Few ancient historical women have the mystical gravitas of Nefertiti. Next to Cleopatra, she’s the most famous Egyptian queen. Her legacy of power and beauty still captivates scholars today. Earlier this year, a group led by British archeologist Nicholas Reeves was given permission to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamoun in search of the burial site of Nefertiti. It’s a little surprising that Egypt would give the Brits permission to go rooting around through their antiquities, considering that their track record of returning them has been…lacking. So what did they find?
While investigating the tomb of TutanKhamoun, the so-called “Boy King,” a few cracks in the wall led to the discovery of more tombs. It was not uncommon for kings and queens to have their servants and pets buried with them. In fact, it was considered disloyal for a slave to remain alive after the death of their master. Heaven forefend that a slave should be accused of disloyalty, right? Yet scholars have speculated for decades that Nefertiti was buried in the Boy King’s tomb—possibly even before he was buried there. Within these new tombs, there did appear to be a woman of royal standing. Archaeologists asserted that her arms were bent in a way only queens would have been buried, and a beaded wig was found that implied a wearer of regal status.
That may sound like a striking discovery. But is it? Reeves feels confident that his discovery is the long lost tomb of Nefertiti, and that she’s been Tutankhamen’s roommate on the down-low for millenia. But his colleagues can’t even agree that the other body in the tomb is a woman, (some claim it’s a boy of about 15—possibly a friend, lover, or servant of the Boy King) much less agree on which woman it is. What’s going on there?
Egyptian tombs have been raided and plundered for centuries. Greedy explorers pillaged anything they could find, even defacing what was left to prevent other thieves from taking it. Bodies have been moved, had pieces broken off and replaced; and some ancient writings have even been painted over. This doesn’t just display a ghastly level of disrespect for the dead. It also kept the rest of the world from knowing the truth about who was buried there. This leaves us with a simple question: do we really need this information?
Grave-robbing for science is still stealing from the dead, no? Most of us have an idle curiosity about Egyptian culture. The idea of mummies is fascinating, likewise ancient curses and piles of fancy gold pieces. It’s natural to be interested in the royalty of ancient cultures for a multitude of reasons; and it’s equally disheartening to see graves desecrated and ransacked. But one could just as easily argue that the secrets of the age should stay buried along with the bodies.
Why is Nefertiti so fascinating, even today? It could be her legend as one of the most beautiful women in all of history. Maybe we’re intrigued that she was Queen and Royal Consort at a time when the consort was almost always someone who the reigning pharaoh was not married to. Modern monotheists might revere Nefertiti because she was the first Egyptian queen to worship only one god—something that was unheard of among Egyptians for centuries. Whatever the reason, people are dying to know where Nefertiti is buried. Thanks to unreliable evidence though, they’ll have to wait if they want to know for sure.
Additional image courtesy of Wikipedia