Queen Nefertiti's Mummy May Have Been Found, Says Leading Archaeologist

Prominent Egyptologist Zahi Hawass recently said that he is certain that a mummy he is currently studying will turn out to be that of Queen Nefertiti.

Hawass, who has been studying Egyptian history and excavating ancient tombs for decades, and was previously the Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt, is currently preparing an exhibition called 'Daughters of the Nile', focusing on women in pharaonic Egypt.

"I'm sure I'll reveal Nefertiti's mummy in a month or two," Hawass told Spanish newspaper El Independiente in an interview.

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Stock images of a bust of Nefertiti i (left) and an Egyptian mummy (right). Leading archaeologist Zahi Hawass recently said he thinks that he has found Nefertiti's mummified remains. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Nefertiti, whose full name was Neferneferuaten Nefertiti, lived between roughly 1370 and 1330 BC. Married to the Pharaoh Akhenaten, she was the queen of Ancient Egypt during a period of great wealth and was the mother of Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut.

It is believed by some that after her husband died, Nefertiti ruled as queen, although others disagree. Hawass is one such believer.

"I am still looking for two things: [Nefertiti's] grave and her body," Hawass said. "I really believe that Nefertiti ruled Egypt for three years after Akhenaten's death under the name of Smenkhkare."

While the mummified remains of multiple pharaohs and important ancient Egyptian figures have been discovered, Nefertiti is yet to be identified.

"We already have DNA from the 18th dynasty mummies, from Akhenaten to Amenhotep II or III and there are two unnamed mummies labeled KV21a and b," he said. "In October we will be able to announce the discovery of the mummy of Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun's wife, and her mother, Nefertiti. There is also in tomb KV35 the mummy of a 10-year-old boy. If that child is the brother of Tutankhamun and the son of Akhenaten, the problem posed by Nefertiti will be solved."

"I am sure that I will reveal which of the two unnamed mummies could be Nefertiti," Hawass added.

Ancient Egyptians mummified the bodies of their most important dead in a lengthy process that took up to 70 days, according to the Smithsonian Museum.

First, all internal organs except the heart were removed to slow decay, using specially hooked instruments to pull the brain out in chunks from the nose. The organs were put into another container and buried with the body. After this step, the body was completely dehydrated using a special salt called natron, which was coated onto and inside the body. Then, the bodies were wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb.

Despite having been a source of great intrigue and research for over a century, it is thought that there remain huge numbers of undiscovered mummies and treasures from Ancient Egypt.

"We have barely found 30 percent of everything that is underground. A few days ago a mission found tombs inside several houses in Alexandria," Hawass said. "Modern Egypt is built on the Ancient. And that is why the heritage that remains hidden is immense."

However, some of the undiscovered treasures of Ancient Egypt may be lost before they can be studied, according to Hawass.

"I sincerely believe that [the main threat to the conservation of Egyptian heritage] is climate change," he said. "The question is: How can the tombs of the Valley of the Kings be protected? If we leave the situation as it is now, in a century, all the graves will have completely disappeared. We have to equip ourselves with a protection plan especially for tombs and temples. Once a year I usually take a picture of the Kom Ombo temple walls and every time I go back 5 percent of the reliefs have faded. We must work to control climate change."

Hawass says that the only way to preserve the history of Egypt is to close and open tombs every year, and to have a reservation process to enter tombs.

"There must be a center to control climate change and tourism," he said. "Tourism is the enemy of archaeology, but we must seek an intermediate point between the need for tourism for the economy and the preservation of Egyptian monuments. It is something extremely important."