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Remains of Nefertari, Ramses II’s most beloved queen, on display in Turin’s Egyptian Museum

by Lorenzo Zanini

A group of international researchers has discovered that the remains of a pair of mummified and fragmented legs that resided for over a century in Turin’s Egyptian Museum belonged to Nefertari, one of the most famous queens of Ancient Egypt: she was pharaoh Ramses II’s favorite wife. The study, authored by Michael E. Habicht of the University of Zurich, Raffaella Bianucci of the University of Turin, and other researchers, was published on PLOS ONE.

Nefertari was the most beloved of Ramses II’s wives. Her origins are not well-known, and it’s possible that she came from a modest background.When she died, a splendidly-decorated tomb was dedicated to her in the Valley of the Queens.

Ransacked in ancient times and rediscovered in 1904 by Italian archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli, her tomb contained several remains that were sent to the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Among these remains were part of her sarcophagus, some of her grave goods, a pair of sandals, and parts of a pair of mummified legs (both tibias and femurs, and one patella).

Recently, an investigation took place in order to discover whether these legs were truly all that remained of the legendary queen. The researchers conducted chemical, anthropological, genetic, and radiocarbon dating analyses, which showed that the legs belonged to an adult woman who died around age 40. The materials used to embalm the legs were in line with the methods used in mummification during the 13th century B.C.

The DNA analysis didn’t yield any conclusive results, since the remains had been contaminated. But the biggest support for the theory that these legs belonged to Nefertari is the things in her grave goods: the sandals correspond to the length of her feet and bear her name on top—similarly, the other objects and the rest of the evidence can be connected to the 19th dynasty.

On the base of the inscriptions found on a fragment, researchers were able to learn other details about the Queen. Nefertari did not hold the title of ‘daughter of a king,’ which suggests that she most likely did not belong to the main royal bloodline. She bore four sons and four daughters. She probably died around the 25th year of her reign, between ages 40 and 50. Nefertari was depicted in some of Ancient Egypt’s most beautiful pictures. In the Egyptian language, her name means “the most beautiful.” Precisely.