Digging History

Mummy mystery solved: These are likely Queen Nefertari's legs

Habicht ME, Bianucci R, Buckley SA, Fletcher J, Bouwman AS, Öhrström LM, et al. (2016) Queen Nefertari, the Royal Spouse of Pharaoh Ramses II: A Multidisciplinary Investigation of the Mummified Remains Found in Her Tomb (QV66). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166571. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166571

Habicht ME, Bianucci R, Buckley SA, Fletcher J, Bouwman AS, Öhrström LM, et al. (2016) Queen Nefertari, the Royal Spouse of Pharaoh Ramses II: A Multidisciplinary Investigation of the Mummified Remains Found in Her Tomb (QV66). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166571. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166571

Whose knees were these?

Scientists have conducted a thorough analysis of the ancient, mummified leg bones found in Queen Nefertari’s tomb, in an attempt to figure out if the bones really belong to the famous queen. Their conclusion? While they can’t be positive, they think the bones, which are over 3,200 years old, are indeed Nefertari’s.

Nefertari, if you need to brush up on your ancient Egyptian politics, was the wife of King Ramses II. She was “a striking woman who I think exerted a quiet power behind the throne,” Joann Fletcher, an archaeologist at the University of York who was involved in the new research, told the Guardian.

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But since her tomb — famous for gorgeous color paintings on the walls and located in the Valley of the Queens — was looted before Ernesto Schiaparelli found it in 1904, things in that final resting place were disturbed, and the granite sarcophagus was damaged. Among what was left were a pair of sandals and some leg bones. But are those leg bones, which reside at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, actually the queen’s?

The scientists did x-rays, radiocarbon dating, chemical analysis, and more. They looked at the knees, and decided that the person who had them was probably a woman who was about five feet, four inches tall. Based on the x-rays, the researchers some saw evidence of mild arthritis. She was probably somewhere between 40 and 60 at time of death, they said.

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After ultimately considering all their evidence and different hypotheses, the researchers decided that the knees probably did belong to Queen Nefertari.

“Thus, the most likely scenario is that the mummified knees truly belong to Queen Nefertari,” the scientists write in a new study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE. “Although this identification is highly likely, no absolute certainty exists.”

Royal knees, indeed.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger