A Critical Analysis of the Discovery Channel's Nefertiti Revealed

A Critical Analysis of the Discovery Channel's
Nefertiti Revealed
by Jimmy Dunn

A later statue of Nefertiti closer to the time of her death than that of the famous Berlin Bust

I frequently find myself tuned to the Discovery Channel and for good reason. I enjoy learning and more than just about Egypt. Certainly the Discovery Channel makes this interesting, but as an expert in a topic that they frequently explore, Egypt, I also know that they can overstate theories while at other times completely misstating facts. Overall, the life of Nefertiti and the Amarna Period as depicted in their recent show entitled, Nefertiti Revealed, was of course, mostly factual. It was small points made throughout the special that were a bother, along with a definite slant towards Joann Fletcher's theories regarding Nefertiti's mummy and a few other matters related to her life. This is a critical analysis of this documentary, so hopefully no one will be too upset if we become a little nit-picky on some of the small points, and perhaps even a little more critical on some of the major points. I knew that there would be a few problems when, in the first minute of the show, it was stated that Egypt was the only world superpower during this period. Certainly Egypt was a superpower, and was not so very distant from it's most powerful position in the ancient world. However, there were other powers in Asia that were, during the reign of Akhenaten, very much challenging Egypt's domination. I won't even attempt to grace the Afro wig of the Amun priest, or the fact that Akhenaten rode a horse with stirrups out into the desert with a few companions to search out the future location of Amarna. In fact, the details of the show were so poor in places that a number of Egyptian enthusiasts I have heard from turned it off. However, lets move on.

Views of Nefertiti's famous bust, known as the Berlin Bust

Views of Nefertiti's famous bust, known as the Berlin Bust

There are basically three major issues that need to be explored concerning this show. They include the amount of power that Nefertiti actually wielded, whether or not she was ever named a co-regent of her husband, whether or not she was ever the sole ruler of Egypt, and the identification of her mummy. Of these questions, all but the issue of her power is in question and that topic was perhaps over done to some extent.

Nefertiti was not always portrayed with the same beauty as the Berlin Bust

It was stated that Nefertiti was as powerful as her husband and the most powerful woman in the world. These two statements may nearly be correct. Indeed, at this point in time, she may have very well been the most powerful woman in the world. There was also certainly the appearance of her equality with her husband. However, it is difficult to really say that any woman in ancient Egypt could, in reality, be as powerful as their husbands, even though there were a few very powerful queens. Yet even those queens often took on the appearance of a man, and that is the whole point. In her household, Nefertiti could have wielded considerable power, but outside of that, her power was almost certainly derived from that of her husband. Which brings up another point, perhaps, of over dramatization. Here, we find in the Discovery Channel special Nefertiti racing her husband in a chariot, and there she is physically shown about to smite the enemies of Egypt.

Indeed, Nefertiti is depicted on ancient reliefs doing just these very things, but most Egyptologists consider that this was probably very symbolic. Not that this should distract from the fact that she was, in fact, a very powerful woman to even have been shown in reliefs to be participating in these typically kingly acts, but it is somewhat doubtful that she physically carried out functions. In fact, it may be doubtful that her husband actually smited any real enemies. Nefertiti's possible role as co-regent with her husband and perhaps as ruler after his death are closely related. If she was co-regent, then she may very well have ruled after his death. There are Egyptologists who do believe that she did so, but perhaps many more believe that she simply died earlier in Akhenaten's reign. Interestingly, while the Discovery Channel presentation placed great emphasis on the missing bent arm that was discovered, and does seem to belong to the mummy, this is not the evidence that earlier speculation is based upon. Rather, it is the similarities between part of the name that is shared by both Smenkhkare and Nefertiti (actually, after adapting a new name, Neferneferuaten) as a prenomen, Ankhkheperure. There is some other minor evidence for her becoming a co-regent and also serving as ruler of Egypt, but again many if not most Egyptologists don't think so. As for the identification of her mummy, I would have been rather rougher in this critique had not Kent Weeks and Zahi Hawass not been allowed to at least provide some counter. Neither pointedly denied the possibility that this is Nefertiti's mummy, but there point was simple. The tests performed and the analysis made on the Discovery Channel in no way where near infallible, and it remains just about as likely that the mummy is not that of Nefertiti, if not more so, than that it is.

While we have some respect for Joann Fletcher, who has in the past contributed to Tour Egypt, Kent Weeks and Zahi Hawass should have probably been given some voice throughout the show, as they are two of the most prominent Egyptologists in the world today. Furthermore I thought that it was interesting how Joann Fletcher would wish both for the mummy to be that of Nefertiti, and for Nefertiti to have ruled Egypt after Akhenaten's death. This idea seems to be a bit mutually exclusive. The scientists examining the mummy seem to believe that she could not have been over the age of about thirty years, and more likely mid to late twenties. However, Akhenaten ruled Egypt we believe for about seventeen years, so it becomes difficult to think that his queen died at even thirty, while outliving the king. Most Egyptologists do in fact believe that Nefertiti may have died around the age given the mummy, but this would have been earlier in Akhenaten's reign. Lets carry this a bit farther and see what evidence may have been omitted or not taken into consideration. First of all, so what if this mummy was of royal bearing and of the remains date to the 18th Dynasty.

The mummy Joann Fletcher believes to be Nefertiti, also known as the Younger Lady

Most only New Kingdom royalty were buried in the royal necropolises on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor), a period that only covered the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties. There were in fact plenty of royal women from this period and the mummy's identification as an 18th Dynasty figure proves very little. Furthermore, people from a royal family or even from a specific area can end up looking very similar, and certainly daughter can look very much like their mothers, as can cousins and other relatives. Who is to say that the mummy is not one of Nefertiti's daughters or other relatives. A number of people I have spoken to since the show even think that there is very little resemblance between the computer mockup and the bust of Nefertiti. Finally, lets talk about the wounds.

Many, many mummies were damaged by tomb robbers in ancient Egypt looking for hidden treasure. Amulets were stuck within the body cavities of mummies, so they often broke apart pieces, including arms and other limbs in order to remove jewelry. Which also brings up the matter of the bent arm. Joann Fletcher seems to indicate that mummies with bent arms is unique to kings in ancient Egypt. Actually, it seems more unique simply to men in general, and usually with both arms bent. They also often became somewhat malicious, breaking apart and vandalizing the mummy more than needed to remove these precious items, perhaps because of their frustrated lives while living under some rulers. It is really somewhat doubtful that, 200 years after her death, tomb raiders would break into and purposely desecrate the body of Nefertiti for who she was. We really do not know how the queen died and perhaps it could have been by violent means, but there is no hard evidence anywhere that would suggest such an end to her life. Frankly, the problems with this show are twofold. First of all, there are the minor details, many of which were simply inaccurate.

This is really an important aspect of the show, and I would wish to quote a reader named dawn from the Amun Yahoo Newsgroup: "Whenever I see a show that ignores the little details, I get very angry. And when the little details are awry, it's almost a given that the bigger ones will be, too. This is tragic because, as we all know, this particular show will now become Truth. Once little inaccuracies are accepted, they become something of a cancer. They are very hard to eradicate, and all too often find their way into textbooks where they continue to poison. Something like this will probably be shown to many classes, and will be used to support papers written by swarms of kids. And it won't be long before the priest in the huge wig becomes "fact", and the mummy in question "becomes" Nefertiti.

" The second problem was that many of the main issues were discussed in a manner that was far too one-sided. It probably would have been a much better presentation if the spotlight had not so focused on Joann Fletcher, but allowed others to have a larger voice.