revolution in worshiping one god only,  Aten, or the sun disc.

Nefertiti ruled Egypt with her husband at what was arguably the period of ancient Egyptian history in which wealth was most abundant and some scholars believe Nefertiti ruled as Neferneferuaten after her husband's death, before the accession of  Tutankhamun. Archaeologist and Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass postulated that Nefertiti returned to Thebes from Amarna to rule as pharaoh, based on  ushabti and other feminine evidence of a female pharaoh found in Tutankhamun's tomb.

The bust of  Queen Nefertiti  is one of the most famous pieces of ancient art ever discovered and it was crafted by the Chief Sculptor of Akhenaten, Thutmose, and was discovered in a workshop attached to his house in Amarna. Relieved from a solid block of limestone and coated in layers of painted stucco only one of the quartz inlaid eyes remains and while the bust does not bear a name, the blue crown with which Nefertiti was so closely associate leaves no doubts as to who this bust represents.

Stealthy Scanning

While many museums create 3D scans of their artifacts not very many are ever published and made available to the public and such was the case with the Neues Museum in Berlin when they decided to keep their full-color scans of Nefertiti’s bust private. However, in 2016, two artists, Nora al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, told Smithsonian magazine that they slipped a “modified Kinect scanner” into the museum and created a digital 3D model of the ancient Egyptian artifact.

The secretly made 3D scans of Nefertiti’s bust were used to make a 3D model. (Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles)

The secretly made 3D scans of Nefertiti’s bust were used to make a 3D model. ( Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles )

Because the illegal scans were of such high quality Wenman told press in 2016 it was “highly unlikely that two independent scans of the bust would match so closely” and that he believed the model that the pair of artists released had been derived from the Neues Museum’s scan. He simply couldn’t conceive that it was an independent, clandestine, scan.

The Hoax Heist

After what press are calling “the hoax heist” Wenman campaigned to acquire the museum’s original scans but staff at the Neues Museum referred him to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. This is where Wenman ran against a wall, for the foundation claimed that by giving him copies of the scanned data it would “threaten its commercial interests” and they only permitted him to visit the German consulate in Los Angeles allowing him to view the scans under strict supervision.

The Neues Museum is concerned with the release of the 3D scans of the bust of Nefertiti. (CosmoWenman / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Neues Museum is concerned with the release of the 3D scans of the bust of Nefertiti. (CosmoWenman / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 )

Wenman told  artnet news that he believes the foundations policy is directed “by fear of loss of control, fear of the unknown, and, worse, a lack of imagination”. However, after three long years of negotiations he finally obtained a flash drive containing the high-resolution 3D color scans of the ancient queen’s bust, which the artist put online.

Top image: 3D scan of bust of Nefertiti. Source: CosmoWenman / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 .

By Ashley Cowie



Is it just a bust and we know that busts are most often not a true likeness of the subject. I cannot understand that a bust presumed to be of an ancient Queen needs an article. It makes me think that that the entire controversy is a hoax. By who and how was the bust dated?

Take in the word "believed" in this article and know that "belief is never truth".

Why is a 3D scan necessary, why not just take (non flash) photo's.

Use of the word 'Nazi' in this article is akin to the Americans terming Vietnamese people as 'gooks'. This is done by fanatics to demonise their intended victims, allowing blind public acceptance of their crimes. The word Nazi is a made up word (by America for Americans) and was not used in Germany

It is the writers imagination that calls Hitler a 'dictator', he was elected by public referendum, which is more democratic than any other so called democratic country which elects their leaders from within the governing party., such as in the DisUnited Kingdom.

She had funny ears.

Ownership of replicas?  Give me a break.  How much real stuff of history is in the private collections of the thieving, fat cats?  Might be why we are so confused about our true (golden age) origins.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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