Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife (or chief consort/wife) of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten), and mother-in-law of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Her name roughly translates to "the beautiful (or perfect) woman has come". She also shares her name with a type of elongated gold bead, called nefer, that she was often portrayed as wearing. She was made famous by her bust, now in Berlin's Altes Museum, shown to the right. The bust is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. It was attributed to the sculptor Djhutmose, and was found in his workshop. The bust itself is notable for exemplifying the understanding Ancient Egyptians had regarding proper facial proportions.
She had many titles, at Karnak there are inscriptions that read Hieress, Great of Favour, Possessed of Charm, Exuding Happiness, Mistress of Sweetness, beloved one, soothing the king's heart in his house, soft-spoken in all, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Great King's Wife, whom he loves, Lady of the Two Lands, Nefertiti.
Nefertiti's parentage is not known, but it has been conjectured that she may have been a daughter of later Pharaoh Ay and his wife Tey. Another theory that has gained some support identifies Nefertiti with the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa. The name Nimerithin has been mentioned in older scrolls, as an alternative name, but this has not yet been officially confirmed.
Depending on which reconstruction of the genealogy of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs is followed, her husband Akhenaten may have been the father or half-brother of the Pharaoh Tutankhaten (later called Tutankhamun).
The exact dates of when Nefertiti was married to Amenhotep IV and later, promoted to his Queen are uncertain. However, the couple had six known daughters. This is a list with suggested years of birth:
Meritaten: year 2 (1348 BC).
Meketaten: year 3 (1347 BC).
Ankhesenpaaten, later queen of Tutankhamun: year 4 (1346 BC).
Neferneferuaten Tasherit: year 6 (1344 BC).
Neferneferure: year 9 (1341 BC).
Setepenre: year 11 (1339 BC).
In year 4 of his reign (1346 BC) Amenhotep IV started his famous worship of Aten. This year is also believed to mark the beginning of his construction of a new capital, Akhetaten, at what is known today as Amarna. In year 5 of his reign (1345 BC), Amenhotep IV officially changed his name to Akhenaten as evidence of his new worship. The date given for the event has been estimated to fall around January 2 of that year. In year 7 of his reign (1343 BC) the capital was moved from Thebes to Amarna, though construction of the city seems to have continued for two more years (till 1341 BC). The new city was dedicated to the royal couple's new religion. Nefertiti's famous bust is also thought to have been created around this year.
In an inscription estimated to November 21 of year 12 of the reign (approx. 1338 BC), her daughter Meketaten is mentioned for the last time; she is thought to have died shortly after that date. A relief in Akhenaten's tomb in the Royal Wadi at Amarna appears to show her funeral.
In year 14 of Akhenaten's reign (1336 BC), Nefertiti herself vanishes from the historical record, and there is no word of her after that date. Theories include a sudden death that was so emotionally painful to her husband that he forbade her being mentioned, or a fall from favor and subsequent replacement that led to its being politically incorrect to discuss her. Regardless, the verifiable knowledge of this episode has been completely lost to history.
Her disappearance coincides with the rise of co-ruler Smenkhkare to the throne and the mention of Akhenaten's new Queen Kiya. Smenkhkare is thought to have been married to her daughter Meritaten. It has been suggested that Smenkhkare replaced Nefertiti as Akhenaten's chief consort and that the two Pharaohs were lovers. In any case both Smenkhkare and Akhenaten died in 1334 BC/1333 BC. Akhenaten died after at least 29 years of life, and seventeen years of reign. Smenkhkare had been his co-ruler for four years. There are also theories that identify Nefertiti with Smenkhkare.
They were succeeded by Tutankhaten, who is thought to have been a son of either Amenhotep III or Akhenaten, and was probably a younger brother of Smenkhkare. He married Nefertiti's daughter Ankhesenpaaten. The royal couple were young and inexperienced, by any estimation of their age. Some theories believe that Nefertiti was still alive and had an influence on them. If this is the case that influence and presumably her own life would have ended by year 3 of Tutankhaten's reign (1331 BC). In that year, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun, as evidence of his worship of Amun, and abandoned Amarna to return the capital to Thebes. If Nefertiti was Tadukhipa she would be about thirty-five years old at the time.
As can be seen by the suggested identifications between Tadukhipa, Nefertiti, Smenkhkare and Kiya, the records of their time and their lives are largely incomplete, and the findings of both archaelogists and historians may develop new theories vis-à-vis Nefertiti and her precipitous exit from the public stage.
As Nefertiti's tomb was never completed and no mummy was ever found, the location of Nefertiti's body has long been a subject of curiosity and speculation.
On June 9, 2003, archaeologist Joann Fletcher, a specialist in ancient hair from the University of York in England, announced that Nefertiti's mummy may have been one of the mummies stored in tomb KV35 in the Valley of the Kings. Furthermore, she suggested that Nefertiti was in fact the Pharaoh Smenkhkare. Dr. Fletcher led an expedition funded by the Discovery Channel that examined what they believed to have been Nefertiti's mummy.
The team claimed that the mummy they examined was damaged in a way suggesting the body had been deliberately desecrated in antiquity. Mummification techniques, such as the use of embalming fluid and the presence of an intact brain, suggested an eighteenth dynasty royal mummy. Other features the team used to support their claims were the age of the body, the presence of embedded nefer beads, and a wig of a rare style worn by Nefertiti. They further claimed that the mummy's arm was originally bent in the position reserved for pharaohs, but was later snapped off and replaced with another arm in a normal position.
However most Egyptologists, among them Kent Weeks, Peter Locavara and Jimmy Dunn, generally dismiss Fletcher's claims as unsubstantiated. They claim that ancient mummies are almost impossible to identify with a particular person without DNA; and as bodies of Nefertiti's parents or children have never been identified, her conclusive identification is impossible. Any circumstantial evidence, such as hairstyles and facial features, is not reliable enough to pinpoint a single, specific historical persona.
The opponents of Fletcher's theory also claim that Fletcher failed to prove the mummy was that of a female. Furthermore, the mummy's age is believed to be at most 30 years old, and more likely mid- to late-twenties, which runs counter to Akhenaten's 17-year reign, and Smenkhare's further four years on the throne. Some scientists examining the mummy's x-rays believe the person may have been as young as 16 years old. The sceptics further claim that the cause of damage to the mummy can only be speculated upon, and the alleged revenge is an unsubstantiated theory. Bent arms, contrary to Fletcher's claims, were not reserved exclusively to pharaohs; this was also used for other members of the royal family. The wig found near to the mummy is of unknown origin, and cannot be conclusively linked to that specific body. Finally, the 18th dynasty was one of the largest and most prosperous dynasties of ancient Egypt, and a female royal mummy could be any of a hundred royal wives or daughters from 18th dynasty's more than 200 years on the throne.
On June 12, 2003, Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, also dismissed the claim, citing insufficient evidence. On August 30, 2003, Reuters further quoted Dr. Hawass as saying, "I'm sure that this mummy is not a female", and "Dr Fletcher has broken the rules and therefore, at least until we have reviewed the situation with her university, she must be banned from working in Egypt."