have long wondered about the location of the mummy of Queen Nefertiti (Tutankhamun's stepmother and the wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten,
also known as Amenhotep IV, and a ruler in her own right).
the missing mummy of Nefertiti
actually have been discovered a century ago and simply misidentified? A team of
British researchers led by Egyptologist Joanne Fletcher conducted a
12-year search for the mummy. In 2003, they claimed that they had identified
the missing Queen's mummy as one discovered in a cache of mummies
uncovered in 1898.
closed? Not quite. Another researcher stepped forward with a different identification
from the same mummy cache.
two possible mummies is the missing Queen? Read on.
1898 Discovery of Tomb KV 35
The previously unidentified
mummy thought to be Queen Nefertiti was originally discovered in 1898. French
Egyptologist Victor Loret discovered KV 35, the tomb of King Amenhotep
II, in the Valley of the
Kings. The tomb not only contained the king's mummy but a stunning cache of
other royal mummies that had been moved into
Amenhotep II's tomb for protection from grave robbers. Besides Amenhotep II, the tomb contained
the mummies of the missing pharaohs of the 18th-20th Dynasties: Thutmose IV,
Amenhotep III, Merenptah, Sipah, Seti II, Rameses IV, V, and VI.
excavators also discovered a secret chamber of King
's tomb which contained three very mutilated mummies who had been
stripped of their wrappings. Here is how Victor Loret described what he
found in the secret chamber:
An unusually strange sight met our eyes:
three bodies lay side by side at the back in the left corner, their feet
pointing towards the door....
We approached the cadavers. The first
seemed to be that of a woman. A thick veil covered her forehead and left
eye. Her broken arm had been replaced at her side, her nails in the air.
Ragged and torn cloth hardly covered her body. Abundant black curled hair
spread over the limestone floor on each side of her head. The face was
admirably conserved and had a noble and majestic gravity.
The second mummy, in the middle, was that
of a child of about fifteen years. It was naked with the hands joined on
the abdomen. First of all the head appeared totally bald, but on closer
examination one saw that the head had been shaved except an area on the
right temple from which grew a magnificent tress of black hair. This was
the coiffure of the royal princes [called the Horus lock]. I thought
immediately of the royal prince Webensennu, this so far unknown son of
The last corpse nearest the
wall seemed to be that of a man [this
was later determined to be a female and is now referred to as the Elder
Woman, though she was not particularly old].
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 was 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.
fact was that the three corpses...had their skulls pierced with a large
hole and the breast of each one was opened.
mummies were in such poor
condition, Loret and his team virtually ignored them. They became known as The
Younger Lady (cataloged as Mummy 61072), The Elder Woman (Mummy 61070), and the
boy (Mummy 61071).
Here are more recent details
about the three hidden mummies:
- the mummy of a boy (about
12-14 years old, according to the British researchers) had been mutilated. Its chest had been hacked with a sharp
- the mummy of the Elder Woman
(about 35-45 years old according to the British researchers). The body had a hole it its chest, but was in otherwise good
condition. The position of the arms was unusual: the right arm was placed
straight at the woman's side, while the left arm was raised across her
chest. This mummy has been identified either as Queen Meryetre (the wife
of Thutmose III) or as Queen Tiye (wife of Amenhotep III), but this was
merely a theory.
- the Younger Lady was
stripped of wrappings and her face mutilated around the mouth. The right
arm was missing. A hole in her chest was most likely done at a later date,
possibly by grave robbers.
In 1907, the three mummies were photographed:
Taken by candlelight, this is a
photo of three mummies. The mummy of the young boy is in the middle, flanked by
the Elder Woman (on the left) and the Younger Lady (on the right). Notice the
candles above the heads of the two women. The mutilated chest of the boy and the
Younger Lady are visible. The raised arm of the Elder Woman is also apparent.
This solitary photograph would eventually provide a clue as to the
Younger Lady mummy's
Fletcher and the Younger Lady
During the British team's 12-year search for Queen
Nefertiti's mummy, Egyptologist Joanne Fletcher came across the 1907 photograph and
noticed a resemblance between the mummy in the photo and a famous bust of Queen
Nefertiti that is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Germany.
The British researchers gained
the permission of Egyptian authorities to examine the mummy for the first time
(a rare privilege). In June 2002, Fletcher and her team (funded in part by the
Discovery Channel) entered the secret chamber. According to Time,
Fletcher said, "When the wall was taken down, and we shined our
[flashlights] in, the first thing I saw was the older woman staring back at me.
That took a bit of getting used to." The team also returned for a second
visit in February 2003.
Methods used during the
examination were all nondestructive techniques and included digital x-rays.
Clues that led Fletcher to the
conclusion that the mummy was Nefertiti were these:
- royal-type embalming
- a double-pierced left earlobe
(Nefertiti apparently was one of only two Egyptian queens who did this; the
other was her daughter. Egypotolgists have concluded this by looking at
busts made of Nefertiti and her daughter which show the double-piercing);
- evidence that the mummy had
worn a rather tight browband (worn only by a pharaoh and his queen during
this time period)
- a shaved head (so that the
tight-fitting crown would stay in place)
- jewelry found inside the
- a Nubian-style wig found near
the mummy (worn by women of royal stature during the 18th Dynasty, which
coincided with Akhenaten's reign). [However, at least one Egyptologist, Lisa
Sabbahy, has pointed out that the wig might not have belonged to that
- the position of her right arm
(placed in a royals-only arm-up position), the hand still holding a
now-missing scepter (most likely taken by grave robbers). [The problem with
this clue is that the right arm had been removed from the mummy; Fletcher's
team found two incomplete arms in some discarded wrappings in the tomb. One
of the arms seemed to be in a flexed position (which means it would have
gone across the chest) and its hand appears to have been holding something.]
- the mutilation that occurred
to the mummy (the right arm was ripped off, the face was stabbed with a
sharp object). As the principal wife of the Akhenaten (otherwise known as
Amenhotep IV), she may have been greatly disliked. Akhenaten abolished the
accepted religion of Egypt (polytheism) and replaced it with a religion that
called for the worship of Aten, the sun god; he even changed his name from
Amenhotep to Akhenaten ("one who serves the sun god"). When Egypt
eventually returned to polytheism after their deaths, their names were
obliterated from public monuments and their burial tomb was ransacked. The
mutilation of the Younger Lady may indicate that she was Nefertiti.
- the striking resemblance of
the "swanlike neck" on the bust of Nefertiti and the mummy.
(Not everyone is in agreement with this clue. Zahi Hawass (Secretary General
of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Director of the Giza Pyramids
Excavation) is quoted by the
AP as saying that the similarity cannot be taken as evidence, since at that
time "art was idealistic and not realistic.")
- the age of the mummy.
According to Fletcher's analysis of the x-rays, the mummy was between the
ages of 19 and 30. (However, an AP story reports that an analysis of the
x-rays by unidentified people indicates that the body belonged to a
Egyptologist Fletcher told
reporters that the mummy is "a royal woman of the late 18th dynasty who
wielded tremendous power. There are not many who fit that description. We can
never have cast-iron certainty that it is Nefertiti but we have narrowed it
right down. And she concludes (as quoted in Time): "We're never
going to be 100% sure. She's not going to sit up and tell us who she is."
Not everyone agrees with
Fletcher's conclusion. Egyptologist Kent Weeks (quoted in Time) says: "If
the mummy is female and if it is royal, then you still do not necessarily
have Nefertiti." And Peter Locavara of the Carlos Museum in Atlanta told Time: "It's very difficult to identify a mummy with a particular person,
especially without DNA."
As luck (or commerce) would have
it, however, the announcement of the discovery coincided with another: the
Discovery Channel was going to air a two-hour documentary about Fletcher's search for
the Queen Nefertiti's mummy in August 2003. Could there be a connection? Was
this a case of Discovery Channel hype? When the team of Egyptologists is
primarily funded by a for-profit company, a clear conflict of interest can be
and the Elder Woman
And then another
Egyptologist's theory concerning the mummy of Queen Nefertiti was announced.
James concluded that the missing mummy
of Nefertiti was actually the Elder Woman, Mummy 61070.
She compared the face of the
Elder Woman's mummy to known busts and statues made of Nefertiti; they appear to match,
according to James, in at least two important ways: (1) the narrowness of the
skull and (2) the "very pronounced" groove between the nose and the
upper lip (the philtrum).
Until her theory was announced,
many Egyptologists thought that the Elder Woman was probably
Queen Tiye (wife of Amenhotep III). They reached this conclusion because a lock of the Elder Woman's hair
was found in Tutankhamun's tomb. This seemed to indicate that there may
have been a family tie between the two; Egyptologists concluded that she was most likely
Queen Tiye, his probable grandmother.
They were mistaken, according to
James. The facts of the
"Elder Woman" mummy don't match the facts known about Queen Tiye:
Elder Woman was between 24 and 34 years old; Queen Tiye would
have been over 40 when she died. [NOTE: Fletcher's
team has reported that x-rays of the Elder Woman reveal an age range between
35 and 45.]
mummies: Solving the mystery
Egyptologist is correct?
The only way to know
for certain would be to conduct DNA testing to determine the
genetic relationships between Elder Woman and other known royal mummies, but
Egyptian officials have refused to allow such testing in recent years.
For now, the mummy known as 61070 remains in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
About the Younger Lady (Mummy
61072), James said:
"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."
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
I), but the Egyptian Government has been steadfast in its refusal to
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.