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Researchers Identify Queen Nefertari’s Mummified Knees

Found in 1904, new research confirms the mummified fragments in a Turin museum likely belong to ancient Egypt’s beautiful and revered queen

Queen Nefertari's knees (PLOS One)
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Nefertari was the royal wife of Pharaoh Ramses II, and her beauty was unmatched. So was her tomb—the walls are painted with beautiful images of the queen and a starry sky on the ceiling. But the contents of the cavern were in disarray when archeologists first opened the tomb in 1904. Her sarcophagus was smashed. The only human remains left were mummified leg fragments. It was not known if they belonged to the queen or someone else, reports Nicola Davis at the Guardian.

That’s why a team of international archaeologists decided to take a closer look, publishing their analysis in the journal PlosOne. According to Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience, the researchers examined the mummified remains currently housed at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy. X-raying the three pieces of leg confirmed the presence of a pair of human knees, with pieces of a femur, a partial tibia, a fibular bone, as well as the patella. The bones corresponded to a woman who died between age 40 and 60, and there were some indication of arthritis in the legs. This corresponds with what is known about Nefertari, who the researchers say likely died in her 40s, sometime during the 25th year of Ramses II’s reign.

Pappas reports that the arteries along the tibia showed some calcification, also an indicator of her age. An analysis of the wrappings showed that the embalming process used a generous amount of animal fat, consistent with embalming practices used at the time of the queen’s death.

There were some inconsistencies. The embalming method contaminated the queen’s DNA, which was severely degraded to begin with, making it impossible to get a sample. Radiocarbon dating also placed the mummy between 1607 and 1450 B.C., earlier than Ramses reign, though the researchers say contamination from sediment could have skewed the dating.

The researchers are still convinced the legs are from the queen, mainly because there is no sign that the tomb housed a second body. Since it’s on a hill it’s unlikely that another mummy could have been washed into the crypt during a flood. “The most likely scenario is that the mummified knees truly belong to Queen Nefertari,” the researchers say in a press release.

The name Nefertari means “beautiful companion,” and the queen was held in great regard by Ramses and the people of Egypt. It’s also believed that, while her official role was to serve as eye candy and stand next to the Pharaoh, she may have wielded some political power behind the scenes. “Having studied the woman, and having looked as so many images of her beautiful face, I think there is a sense of immense irony that physically this is what we have got,” Fletcher tells Davis. “She has been reduced to knees. But because we don’t give up—it’s like: ‘we have got the knees, well, let’s do what we can with them.’”

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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