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Let's face facts -- she's still a mystery

'Nefertiti Resurrected' can't answer whether this mummy is the Egyptian queen.

August 16, 2003|Carolyn Patricia Scott | Times Staff Writer

"Legend says Egypt never produced such beauty. Her very name means perfection. Her face adorns temples throughout the land and yet she vanished from history like a mirage."

So begins the Discovery Channel documentary "Nefertiti Resurrected," the record of Joann Fletcher and her 13-year quest to find the mummy of Egypt's fabled Queen Nefertiti.

The program includes commentary by Fletcher and other scientists, including Kent Weeks, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Ramses the Great's sons, and Egypt's director of antiquities, Zahi Hawass.

Early on, it promises that Fletcher has "uncovered radical new facts about Egypt's legendary queen."

Perhaps. Although it does not reach satisfying conclusions about the identity of the mummy Fletcher dubs "Lady X," the program offers an intriguing sequence of high-tech techniques, including computer modeling and forensic reconstruction, intercut with a dramatization of events from the queen's era.

The program, billing itself as a documentary despite its liberal use of speculative dramatizations, offers impressive digital re-creations of 18th dynasty temples and palaces. Beautifully rendered enactments imagine the interaction of Nefertiti and her husband, Pharaoh Akhenaten, and the political machinations of the powerful priests of the god Amun.

The two-hour film follows the path of pharaoh Akhenaten to Amarna, where he founds a city out of the reach of the plotting priests of Amun in the traditional royal capital Thebes. Dramatic scenarios play out conspiracies, inferences of corrup- tion, infighting, murder, greed, vanity and jealousy.

These elaborate reenactments -- interspersed with commentary by Fletcher as she seeks supporting evidence that she has found Nefertiti -- easily take up half of the film. But when the Egyptian government allows Fletcher to bring in sophisticated forensic equipment to X-ray and examine the mummy, the wait for the results is as compelling as the dramatic sequences.

The identity of "Lady X" probably will be debated for years to come, but the documentary has raised new questions: Why was the body mutilated? Why was it hidden among royal mummies? And, if not Nefertiti, who was it?

"Nefertiti" may not ultimately convince, yet it is well worth watching. And those who wonder can place their bets as forensic science refines DNA testing to make definitive identifications of ancient remains.

*

'Nefertiti Resurrected'

Where: Discovery Channel

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

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