Who was Nefertiti?

Despite being one of the more famous members of ancient Egyptian history, very little is known about her origins:

She may have been a Mitannian Princess, Tadukhepa, a late addition to the harem of Amenhotep III ( a theory now largely abandoned)

She did not carry the titles of "King's daughter" or "King's sister" which indicates that she was not of royal birth. The most favoured option for her parentage is that she (and her sister Mutnodjme) were the daughters of Ay (pharaoh following Tutankhamun, and brother to Queen Tiye).

Nefertiti was first seen very early in the reign of Akhenaten - she is frequently shown at the King's side, their first appearance together predates the early harsh Amarna art style and shows Nefertiti in a more traditional manner:

 Very soon her appearance changes, blocks of the Karnak talatat shows the new style (these blocks also show that Nefertiti was far from being a passive queen in Akhenaten's world - she played a major role in the new worship of the Aten, in some scenes she is given equal status to that of the King and even taking on some of the duties that had always traditionally been reserved for the pharaoh himself - smiting/sacrificing the enemies of Egypt to the Aten.

In her book 'Nefertiti' Joyce Tyldesley draws the comparison between Nefertiti and a new fertility goddess in the Amarna Period to replace the now illegal worship of Hathor - (Nefertiti had six children and so, of course, could be considered as a replacement for the now banned Hathor).

 Nefertiti after Year 12

Sometime shortly after Year 12 Nefertiti disappears from view, and is replaced as Akhenaten's consort by theiry daughter Meritaten. Unsuprisingly there have been many theories as to Nefertiti's demise:

1. Inscriptions found in the Maru-aten indicated that they had been altered and the names changed (first thought from Nefertiti to Meritaten) - this led some to believe that Nefertiti had fallen from favour and Meritaten had taken her place.... until it was discovered that the name that Meritaten replaced was Kiya and NOT Nefertiti.

2. Nefertiti was exiled to the North Palace at Akhetaten (where she possibly spent time with a young Tutankhaten (Tutankhamun)), but there is no evidence for any exile.

3. Nefertiti became Smenkhkare - as there is a similarity between the names of Neferitit and Smenkhkare (and the fact that as soon as Nefertiti dissappears, Smenkhkare appears) some have proposed that in becoming Smenkhkare was infact Neferiti's (so that she could officially become co-regent 'proper' with Akhenaten). However there is body found in KV55 which of young, mid-twenties, male which has been identified as Smenkhkare which would discount this theory (although the identity of the skeleton has been questioned several times since its discovery).

4. Nefertiti died soon after the burial of her daughter Maketaten and was buried in the Royal Tomb at Akhetaten. (Her remains were possibly later transferred to the Valley of the Kings by Tutankhamun when Akhetaten was abandoned. Nicholas Reeves has been involved recently in an attempt to locate her tomb but so far has met with little success).