During a 1912 dig along the banks of the Nile some 480 kilometers south of Cairo, an Egyptian worker uncovered what can be considered one of the most significant finds in the history of Egyptology. What exactly was this find? A 3,300-year-old limestone bust of an ancient queen, complete with a flat-topped crown. The queen depicted in this striking bust is Nefertiti, 14th century queen of Egypt and wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten.
More than a hundred years after this amazing find, Blair Stover takes a look at one of the most famous symbols of Egyptology, who Nefertiti was, and her influence that remains today, thanks to this iconic bust.
Regarded as a symbol of timeless beauty – which is fitting, as “Nefertiti” means “the beautiful one has come” – the bust symbolizes the strength of Nefertiti that goes far beyond her image’s distinguished cheekbones, high neck, and steady eyes. Born outside of the royal family, Nefertiti married Amenhotep IV, who acquired vast riches from his father, Amenhotep III.
Amenhotep IV acquired the name Akhenaten after he favored the worship of one figure, Aten, a god represented as a sun disk. His move to worship only one figure meant he and his wife arguably became the world’s first monotheists, a far cry from those days of polytheism. In that vein, Nefertiti became a symbol of modernity and a figure who may have ruled after his husband’s death.
Today, Nefertiti’s bust remains a vivid symbol of their reign and the modern ideals that evolved with it. The bust now sits as the centerpiece of a Berlin exhibition on its discovery, as German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt was in charge of the Nefertiti excavation. Her presence unlocks mysteries about the time of her husband’s rule, as well as sheds light on Egyptology as a whole.