INTO THE VALLEY OF THE QUEENS
Minerva|January/February 2021
The Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II, Nefertari, was buried in one of the most spectacular tombs of Egypt’s Valley of the Queens. Well-educated and well-travelled, Nefertari played a crucial part in the political life of the pharaoh, and her importance was reflected through her magnificently decorated tomb. Lucia Marchini speaks to Jennifer Casler Price to find out more.
Jennifer Casler 

In 1904, a group of archaeologists entered one of the largest tombs, and the most richly decorated, in Egypt’s Valley of the Queens at Thebes. In this small wadi, a dried riverbed in the western Theban desert, Egyptians of the New Kingdom (c.1539-1075 BC) buried members of the royal family and high-ranking officials and courtiers. Nearly 100 tombs were cut into the rock of the main wadi, most with a series of rooms leading to a burial chamber, where an eminent figure was interred in a stone coffin.

It was in this wadi, known to the ancient Egyptians as Ta-Set- Neferu (‘The Place of Beauty’), that a team from the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, was given license to excavate by the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Their mission was to explore the valley systematically and publish their findings, but also to acquire artefacts for the museum, to fill in chronological gaps in its collection, while obtaining important contextual data that would be lacking for objects that had been acquired on the antiquities market in Egypt, fairly common practice for museums of the time. And so the director of the museum, Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli, started digging in the valley with his team over three seasons between 1903 and 1905. They investigated several tombs, including those of Princess Ahmose, four children of Ramesses III, and Imhotep, the vizier under Thutmose I, but perhaps their most significant discovery was in the 1904 expedition, when, led to the right place by a local guide, they excavated the great tomb of one of Egypt’s great queens: Nefertari.

As Schiaparelli wrote in his report on the work of the Italian Archaeological Mission:

On the lintel, on either side of the rising sun that was shown flanked by two sacred eyes and adored by the two sisters Isis and Nephthys, we read the name of the famous spouse of Ramesses II. The name of the Queen was also provided by the inscriptions that were engraved and painted on the jambs of the door.

‘The noble of lineage, the greatest of favours, the lady of goodness, of gentleness and love, the sovereign of the South and the North, the deceased spouse, justified, lady (of the Two Lands) Nefertari Merenmut, true of voice before the Great God…’

From two galleries, going down a few steps carved between two pillars, one could reach the lower part of the room, which was also the deepest part of the tomb [...] Various large fragments of the sarcophagus lid, of beautiful pink granite, were still lying there in the middle of the room…

Finds from the tomb (QV66) were taken to the Museo Egizio, and some of the material from these excavations, and other artefacts from the museum, is now on view at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas as part of a touring exhibition, Queen Nefertari’s Egypt, introducing both the queen and life in the New Kingdom Egypt.

Nefertari Meritmut (or Merenmut) – meaning ‘beautiful companion’ (never, or ‘beautiful’, appears in many queen’s names, including that of Nefertiti) and ‘beloved of Mut’ – was the first of the Great Royal Wives of Ramesses II (r. 1279-1213 BC), the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Little is known about her background, but she was so well-regarded by the pharaoh that she was celebrated – along with the goddess Hathor – in a temple next to his own in Abu Simbel, and when she died around 1255 BC she was honoured with a sumptuous tomb (and, with a burial chamber around 85m² in area, a spacious one), providing her with everything a noble queen could need in the afterlife.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MINERVAView All

ROMAN DISCOVERIES AT ANCIENT AUGUSTODUNUM

More than 230 graves have been uncovered at a necropolis in the French city of Autun, revealing a diverse mix in burial practices over a period of nearly 200 years, as well as luxury grave goods from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD that highlight the wealth of some of its ancient inhabitants.

2 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

SHAPING THE WORLD: SCULPTURE FROM PREHISTORY TO NOW

The sculptor Antony Gormley and the art historian and critic Martin Gayford have been talking about sculpture with each other for 20 years.

3 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

Amelia Edwards (1831-1892)

“I am essentially a worker, and a hard worker, and this I have been since my early girlhood.”

2 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

THE GREAT BEYOND

The ancient Greeks thought much about the dead – how their remains should be disposed of, how their spirits might be summoned, how malignant they could be if unavenged. Classicist David Stuttard brings us face to face with the Greek dead.

10+ mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

INTO THE VALLEY OF THE QUEENS

The Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II, Nefertari, was buried in one of the most spectacular tombs of Egypt’s Valley of the Queens. Well-educated and well-travelled, Nefertari played a crucial part in the political life of the pharaoh, and her importance was reflected through her magnificently decorated tomb. Lucia Marchini speaks to Jennifer Casler Price to find out more.

10 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

DEIR EL-BAHRI, 1894

Tensions were already high among the archaeologists, surveyors, and artists of the Archaeological Survey of Egypt in 1891 when an eventful dispute arose on Christmas Eve.

2 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

PUSHING BOUNDARIES

When the Etruscans expanded to the south and the vast plains of Campania, they found a land of cultural connections and confrontations, as luxurious grave goods found across the region reveal. An exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples sheds light on these ancient Italians at the frontier. Paolo Giulierini, director of the museum, is our guide.

10+ mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

CUZCO 'CENTRE AND HEAD OF ALL THE LAND'

Cuzco was the heart of the vast Inca empire, but all changed in the 16th century when the capital was conquered by Spanish invaders. Michael J Schreffler investigates the Inca city, and how it went from the centre of one empire to the periphery of another.

9 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

A STUDY IN PURPLE

A tiny speck of purple paint from the 2nd century AD may yield clues to how ancient artists created the extraordinary portrait panels that accompanied mummified bodies into the afterlife.

3 mins read
Minerva
January/February 2021

WHAT'S IN THE BOX? PLYMOUTH'S NEW MUSEUM OPENS

stories from the world of archaeology, art, and museums

2 mins read
Minerva
November/December 2020