Nefertiti Resurrected: The Search for Nefertiti

By Katherine Ruminer

Nefertiti, a consort to the pharaoh Akhanaton, is considered to be one of most beautiful women in world history. Her name alone means simply "A Beautiful Woman Has Come," while her life is surrounded by mystery. No one knows for sure how, when, or where Nefertiti died or even where she was buried. The documentary, Nefertiti Resurrected: A Search For Nefertiti, attempts to find the answers to these mysteries. The documentary released in 2003 and directed by Matthew Wortman and narrated by Tamara Tunie, records Egyptologist Dr. Joann Fletcher's search to prove that one of the three mummies resting in Tomb KV35, in the Valley of the Kings, is in fact the remains of the famous Queen Nefertiti.

Throughout Nefertiti Resurrected, what is known of the Queen’s life is laid out and examined in hopes of finding and supporting evidence that proves she could be one of the mummies in tomb KV35. The problem to start with is that little, hardly any, solid information is known about Nefertiti's origins. Some historians think that she was a princess from Mitanni (current day Syria) while others believe that Nefertiti was Egyptian born. What seems certain is that she was married to Akhenaton, who was pharaoh of Egypt from about 1353 to 1336 B.C. and that during her marriage Nefertiti bore six daughters to the pharaoh.

The major achievement of Akhenaton, strongly reinforced by Nefertiti, was the introduction into Egypt of monotheism, the practice of worshiping one god, an almost incredible concept in the ancient near east’s polytheism. Akhenaton selected the Egyptian god Aton, the Sun god, upon which to focus the nation’s worship. The pharaoh and his wife became high priests in the new religion and annoyed and frightened many followers of the old deities.

Akhenaton and Nefertiti also created the city of Amarna, dedicating it to Aton and making it not only the center of the new religion but an artistic and cultural center as well. During Akhenaton's reign, Nefertiti appears to have become very powerful, apparently becoming virtually Akhenaton's religious and political equal. Although women in Egypt had served as regents for young kings and one at least (Hatshepsut) had ruled in her own right., Nefertiti ’s position and influence shocked many and has puzzled historians ever since.

Yet, after fourteen years of power, nearly all records of Nefertiti vanish. Some say that she died from a plague that spread through Amarna. Others say that she merely changed her name to Smenkhkare and ruled Egypt side by side with Akhenaton, and later in his place as pharaoh after his death. This latter theory is one that Dr. Joann Fletcher supports.

In Nefertiti Resurrected, the quest is to identify the three mummies that have been found in Tomb KV35. When opened, the tomb appeared as though it had been plundered, stripped of its treasures and of the identification of the mummies within it. Normally, a mummified body is found with its identification on the linen it is wrapped in. Unfortunately, the wrappings from all three of the mummies in KV35 have been stripped off, making it impossible to know for sure who the mummies really are. The three mummies found in KV35 are lying side by side. To the left lies an older woman, in the middle, a young boy, and to the right a young woman. All three mummies were clearly mutilated by whoever the raiders were, for their chests are all smashed in and the mouth of the young woman's mummy looks as if a blunt instrument smashed it in as well. Fletcher believes that this was done to curse the young woman's mummy. It is said that by smashing the mummy's mouth, the soul of that mummy would be unable to speak its name and therefore be denied entrance into the afterlife. Fletcher has theorized that this mutilated mummy is Queen Nefertiti herself. Fletcher refers to the mummy she thinks is Nefertiti as "Lady X.” One piece of evidence shown in the documentary that Fletcher uses to verify her theory that Lady X is actually Queen Nefertiti is a wig found in the tomb almost a century ago by French archeologist Victor Loret. Fletcher, an expert in ancient Egyptian hair, believes that the wig is a Nubian-style wig worn by Egyptian royalty between 1400 and 1300 B.C. Royal women were known to shave their heads to prevent the spread of lice and disease, and also to protect themselves from the hot Egyptian climate. These wigs were expertly made for royalty to wear over their shaved heads. Fletcher believes that this wig found near the mummy in KV35 is a contributing piece of evidence that proves that Lady X was a very important royal Egyptian, and possibly even Queen Nefertiti.

Another piece of evidence Fletcher uses to support her theory in Nefertiti Resurrected is that Lady X in Tomb KV35 has a double piercing on the left ear. It was said that only Nefertiti and one of her daughters were known to have had double piercings on their left ear. Even though this piece of evidence is certainly not proof that Lady X is really Nefertiti, it is a fact contributing to Fletcher's theory. Yet, Fletcher does not explore or explain sufficiently why either the ear piercings or the wig evidence could not equally apply to the queen’s daughter or another woman of the royal family.

Along with the evidence of the wig and the double ear piercing, Fletcher also conducted x-rays, with the help of Professor Don Brothwell and his team from the University of York, in hopes of discovering more about Lady X. One important reason why Fletcher had the x-rays taken was to reveal whether or not Lady X was in fact a woman. In Nefertiti Resurrected, based on the results of the x-rays, it appears as though the body of Lady X is indeed that of a woman. Also, according to Professor Don Brothwell, based on development of the mummy's hips, Lady X might have been between the age of twenty-five and thirty when she died. This is about the age Fletcher predicted Nefertiti to be when she died.

While the x-rays were being made, several loose beads left from the necklace the mummy would have worn before it was ripped off by tomb robbers were found on the mummy's chest. Based on the size and shape of the beads, Fletcher realizes that these beads would be Nefer beads, which were part of the necklace a royal Amarnian would wear. This piece of evidence also adds to Fletcher's theory that Lady X could possibly be Nefertiti, but again, could not such beads likely have also adorned other royal women of the era?

Another piece of compelling evidence for Fletcher was the discovery of the right arm of Lady X. The original right arm of Lady X was missing, having been replaced apparently by another one. After shifting some of the mummy's wrappings from around Lady X, what appears to be her true right arm was found. What was most interesting about this arm is the position of her hand. It looks as if Lady X's right arm had been bent across her chest with the fingers curled, as if it had been clasping an object. Fletcher believes that Lady X could have been holding a scepter, something that only pharaohs were entombed holding. This is such an important discovery for Fletcher because it proves to her that Lady X was more than likely a woman pharaoh and extremely important in view of the archaeologist’s opinion that Nefertiti continued to rule after Ahkanaton’s death, a view that is not widely supported by other Egyptian scholars. During Nefertiti Resurrected, Fletcher also teamed up with Dr. Martin Evison, from Sheffield University, who is an expert at facial reconstruction. Fletcher sent ex-rays of Lady X to Evison, in hope he could produce a face that was worthy of the name "Nefertiti.” When Evison and his team finished reconstructing Lady X's face, she did indeed look beautiful. This enabled Fletcher to have a better picture of what Lady X might have looked like while she was alive. Does the reconstruction look like known depictions of Nefertiti? Fletcher certainly thinks so.

As a whole, Nefertiti Resurrected revealed some convincing evidence that leans towards Lady X being Queen Nefertiti. But is all this evidence enough to decide whether Lady X really is Nefertiti? Many do not believe so. In reading numerous reviews about Nefertiti Resurrected, many people remain unconvinced that Fletcher has actually found the body of Queen Nefertiti. Mark Rose, an online editor for ARCHAEOLOGY, the Archaeological Institute of America journal says dismissively that "... there can be no doubt in the mind of any Egyptologist or educated Egyptology buff that the identification of the mummy in question as Nefertiti is balderdash...." Within Rose's review, he also provides evidence that he claims Fletcher makes in Nefertiti Resurrected that is not viable. For example, in response to Fletcher's claims about the Nubian wig found in the tomb of Lady X, or the "Younger Woman" as everyone else refers to the mummy, Rose points out that the style of the Nubian wig was popular for Egyptian royalty for much longer than the one century that Fletcher claimed.

As for Fletcher's claim that Lady X was a woman pharaoh based on the placement of her right arm across her chest, Rose brings forth evidence that pharaohs were not the only members of royalty that were mummified with their arms bent across their chest holding an object. Rose claims that Egyptian queens and even noblewomen were known to have been mummified with an arm crossed over their chest. All one would have to do would be to look up a picture of all three of the mummies in tomb KV35 to know that Rose’s points are telling.

Pictures taken of all three of the mummies together show that one of the other woman, the elder Woman, also has her arm across her chest, even if it is the opposite arm compared to the Younger Woman. This alone seems to prove, simply but clearly, that just because a mummy has an arm across her chest, does not automatically mean that the woman was a female pharaoh.

Despite Rose's review and others like it, many people still thought that Nefertiti Resurrected was an interesting documentary, saying that it piqued their interest by bringing forth new information about the possible whereabouts of Queen Nefertiti. Most have to agree that Nefertiti Resurrected appears to be a documentary made primarily for entertainment only, and that to have improved the documentary, more research, such as DNA testing, should have been done to possibly find better answers.

Another flaw in Fletcher's evidence that many reviewers noted was that the reconstructed face done by Dr. Martin Erison looks remarkably like the face of the actress who played Nefertiti throughout the film. In the documentary, it was clearly stated that Fletcher's theory that Lady X might be Nefertiti was specifically kept secret to everyone else involved with the investigation to ensure that no one formed any expectations that might sway their judgment when studying the body of Lady X. Yet, the fact that the reconstructed face of Lady X looks so similar to the actress in Nefertiti Resurrected is hard to ignore. Was the team of facial reconstructionists really kept out of the loop as to who Fletcher thought Lady X really was? It is hard to tell.

Dr. Joann Fletcher's journey to unravel the mystery of Nefertiti that is documented in Nefertiti Resurrected is among the many investigations that have tried to reveal the mystery behind what really happened to Queen Nefertiti. Joann Fletcher published her own book, The Search for Nefertiti: The True Story of an Amazing Discovery, that goes more in-depth about her findings in Tomb KV35 concerning her Lady X. Author Joyce A. Tyldesley has also written a book, a biography of Nefertiti, by the name of Nefertiti: Unlocking the Mystery Surrounding Egypt's Most Famous and Beautiful Queen. Tyldesley's book provides more in depth information concerning the life of Nefertiti. These two books are among the many that attempt to reveal more knowledge about Nefertiti. Truthfully, it would be impossible at present to know for sure if the younger woman in Tomb KV35 is in fact Queen Nefertiti, but, like many before, we cannot help being fascinated by what we do know of her while wanting to know more about her personally and historically. I happen to agree with the majority of reviewers of Nefertiti Resurrected. Upon first viewing Nefertiti Resurrected, audiences will be very interested to find out all the new possibilities leading to the younger woman actually being Nefertiti. Unfortunately evidence, as reflected in numerous harsh reviews and scholarly discussions, does not seem to support Fletcher’s views. Almost everyone who is knowledgeable about Egyptology seems to find this documentary to be disappointing or incorrect. Unless you were educated deeply and seriously in Egyptology, this documentary as a whole would appear quite convincing as well as entertaining; at present, however, too many challenges to Fletcher’s concepts and suppositions leave the impression of colorful, but shallow and skimpy, evidence.