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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Nefertiti mummy 'found in Egypt'
Scientists in Egypt say they may have discovered the mummy of Queen Nefertiti, one of the most famous figures of ancient Egypt.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti
Nefertiti: One of the ancient world's most beautiful women
A group of scientists believe that she is one of three mummies discovered in a secret chamber of a tomb known as KV35 in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

The tomb was originally located and catalogued in 1898, but the mummies were sealed up and apparently forgotten, until scientists drilled through to the room.

"There is a very, very strong possibility that... this in fact is the great female Pharaoh Nefertiti herself," said British mummification expert Joann Fletcher, who led the expedition, which was sponsored by the Discovery Channel.

The whereabouts of the remains of Nefertiti, perhaps the most powerful woman in ancient Egypt, have for many years been one of archaeology's most enduring mysteries.

However, critics say that without DNA evidence to verify the claims, it is unlikely to be the remains of the queen.

'Heretic' couple

Queen Nefertiti, along with her husband the pharaoh Akhenaten, ruled from 1353-1336 BC during the so-called 18th dynasty of ancient Egyptian rulers.

Physical evidence known and published prior to this expedition indicates the unlikelihood of it being the mummy of Nefertiti
Egyptologist Susan James
However, virtually all traces of the queen and her "heretic" husband were erased, after his unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the pantheon of Egyptian gods and replace worship of them with the sun god Aton, in one of the earliest known practices of monotheism.

Ms Fletcher said she became interested in the mummy after identifying a wig, which had been found by three mummies catalogued by scientists, as being a Nubian-style wig favoured by royal women in the 18th dynasty.

Further examination of the mummy in the side room revealed the remains of the younger woman had a doubled-pierced ear lobe, shaved head, and the clear impression of the tight-fitting brow-band worn by royalty.

Wishful thinking?

The mummy - which had been defaced and mutilated - also had an arm removed, which was found in its wrappings bent at the elbow, a possible sign that it had originally held a royal sceptre, Ms Fletcher said.

The other two mummies, a teenage boy and an older woman, have not yet been identified.

However, other scientists have expressed doubts that the remains could be that of the famous queen.

"Physical evidence known and published prior to this expedition indicates the unlikelihood of it being the mummy of Nefertiti," Egyptologist Susan James said.

"Without any comparative DNA studies, statements of certainty are merely wishful thinking."

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