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Interesting but controversial theory which dances around the point
on 16 October 2010
As an Egyptologist and historian, I approached this book with great excitement - to me the discovery of Nefertiti would be an event of monumentally exciting proportions - and I couldn't wait to see the evidence that Fletcher had to prove her contentious theory. I perhaps should not have approached the book with such high expectations, as the book didn't match them.
There are both good and bad points to recommend and detract from the quality of this book. The topic, of course, is fascinating, the quality of actual writing, good. Best of all, and quite against the grain for a heavy academic historical factual book, the language is accessible and clear. I found the subject of the early chapters somewhat curious, where Fletcher describes her childhood interest in Egypt and her time as a student. I kept wondering when I would hear about the search for Nefertiti, but she only makes mention of how, as a young Egyptologist, she began to suspect that the Younger Lady might be the missing queen. Is this an autobiography of the life of Joann Fletcher or is it a historical factual work about the search for Nefertiti?
Then she spends an extensive few chapters describing past archaeological work on the search for Nefertiti. Whilst technically this finally addresses the title of the work, Fletcher seems keen to highlight at all times the mistakes and false assumptions made by archaeologists in antiquity, promoting her own "correct" interpretation of events as opposed to the "obviously mistaken" work of those come before her. She also goes to pains to emphasise the intractability and unchangeability of the historical and archaeological establishment and community, and it looks like she does so to counteract the widespread denunciation of her theories by the archaeological community. I began to feel, uncomfortably, that Fletcher was more interested in trying to knock down her rivals than argue the case for her own theory and provide the evidence to support it.
Her idea that Nefertiti survived past Year 14 of Akhenaten's reign as the co-regent Ankhkheperura Neferneferuaten, and then took the throne as Ankhkheperura Smenkhkara, even her idea that the Younger Lady might be her, is widely discredited by the majority of Egyptologists, and Fletcher has since been barred from entering Egypt since she went to the press with her claims. The middle chapters of the book describes the period of Nefertiti's life from the material evidence. Only the final two, rather short, chapters of the book actually cover Dr Fletcher's examination of the Younger Lady and the conclusions she draws from this that lead her to conclude that this may be Nefertiti.
I enjoyed the book because of its topic and subject, but as an Egyptologist there are too many fundamental problems with it for me to credit it as proven fact. Her observations of the Younger Lady cannot provide definitive proof of her identity as Nefertiti, indeed some of her conclusions have been disproved with later examinations, for example her idea that the detached bent right forearm (which would indicate the status of a Pharaoh), belongs to the Younger Lady - later examinations indicated that it did not in fact fit with this mummy. She also spends too much time trying to emphasise the stoicism of the archaeological community and the mistakes of her predecessors, which suggests to me that she is trying to defend her discredited views by attacking the wider archaeological establishment for refusing to be open to change or reinterpretation of the evidence. Finally, I did not need to read the short autobiography of Fletcher's life.