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Why a Famous Egyptologist Visited Utah to Talk About Queen Nefertiti

Why a Famous Egyptologist Visited Utah to Talk About Queen Nefertiti

Dr. Zahi Hawass has been studying Egypt’s tombs for 50 years, but Dec. 19 was the first time the “world’s most famous archaeologist” gave a lecture in Utah about Queen Nefertiti and the “secrets of the past.” He has recently been preparing an exhibition, “Daughters of the Nile,” focusing on women in pharaonic Egypt (see video below).

The Egyptologist came at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ invitation to see the Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert and spoke at the University of Utah. He had never been to Utah before but came to talk about the Rosetta Stone and Queen Nefertiti, whose mummy he may have recently identified.

It might seem out of place for the church to show such an interest in the Egyptian past. But such an interest goes back at least 100 years. While in Utah, Hawass visited the Egyptian Theater in Park City, where theater supporters are called Pharaohs. A worldwide fascination inspired the design after the tomb of King Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922. The theater opened on Christmas Day in 1926. 

“Influenced by the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb, The Egyptian Theatre opened on Christmas Day, 1926. Supervised by an Egyptologist, The Egyptian Theatre was adorned with lotus leaf motifs, scarabs, hieroglyphics and symbols of life and happiness,” the website states.

Egyptian Theater Park City Utah from Wikimedia Commons by D Ramey LoganCC-BY-SA 4.0

In other recent interviews, Hawass has commented on how the Pharaohs were remarkably environmentally conscious and how climate change threatens the preservation of Egyptian heritage today.

“The ancient Egyptians laid the foundations for sustainable development by protecting the environment, growing sustainable food, and preserving renewable and non-renewable natural wealth, said Zahi Hawass, former minister of antiquities and a well-known Egyptologist, in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.”

Video via ABC4 Utah:

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti

When King Tutankhamun, dubbed “King Tut‘s” golden mask, toured America in 1976, millions flocked to see it. Now, discoveries related to Tutankhamun’s mother, the beautiful Queen Nefertiti, long recognized by her famous bust, are already creating a new wave of fascination. 

Hawass is touring the United States in the New Year, 2023, to talk about the Queen, whose full name is Neferneferuaten Nefertiti and the discoveries from the “Golden City.”

In 2021, Hawass announced the discovery of the 3,000-year-old Golden City of Aten. During Akhenaten’s reign, he left his father’s city to create his own after elevating the status of the solar deity Aten and moving to Akhetaten, now called Amarna. He appears to have done so without Nefertiti’s advice.

“Akhenaten himself designed the city for his god, as his boundary stelae make clear, and refused suggestions or advice from anyone else, even his wife Nefertiti (c. 1370 – c. 1336 BCE),” states World History Encyclopedia.

However, she strongly supported her husband.

“Queen Nefertiti is the beautiful and smart wife of King Akhenaten,” said Hussein Abdel Baseer, director of the Antiquities Museum at Bibliotheca Alexandrina. “She supported him greatly and was one of the strongest supporters of the new religious call that he made to worship the new god Aten. She is one of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt and the lady of the Amarna period.”

Shrine stela showing Akhenaten, Nefertiti by Nick Thompson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Nefertiti in Amarna

Atenism became what is considered the first state-mandated monotheistic religion in the world, stripping the priests and the God’s Wife of Amun of their former power. Afterward, Akhenaten and co-regent Nefertiti became the direct intermediaries with the deity, effectively bypassing the powerful priests.

Later Tutankhamun and his successor Ay returned to the Golden City. But Amarna and most traces of the “heretic” Akhenaten and the religion of Atenism were nearly lost to history. Although labeled a heretic, the real reason Akhenaten rejected the former religion is complex and probably due to a power struggle, as the Priests of Amum’s power rivaled the Pharaohs. For example, there was a huge industry selling people what amounted to a ticket to the afterlife, something that still goes on even today.

Thus, Atenism may have been a way to give common people the power to realize their own divinity instead of relying on the priests. This is something suggested in the historical novel by Mika Waltari called The Egyptian.

Amarna was only recently rediscovered in the 18th century, along with Nefertiti’s bust in 1912. Despite every effort to erase Akenaten’s story from history, the Pharaoh, his Queen, and his son are among the best-known of all today. 

“The bust of Nefertiti was created around 1340 BC by the court sculptor Thutmose, in whose studio in Amarna she stood as a sculptor’s model,” states the Egyptian Museum in Berlin.

Nefertiti Bust Restoration by Eric S. via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Ever since, archaeologists have been trying to locate Nefertiti’s mummy, and now Dr. Zahi Hawass says he may have found her in the west bank near Luxor (Thebes). But others suggest she and Akhenaten were buried near their son Tutankhamun, who died at only age 18 or 19. And she may have had a larger hidden adjacent tomb. 

Hawass has been calling for the return of Nefertiti’s bust to Egypt, along with the Rosetta Stone from the UK.

Related: Discovery of Golden City of Aten May Shed Light on Pharaoh Akhenaten

Where is Queen Nefertiti?

Zahi Hawass is confident that a mummy he is studying could be Queen Nefertiti. According to Newsweek, he believes Nefertiti may have ruled Egypt for three years following Akhenaten’s death under the name Smenkhkare.

Hawass says an Egyptian team of archaeologists may have found the mummy in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank in Luxor. He also believes he has found her daughter Ankhesenamun, who became Tutankhamun’s wife, and a 10-year-old boy, possibly Tutankhamun’s brother. 

“I am sure that I will reveal which of the two unnamed mummies could be Nefertiti,” Hawass said.

According to ArtNet, Hawass planned to formally declare the discovery in the fall.

Some have expressed doubts, suggesting Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s tombs would have remained in Amarna. After the controversial religious reforms, Akhenaten and his wife’s tomb would have potentially been destroyed if they returned to Thebes (Luxor).

Egyptologist Bassam al-Shammaa told the Al-Monitor:

“There are many hurdles to the discovery of Nefertiti’s tomb, given her mysterious life about which only a little was revealed. It is said that ancient Egypt’s most famous figures are the most mysterious ones.”

He added, “I doubt that the [team] will find the mummy and the original tomb of Nefertiti in Luxor for religious and political reasons, most notably among which is the enmity with the priests of Amun-Ra after her husband Akhenaten called for worshipping the god Aten and she supported him. This resulted in problems and pushed them to abandon Thebes (in Luxor), the capital of ancient Egypt, and to build a new capital in Amarna.”’

If the mummies are in the west bank, Shammaa suggests they would have first been moved from Amarna. Perhaps, it was carried out in secret?

“Finding Nefertiti’s tomb in the west bank in Luxor is only possible if the mummies of Akhenaten and Nefertiti were moved from Amarna to Luxor in later eras,” he said. 

Tutankhamun’s Tomb

On the other hand, the Guardian reported Tutankhamun’s tomb might have a door to Nefertiti’s tomb. Nicholas Reeves, a former curator in the British Museum’s Department of Egyptian Antiquities, suggested Nefertiti’s tomb might be much larger than Tutankhamun’s small one.

Hawass disagrees:

“There is no scientific evidence proving the theory that Queen Nefertiti was buried inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. We believe that Nefertiti could be buried in the western valley next to the tomb of King Amenhotep III,” he said. “There are still a lot of undiscovered secrets about ancient Egyptians in the area located between King Amenhotep III’s tomb and King Ay’s,” Hawass added. 

Like the discovery of King Tutankhamun, finding Nefertiti would be a legendary discovery. Locating her tomb would be “the most important archaeological discovery in the world, and even the discovery of the century,” Hawass said.

Perhaps such a discovery would lead to a new surge of interest here in the United States. But is it really her? And where is Akhenaten? See more about the potential discovery below.

Video by Ancient Architects:

Featured image: Nefertiti 3D Print by Katexic Clippings Newsletter via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0) with Aten by AtonX via WikipediaCC BY 2.5 with Nefertiti Bust Restoration by Eric S. via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0) with Shrine stela showing Akhenaten, Nefertiti by Nick Thompson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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