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May 11, 2009

The two faces of Nefertiti


Long story short: The famous artwork above has a second visage, made of stone beneath its stucco face.

Here's a March 31, 2009 CBC News story with details.


CT scan uncovers hidden face of Nefertiti

Researchers in Germany have discovered that Nefertiti, an Egyptian bust on display on Berlin's Altes Museum, has two faces.

A team led by Dr. Alexander Huppertz, director of the Imaging Science Institute at Berlin's Charite hospital and medical school, used modern medical technology — a CT scan — to look under the stucco exterior of the 3,300-year-old work.

They discovered a detailed stone carving of the face of Nefertiti that differs from the external stucco face, which has earned her a reputation as The Beauty of the Nile, according to a study published Tuesday in the monthly journal Radiology.

It is not the first time scientists have used medical technology to peek beneath the surface of the antiquity, but modern computed tomography, or CT, gives a more detailed picture of the stone underneath than earlier techniques.

The Nefertiti bust consists of a limestone core covered in layers of stucco of varying thickness.

"Until we did this scan, how deep the stucco was and whether a second face was underneath it was unknown," Huppertz said. "The hypothesis was that the stone underneath was just a support."

Instead, it turned out to be a skilfully rendered artwork.

The scan (below)


reveals that the stone carving of her face had creases at the corners of the mouth and a bump on the nose that don't appear in the stucco version. The stucco artist also appears to have enhanced the height of her cheekbones.

"Changes were made, but some of them are positive, others are negative," Huppertz said.

May have been powerful ruler

Nefertiti was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten and may have been a powerful ruler in her own right. She lived from about 1370 BC to 1330 BC.

Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust in 1912 and added it to Berlin's Egyptian collection housed in a group of museums on Museum Island.

"We acquired a lot of information on how the bust was manufactured more than 3,300 years ago by the royal sculptor," Huppertz said, adding that this knowledge would help in preserving the work.

The museum refused to return the bust to Egypt for an exhibit in 2007, saying it was too fragile to travel.

Egyptologists, including experts at the British Museum in London, are now studying the differences, trying to pinpoint why someone in a position of power would have ordered them.

Huppertz said the Pharoah himself may have ordered the wrinkles smoothed on his wife's face to conform with conventional standards of beauty in 14th century B.C.

"It is possible that the bust of Nefertiti was commissioned, probably by Akhenaten himself, to represent Nefertiti according to his personal perception," he said.

The bust, currently on display at the Altes Museum, will move into the Neues Museum when it reopens in October after a restoration by British architect David Chipperfield.

May 11, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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"There's a problem with that new bust I ordered -- summon the royal sculptor!"

"Sir? Something wrong?"

"Ah, I don't know... Nefertiti snuck in the other night & peeked at it and now she's threatening to stick a crocodile in my sarcophagus. Look, she says you've made her look like one of those old cow statues of Hathor -- something about wrinkles, and her nose looking too big and you've made her face look fat, I don't know. Aten dammit, she's driving me nuts. Can't you do something?"

"But sir, I'm working double overtime as it is and you still haven't paid me for all that extra work defacing the pictures & statues of Amun and Anubis and Isis and all that lot. I don't mean to be critical, but this 'one god' business is really creating a lot of busy work for us, and..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know, and soon as I start my afterlife journey, somebody's just gonna come along and put it all back like it was, just watch. Sometimes I wonder why I bother... Look, just plaster over the limestone, okay? Fix the nose bump, hollow out the cheeks a little, take out the wrinkles -- make her look 22. But a mature 22, you know. Do the best you can. If you go first I'll make sure you get some extra cats in with your mummy. Make you look like royalty. Some fancy-schmancy canopic jars. Deal?"

(Heavy sigh) -- "Yes, sir. Right away. I'll get it done somehow." (Sotto voce: "And a few extra moles & wrinkles on the stone underneath, and nobody will ever know...unless, one day...heh heh...")

Posted by: Flautist | May 11, 2009 8:17:25 PM

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