The mummy on the far right is believed to be that of Queen Nefertiti. The others are an unidentified boy and woman.

June 9, 2003 - Egyptologists think they may have identified the long-sought mummy of Queen Nefertiti, one of the ancient world's legendary beauties.

If confirmed, the finding would be one of the biggest archaeological breakthroughs since the discovery in 1922 of the tomb of boy-king Tutankhamun, Nefertiti's stepson and son-in-law.

Little is known about the “Great Royal Wife” of the renegade pharaoh Akhenaton, who ruled from 1353-1336 B.C. in the Amarna period.

Along with her “heretic” husband, accused to have overthrown the pantheon of the gods to worship the sun god Aton, Nefertiti vanished as if she had never been. The effort to erase the new monotheistic religion left no records about her.

Now, Discovery Channel Quest scientist Joann Fletcher, field director of the University of York’s Mummy Research Team and an expert in mummification, believes she has found the mummy in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Disguised under the catalogue name of “mummy 61072,” also known by the nickname of “Younger Lady,” what might be Nefertiti’s mummy was lying on the floor of a side room off the pharaoh’s burial chamber along with other two mummies: a boy and another woman named “Elder Woman,” all uncoffined and unwrapped.

The three bodies were discovered in 1898 in tomb KV35 by French archaeologist Victor Loret in a cache of royal mummies that included Amenhotep II, still resting in his own sarcophagus.

Fletcher was drawn to the tomb by her identification of a forgotten Nubian-style wig favored by royal women in the XVIIIth dynasty - during the reign of Akhenaten - which had been found near three unidentified mummies.

Other clues included a doubled-pierced ear lobe, shaved head, and the clear impression of the tight-fitting brow-band worn by royalty.

“Think of the famous tight-fitting tall blue crown worn by Nefertiti, something that would have required a shaven head to fit properly. Then there is also the impression of a tight-fitting brow-band over the forehead, as worn by Egyptian rulers. And the mummy also has a double pierced ear - a rare fashion statement in ancient Egypt, which can also be seen on busts of the queen and one of her daughters, “ Fletcher said.

As Egyptian authorities allowed the three mummies to be examined in detail by a multidisciplinary team of scientist, it emerged that they dated to Egypt’s late XVIIIth dynasty.

Nefertiti’s beautiful face, immortalized by the famous limestone bust on display at the Berlin Museum which shows a woman with a long neck, high cheekbones and a slender nose, was attacked with a sharp instrument, “a vicious attack that matches with how hated she was,” according to Fletcher.

Using cutting-edge Canon digital X-ray machinery, the team spotted jewelry within a smashed-in chest cavity of the mummy. They also noticed a woman’s ripped-off arm beneath the remaining wrappings. The arm was bent up pharaonic style with its fingers still clutching a long-vanished royal scepter.

“This arm was crucial, but it hadn’t been seen for almost 90 years,” Fletcher said.

A Discovery Channel-funded expedition would confirm studies in the 1970s that Nefertiti continued to reign as a pharaoh in her own right following her husband’s death.

“The identification is an interesting one, and will doubtless cause endless speculation,” Salima Ikram, a leading expert on mummies at the American University in Cairo, told Discovery News.

Susan James, an Egyptologist trained at Cambridge University who has long studied the three mummies, is skeptical.

“What we know about mummy 61072 would indicate that it is one of a young female of the late eighteenth dynasty, very probably a member of the royal family. However, physical evidence known and published prior to this expedition indicates the unlikelihood of it being the mummy of Nefertiti. Without any comparative DNA studies, statements of certainty are merely wishful thinking,” she told Discovery News.

by Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Scientist Joann Fletcher studies the mummy believed to be Nefertiti in a side chamber of royal tomb KV35 in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.