The Unexplained: What happened to Nefertiti?

The colorfully painted bust of Queen Nefertiti, created around 1340 BC. Photo: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The most popular theory is that Nefertiti died naturally. If so, why is the queen’s chamber empty at the royal tomb in Amarna?

It is impossible to ignore the beauty of Nefertiti, a woman who lived in the 1300s BCE.  Her face has been immortalized in the famous bust sculpted by Thutmose in about 1345 BCE.   It was discovered in 1912.  When one of his workshops was uncovered, it was revealed that he had sculpted several likenesses of her.  We know it is she because of the distinctive crown.  She is wearing it in many works of art.  She is a classic representation of ideal feminine beauty.

We don’t know where this beauty came from, for sure.  Many historians think she was born in Thebes in 1370 BCE, and that her father was Ay, an Egyptian who had made himself indispensable to several pharaohs as an advisor.  Another group of scholars think that she was not Egyptian at all, but a Syrian princess from the Mittani Kingdom there.

She had the good fortune to marry a pharaoh when she was sixteen.  His name at the time was Amunhotep IV.  A few years into his reign, and probably at the insistence of Nefertiti, he began abandoning all religious traditions and started a movement to worship only Aten, the sun god.  When this religion was established over the land, Amunhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten.  Akhenaten meant:  living spirit of Aten.  The royal couple detached themselves from the ways of Old Egypt and built a new, luxurious capital city, Amarna.

Sara Marie Hogg

Nefertiti was both adored and despised by the people.  She was adored for her absolute beauty, style, charisma, and grace.  She was despised for her influence in worshiping only Aten.  Citizens did not like the big shift.

Even so, Nefertiti was the holder of at least ten prominent titles.  During the big shift, Nefertiti also changed her name. She added the name Neferneferauten to her name.  Her long name then meant:  beautiful are the beauties of Aten.  A beautiful woman has come.

During the couple’s reign, Egypt was perhaps the wealthiest it had ever been.

Nefertiti bore the pharaoh six beautiful daughters.  Artwork depicts the couple having a happy family life.  The very powerful Nefertiti is depicted as driving chariots, presiding over important ceremonies, and even striking down enemies.

Nefertiti was not able to produce a son.  Is this why she fell off the historical record completely in year twelve of Akhenaten’s seventeen-year reign?  There is no record for Nefertiti ever again.  She suddenly vanished.

There are some theories:

The most popular is that she died naturally.  Why isn’t this noted anywhere in writings or artwork?  Where is she entombed?  Why is the queen’s chamber empty at the royal tomb in Amarna?

Was she sent into exile so that Akhenaten could try for a son with one of his lesser consorts?   An interesting fact is that King Tutankhamen is a son of Akhenaten, sired with one of the lower consorts, so Nefertiti is not related to King Tut by blood, but she was related through her husband and her daughter.  Tutankhamen married his half-sister, the royal daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.  Two of their daughters did serve as queen and Ankhensanamun became the wife of the Boy King.

When her husband’s reign ended and there was a return to the worship of Amen-Ra was she driven away for her beliefs?

Perhaps she dressed as a man and ruled as a ruler with her husband when she was named co-regent with equal power.  There is no evidence of this on record but at least one other woman had dressed as a man to rule as pharaoh.  Hatshepsut had even worn a false beard.

Perhaps Akenaten’s successor, Smenkhkare was actually Nefertiti in disguise. Some historians boldly go with this scenario.

There are those who think Nefertiti committed suicide.  She may have been depressed over not being able to have a son—and a beloved daughter had died in childbirth.

What really happened?

There are a few spots in Egypt that may be hiding the body of Nefertiti.  Some are convinced that Nefertiti is in one of these mystery zones.  One of the areas is alongside the tomb of Tutankhamen.  If she is found, many questions may have their answers.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of the mysterious It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon. 

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