If the surviving artistic depictions of her are accurate, Queen Nefertiti–whose name means “a beautiful woman has come”– was the Angelina Jolie of the ancient world, one of the most glamorous females who ever graced the planet. Even today, people are so beguiled by her beauty that the famous bust of Nefertiti, which was discovered by archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in 1912, is gazed upon by one million visitors annually at a German museum. (In recent years, the Egyptians have sought to have the bust returned, so far to no avail.) Even deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak sought to bask in Nefertiti’s reflected glow. This news account notes that a particularly grandiose Cairo mural depicted Mubarak surveying the Nile with the ancient queen at his side.
Nefertiti’s fabled allure, and our continuing fascination with it, would make discovery of her mummy sensational news. Indeed, in 2003, when University of York Egyptologist Joann Fletcher garnered headlines by proposing that a previously unidentified mummy, known as the “Younger Lady,” might be the ancient queen’s remains, a major controversy erupted. Fletcher’s work was attacked by other noted Egyptologists, and she was officially disinvited from doing further research in Egypt. (Here is a critical essay on the controversy by Mark Rose, executive editor of the journal Archaeology.)
A subsequent scan of the Younger Lady with a CT machine donated by the National Geographic Society, however, refuted some of Fletcher’s claims, and indicated the mummy is “highly unlikely” to be Nefertiti, according to a press release on the website of Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass. The researchers found that an arm found near the mummy, which was bent in a fashion considered to be a symbol of being a queen, actually did not belong to that body. Additionally, an expert concluded that the damage to the mummy’s face–possibly an indication that Nefertiti’s beautiful appearance had desecrated by a jealous rival–had occured prior to embalming, and possibly pre-mortem.
As the release noted:
Dr. Hawass reiterates that other points made in support of the identification of the Younger Lady as Nefertiti can be refuted without referring to the CT-scans. These include a wig of a type worn by Nefertiti found in the tomb and the fact that the mummy has a double-pierced ear; both of these attributes are seen in non-royal women of the New Kingdom, so do not at all prove that this is Nefertiti. The age range suggested by the CT-scan is between 25 and 35; again, this would fit any number of important New Kingdom Dynasty females. In summary, Dr. Hawass concludes that there is no convincing reason to identify the Younger Lady as Nefertiti.
That, of course, leads to the question: If KV35 isn’t Nefertiti, where is Nefertiti’s mummy? As Rose noted, it may no longer exist. “There’s simply no reason why her mummy must have survived.” he wrote. “It could well have been destroyed long ago.”
In a sense, that makes the artistic representations of Nefertiti all the the more precious, since they’re the only way that we can experience her aura. It should be noted that a statue of the queen was among the antiquities stolen from a Cairo museum during the recent political unrest in Egypt.
Watch King Tut and the Lost Dynasty on Thursday, Feb 24 at 8 p.m. Check out this preview of tonight’s episode, as a royal mummy undergoes a CT scan.