Nefertiti Or Not?

Researchers are now challenging the idea that one of the three mummies in KV35 is that of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.

Joann Fletcher, a mummification specialist from the University of York in England, said in June there was a "strong possibility" her team had unearthed Nefertiti from a tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The Discovery Channel publicized the find in a television program aired this month.

But Secretary-General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Hawass, expressed doubts Saturday about the find and said there were questions over the gender of the mummy.

"I’m sure that this mummy is not a female," Hawass told Reuters at his office in the Egyptian capital.

A report submitted to Egypt’s SCA from the University of York expedition leader Don Brothwell said of the mummy: "There has been some confusion as to the sex of this individual."

However, the report concluded that the mummy was a female because of a lack of evidence of male genitalia.

X-Rays would help to determine the sex of the mummy, as well as determining if the individual had borne children at some point in life.

The find still is tantalizing. The mummy in question was buried with two others, one an older female, and the other a young male. The older female in the cache has long been believed to be Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten and the grandmother of the famous Pharoah Tutankhamen. A sample of hair bearing the royal cartouche of Queen Tiye was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922, and genetic testing has shown a strong match between that sample and the sample taken from the KV35 tomb.

If we assume that the older female is indeed Queen Tiye, and there is a considerable degree of evidence that suggests that assumption is reasonable, then it is clear that the two other individuals buried with her must have some connection to Queen Tiye. This along with the other artifacts including a wig found near the mummy create a strong tie between the mummies and the Amarna period.

So we have the body of an individual found near the mother of Akhenaten whose reconstructed face is eerily similar to that of Nefertiti, who has connections to the Amarna period, and whose mummy was defaced post-mortem.

It seems that the case for this body being that of Nefertiti seems to have a great deal of evidence behind it. It seems unlikely that you’d find so many indications that this mummy is that of Nefertiti from the wig to evidence of Amarna-style jewelry on the mummy as well as the physical features of the corpse and not come to the conclusion that there is a strong chance that this is the body of the lost queen.

Egypt’s chief Egyptologist Zahi Hawass has been all-too-eager to dismiss the discovery, and a British paper has written that "the dispute has thrown British Egyptology into turmoil with British archaeologists accusing the Egyptian government of taking revenge on Britain for occupying Egypt in the 19th century, for invading Iraq and for refusing to give back the Rosetta Stone. They also say that the rise of Islamism and nationalism in Egypt is leading to a pool of resentment against the British." These are explosive charges, but it is not out of the question to suggest that Hawass, who has been setting himself as the singular face of modern Egyptology, might have some personal interest in dousing the Nefertiti story since he was not responsible for its discovery.

There seems to be more backbiting and accusations flying about than real evidence. If someone can prove that the body is a male, it still leaves some deep questions about the identity of this person – especially if the bent right arm could be tied to the mummy. In such a case, you have what could be an entirely lost Pharoah, possibly the mysterious Smenkhare (the successor of Akenaten to the throne, sometimes believed to be Nefertiti herself in the disguise of a man). Either way, the questions surrounding this momentous discovery remain.

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