Nefertiti's Real, Wrinkled Face Found in Famous Bust?

Nefertiti bust picture
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March 30, 2009—Researchers may have finally come face-to-face with the real—and wrinkled—Nefertiti, thanks to sophisticated CT scanning technology.

A carefully carved limestone face in the inner core of the Egyptian queen's famous bust (above, right) has emerged in new images, a new study says.

The object, currently on display in Berlin's Altes Museum, was discovered in 1912 during an excavation of the studio of Egyptian royal sculptor Thutmose. The artist had sculpted Nefertiti—wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten—more than 3,300 years ago.

(Related: "Egypt Vows "Scientific War" If Germany Doesn't Loan Nefertiti.")

Scientists first scanned the sculpture in 1992, but advances in the technology have now allowed scans of greater precision, according to Alexander Huppertz, director of the Imaging Science Institute in Berlin.

These new images show that Thutmose placed stucco layers of varying thickness on top of a limestone core.

Nefertiti's "hidden" visage is more realistic, with creases around the corners of her mouth (above, bottom left) and cheeks, less prominent cheekbones, and a bump on her nose.

"CT [scans] impressively demonstrated that the inner core was not just an anonymous mold, but rather a skillfully rendered work of quality art," Huppertz said in an email.

In the final stucco layer (above, top left), Thutmose smoothed over the creases and nose bump, possibly to reflect the "aesthetic ideals of the era," said Huppertz, whose research appears in April in the journal Radiology.

Such glimpses into Thutmose's artistry will help conservators "prevent damage of this extremely precious art object," Huppertz said.

That's because the scans also revealed areas where the stucco is most vulnerable and requires the most careful handling.

—Christine Dell'Amore

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