Queen Nefertiti has remained one of the most fascinating, elusive figures from the permanently enchanting world of Ancient Egypt.
Her final resting place has also eluded Egyptologists over the years, but it’s discovery would amount to one of the most important finds in history, probably even more so than Howard Carter’s discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922.
But British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves brought about a flood of coverage when he recently announced his conviction that the Egyptian queen has been virtually hidden in plain sight for thousands of years, within the world-famous Tomb of Tutankhamen, specifically within a chamber behind a concealed door.
This is, in fact, the third alleged discovery of Nefertiti’s tomb in the last 12 years. Some believe, based on contentious DNA evidence, that the queen’s body may already be sitting in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, this being one of several mummies unearthed in 1898. But it is evident that experts are taking this new idea very seriously, with Egyptologists saying there’s “a ninety percent chance” of a hidden chamber where Reeves is saying there is.
Nicholas Reeves used digital scans of the walls of Tutankhamen’s burial complex in the Valley of the Kings to come to his conclusions, and has told the media that radar data is now being taken to Japan for further analysis. Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, has said; “There is, in fact, an empty space behind the wall… there is no doubt. We cannot say at this point however the size of the space behind the wall.”
In his research paper, the archaeologist Reeves suggests that Nefertiti was in fact interred in the chamber first, some years prior to Tutankhamen’s burial, and that the entrance to her chamber was later plastered and painted over. This theory raises the question of why the Boy King was buried there if the chamber was already the resting place of Nefertiti (his probable mother or step-mother).
Reeves suggests the decision stemmed from the political and religious turmoil of that era. Nefertiti and her husband, the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, had famously created a new state religion that denounced Egyptian polytheism and redirected worship towards the sun god, Aten, as the one true deity. Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten and moved the ancient capital away from Thebes in the fourth year of his reign, relocating it to what is now known as Amarna.
Later pharaohs had branded this radical experiment in monotheism as a heresy and had set about destroying records or traces of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s revolutionary reign.
At the time of Nefertiti’s burial, it is highly unlikely there was any plan for Tutankhamen to later be interred in the same chamber; but Reeves speculates that the sudden and unexpected death of the Boy Pharaoh (he was, after all, violently murdered) had caught the Egyptians unprepared, with no great burial tomb having yet been built or prepared for the young pharaoh. So instead, Nefertiti’s tomb was – rather insultingly – plastered over and the murdered Pharoah (who was probably her son or step-son) was moved hastily in to the main space. It is also possible that later Egyptians didn’t regard the ‘heretics’ Nefertiti or Akhenaten’s son Tutankhamen with quiet the same respect as other traditional pharaohs and this might explain the haphazard (by Egyptian standards) treatment of Nefertiti’s resting place.
There are, however, all kinds of other mythological interests tied up in the figure of Nefertiti; and the discovery of her tomb and her remains might enthrall different people for different reasons.
Living from approximately 1370 – 1330 BC, Nerfertiti (whose world-famous bust resides in Berlin’s Neues Museum) was an Egyptian queen and the Royal Wife or Chief Consort of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Together, they reigned during what many consider the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history, and certainly one of the most fascinating. The bust of her that has amplified fascination about her over the years is attributed to the Egyptian sculptor Thutmose and was originally found in his workshop almost a hundred years ago.
The royal pair of Akhenaten and Nefertiti are primarily famous for religious reasons. Although Akhenaten and Nerfertiti had tried to bring about a religious revolution, this radical shift to monotheism (venerating the sun god Aten) didn’t last much beyond their reign.
Traditional religious practice was gradually restored, and eventually a new dynasty was created, discrediting Akhenaten and his immediate successors. Akhenaten himself was later referred to as “the enemy” or “that criminal” in archival records. In fact, the mysterious figure of Akhenaten was considered virtually lost to history until the re-discovery of Amarna by archaeologists in the nineteenth century, from which time Amarna has become one of the most fascinating places on earth. The Amarna Letters, a cache of diplomatic correspondence discovered in Amarna have provided important evidence about Akhenaten’s reign and foreign policy. This correspondence consists of a collection of messages on clay tablets, sent to Akhetaten from various subject-rulers throughout Egyptian military outposts, as well as from foreign allies and rulers (defined as “Great kings”) from various places, including Babylon and Assyria.
Interest in Nefertiti and her husband has significance beyond just Egyptology. Various academics have considered the possibility that Akhenaten’s experiment with monotheistic ideas was actually the root source of what we subsequently know as Judaism (and therefore Christianity and Islam).
One of the major proponents of this idea was Sigmund Freud, who, in his book Moses and Monotheism, argued that Moses had been a priest of Aten and was forced to flee Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten’s death, bringing the dead Pharaoh’s ideas about monotheism and ‘the One True God’ with him (Akhenaten: “There is only one god, my father”).
Other academics and researchers have suggested more bluntly that Moses and Akhenaten/Amenhotep IV were in fact the same person and that the entire Hebrew religious tradition was in fact an obscure offshoot of Akhenaten’s short-lived religion at Amarna. There is certainly a strong case to be made for that and for the general idea also that much of Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religion has grown out of Ancient Egypt (with the Hebrew scriptures in particular also having borrowed and plagiarized massively from older Babylonian, Sumerian traditions).
Akhenaten is regarded as the very first monotheist in history; he is certainly the first recorded monotheist of note, and his religious revolution in Ancient Egypt would find echo in much later monotheistic revolutions elsewhere. Akhenaten, upon becoming Pharaoh ordered all the iconography of previous gods to be removed; echoed much, much later by both the Biblical Moses and the Arabian Prophet Muhammad.
The other fascinating mythology that has grown up around the figure of Nefertiti is the belief that neither she nor Akhenaten were quite human.
While there is a general, broader idea held to by many that the Ancient Egyptian civilisation (along with the even more ancient Sumerian civilsiation in modern day Iraq) developed from an extra-terrestrial source (a case that is very well argued in, for example, Robert Bauval’s nineteen-seventies book The Sirius Mystery), there is also a specific fascination with the figure of Akhenaten, partly on account of the very elongated skull he is always depicted with (and which Nefertiti also seems to have been depicted with in various instances).
Some have put this down to deformities caused by incest, while some researchers argue that these unusual features are attributed to a disorder called ‘Froehlich’s Syndrome’, typified by an elongated face and an androgynous figure. However, that syndrome also hinders sexual development and causes severe learning difficulties, obesity and impotency; whereas Akhenaten had various children and he was never depicted as being obese. A modern fascination with these elongated skulls and the accompanying extra-terrestrial hypothesis has subsequently developed and is quite widespread by now. There is also valid grounds for wondering whether Akhenaten or Nefertiti might’ve been not otherworldly figures precisely, but individuals who’d been tampered with by a more scientifically advanced culture from somewhere.
Stuart Fleischmann, Assistant Professor of Comparative Genomics at the Swiss University in Cairo, conducted a seven-year study into the genetic make-up of several pharaohs. The DNA of Akhenaten turned up some utterly astonishing results, suggesting he had a larger cranial capacity because of the need to house a larger cerebral cortex. The findings in effect lead to the suggestion that Akhenaten might have been subject to genetic modification. But who on earth would’ve carried out genetic modification on a pharaoh? And why?
It’s all endlessly fascinating food for thought; however, it is also worth remembering that Akhenaten/Amenhotep IV’s mummy was discovered way back in 1907 in the Valley of the Kings and there has never been a major academic source to indicate the pharaoh wasn’t human. Nefertiti’s body, if soon discovered, will presumably be identified as fully human too. Although, on the other hand, there are plenty who’d suggest the discovery of a non-human Nefertiti would never be officially disclosed anyway and would necessitate a cover-up (there are also some who make that exact suggestion about the official accounts concerning the remains of Akhenaten).
There is also a natural hypothesis from some ET Hypothesis adherents that the attempt to deface, obscure or remove all traces of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen and their brief era was in fact an Ancient Egyptian cover-up to hide all evidence of ‘otherworldly’ influence or involvement in their reigns. I tend to doubt that particular idea, however, because if you wanted to erase all evidence of their reign or era then why bother keeping Tutankhamen or Akhenaten/Amenhotep IV in elaborate burial chambers at all? If they were an unwanted reminder of an extra-terrestrial involvement, and ‘heretics’ too, then why not just dispose of their bodies somewhere unceremoniously?
All of this broader context, however, makes Nefertiti an especially fascinating figure in Egyptlology and perhaps in terms of world history itself.
And the discovery of her eternal burial chamber “hidden in plain sight” in a world-famous location this whole time is itself utterly fascinating to consider. Reeves, furthermore, is among a number of scholars who believe that, after the death of Akhenaten, Nefertiti continued to rule as a pharaoh and under the name ‘Smenkhkare’; in which case she wasn’t just queen or Royal Consort to Amenhotep IV but a Pharaoh in her own right.
I tend to think, however, that even with all the headlines and media coverage concerning this possibility of Nefertiti’s mummy being found, we’re never going to get the kind of era-defining ‘media sensation’ that erupted in the nineteen-twenties with the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb.
It was a different time then. The kind of mass – and long-lasting – fascination with an item of that type could develop much easier back then, long before the cyber age or age of mass information and communication. The modern hyper-flow of information doesn’t lend itself to that kind of mythology or sensation. We’re bombarded with information and news stories on a daily basis, and the discovery of Nefertiti’s remains will cause a popular storm for two days and then it will fade. This will also probably be the case with Cleopatra’s tomb if it is ever discovered, as it may soon be. On the other hand, the newspaper sensation caused by Howard Carter’s discovery in 1922 was really able to embed itself in public consciousness, popular culture and in the history books, accompanied by an aura of hushed, guarded awe and beguilement.
This cultural impact lasted decades after the discovery. My mother was fascinated with Tutankhamen when she was growing up and that was in the nineteen-seventies. She used to have these enormous photo books of all the items from the enigmatic Boy Pharaoh’s tomb and when I was a kid I used to look through them, fascinated (and partly wondering if *all* mummies really got up and chased people like in the Abbot & Costello movies or if most of them just stayed dead).
This was aided in large part by the myth that quickly developed about the ‘Curse of Tutankhamen’ and the Curse of the Pharaohs in general.
Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t help but be drawn in; he suggested that Lord Carnarvon’s death (just weeks after wading about in Tutankhamen’s newly-opened tomb) had been caused by “elementals” created by Tutankhamen’s ancient magician-priests to guard the royal tomb. I imagine there’s little chance of that kind of sensationalism and myth-making occurring in 2015. It’s all much more sober and serious now, which is probably for the best. Although, to be fair, there was probably genuine precedent for the hysteria in the nineteen twenties and it wasn’t just to sell newspapers; for example, it is well attested that Lord Carnarvon’s dog, who wasn’t even in Egypt but back home in England, died at more or less the same moment its master died in Egypt, and also that there was a major power outage across Cairo at the precise moment of Carnarvon’s death – a fact that was attested to by no less a reliable source than Lord Allenby at the time.
There is, at any rate, something undeniably fascinating about the actual remains of a major historical figure being discovered. It actually doesn’t happen very often. Even Tutankhamen was a relatively minor pharaoh in Egyptian history; yet the discovery of his sarcophagus and tomb was an utter sensation and, in fact, it was his astonishingly well-preserved mummy and resting place that is the *reason* he is now so famous (and is probably the most famous pharaoh in popular culture, even more so than Ramesses). Egyptian funerary practices of course are what we can thank for this phenomenon; other cultures didn’t preserve their dead rulers in this way or devote such elaborate and exquisite resting places to them. We were never going to find remains of, say, Augustus or Cicero, because their bodies were simply cremated (Augustus’s ashes, along with the ashes of Tiberius, Claudius and others were held at the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome, but the site was ransacked ages ago and the ashes lost).
Even the discovery of Nefertiti’s tomb would probably be eclipsed by the possibility that the final resting place of Cleopatra might soon be found at Taposiris Magna, a temple to Osiris, located west of Alexandria, Egypt; largely because of the accompanying legend and romanticism around Egypt’s final queen (along with the extraordinary possibility that she might be discovered along with Mark Antony).
But again, the discovery of Nefertiti may signify a number of different things to a number of different types of people. The body of Akhenaten was discovered in the Valley of the Kings by British archaeologist Edward Ayrton in 1907; but Nefertiti’s place of rest has always been a baffling, engaging mystery, particularly given its apparent absence from the Valley of the Kings. There have been various theories regarding her death and her burial. In 1898, when archaeologist Victor Loret found two female mummies inside the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings, these two mummies, named ‘The Elder Lady’ and ‘The Younger Lady’, were likely candidates for being Nefertiti’s remains. However, later age tests on the mummy’s teeth suggested that the ‘Elder Lady’ was in fact Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten.
And so the tomb of Nefertiti was yet to be found. Her mummified body, elaborately prepared for its transcendent journey to the afterlife, has sat somewhere, undisturbed, for thousands of years. The reason, it may now turn out, is because she wasn’t interred in her own chamber at all, but was in fact sealed off within the tomb of her murdered son.