A legend in her own right, Nefertari has left a significant mark and her burial has provided archaeologists with invaluable information. Queen of Egypt from 1295 BC to 1256 BC (Encyclopedia.com, n.d.), Nefertari was married to Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of ancient Egypt’s 19th Dynasty; she wielded significant power, working alongside her husband in political affairs (Popular Archaeology, 2019). After her death in 1256 BC, her influence lived on through the people of ancient Egypt who honored her with a magnificent tomb located in the Valley of Queens, a burial site for all the wives of pharaohs.
Nefertari’s tomb was discovered and excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli, an Italian archaeologist, in 1904 (Minerva Magazine, 2021). Though her tomb had been looted of many precious artifacts, there were still a good number of artifacts left behind, including: fragments of a pink granite sarcophagus lid, fragments of gilded wood coffin, wall paintings, well-preserved sandals, parts of a gold bracelet, shabti figurines, an amulet, and two mummified knees (Popular Archaeology, 2019). These artifacts alone show how highly revered Nefertari was, reflecting not only her wealth but powerful influence.
Archaeologists can derive many aspects of ancient Egyptian life, culture, and religion through the artifacts in her tomb. For instance, Nefertari was buried with an djed-pillar amulet with her name inscribed on the back. Made of gilded wood and blue vitreous paste, the amulet represents the spine of Osiris, the god of death and the afterlife; the necklace serves as a symbol of stability and eternal life, important aspects of ancient Egyptian religion (Minerva Magazine, 2021).
Figure 1. The djed-pillar amulet found in Nefertari’s tomb (Minerva Magazine, 2021).
Another artifact that tells us more about the afterlife is the Book of the Dead. In ancient Egyptian belief, life continues after death in the afterlife. They developed a set of funerary beliefs and practices to make sure the deceased reached spiritual paradise. The most commonly known practice is mummification, which helps preserve the body. Following this process, the ancient Egyptians put the body in a coffin, which was then placed into a tomb with provisions for the afterlife. One of the provisions was burying the dead with funerary books, which contained spells and utterances to help them reach the afterlife safely. Nefertari was discovered buried with the Book of the Dead, the most well-known Egyptian funerary text (Noma, 2022).
Figure 2. A papyrus page from the Book of the Dead (Britannica, 2023).
Nefertari’s tomb is “Egypt’s best artistic documentations of elite culture and the life and ways of one of its greatest queens” (Popular Archaeology, 2019). We know that burials are used to symbolize and serve the dead, but we often forget that burials are made by the living people; therefore, burials are expressions of the living people’s relationship with others still alive. They reflect people’s thoughts and attitudes toward the deceased; hence, they are not the most accurate representation of who that person was (Renfrew). Nonetheless, burials, like Nefertari’s, are excellent resources to uncover what life, culture, and religion was like during a certain time period.
Britannica. “Book of the Dead: Ancient Egyptian Text.” June 16, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Book-of-the-Dead-ancient-Egyptian-text.
Encyclopedia.com. “Nefertari (c. 1295-1256 BCE).” n.d. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nefertari-c-1295-1256-bce#:~:text=Nefertari%20(c.-,1295%E2%80%931256%20bce),beauty%2C%20judging%20from%20contemporary%20paintings.
Minerva Magazine. “Nefertari: into the Valley of the Queens.” The Past. January 10, 2021. https://the-past.com/feature/nefertari-into-the-valley-of-the-queens/.
Noma. “Queen Nefertari’s Egypt Highlights Ancient Egyptian Masterpieces.” February 3, 2022. https://noma.org/queen-nefertaris-egypt-highlights-ancient-egyptian-masterpieces/#:~:text=Presented%20in%20six%20sweeping%20sections,around%20death%20and%20the%20afterlife.
Popular Archaeology. “Nefertari’s Tomb.” July 19, 2019. https://populararchaeology.com/article/nefertaris-tomb/.
Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.
Hoon Shin, Dong. “Queen Nefertari, the Royal Spouse of Ramses II: A Multidisciplinary Investigation of the Mummified Remains Found in her Tomb (QV66).” National Library of Medicine. November 30, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5130223/.
Osirisnet. “Nefertari – QV 66.” n.d. https://www.osirisnet.net/tombes/pharaons/nefertari/e_nefertari_03.htm.