King Tut Day: 5 Facts on Tut's Stepmother Nefertiti

In honor of King Tut Day, we take a look at Queen Nefertiti, whose final resting place may be hidden in her famous son's tomb.
Publish date:
Nefertiti. (Photo: Getty)

Nefertiti. (Photo: Getty)

It may have taken 3000 years, but it appears scientists may soon solve a mystery stretching all the way back to Ancient Egypt: What happened to Queen Nefertiti? Over the summer, Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves claimed he discovered evidence that there is a secret chamber hiding behind a painted wall in King Tut’s tomb. His provocative theory was that behind the graffiti was Nefertiti, the stepmother of Tutankhamun, and one of ancient history's most recognized women, who rose to fame around 3400 years ago before suddenly vanishing from historical record. If Reeves is correct, this discovery could eclipse that of Tut’s tomb and possibly reveal rooms filled with untold treasure.

This month, radar and thermal imaging equipment will be trucked into the tomb to determine whether Reeve’s hunch is correct. In the meantime, in honor of King Tut Day, we take a look at five interesting facts about his mother, civilization’s first beauty queen:

A Royal Beauty

Nefertiti, whose name means "a beautiful woman has come," was the queen of Egypt during the 14th century B.C. The wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, she is widely recognized by her high cheekbones and suntanned skin as depicted on the iconic, 3,300-year-old bust discovered by a German archeological team in 1912. Her timeless beauty has made her image one of the most reproduced images from Ancient Egypt.

Howard Carter King Tut

Howard Carter examining the mummy of King Tut. (Photo: Exclusive to The New York Times [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Who’s Your Mummy?

Although she is widely referred to as King Tut’s mother, many would argue that she was his step-mother. Although Akhenaten was indeed Tut’s father, Tut’s mother was one of the Pharaoh's other wives. But that’s not all. Further complicating the family tree was the royal custom of intermarriages: Tut married the daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, which makes Nefertiti not only Tut's step mother, but also his mother-in-law.

A Sun Worshipper

Nefertiti ruled alongside Akhenaten during a time of religious upheaval. The couple rejected polytheism and proclaimed that Aten, the sun, was the most important god and the only one Egyptians should honor. Nefertiti even changed her name as a tribute to Aten. Willing to leave their old home and ways behind, the royal family moved to a newly constructed city designed to honor their god.

Watch a mini bio of Nefertiti:

Vanishing Act

In the twelfth year of Akhenaten's reign, Nefertiti suddenly disappears from historical record. It’s not known for certain whether this is due to her death or because she took yet another name. Some say it’s possible she may have herself ascended to the position of pharaoh, following her husband’s death and that all traces were lost as part of her new identity. Some speculate that she was exiled and her record expunged once polytheism came back in vogue.

A Tomb Fit for a Queen

Even before Egyptologist Reeves’ made his claim about the queen’s whereabouts, speculation abounded that there was more to Tut’s tomb than the young ruler’s sarcophagus. Many observers noticed that King Tut’s mask has ear piercings, even though young men during his reign did not wear earrings. This has led to speculation that the death mask (and tomb) had actually originally been designed for Nefertiti, but was used to bury Tut when he died unexpectedly at the tender age of 19.