'Beauty of Nile' Unmasked - Wrinkles and All
Paterson, Tony, The Independent (London, England)
The latest medical scanning technology reveals that the Egyptian queen Nefertiti was given an ancient facelift. Tony Paterson reports
Her name means "a beautiful woman has arrived" and for almost a century the 3,400-year-old bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti has been regarded as a true likeness. Now it seems that in the flesh, she wasn't that good looking after all. The delicately featured bust of the wife of the King Akhenaten has been one of the highlights of Berlin's museum collection ever since it was excavated by German archaeologists and first put on display in 1923. It will shortly take pride of place in the city's recently revamped Neues Museum. But scientific researchers say they have established that her limestone bust appears to have been given a facelift. Call it ancient world Botox.
Using the latest computer tomography techniques developed for medicine, the researchers from Berlin's Imaging Science Institute took a series of scans of the bust and discovered that the sculpture was made up of a limestone core covered in layers of stucco of varying thickness.
Advances in CT technology meant that they were able to probe deeper than a previous scan carried out in 1992. They found that the inner facial cast, which would have been taken directly from the queen's face, differed significantly from the outside of the bust. It had less prominent cheekbones; a slight bump on the ridge of the nose; marked wrinkles around the corner of the mouth and cheeks; and less depth at the corners of the eyelids.
The cosmetic alterations appeared to have been made by the Egyptian royal sculptor Thutmose, whose studio was dug up by archaeologists at the ancient settlement of Amarna south of Cairo in 1912. The scientists assume that the sculptor would have taken the original plaster mask of the queen's face and used it as a model for the "improved" bust.
"It is possible that the bust of Nefertiti was probably commissioned by King Akhenaten himself to represent her according to his personal perception," said Alexander Huppertz, the director of the institute. "The changes could have been made to make the queen adhere more to the ideals of the time."
The bust is currently a major bone of cultural contention between Egypt and Germany, with Cairo demanding that Berlin hand back the priceless sculpture. Nefertiti's bust was excavated by the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in 1912 and at the time its discovery was hailed as a triumph of Imperial Prussian prowess. Entries in the archaeologist's diaries show that he was beside himself with excitement when he unearthed his find. "Suddenly we have the most alive Egyptian artwork in our hands," he wrote, "You cannot describe it with words. …